A brief history of an amateur musician, Part II: The Hardcore Years and Kulturkampf

This is the second in a series of posts about my past life as an amateur musician. Other posts include A brief history of an amateur musician, Part I: The Early Years, and A brief history of an amateur musician, Part III: Assorted Recordings and Dirt Man’s King.

The musical experiment that was Overnight Delivery would survive no longer than two rehearsal sessions. From its shattered dreams would arise a new band: Kültürkampf(footnote 1).

The driving force behind Kulturkampf was the same two behind Overnight Delivery: drummer Scott (“Scotty Stapes”) and bassist Vito (“Vito Smegma”). I tagged along on guitar (“Brian Kampf”), having nothing much else to do with my time. John was replaced on vocals with Mike (“Mike Edge”), a decent musician in his own right who had a coarse singing style that fit our music well.

Kulturkampf gained quite a following of fans who became affectionately known as the Kulturkrew. After a few months of rehearsals, we went into the studio to record our first demo tape: Demo 1989. Fortunately, my long-time friend Jim D. (more on him soon) kept a copy, and gave it to me a few years back, so I can share this music experience with you!

Recorded in June and July of 1989, Kulturkampf’s first demo featured six songs. These songs are available in MP3 format for you to download and enjoy. I’ve also scanned the cassette tape sleeve for your reading enjoyment. (Sorry about the poor quality; we made this on a pretty low budget.) Links follow.

For those wondering what the cover art is, it’s actually a picture taken from an advertisement for an automatic pool vacuum. The caption in the original ad was, “Put down your hand vacuums.” Yes, the people in the picture are holding pool vacuums! No doubt they had their own culture struggle to deal with, and we were behind them all the way.

For about a year, Kulturkampf was going strong, with two notable highlights.

  • We played one show, in a desanctified church in Snug Harbor, Staten Island. It was a “battle of the bands” sort of night, and we were the only real hardcore band there. There were two bouncers, who gave up trying to keep order when we played our handful of songs. By the time our set was done, the Kulturkrew was in control of the arena, standing on stage with us, shaking down church pews in ways they were not designed to be shaken down. We left with our sanity intact, and after the show one of the bouncers said, “Great show, but your fans are nuts!” Don’t believe me? Ask my friend Jim (he who saved our demo tape all these years) – he was there, along with three friends, who no doubt experienced shock and awe for the first time.
  • A good friend of mine at the time, Jim B. (I had lots of friends named Jim), went to school at Seton Hall University. (He lasted about one semester, but that’s a story for him to tell.) During his time there, he became friends with some people who worked at the college radio station, WSOU, which at the time was the only radio station in New York City that played heavy metal and hard rock music. One night, Kulturkamph’s “I Hate You” was played on air. It was one of the most exhilarating moments of my life – to hear my music played on the radio! It was only once, but from that day on, I could always say my music was heard on the radio. It was a great moment; too bad the song was only 2 1/2 minutes.

Eventually, Scott went off to college, Mike lost interest, and Kulturkampf faded away. We had one attempt at a resurrection, when Scott returned from school during winter break and we recorded our second demo, with a new singer, in January 1990. The production quality was much greater, and there were new songs; unfortunately, I don’t have a copy of that demo tape to share with you(footnote 2). Needless to say, nothing happened after that, and Kulturkampf, for me at least, became a faded memory.

Despite this, the legend of Kulturkampf lives on, and the band has a MySpace page! Apparently, Scott (the drummer and creative genius behind it all) has preserved some nuggets from some twenty years ago. Head on over to http://www.myspace.com/kulturkrew for more, including some rare pictures of me in my much younger days. (No clues as to which one I am in the picture.)

For me, Kulturkampf was not the end of my music career. One of the folks I met during my time with Kulturkampf was Bart Cambria, who I would eventually team up with to write and record some music that was much different… but more on that next time.

1 Yes, the name Kulturkampf is clearly of German origin, and yes, because we were a hardcore punk band, we were occasionally mislabeled as a bunch of white power skinheads. Sure, we had our Doc Martens and flight jackets, and our music had some Oi! influences, but we all had hair (myself, quite a curly bundle of it), and none of us believed in white power. We liked the music, and were more concerned with having fun and drinking beer. The word kulturkampf translates roughly to “culture struggle” and refers to German Chancellor Otto von Bismark’s movement to secularize Germany and wrestle political control away from the Roman Catholic Church. (It didn’t work out as planned, as most political initiatives don’t.)

