Main Course: The Fags (with a side of Watershed) - by JCE

Watershed will be opening for The Fags at Small's Bar in Hamtramck, MI, this coming Saturday night, October 8th.    


It’s been almost exactly 10 years since the release of one of my favorite records on the planet.  I learned of this anniversary by total coincidence as I sat down with an idea to write about some (any) great, great record that had one flaw that bothered me. I thought I might write about London Calling by The Clash having both records crammed into one jacket and not listing the song “Train in Vain (Stand By Me)” on the back but that really doesn’t bother me that much.  I’m a little OCD, but come on, it’s The Clash so who cares?  It didn’t take me long to figure out what record was the perfect fit; that one record that is so perfect and yet has that one fatal flaw.  The amazing record I decided to write about, which as it turns out is going to be 10 years old on October 31st, is called Light ‘Em Up by The Fags.  This is one of those records on which every song is spectacular.  The artwork is edgy and I like it a lot.  The record title is perfectly rock ‘n’ roll.  The name of the band is…..unfortunately horrible.

The Fags were (are) a band from the Motor City, Detroit, Michigan.  The band is fronted by the excellent John Speck.  The Fags came along after John’s mildly successful band Hoarse, which was not remotely as good as The Fags in my opinion.  Watershed fans will remember a split single with Hoarse from around 1997.  Watershed fans also will know that Fags bass player Tim Patalan has been a valued collaborator/producer for Watershed.  So anyway, I had this theme and this band in mind – great record, one fatal flaw – and by pure coincidence, the record is being celebrated with a live show to commemorate its tenth anniversary, and Watershed is opening.  Damn I wish I was a few hours closer to Michigan so I could see that show.

But let me talk more about Light ‘Em Up.  This record did not go totally unnoticed.  Spin Magazine listed it as one of forty great records in 2006.  I haven’t seen the list, but I guarantee Light ‘Em Up was better than probably every one of the records they listed, whatever they were.  The record had eleven songs on it.  I’ll get to my favorite in a minute, but let’s start with “Truly, Truly.”  That song could have been a big radio hit, but I’m willing to bet that there were a lot of radio stations passing on playing a song by a band called The Fags.  I should say that I don’t know why they chose that name for the band, maybe there was a great reason for it, but I wish they hadn’t.  I read an article that seemed to suggest that they were just messing around when they did a gig as the Smokin’ Fags and after that it just stuck.  That’s a shame.  My personal favorite song on the record is “Mistake.”  The song just oozes regret: “I just can’t help thinking we’re making a big mistake.”  That line and the way it is sung gives me a chill even now.  My favorite lyric on the record (also from “Mistake”) is “I try to do what’s right, but what’s left keeps egging me on / It may end up on my face, that’s the risk that I take.”  I also can relate to the line “The radiator hisses in a soft assuring way.”  

The song “List” is right up there, as is “Rockstar.”  “List” has that great line “I sat down to write a list of every girl I ever kissed / I couldn’t remember them all, I guess it’s a case of selective recall.”  And “Rockstar” just makes you feel good—“Grab the keys off the counter, check the mirror on the way out….You’re a rockstar on a Saturday night.”  The title track is an instant classic as well.  I could make a good case for the brilliance of every track.  Light ‘Em Up is just a great rock and roll-power pop-whatever you want to call it record from start to finish.  It should have been HUGE.  Light ‘Em Up was actually completed in 2005 but sat on a shelf for an extended period.  Just like Watershed and countless other great bands, the recording industry completely failed The Fags, but their name almost certainly had something to do with their fate. 

If you go to the anniversary celebration show at Small’s Bar in Hamtramck, Michigan on October 8th please tell me how it was.  A chance to see Watershed and The Fags at a small club together on one night is a chance not to be missed.  And it’s on a (Rockstar) Saturday night!  I really should be flying up there from Virginia.  I wish that John and Tim and drummer Jimmy Paluzzi would extend their reunion after this show, change their name and give it another shot.  At the very least, I wish they would go on a tenth anniversary tour down the east coast (and bring Watershed with them of course).  

BREAKING NEWS:  The Fags are planning to release a new record containing some old demos and outtakes, and you can get in on funding that now! – JCE