have two lead singers, one who looks like Little Lulu and another
who tries to look funny-weird instead of funny-ha-ha. Who knows?
They'll probably do an album and be around forever. However, when
I learned to draw, tracing was cheating."
Z, Slash magazine, June 1979
high-strung music is laced with anger and hostility. It is expertly
executed with precise calculation. On stage, singer Michael Ely
displays his true showmanship as he assumes authoritarian control
of the front lines while Spider Taylor jams away at his guitar like
an axeman extraordinaire. Drummer George Hurly beats the living
life out of his skins and Jim Kaiser puts in his two cents worth
by tenaciously strumming away on bass."
Hitching Post, April 29, 1980
a period of original punk bands getting bigger or breaking up or
left in holding patterns, it now seems that L.A. is creating a new
generation of post-punk modern music groups. Possibly spurred on
by the success of Wall Of Voodoo, or hoping to ride on the
crest of New Romantic faddism, there are definitely more original
bands happening around town. Some names to watch for: Interpol,
Kommunity FK, Red Wedding, Aphotic Culture.... whether I like
these bands or not, I respect them for having the courage to find
their own direction instead of being apes or sheep.
L.A. Weekly, June 1981
Dog, October, 1981. Black walls, steel plating along the bar and
stage, dining-room chairs upholstered in leopard skin. I'm talking
with a petit-guignol punkette named Kristina. Eyes saucered like
a lemur's in heat, angular to the point of anorexia, Ritt Plum Dye
#12 dandelion-going-to-seed 'do like a nimbus around her Ensor-expressive
face, she looks like the prima screema in some pop-corn schlock
shock-o-rama, Attack of the Zombie Nymphettes, say, or something
equally bizarre. Someone catches her attention. "Oh, Miiiichaeeellll,"
she banshees, the syllables sliding off her miniature oil slick
of a voice. "Hey," she urges, "just look at that guy move!" The
l'homme fatale in question is one Michael Ely, lead singer for the
Romantidelic quartet Red Wedding. Michael's backside is currently
twitching its uppity way toward the Dog's rear exit. "See that,"
says Kristina. "That's the walk of a star!" "Don't you mean Superstar?"
I wonder, invoking the famous Warhol label. Kristina laughs. "Yeah,
the atmosphere's like that, like the Factory, isn't it? All these
intense creative types coming out from under the rocks and asking
us to pay attention."
L.A. Reader, October 1981
comes across as an imaginative, intelligent Rimbaud-goes-techno
band, taking influences from the British new romantic sense of the
fatale, Eno's mastery of rhythm and technique, and a gutsy
rock 'n' roll energy that steers the band clear of pretentiousness.
The songs are tightly constructed with abrupt changes of tempo and
strong dramatic tensions. New drummer Ford has given the band a
needed rhythmic cutting edge, integrating nicely with the dense
textures of Marc O's keyboards and Tagliavia's bass. Taylor's guitar
is the high point, spinning back and forth between rhythm and melodic
lead, counterpointing Ely's intoned vocals and giving the material
its hooks. The band is more than the simple sum of it's parts and
the overall blend has character and originality. Ely is the center
of attention, a lanky, nervous type playing the doomed romantic.
Deliberately affected, his ingrained ennui is interesting for a
couple of songs, but becomes a little tiresome, particularly as
he is so detached from the audience. More emotional involvement
rather than icy aloofness with the material would draw the spectator
into the music. Given the brevity of their set, Red Wedding was
very impressive, both in terms of material and arrangements."
Connection, April 1982
ichael's concept for Red
Wedding was to blend '60s psychedelia with '70s glam rock, creating
a sound that was anything but retro. He wanted to create a band of illusion
in which nothing was what it appeared to be. The songs would all be
love songs, but with a lyrical twist: lush and romantic on the surface,
cynical and decadent underneath. This new "post punk" music would explode
upon the scene and, under the banner "alternative rock," continues to
reverberate into the new millennium.
