Joe StrainMay 9, 2007
“Punk rock changed our lives.” – The Minutemen, “History Lesson, Part II”
Here is a small, cheaply made cardboard flyer that the punk band Giant Prospects somehow managed to get into a few packs of Topps baseball cards in 1979. (Note characteristic typo—”GIANTS PROSPECTS”—at top.) From what I can deduce, the flyer was an ingenious (though perhaps misplaced) bit of guerilla-punk publicity intended to spread the word about the band’s would-be debut album, 1979, which for a myriad of reasons was never actually released.
That has to be the explanation for this baffling artifact. How else to explain the profound anonymity of the players? How else to explain the unsurpassed graininess of the photographs? How else to explain the eerie look of each of the pairs of eyes, which all seem as if they have been drawn onto the grainy photographs of the faces, or, worse, that the faces themselves are clammy rubber masks with eyeholes? How else, above all, to explain Joe Strain?
No, this is not a trio of baseball players. How could it be? This is a punk rock band. John “Johnny Tomorrow” Tamargo on drums. Greg Johnston on bass. Joe Strain on vocals and guitar.
The following excerpts from Dead on Arrival: The Oral History of Giant Prospects, the Greatest Punk Band No One Ever Heard Of shed some more light on the band, and on the card at the top of this page:
From pages 11–12 :
Tamargo: Yeah, I was working at a Jiffy Lube. I was a little older than the other guys, who knew each other from a community college typing class, I think. I’d played drums a few years before in a band in high school, but we fuckin’ sucked. All we did was play the same three Bachman Turner Overdrive songs over and over again to the girlfriends of the guitar player and lead singer. I ended up getting thrown out of that band for beating the shit out of the lead guy, I forget why. [Pause.] He was a dick. [Pause.] He had this long Robert Plant style hairdo and thought we were holding him back from selling out arenas. He ended up making a lot of money though, but not from music. Huh? Oh, uh, he started a business that rented out port-a-potties. [Long pause.] I actually ended up having to ask him for a job one time. I heard they needed a driver. What? No, nope, he didn’t hire me.
Johnston: Well, I was sick of taking the bus. What choice did I have? I had no car, no money to buy a car, and it was a 9-mile walk from my job at Hardee’s to my mom’s apartment, where I was staying. And it was at night, and a lot of the route was along a highway. Fuckin’ miserable. But I don’t know, I was just sick of the fucking bus, the monotony of it, mostly, pay your money, sit there staring out the window, do it all over again the next day and again and again until you’re dead. So one night I just decided, fuck it, I’m walking. Before I get to the highway I pass this Jiffy Lube that’s empty and all lit up and there’s this music coming out of it. This sound. I mean it was the sound I wanted to fuckin’ be. That’s how I met Johnny.
Tamargo: The funny thing is I mostly cranked AC/DC when it was slow. Maybe some Nugent. But I’d recently bought this new cassette because I liked the cover. I was like Bollocks? What the fuck is bollocks? I think it was “God Save the Queen” that was playing when Greg was walking by in his fuckin’ Arby’s suit. You know [imitating Johnny Rotten]: “No future, no future, no future for you. . . .”
From page 86:
Dave Peretz (friend/fan): Those early shows, in a way, those were the best. I mean, in a way they were the worst, too, because, I mean, objectively, or, like, musically, they sucked. Especially Joe, who could barely play three chords in the beginning. But that was enough. All of those shows ended with Joe injuring himself. That’s how he got his name, because he kept giving himself groin pulls and hamstring tears in the middle of the closer, “Worth Something.” Joe would start thrashing around while screaming the chorus, you know, “Throw me in the dump/wait a thousand years/maybe by then I’ll be worth something!” Over and over until everybody in the place was yelling “worth something” right along with Joe every time it came around, and Tamargo was smashing the shit out of the drums like they killed his mother, and Greg, Greg always had his face shining up at the ceiling during that song, all smiles, eyes closed, like a fucking blissed-out Hare Krishna. All of us jumping up and down, sweating our balls off, yelling “maybe by then I’ll be worth some-thing! Maybe by then I’ll be worth some-thing!” I still hear it in my head, man. Thirty years ago almost. I don’t believe it. [Long pause.] I honestly don’t believe it.
From page 131:
Tamargo: The baseball card thing came about because Joe got to be friends with this burnout who came to our shows, Smitty, that used to work at the card company. Huh? Yeah, Topps, I guess. He got fired because he’d get stoned every day out by a dumpster during his lunch break then go in and just, you know, make a mess of things. The cards would come out all crooked. [Laughs.] But he still knew people who worked there. I think he actually sold shrooms to one of them. So that was our window, I guess. I don’t know, Joe was the driving force on that one, like with most of our, uh, “professional musician” type shit.
Johnston: The baseball uniforms were Joe’s idea. He was reading a bunch of these anarchist pamphlets that this weird older woman kept feeding him. She was tall and bony and had a really pale face which she made even paler with powder or something. She kind of looked like a puppet. Tell you the truth it kind of gives me the creeps to think about her. Anyway, Joe got on this whole kick about uniforms. He was like, “From the moment you take your first step you are in a uniform. If it’s not Cub Scouts it’s little league. It’s fascism!” Me and Johnny laughed at him a little. I mean, we both played little league and it didn’t make us want to go sign up with the Nazis. But he was always going off on some insane tangent or other, not that I didn’t agree with him most of the time, actually. Anyway us being in uniforms helped the first few of the cards slip past quality control or whatever at Topps, I guess.
From pages 247–248 :
Eddie Toth (manager): That’s the million dollar question, isn’t it? Or one of the two questions, which are each really the same question. My opinion is the answer to one is the answer to the other. Find Joe Strain and you find the tapes from the recording session. They’re in the same place, guaranteed. Dead or alive, who knows, but same place for sure.
Johnston: Yeah, well, Eddie and Joe never really saw eye to eye. Joe always suspected Eddie was, you know, the fuckin’ man or something. “The Oppressor.” I was always like, come on, man, Eddie’s just some fat fuck who owns a bankrupt record store. He’s not the head of the friggin’ world bank. But anyway, yeah, maybe Eddie’s right. I mean, the tapes went missing just a few days before Joe disappeared. [Pause.] So much for Giant Prospects.
Tamargo: Last time I saw Joe for sure was the day before he flaked out. He was acting weird, but he was always acting weird. You know, jittery. Never stopped moving, never really looked you in the eye. But the weirdest thing about that one time was that he did get quiet and still for a second and he did look me in the eye. He said. Heh. You know what he said? He said, “John, you oughta be more careful when you drive. You go too fast.” [Pause.] Hm? Oh, well, you know how things are when you start to be an old man like me. Yeah, I mean there’s been a couple times when I thought I saw him out of the corner of my eye kind of thing. But that’s just probably my messed-up mind. I mean, Joe Strain? Joe Strain was barely possible in this world even way back when. How’s there going to be a Joe Strain now? [Long pause.] But I guess you never know.
Postscript: There seems to be no video or audio evidence of the band described above. In lieu of that, below are a few links to footage of some of the bands that helped bring Giant Prospects to life, at least for a short while: