pondelok 7. novembra 2022

Interview with Mykel Board - East European memories (2022)

Rozhovor s Mykelom Boardom, bloggerom a svojho času aj stĺpčekárom fanzinu Maximum Rocknroll, o jeho spomienkach na cestovanie po východnej Európe.

Mykel má už väčšinu veci tak trochu v hmle, niektoré veci nesedia, ale niet sa čo čudovať, mnohé udalosti sa stali pred viac ako 30-timi/40-timi rokmi a Mykel má už po 70-tke. 

Rozhovor sme viedli v angličtine.

Hi Mykel, 

I will write something about myself in short. My friend and I are mapping the independent fanzine scene in the environment of the former ČSSR, but also the current fanzine scene.

Web page: http://ziny.info/

I have been an irregular reader of the MRR fanzine since 1999. I visited New York in 2005 – CBGB´s was just few days before closing, but I found and visited nice places like Abc No Rio, Groud Zero, Hotel Chelsea, Brooklyn Bridge, Harlem, Central park, Broadway, St. Mark Street, Downtown...etc.

Later, I also visited countries, which you mentioned as well: Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia, as well Bulgaria. 

I would like to hear your experiences...from your perspective.

Questions: Mišo

Answers: Mykel


What led you to visit Eastern Europe in the 80´s? What was your motivation? Do you have ancestors from Europe, or was it just curiosity?

I first took a trip through what was then East Germany in the 1970s. I was traveling by moped and went from West Berlin to East Germany. At that time, if you bought East German Marks in West Germany, you could get them for 5 Ost Marks per 1 Deutsche Mark. If you changed in East Germany, the rate was one to one. So naturally I bought in West Germany and hid the East German Marks in my shoe when I crossed the border. Of course, the customs guard found the money… we talked… he wound up inviting me to meet his family. His wife made me lunch to take on the road, and we became fine friends. 

I went by moped from East Berlin to Prague. (Best beer in Europe (sorry Germany). U-fleku, just soooo great!) I met a lot of great people on the way. I was particularly fascinated by a group that people called (sounded to my ears like) Atzis. I learned it meant asocial and to my budding punk mind, it was right up my alley. 

Are you met any punks or bands in CSSR?

At that time I met no punks or bands of any kind while I was in Czechoslovakia. But, when I was in Estonia, I saw / met the great band SABOT / CESTA that was based in Prague. I saw them in various places over the years, and was sad to learn they broke up. You must know that there is an American expat community in Prague. Among them is a good friend, Bob (Robert) Carrithers. He’s a photographer and probably has a lot of photos from early punk in Czech. You can find him on facebook, https://www.facebook.com/robert.carrithers. Tell him I sent you. 

I met so many great people on that trip. It was easy. An American traveling by himself through Eastern Europe… I was like a secret rock star. 

Oh yeah, like many of us New York Jews, our background is Eastern European. My two grandfathers were from Kiev… They never said they were Ukrainian, by the way, they said they were Russian. One grandmother was German, the other was Latvian. But I had no family that I knew of in Eastern Europe. 

There was a Jewish Latvian agency that had historical records. My grandmother’s maiden name was Esther Berman, a German name, not so common in Latvia. But Jewish agency had no record of her. The guy I was staying with in Latvia (right near a Brewery!) called every Berman in the Riga phone book. We found one old lady who spoke German. I talked with her, but she only knew one Esther Berman, who emigrated to Israel, not to the US. 

I would like to know what kind of East German visa have you got, cos at the time as tourist visas were only for tour groups...

I don’t remember the visa. I don’t think I had a visa at all. My memory is weak. I THINK I entered through Checkpoint Charlie in West Germany… and I just talked my way into the East. It was more than 45 years ago. 

As far as I know from New York big multicultural city, many different people, maybe dangerous feeling for somebody, but you had no worries, or prejudices to visit Commie countries?

I loved traveling in Communist countries. I was usually the only one like me, so I met people easily. Everyone could speak English… at least a little. In Hungary, my friends spoke better German than English, so I spoke German as well as I could. It was my third language, and i could get by in it. 

I’ve always loved to go to places other people don’t go to… so Eastern Europe was a natural.

How did you get here? Did you know people from Poland, did you have contacts? The first time you were in Eastern Europe was in Poland in 1980? When did you visit Hungary? Was there a punk scene? Bands, people?

