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Energy. Friendship. Music. Inside Lewiston’s ’90s punk rock scene

todayNovember 12, 2023 15

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A clip from the May 21, 1993, edition of the Sun-Journal publicizing an event with Mudant, Taylor Martin’s punk band, and other bands.

A poster advertising the iceburn 1992 summer tour

The group Left Hand playing circa 1997 with Dan Quinlan, Chris Mailhot, and Chris White.

Mudant at American Legion Post 153.

A poster publicizing a benefit concert by the bands Mudant and WD-40 at Bates College’s Roger Williams Hall.

A photo taken during a performance by Happy Church Dinner at Chase Hall at Bates College. Submitted

Lewiston native Taylor Martin, who now lives in Fort Kent, with the blue bass his father gave him that he played in his punk band. Submitted

A poster publicizing an event at LeMontagnard Club in Lewiston featuring the band Mudant and other bands.

A poster publicizing a concert featuring local punk bands including Mudant at Bates College’s Schaeffer Theater, with proceeds going to the Sexual Assault Crisis Center.

Taylor Martin, these days a music and humanities teacher, is shown here in a more recent picture leading some enthusiastic elementary school students in a concert in Madawaska.

Taylor Martin is a music and humanities teacher with a wife and six children living in Fort Kent. For two decades before that, he was a logger and carpenter. Given those career paths, you could forgive those who watched him grow up in Lewiston for being a little surprised. Because Martin was for a time right in the thick of Lewiston’s punk rock scene as it formed and grew, playing frequently in Lewiston-Auburn at Bates College, the Unitarian Universalist Church and other venues, as well as throughout the Northeast. They played, they learned, they helped fuel punk rock and then, as he says, at some point “we just aged out, went to college or moved away, and didn’t really look back.” But just as he circled back to music after two decades — teaching and playing Appalachian and French Canadian style fiddle — he also recently circled back to his memories of Lewiston’s once active punk rock scene and the community he still remembers fondly.

Today, we go back 30-plus years and offer an inside look at Lewiston’s punk rock scene through Taylor Martin’s eyes and in his words.  

I am not sure how it happened. I think it is every band’s story – we met and became friends.

In the late ’80s and early ’90s in Lewiston, Maine, if you saw a guy skateboarding, you shouted and ran up and invited him over. If you were walking down the street with your friends and looked the part – combat boots and crazy hair – a guy in a Coca-Cola delivery truck could throw a cassette tape out the window at yah and suddenly you would dub that Minor Threat tape for all your friends. Meet a guy with a leather jacket at a party from away, visiting a girlfriend, and boom, he handed you all the Misfits lyrics we hardly understood – all handwritten out on yellow lined paper.

An upperclassman would come up to you on the city bus you took to school and say, “Hey, you like the Violent Femmes?”

“Ahhh, no, are you trying to make fun of me?”

“No man, the Violent Femmes. It’s a band. I’ll bring you a tape tomorrow.”

And then you get a blank tape with red spray paint on it and you pass that all around.

Slightly older guys like Chris Saucier and Francois Jalbert were quick to encourage and promote younger people through skateboarding, their sense of being and style, and music. They didn’t have to do that; they could have been elitist and exclusionary. In freshman study hall, Brent Matthews saw from the doodles on the paper bag protecting my textbook that I was a skateboarder, and he gave me his Vision Street Wear sneakers right off his feet and a dubbed Cryptic Slaughter tape he got from his brother in the military stationed in California. I still listen to them. This was our social networking. This was our social media.

A lot of it was emulation too. Being excited about music and trying to recreate it. It amazes me that we learned how to play other bands’ music without any You Tube tutorials. My father sat me down and explained that although the instruments were in tune, they had to be tuned together, and that a band could only be as good as its drummer.

Thom Lepage was known as a guitar player. I had a guitar I couldn’t play. He told me he lived about half-a-mile from the old horse-racing track. Not being sure exactly where his house was, I carried my battered and used guitar that my memere bought me from St. Vincent de Paul’s in search of his house. I carried it — shyly taking all the out-of-the-way side roads of suburban Lewiston — to hear him play and maybe learn something. I found his house by the sound of the tinny whines of a loud amp coming through the small, open window of the basement. Through him, I met everyone else.

It was a sweltering hot summer playing knock-off, cheap Flying V guitars in our underpants. No amps. I played bass so I took off the bottom two strings and suddenly it was a bass now. He was trying to show me some Nuclear Assault songs I had never heard. “Critical Mass/Will be achieved . . .”

We knew there were metal bands in Lewiston including Molested Senses, Arsenic, Twitching Slab, and Living Impaired. These bands were comprised of tough, hard-edged and hard-working men. In those days, you could go watch Lewiston hockey rivals LHS vs. St. Dom’s at the arena and everybody, I mean everybody, was there. There was a division or even a rift between us and the “metalheads,” but it never went too far. Kris Milo, Shane Pelletier, Mike Rabineau and “Half Matt” Roy were people in the metal scene that were not adversarial, but inclusive, and could crossover to our scene. We liked metal – especially Thom – but also liked what was called “college music.” I have to say having Bates College radio, WRBC, was an influence as much as, if not more than, (MTV’s) “Headbanger’s Ball” and “120 Minutes.” You could discover your ilk, sort of. “Hardcore Happy Hour” on Thursday nights at 8 o’clock on WRBC introduced us to Bad Brains, Rites of Spring, and The Exploited. It was a real treat a couple of times a year to pool money for gas to get to Portland to get to Enterprise records to buy a few records you couldn’t and wouldn’t find anywhere else. We wanted to start our own band and not even knowing it, our own scene.

