Looking to Cash In on a Punk Rock Youth

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Hear tracks from Jennifer Sharpe's punk band demo:

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A long-forgotten punk band hits the big time, thanks to Hewlett-Packard:

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TV Neats

Pure 1980s pop sounds, straight out of Connecticut:

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Jennifer Sharpe performs with Atrocity in the early 1980s.

Jennifer Sharpe performs with Atrocity in the early 1980s. Courtesy Jennifer Sharpe hide caption

itoggle caption Courtesy Jennifer Sharpe
Atrocity singers Katherine Harris and Sarah Borruso, circa 1983.

Atrocity singers Katherine Harris and Sarah Borruso, circa 1983. Courtesy Jennifer Sharpe hide caption

itoggle caption Courtesy Jennifer Sharpe

Back in 1980, when 16-year-old Spike Priggen played guitar for the band TV Neats, he sent out copies of the band's demo tape, hoping to get signed. Little did he know he would be 42 by the time their album would finally get released.

A full generation after the band broke up, that demo tape was released on CD by a Japanese label. When Priggen explained that there's actually "a hot little market" for old demo tapes like his, I suddenly felt a twinge of jealousy... What about my old band's demo tape?

In 1983, when I was a freshman at Berkeley High School, I replaced the bass player of a fiercely vegetarian peace punk band called Atrocity. Opening for the Dead Kennedys, Atrocity's two singers — 15-year-old Katherine Harris and 13-year-old Sarah Borruso — must have looked freakishly precocious singing songs like "I Pronounce You Dead," an anarchist commentary on the institution of marriage.

Looking for evidence of the so-called "hot market" Priggen had mentioned, I started e-mailing small reissue labels, secretly hoping to set the stage for an Atrocity pitch.

I learned that in fact, there are a number of old demo tapes making it into circulation. And while some bands have barely sold 500 copies, others are enjoying a posthumous renaissance.

A good example is the Speedies. Their previously unreleased material is now available on iTunes, and the band's nearly forgotten single "Let Me Take Your Foto" recently appeared in a Hewlett-Packard commercial.

Excited by the possibilities, I put up a MySpace Web site for Atrocity and sent out copies of our demo. And as I waited for a response, an unexpected flood of e-mails came pouring in from old Atrocity fans. One recounted listening to our tape at the reptile store where she once worked — she would play our song "Animal Fate" for the mice, before feeding them to the snakes.

Within a week, all but one of my former band mates had appeared on Atrocity's list of MySpace friends. In some ways, they seemed strangely the same — and in other ways, they had changed completely. Our anti-corporate guitar player, Paul Moraga, now works at IBM. And our pale red-haired drummer has changed his name from Greg Penn to Aleph Kali. On his MySpace profile, he ethnically identifies as East Indian.

When I asked our singer, Sarah, if she is still a vegetarian, she told me she occasionally eats meat now, but only because doctors keep telling her to eat steaks for her anemia. What about you, she asked? I had to tell her that just a year after the band broke up, I went to a McDonald's drive-thru and wolfed down a box of Chicken McNuggets.

The only possible vegetarian left is Katherine, our other singer, but no one has heard from her in years. So Katherine, if you're out there, get yourself onto MySpace. I've got a contract for you to sign. When the labels got back to me, all of them were interested in our demo — even the ones I'd hoped would reject it, for the sake of this story.

When I checked back in with Spike Priggen to see how the TV Neats album was doing, he told me he sold one copy. I hope Atrocity sells better than that, but I don't think we'll be getting any calls from Hewlett-Packard.



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