Red Wedding debuted at the
Brave Dog on Saturday, June 13, 1981. Fans expecting a revamped Hey
Taxi were in for a shock. Gone was the angry and fast-paced power punk,
replaced with mysterious, trance-like electro-glam rock. Gone was Louie
Dufau, replaced with a drum machine. Gone was the punk attire, replaced
with ruffled tuxedo shirts, makeup and earrings. And in the biggest
transformation of all, gone was Michael the hyperactive clown, replaced
with Michael the dark and aloof doomed romantic.
Primarily because of their
glamorous look and exotic apparel, Red Wedding was immediately labeled
New Romantic, a term the band neither embraced nor rejected.
It was only one of many incarnations the band would go through over
the next few years. Also, because all the members of the band were openly
gay, they were labeled a "gay band." Matt Groening, creator of
"The Simpsons"), back then, a struggling writer for the low-rent
L.A. Reader, used this label to dismiss their music in a fairly
derisive manner. The L.A. Weekly, meanwhile, referred to them several
times as "the brides of red rock." Although the band member's sexuality
played a part in their music and in Michael's lyrics, it was not intended
as gimmick. They did not want to make an issue out of their homosexuality,
nor did they want to deny it. It was simply who they were.
Red Wedding performed many
shows at the Brave Dog, sharing the stage with other post-punk bands
and artists such as the Fibonaccis, Interpol, Kommunity FK, Wild
Kingdom (Michael's personal favorite) and Adore
O'Hara. They occasionally played at other small clubs around
town (Madame Wong's, Al's Bar, Cathay De Grand), but they regarded
the Brave Dog, the setting for Andy Warhol's 1982 "pictorial
of punk" for Rolling Stone, as their homebase. Even when the
band was not performing, they could always be seen hanging out at the
Dog, often sharing a late night supper and some laughs with Jack and
Clare at the Atomic Cafe right next door.
During that summer of 1981,
a scene from the movie "I'm Dancing As Fast As I Can" was filmed
inside the Brave Dog. If you look closely behind the actors, you can
see the members of Red Wedding standing on the stage, flagged on each
end by two girls (Belissa and Ann Marie) in red gowns.
This was a kick for all concerned. Also that summer, record producer
Kim Fowley approached the band about managing them. While the
members were flattered, Fowley wanted too much artistic control and
the band turned him down. Instead the band opted for
, a far less seasoned veteran but one more in sync with
the band's vision. Claudia was a young, gifted writer who had worked
as a publicist and club booker in the music scene since the age of 18.
She had done publicity for such diverse acts as Prince (doing
publicity with Bobbi Cowan for his first album, "Dirty Mind,"
on Warner Bros.); John Mayall (Regency Records/MCA);
Fear, then managed by former lead singer of Three Dog Night, Danny
Hutton; and the European pop-techno band Wet Picnic. She
had booked local clubs including the hardcore punk club, The Vex
in East L.A. and the more pop/new wave club The Arena in Culver
City where The Go-Gos played some of their first gigs. She was
smart, aggressive and eager to move Red Wedding into the larger venues.
Claudia quickly became part
of the band gestalt. More than most bands, the members of Red Wedding
were a tight-knit family. They seemingly spent all their time together,
intimately involved in each other's lives on every level. When they
went to clubs or bars, it was usually as a group. They tended not to
socialize with members of other bands, preferring to keep to their own
small circle of friends.
Michael was by far the most
antisocial of the group. He suffered severe panic attacks when out in
public and often drank excessively to mask the fear. Although he loved
the attention of being in a band, it was, at the same time, a curse.
He was petrified when people would approach him, and both Spider and
Claudia went to great lengths to protect him. In large part, his aloof
and often intense onstage theatrics were a device designed to keep people
at a distance. If people viewed him as cold and sinister, they would
leave him alone (he hoped). Most people never saw the real Michael,
who his close friends knew as sweet, funny and fragile.
After the Brave Dog closed
down in November, Red Wedding ventured into larger venues. In early
'82, they changed their unconventional lineup (two guitars, synthesizer
and drum machine) to a more traditional one. Drummer Brian Ford replaced
the drum machine and John switched from guitar to bass. This gave the
band a new energized, full-bodied sound, and after a stunning performance
on New Wave Theater (filmed on March 9th, Michael's birthday),
audiences and critics began to take notice.