2 Scott and Vito, I know you’re out there somewhere… If you have a copy of the second Kulturkampf demo tape, get in touch with me!

What’s broken in the new Republican web site, gop.com? Nearly everything!

While scanning Google News, I saw an article that mentioned the re-launched Republican National Committee web site, gop.com, and decided to take a look at it. The verdict, in short: if they are the party of new ideas, they are also the party that makes the same old stupid mistakes on their web sites.

First, let’s look at the problems.

Problem #1: A database error message is my first experience. Granted, the site is probably getting hammered by all the excited young Republicans, but that’s still no excuse for getting the following message on my first request: “Database Error: Unable to connect to your database. Your database appears to be turned off or the database connection settings in your config file are not correct. Please contact your hosting provider if the problem persists.” gop-homerCome on, is it that hard to write a friendly error message?

Problem #2: Hearing someone talk as soon as the home page opens. Having sound play automatically on your first visit to a web site is bad enough. Having that sound being someone’s voice is worse than that. In this case, it’s RNC Chairman Michael Steele telling us about the new web site. I bet that the majority of visitors who don’t immediately hit the BACK or CLOSE button probably spend more time looking for the MUTE or STOP button than they do paying attention to what Mr. Steele is saying. (I know I did.)

Problem #3: Doesn’t scale to 800 pixels. Sure, 800 pixels is so yesterday, and many developers (myself included) don’t bother supporting it. But this web site is quite clearly aimed at the general public, and roughly 4% of the general public still have monitors that display at 800-pixel wide resolutions. Considering the Republican party needs all the support it can get, it shouldn’t alienate these people by forcing them to scroll horizontally.

Problem #4: Branding a face that has no brand meaning. You can’t miss the “faces” in the GOP logo on the top left of the web page. Each refresh loads a different page. (See A Children’s Treasury Of ‘GOP Faces’ From The Hot New GOP Website.) Why are you focusing so much of the visible screen, and so much of your user’s attention, on faces that have no brand value? Shrink the damn header to no more than 120 pixels high and give people what they need: functionality and information, not a bunch of meaningless faces.

Problem #5: It just doesn’t work. I refreshed the home page, and now all my connection attempts are failing.

I’ll say more if/when I can actually re-connect. Why such a problem? It’s not like launching new web sites is something new.

A little digging identifies the hosting provider for gop.com as Smartech, and they seem like a reasonably sound hosting company. So, is it a hosting issue, or a software architecture issue? I’d bet on the latter.

Hey, finally got back in! I’ll continue the blog post now.

Problem #6: Pretty useless without JavaScript. Disabling JavaScript helped me avoid seeing the nameless faces (Problem #4) and hearing sound (Problem #2), but improve beyond that. Now I can’t click in the SEARCH box in the header, or on the DONATE button. Similar to Problem #3 (scaling to low resolutions), few people have JavaScript disabled, but why blatantly exclude even 2% of your audience? At least handle the lack of JavaScript gracefully.

Sorry, got kicked out of the GOP web site again. I’ll continue this post when I can reconnect…

Ah, back in… sort of…

Problem #7: Republican Faces doesn’t work. Apparently the focal point of the web site (or, at least, the faces described in Problem #4) is “Republican Faces.” Go to that section of the web site for this error:

PHP has encountered an Access Violation at 7C82A38B

Hmpf. Well, until that’s fixed, let’s see what else we can find.

Problem #8: Dropdown menus that are longer than the height of the screen. I’m looking at the site on a relatively mainstream 768-pixel height laptop screen. Due to the excessive height of the header (Problem #4) and the excessive length of some of the drop-down menus (one has 10 items), I can’t see the entire menu without scrolling. One positive: the menu is “sticky” – it doesn’t disappear when it loses focus – which makes such scrolling possible. Still, I wonder how many people will never go to the Research Briefings or Future Leaders pages (among others) as a result.

Sorry, can’t continue: Service Unavailable. Fortunately, while waiting, the Republican Faces site came up.

Have this many people really been able to use the new GOP.com today?
Certainly I wasn’t!

Hey, RNC, if you need to hire a web guy who actually knows how to make web sites work, drop me a line!