At first, we started practicing together and started a band and called ourselves Civil Disorder and played Misfits and Metallica covers and a few stiff “originals.” Vincent Myrand sang, Kevin St. Onge’s parents got him a drum set and we played in his basement, Thom Lepage on guitar, and I played my dad’s blue bass. It was juvenile – the whole show. I think at one point St. Onge was missing a cymbal stand and we just roped one up to the floor joist above. You gotta start somewhere.

Things changed when we parted ways musically but not socially. We went on to form different bands. Thom invited Kevin Roux, who was a football player he knew from Greene and had a car and could slay, and I mean slay, on the drums. And we really started to gel and make some high-energy, tight and sonic, original music. Thom, Kev Roux and I re-emerged as “Mudant” and we kept it as a trio.

Later, I switched to guitar, and we added Andre Beaulieu on bass, to deepen and layer our sound. We drank with “Batesees” and partied at “the Bill,” often slept on the Bates lacrosse field till dawn with Jake Sweetzer, and met Alexander Dwinel, who was the one who did the “Hardcore Happy Hour” show on RBC, and he enabled us to play shows there.

Alex was from D.C., and he essentially “vouched” for us so that we could have all those energetic shows at Bates. Small ones at first, but toward the end, hundreds of young people came from Lewiston and the surrounding, less-populated towns like Sabattus, Buckfield, Litchfield, and Rumford. Suddenly, there was a punk scene. People from Auburn like Paul Kott, Chris White, Ian and Brawnwin Lindley, and Eric Rancourt (who still play as a West Coast band today as High Tone Son of a Bitch) brought pluck, talent, and intelligence to our fledgling scene. Before this, I had never experienced any overlap between the Twin City communities except as rivals in sports.

We played VFW halls, back rooms and halls at Bates, and Unitarian Universalist Church basements. Almost all of our proceeds went to the Abused Women’s Advocacy Project, domestic violence shelters, and a sexual assault crisis unit. Advertising with only the edgy art of paper flyers and word of mouth, with pawn shop instruments, and a few write-ups in the Lewiston Sun Journal newspaper and even Maximum Rock and Roll, we created music with an audience in a post-industrial setting. Never mind that we were all teenagers. And did this all largely without support. We did all the recording, booking, and promotion. No coaches, no teachers, no parents. The only parent, or even adult, I ever saw at a show was Lewiston Junior High School science teacher Phil Brookhouse, now recently deceased. But he was an artist too.

I wish I could make a Venn diagram of all the different band lineups because there was a lot of interchange, interplay, and collaborations. Bands that played in Lewiston-Auburn shows were Basement People, Mudant, The Dinks, and Happy Church Dinner. Later, bands like Chris Mailhot’s Dirtboy, and Left Hand, and Busk filled out the interchanging lineup of shows. We made a low-fi, split 7” with Mudant on one side of the 45 long-play and The Dinks on the other and sold it at shows on a winter tour of the Northeast, from Vermont to D.C. These were punk shows. It was a largely masculine effort on the music side of it. Val Poulin sang in Plastic Suburbians and hats off to her effort and feminine presence.

We didn’t have cellphones, so really, there are hardly any pictures or movies that I know of. Other bands took it further. Diesel Dope, Ebola 95, Horselover Fat, and Taming The Shrew had more complex music, higher energy, and a sharper vision. Eventually, I think we just aged out, went to college or moved away and didn’t really look back.

But in looking back, I see more support than was apparent to me then. Can you imagine tolerating a pile of teenagers constantly banging out tunes in your cellar and pilfering your kitchen? Parents like Dan and Denise St. Onge, and Ray and Yvette Roux put up with a lot and gave us space to let us be who we were. And the impromptu music halls; can you imagine letting 150 to 200 kids come to a concert in your church basement? No security? No insurance? And making some pretty serious noise? Later, I discovered our band sounded so much like Husker Du and we never even heard of them. We were only from a similar community and city and lived with the same kind of exposures, stresses, and opportunities.

Art, culture, and music helped vitalize our community. A lot of this punk scene was done without ego. It was largely peaceful, and inclusive of all walks. We never made any money. The ticket just cost a few bucks and we gave it to charities. I was at a bar recently up here in Fort Kent where I have lived for the past 25 years. There was some conflict between some locals and the summer railroad workers from away and I got involved and it fizzled out on its own. Later, one of the big railroad workers leaned in and asked me if I was the bouncer. I said, “No. I am just from Lewiston.”

We were so fortunate to have found each other – all of us. That was an amazing time and I’m sure that all of us still carry those experiences and that they are a big part of who we are today. I wouldn’t trade those friendships and that camaraderie with anyone else in a million years.

My mother called me to tell me what was happening that night of the shootings and I was in shock. I could feel it in my chest. With my mind focused on the recent and despicable tragedy, I guess it comforted me to reminisce about those times. I was reminded of how tight knit that community was – even though it wasn’t largely recognized, advertised, or lauded. People from there are known to have grit, be hardworking, and be family driven. It is my ultimate hope that those characteristics help heal these insufferable wounds.


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Written by: Soft FM Radio Staff

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