On an afternoon in 1988: I turned on my television set after school and saw an upcoming promo for week long “special report” on CBS about a band called Missing Foundation. The series was done by journalist Mike Taibbi, and it was dubbed “Cult of Rage.”
What caught my eye initially was their iconic symbol that was literally plastered everywhere below 14th street and parts of Williamsburg when it was a drug infested wasteland. The symbol which was an upside down martini glass with three lines below it and a strike through, was powerful and it invoked the message “the party’s over.”
That party being the rapid gentrification of the lower east side in the late eighties. I knew this symbol, but did not know at such a young age what it meant. The report was fairly inaccurate though it filled me in on some of what this was all about.
A bit sensationalized, the report basically let me know: 1. They are from the lower east side. 2. They were involved in inciting the Tompkins Square Park riots 3. They were beyond Punk Rock. 4. The singer used to set himself on fire. 5. They worshipped the devil!
I became an instant fan.
As a young kid trying to learn whatever I could about punk and hardcore music – these guys were the underground of the underground. These guys were beyond the regular Lower East Side hardcore and punk scene. These guys were squatters who were as anti-establishment as it got and I loved it. Devil worship: check. Political Punk Rock: check. Setting shit on fire: check.
They instantly became legends to me and I got on the F train and went down to Bleecker Bob’s and bought the album they were pushing at the time. The record was called 1933 and it truly is one of my favorite albums of all time.
I can’t still listen to every old school hardcore or punk band. Some of that stuff you just grow out of. This stuff I find to be genius to this day and way ahead of it’s time. It sounded like machines fighting each other, lacked any structure, was creepy, political, drug induced, scary and brilliant at the same time.
One of the cuts on the record is Called “Kingsland 61.” It is one of the most disturbing tracks on the record. Named for it’s place of recording, a now defunct studio on Kingsland Avenue in Williamsburg Brooklyn, it literally sounds like someone beating a metal object with another metal object for about two and a half minutes.
But the tracks that creep me out the most are “Message from Hell”, and “CIA World Fair.” This is heavy duty stuff, definitely not for everyone. They were a reflection of the rotting, drug infested neighborhood being rapidly transformed around them and the wild west mentality of New York City at that time.
The band was started by Peter Missing, born Peter Colangelo from the South Bronx. He started the band in Germany and brought the original lineup to the Lower East Side in 1984. They made records, played shows and tagged the hell out of every lamp post, bathroom stall, stop sign, wall and anything else they could. The symbol became a movement in itself. Imagine having the symbol of your band tagged everywhere. And It was not just the band. They had an army of followers who would do their dirty work and the symbol was everyplace you looked. I used to ask people “You see that? Do you know what it means?”. People would always say they saw it everywhere but few really knew what was behind it.
Let me sum up the art scene downtown in the eighties. Soho was for the elite and bands like Sonic Youth catered to that scene. Think Keith Haring and Jean Paul Basquiat. Across town in the Lower East Side, there was a parallel movement happening comprised of street artists, performance art, skaters, hardcore kids and punks. Think squatters, crust punks and heroin.
This was a more political art scene and Missing Foundation provided part of the soundtrack. They were anti gentrification, anti landlord, anti corporation, and just anti in general. This is a complex issue. A book could be written on the fragmentation of the art scene in New York in the eighties but for the sake of this article I will not go into that. A line from their bio states “Bands like Sonic Youth and Swans were running for their lives. A sound that was way ahead of its time and will probably outlast all underground status in the tests of time.”
They truly sound like nothing else and I think what they were doing at the time was art in its purest sense. These guys were dangerous, illegal, and for fucks sake they set a fire in CBGB’s. Who does that? At one show instead of instruments, they brought filing cabinets on stage and beat the shit out of them.
I was friendly with their drummer, Mark Ashwill who died in 2000. He was a really nice guy and would always said hello and stop in the street to talk about music. I only met Peter Missing once on the 4 train when he noticed I had a missing foundation tag on my cargo bag. We spoke until I got off and he was happy that people still remembered what his movement was about. This is what was so beautiful about the punk scene in New York in the eighties and nineties. My friends and I would see Joey Ramone all the time on Saint Marks Place and say “Hey Joey” and he would always say what’s up. We would see people in bands we loved like Raybeez from Warzone that we would go right up to and shoot the shit. We were the younger generation of hardcore and punk kids and they loved that what they started was being passed on to a new generation. That accessibility was something you would never find in another place as unique as New York used to be.
Sadly nowadays much of the Lower East Side resembles Disneyland so for all their fight, even Missing Foundation could not stop the tide. Peter Missing is still an active artist and I think he is brilliant. His installations are as wild as his music. Think mad scientist labs with strange colored tubes and disturbing themes. The last I heard he was living in Bushwick after living in Berlin for sometime. A friend ran into him at Grand Central Station and they spoke briefly. I would love to find him and interview him so if you know where Peter is, please contact me via greenpointers (at) gmail.com.
For a really amazing film on the Tompkin Square Park Riots, check out “Captured” by Clayton Patterson. It puts all of this in perspective if you did not live in New York at the time. This piece was written for the anniversary of the Tompkin Square Park riots, the memory of Mark Ashwill, and the memory of a place that is no more.