I was in Poland right at the end of the Communist era. Language is my hobby, and I learned if you study a language that has relatively few speakers, the government will give all kinds of benefits to encourage you  to learn the language. So I had a free place to stay at the university. free food, and Polish language lessons. After the school term, I went to Warsaw and met up with some punk rockers there… in the band Kanal. I have a picture of that performance:

I don’t remember how I met them, but it was probably through Luk Haas, one of the few people I know who has been to more countries than I have. And he’s the world’s greatest chronicler of punk rock. You can find him on facebook. 

We made contact though Maximum Rock’n’Roll. He may be a bit angry with me at the moment. We disagree on the Ukraine war. But you should contact him through facebook. Explain your project. He’s a great person, super knowledgeable, and super willing to exchange information. He never played in a band, as far as I know, but put out several records on this Tien Am Men label, and introduced me to some of now my best friends. It’s one of my life’s big tragedies to lose him as a friend… If that’s what happened. You can ask him about it, 

At that time (around 1986? I have a bad memory for chronology), they were organizing the first Nowi Fali (New Wave) festival in Savonlinna Poland. Kanal was playing at that festival and invited me to sing a song with them. The only one that both the band and I knew was the Velvet Underground’s Sweet Jane… so that’s what I sang. 

Hm, if you played with Kanal, chronicles say that festival Nowa Fala was in Kolobrzeg  in 1980, Maximum RNR started at 1982, and Luk told me, that you didn’t know each other in 1980.

(Source: Revolution Rock zine, Internet Archive)

I was interested in punk before MRR. So I guess that Luk was not the source of the connection. As I said, I’m bad with chronology. Luk is certainly right. We did not know each other before MRR. 

I met the singer of Kanal, I think his name was Janoc or Jaroslaw, and I heard he died, so he won’t be a useful source. Probably with a better memory than mine is Adam Wasek, who did Pasazer Punkzine from Poland. We haven’t been in contact for a long time, but he might still be at pasazer@mtnet.com.pl.  Another person who was involved in the scene at that time (and might have a better memory) was Szymon Matusiak (szymon.pn@gmail.com) but be careful, I’ve heard he became a serious Christian. 

By the way, I’m glad you made contact with Luk Haas. He’s a great guy and super-contacted. He also has a better memory than I do. 

I should make reference to my time in Hungary. No, I didn’t learn the language, but I stayed with the great Hungarian band (German name) Trottel. I lived in a Budapest suburb for 6 weeks and loved it so much I cried when I left. 

Interview with Mykel Board from polish zine QQRYQ no. 13 (1989), 

Wow, this is interesting! How did you contact them? Are you played there with some bands too? How did you spend your time there? Gigs, culture, drinkin´??? Are you still in contact with Trottel? (Btw, they are still playing, I saw them few years ago on Slovakian festival, but it is more experimental-transcenedtal music now.)

As you can imagine, I can’t remember how I contacted Trottel. It was probably though another guy, now dead, Imre Hadzsi. He was very involved in the East European scene. He may have played in Tizedes, with another friend of mine (who told me of Imre’s death). Imre visited New York. He stayed with me for a short time and became very popular with my friends. The other friend is on facebook as Attila Marton https://www.facebook.com/tizi.tizedes 

More details I can’t remember.

Have you ever been to USSR or Russia?

No, but I’ve seen it from two sides: Finland and Mongolia. I also had guests from the MOSCOW ROCK LABORATORY stay in my apartment.

What was your impression of the Baltic countries? Did you also meet the punks? Was it after the collapse of the USSR?

I visited the Baltics after the USSR fell apart. I (through Luk Haas) was already in contact with JMKE, in Estonia and the singer arranged my accommodations there. I stayed with members of the band  PSYCHOTERROR. The guitar player lent me his phone to use as an alarm clock in a kind of dorm. During the night, someone stole his phone. He never asked me for money, but all these years later, I feel like shit about it.

As of now (Oct 29, 2022) I have been to 71 countries. In two of them, the immigration officer actually said WELCOME. One was The Gambia,. The other was Estonia. I was treated well in Tallin, I met a lot of people and 
had a great time. 

In Latvia, where I stayed near a brewery, I stayed with a straight-edge band… sorry I don’t remember the name. But I do remember the irony of waking up to the air filled with beer-smell, surrounded by straight-edgers. 