In June of 1982, Red Wedding
recorded their first EP entitled "Up and Down the Aisle."
It was a disaster from start to finish, despite the talents of producer
Thom Wilson (who has since achieved great success in
the music business). Recorded on a shoe-string budget in the middle
of the night (literally) in a studio out in the San Fernando Valley,
the band was ill prepared to transfer their live sound onto vinyl, and there
were technical problems with the band's equipment, leaving less than
three hours to record and mix the five songs. Michael's vocals were
recorded in less than 20 minutes, and his idea to leave his vocals completely
raw and without effects did not work on vinyl. However, had it not been
for Thom's quick thinking ideas and studio savvy, things could have
been much worse, and the experience of working with Thom (although brief)
was a joy for the band.
The recordings were signed
over to Bemisbrain Records, an extremely small punk/alternative
label. Within minutes after signing, the band had regrets, but decided
to move forward and learn from the experience.
In July, Red Wedding replaced
drummer Brian Ford with drummer Brian Engel. Ford, who had been
the only heterosexual in the band, was never comfortable with the "gay
thing," and had become increasingly difficult to work with. Engel, also
heterosexual, was more than happy to join the band. His first performance
with Red Wedding was to take place in a gay bar.....
Van Tyne asked Red Wedding to play at the first Theoretical,
a unique musical event. It took place on Sunday afternoon, July
25 at the One Way bar, less than a block from Spider and Michael's
apartment in Silverlake. The stage was built of beer cases and plywood.
For this occasion, most of the band wore leather and Michael, a long
peach-colored negligee. The show was a huge success, assuring there
would be many, many more Theoreticals to follow.
Red Wedding continued to
play at various clubs including The Whiskey, Club Lingerie, The Plant,
The Anti-Club, Madame Wong's West and The Lhasa Club, sharing the
stage with bands such as the Ju Ju Hounds, Outer Circle, Mnemonic
Devices, 45 Grave, Redd Kross and The Bangs (later renamed
The Bangles). Down south in San Diego, Red Wedding played
at the Spirit Club and the Bacchanal Club with such bands
as Killing Joke, X, Nina Hagen, Romeo Void, The Gun Club and
Bow Wow Wow.
In November, Bemisbrain
Records released "Up and Down the Aisle." To the band's
surprise, it was for the most part praised by the reviewers, but many
fans of Red Wedding complained that the record didn't sound anything
like them, and the EP did poorly in sales. It was later released in
Europe on a French label, New Rose, where it faired much better.
In January of 1983, Michael
began to see a psychiatrist to help him overcome his panic disorder
and bouts of severe depression. The psychiatrist told him his fears
and depression were rooted in his homosexuality, and put him on a high
dose of Lithium. Michael mixed the Lithium with street drugs and alcohol,
causing his behavior to become erratic and irrational. While staying
with friends down in San Diego one weekend, he went into convulsions
and had to be held down under a cold shower. After this incident, he
stopped seeing the psychiatrist.
As with most bands, drugs,
sex and rock 'n' roll were a way of life with the members of Red Wedding.
They worked hard and they played hard, often burning the candle on both
ends, and took full advantage of the sex and drugs that are readily
made available to those in bands. Of course, this fast-paced lifestyle
eventually took its toll on all of them.
In February of 1983, Claudia
announced she would no longer manage the band. She was dealing with
her own personal demons and needed to focus her energies on recovery
from drug and alcohol abuse as well as depression. This was a decision
that was hard for her to make and harder to carry out; letting her best
friends down was excruciating. Her departure also left the band devastated.
Not only were they losing a manager, but a member of their family. It
was a loss that they never fully recovered from.
In the spring of 1983, Red
Wedding played their second Theoretical ( a special birthday
bash for good friend Jim
Van Tyne). Held in an 8,000-square-foot warehouse and using
the back of a 30-foot flatbed truck as a stage, Red Wedding performed
along with Age of Consent, Lotus Lame and John Fleck.
