Junk rock

George Gimarc and an ex-Pistol make for some Rotten Television

George Gimarc has spent a lifetime collecting and cataloging and preserving rock and roll's past--first as a radio-show host, then as an author of three books. The front room of his Garland home is the product of a life spent trolling record stores, diving into radio-station dumpsters, hoarding old tapes and vinyl and acetate long abandoned to the dung-heap of history. Dozens of shelves contain thousands of old singles and albums and tapes from bands that came and went before anyone could even forget them. There is no such thing as a one-hit wonder in Gimarc's world, only bands that made their impact in private. He has records even the artists who recorded them don't know (or would prefer you don't know) exist: One of his more recent finds is a single recorded by Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day when he was just a child, a religious song the punk hero prefers be kept hidden forever. But nothing remains secret forever, not when Gimarc is around to protect the past.

Nobody simply visits George Gimarc's house, coming over for a brief stay, because Gimarc inevitably has some new find to play for you. Today, he pulls out a B-side of a Frankie Avalon single recorded in the early 1960s that features some of the most freaky, fuzzed-out guitar heard this side of the Yardbirds. Only it was recorded before the Yardbirds, Gimarc points out, giddy at the revelation. "How cool is that?" he says, no doubt the first person ever to notice such a vanished moment.

So it is perhaps a bit surprising to discover that Gimarc is currently in business with an icon who would prefer to literally set fire to rock's past--the very man who insisted there was nooooooo fyuuuuuuu-cha! 20 years ago and has spent the rest of the time proving himself right.

Indeed, there are no two more unlikely business partners than George Gimarc and John Lydon, the once-and-future Johnny Rotten whose Sex Pistols destroyed and defined rock and roll for one brief, glorious, ridiculous moment. After all, Gimarc has devoted his life to honoring the past, and Rotten has devoted his to shitting all over it. "I am anti-nostalgia," Rotten explains during the television show he and Gimarc have created. "No monuments to rock and roll."

Indeed, at the end of the pilot for the made-for-VH1 television show, Johnny stands in front of a beach bonfire gleefully throwing into the flames old Pistols collectibles worth a small fortune. There's the original 45 single of "God Save the Queen" on A&M Records (worth $3,000), an originals Pistols tour poster, and a handwritten note from his old bandmate Sid Vicious about girlfriend Nancy Spungeon that reads, in part, "We had a death pact...I had to keep my part of the bargain." Rotten tears the note from its frame and throws it into the fire, sneering, "Let's cremate Sid, shall we? Good bye, Sidney." He shoots a mischievous look into the camera, one that says, Good riddance and screw you.

Gimarc, as co-writer and co-creator of Rotten Television, knows this is good television--the splendid, defiant segment called "Change the Century" that will feature Rotten demolishing precious mementos each week. But the collector side of Gimarc--the guy who has written two history-of-punk books, the guy who hosts The Lost Tapes from 10 p.m. to midnight each Saturday on KRLD-AM (1080) and digs up the most obscure, ancient nugget he can find--cringes as Rotten tossed the priceless gems into the fire.

"That's a $3,000 single, and I've never owned one, and here's John with the tongs tossing it into the fire--and I'm at the sidelines applauding," Gimarc says, smiling at the recollection. "John actually thinks it's very funny that I collect all this stuff, but on the other hand, he knows the value of it, because he knows I know where the skeletons are buried."

Rotten Television exists right now only in pilot form: It likely will not debut on VH1 until February, when it is scheduled to appear as a special; according to Stacy Staner, VH1 publicist, the show will "possibly" become part of the music channel's regular schedule in late spring. But even in its pilot form, it's a wonderful piece of television: a bit shaky perhaps, but smirky and funny--or just what one might imagine from Rotten, the crankiest contrarian ever to stand in front of a microphone.

The pilot opens with Rotten frolicking (that's right--frolicking) along the beach in brighter-than-sunlight togs and a multicolored umbrella hat--or just the very opposite of what you might expect from the ex- Pistol. (It's an up-yours, Gimarc says, to the punk-poseurs out there--what Rotten calls "The Sidneys"--who still think it's 1978.) The opening montage also features footage of the Pistols performing and an old quote from Rotten about how "you thought you'd gotten rid of us."

Then Rotten appears in front of a bunch of video monitors, looking very much like your average VJ, though Gimarc says the backdrop will disappear when the first episode airs in February. Rotten promises his show will "change the way you watch...music television," that there will be no "dreadful" celebrity interviews and only one or two "lousy music videos." He tells the audience (OK, the test audience--who, by the way, loved the program), "You might have heard of me. Nothing's beneath my contempt." Then, unfortunately, he goes right into one of those dreadful celebrity interviews--with Jon Lovitz, who's in no mood to talk, since the interview occurred just after the murder of his good friend Phil Hartman. Rotten's first question? "Tell us about The Wedding Singer." This from the man who promises, "Boredom will not be tolerated." The only highlight of this abbreviated segment is that Rotten walks off and sticks Lovitz with the lunch check, much to Lovitz's chagrin. ("Holy shit," he utters.)