In Lithuania, I stayed with another band, Mountainside. This was a heavily political time, and most of the punks were involved in the movement to keep Lithuania out of NATO. They failed at that.

Please, tell me some experiences from Bulgaria too.  You mention to me that you are also visited this county too. It was just after fall of Communism regime?

I stayed in what was like a punk commune in Sofia.  I remember the band VENDETTA whose name kept changing. I was sleeping on the couch in the livingroom… and pleased that one of the guys staying there knew me well enough to tell me about a porno channel, free on the TV. They were very kind to me, and excited that they were going to open for AGNOSTIC FRONT, who, I was surprised to learn,  was doing a tour in Bulgaria. I also met Ivailo Tonchev, in Stara Zagora, who had the AON DISTRO and a label. He gave me some CDs and we talked about being Jewish (him and me). 

How did you actually get into punk? When it became popular, you weren't a teenager anymore, were you? What appealed to you about it?

As a teenager, I loved music. I scammed my way into the Filmore East by volunteering as an usher. I saw Blue Cheer, The Doors and many others there. I was in high school in the NYC suburbs and came into the city on weekends to be an usher. 

In the early 70s I hung out in this club where the house band was the New York Dolls. They became my favorite band. At one show (probably around 1974) the Dolls stopped dressing in drag, and just wore jeans and t-shirts. 

I asked someone what was going on. “Don’t you know?” came the answer, “Glitter is dead. It’s punk rock now.”

Soon after that CBGBs opened, and I was there with my camera, taking pictures of the bands. By 1978, I figured I had to eat or get off the pot. Around this time the “art-rock” bands like The Contortions and DNA started. I thought they were funny and unpunk, so I started the hyperbolic band ART, THE ONLY BAND IN THE WORLD to make fun of them. When we started, the only instrument was a metronome… we added a guitar later. Chris Butler, the guy who wrote I KNOW WHAT BOYS LIKE, produced our only record: The Only Record In The World. 

After ART broke up, I started another band called THE ROLLING STONES. I picked the name, because I thought it would get a lot of people into the clubs to see us, but they refused to advertise us with that name. 

So I killed The Rolling Stones, and started ARTLESS… the natural follow-up to ART.

How did you get into writing for the fanzine Maximum rock n roll? Did Tim contact you? 

I read an interview with Tim Yohannan in another fanzine… I can’t remember the name. Tim was the DJ at Maximum Rock’n’Roll  radio, and the editor of Maximum Rock’n’Roll fanzine. But in the interview fanzine Tim said that his radio show would play a song with “bad politics” like VKTMS 100 % White Girl once and then never play it again. I wrote a letter to the editor calling that attitude fascist. Tim wrote me back asking me to write for  Maximum Rock’n’roll. I said I’d agree, if he’d agree to print anything I wrote. It was a deal made in hell, with each side being the devil. Actually, Tim and I were good friends, His death was a real tragedy. 

How did the idea and release of the World class punk tape come about? Don't you remember how you got the recording of the Czech band A64?

Because of my interest in punk and travel, it was a natural for me. Neil Cooper, president of ROIR cassettes, came up with the idea. He contacted me, making the connection, I think, through Maximum Rock’n’Roll. I put the word out through MRR and got a ton of records and self-recorded cassettes in response. I wanted as many countries a possible. I think A64 sent a cassette. It was a ton of work in the studio to make all this primitive and cheaply recorded stuff sound good, but it was worth it. I don’t think I ever met A64 in person though. 

I participate on FB page/web focusing on subculture archive with a friend, so I'll ask about fanzines: Did you publish your own fanzine? I read recently that you published the Nothing But Record Reviews zine, what was it about? Only reviews, nothing more, as title said? Did you publish another fanzine?

In high school I had a self-published zine called IS, I don’t remember what it stood for. Then at college, I had OPERATION MAXWELL, a radical zine named after the Beatle’s song Maxwell Silverhammer. 

Nothing But Record Reviews was basically that, but it had a lively letters section and was very jokey. One review rule (I had a few outside reviewers too) NO BAD REVIEWS. The purpose of the zine was to support the scene, not tear it down.

Mykel, thank you for your time.

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KRACH - Naša vec (1987) (re-upload)