Over 1,000 people showed up.
Throughout 1983 and into
1984, Red Wedding continued to play clubs in L.A., Orange County, San
Diego and San Francisco. They began incorporating more and more diverse,
and often conflicting elements into their music, combining psychedelia,
punk, gloom, funk and pop all into one evening's set. Accordingly, they
began to change their look with every show. From '60s mod to black leather,
from pink suits to boots and trench coats, from choir robes to bathrobes,
the band never seemed to repeat the same look twice. Michael bleached
and dyed his hair so many times that it began to fall out, and in one
memorable show at the Whiskey, he appeared wearing only a shower curtain,
hooks and all.
This unpredictable approach
to their music and attire both delighted and angered critics and fans.
Always difficult to categorize, it was now virtually impossible to label
Red Wedding. While some praised Red Wedding for refusing to follow any
one trend, others criticized the band for having no clear direction.
In July of 1984, Red Wedding
recorded their song "Swimming" for the "Radio Tokyo Tapes
- Volume Two" compilation album, and music soundtracks for two Al
Parker gay porn movies. That August, long time friend Billy Ingram
became the band's second manager, and bassist John Tagliavia was replaced
with Warren Mansfield (due to John's problems with excessive
In September, Red Wedding
recorded their second EP, "Nails." It was produced by Leslie
St. James and recorded in both San Diego and L.A. For this EP, Red
Wedding decided to focus on their darker, homo-erotic material, although
it was decided to delete the most blatant homosexual passages used in
the live version of the song "Bernardo."
"Nails" was released
in late October of 1984 on Important Records. Reviews were mixed,
but the EP made it to number one on many collage radio stations across
the country, and the song "Somewhere" won the 91 X people's choice poll
in San Diego.
In November of 1984, John
(his problems now somewhat under control) rejoined Red Wedding, and
in December, Marc O left the group to start his own band (one that never
materialized). Marc left on friendly terms, and he and Michael continued
to be best friends.
Without Marc's domineering
keyboards, the focus fell entirely on Spider's guitar playing, allowing
him to shine like never before. The band had a new, lean sound. For
hardcore fans, this was Red Wedding at its best, but Red Wedding's heyday
was at an end. Audiences began to dwindle and bookings became scarce.
The band began to lose heart, and Michael became more and more reclusive,
often not showing up to rehearsals.
In March of 1985, Red Wedding
recorded four songs (including "Fiction Theater," the first song
Spider and Michael had written together back in 1975) for their third
untitled EP. Produced by Ed Grundman and Rick Hart, this
was by far Red Wedding's best and most important work, but the EP was
In May of 1985, Red Wedding
gave its final performance playing at the Spirit Club down in San Diego.
After four years with no interest from a major label, frustrated with
having to deal with the jaded Hollywood scene, and burnt out from drugs
and alcohol, Red Wedding called it quits. In 1987, Spider and Michael
resurfaced briefly in a band called "Glass," but Michael no longer
wanted to perform, and he and Spider retired from music in 1988.
On January 5,1992, Marc O
passed away due to AIDS complications. Michael and Spider were by his
side to the end. Marc's memorial service was held at the old Hollywood
Cemetery (the same cemetery in which Red Wedding had posed for their
first professional band photo 11 years earlier). John Tagliavia passed
away from AIDS a year later. Sadly, he had been estranged from Spider
and Michael since the band breakup.
Today, Michael and Spider
are living in Arizona, northwest of Tucson. They both love the desert
and still write and play songs for their own enjoyment. As of December
2001, they will have been a couple for 30 years. Spider works as a structural
mechanic in a jet factory, and Michael takes care of the homefront.
Michael is now in counseling and on appropriate antidepressants, but
his days of mixing prescription drugs with excessive amounts of drugs
and alcohol are long over. Still very much the recluse, and occasionally
still troubled by mood swings, he has found a contentment that eluded
him in the past. Nevertheless, his and Spider's experiences in Hey Taxi
and especially Red Wedding remain close to his heart - the music, the
people, the sheer adventure of it all - the two of them will never forget.