The second segment, "Rotten Tales," features the host offering nasty little stories about "meaningless pop icons" such as Michael Bolton (outed for copyright infringement) and Celine Dion--funny, but not as nasty as it will be in forthcoming episodes. The show really gets going when Rotten turns his attention toward those pop figures who deserve praise and/or burial. For instance, he plays in its entirety the video for Tom Waits' "I Don't Wanna Grow Up" (also a favorite of Beavis and Butt-head's...hmmmm) and speaks of it with reverence. Then he plays a Rolling Stones video and lies down in front of the screen as Mick Jagger creaks through the streets of New York. "The thought this is on behind me makes me really sick," Rotten utters. "There is a need for euthanasia."

Sure, it's an easy, 10-foot-tall target--there's likely some 15-year-old rocker out there saying the same thing about Johnny Rotten, whose Pistols reunited in 1996 for the crazy-big money. Yet it seems out of place on VH1, the station that has kept the Stones and Eric Clapton and the rest of their decaying lot on life support all these years. And Gimarc keeps insisting VH1 executives--including Rob Barnett, once the program director at KZEW-FM when Gimarc hosted the Rock and Roll Alternative during the early 1980s--want the show to be "meaner."

Oddly, Rotten and Gimarc had never met face-to-face during the days when Gimarc hosted Rock and Roll Alternative, though Gimarc interviewed him twice over the phone. They began working together when Gimarc was approached about creating an on-this-day-in-rock radio show as a sort of companion to his 1995 dry-eyed history Punk Diary 1970-1979. Gimarc was going to host the program till Rotten was brought in, which was fine with Gimarc. "To hell with my ego," Gimarc says. "I'd rather do it with a star. But only if John would work with me, because he's got a real reputation as being a real difficult person to work with."

Nevertheless, the two men got along famously: Rotten had read Punk Diary and was impressed with how Gimarc had presented the Pistols' story without giving too much credit to band manager Malcolm McLaren, oft cited as a visionary instead of a lucky charlatan. The radio show was eventually called Rotten Day--though to call it a "show" would be something of an exaggeration. Actually, it was a one-minute segment that aired five days a week and featured Rotten roasting some sacred cow, with most of the lines penned by Gimarc. (Imagine Rotten as the anti-Redbeard.)

Rotten Day was syndicated by the Album Network, broadcast in more than 60 markets, and briefly aired locally on the now-defunct Q102. But at the end of 18 months of hosting the show, Rotten got bored with the concept and wanted to try something different. Early in 1997, he and Gimarc spoke over the phone and batted around a few ideas--maybe a long radio show, perhaps a book--when Rotten suggested he wanted to do a television show where he could "make fun of rock and roll." Gimarc wrote up a proposal, spoke to his old friend Rob Barnett at VH1, and by the middle of this year, all three men were on a beach in Los Angeles shooting the pilot.

"A TV show for John was like, 'Well, I haven't done this yet, let's go see what this is about,'" Gimarc explains. "It's a good laugh. We want to get money out of it, and we found out there is no money in the show, but we're committed. But it's fun to have a platform of 65 million homes to tear apart this glorified golden calf called rock and roll. There are certain bits of it that need to be picked off and thrown away."

Johnny Rotten starts taking out the trash in February. Meanwhile, George Gimarc keeps collecting it. They both have the right idea.

Singing the Lord's Praises
Telling a gospel act it can perform for only eight minutes is a bit like telling a tornado to wrap it up, but the organizers of the Texas Gospel Announcers Guild's ninth annual gathering, held last weekend at the Anatole, had the right idea. For four hours on Friday and Saturday nights, gospel acts from all across the country (most from Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston) looking for record deals performed in the hotel's auditorium and turned the place out: Among the highlights on Saturday night were Rev. James Henderson's praise-Jesus rave-up (Henderson appears on Kirk Franklin's God's Property album) and performances by Dallas Anointed Voices and the D/FW Mass Choir.

The convention is sort of a gospel version of South by Southwest: Label reps from Malaco, Gospo Centric, and Savoy were in the crowd Saturday night, hoping to turn some hopeful messenger into the next Kirk Franklin, who showed up Thursday to offer his support. So did Texas Music Office honcho Casey Monahan, the governor's ambassador to the music industry. On Saturday night, TGAG president Bill "The Mailman" Miller introduced Dallas native (and very white) Monahan to the all-black crowd of more than 500 by saying, "I don't think he'll be hard to find." Praise God, that was funny.

Send Street Beat your holiday cheer to rwilonsky@dallasobserver.com.

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