Here’s my situation, which I need to contemplate for a moment: I’m 19 years old and have no musical talent whatsoever, and I’m sitting here trying to pass a judgement on the entire musical career of a drummer who started playing 16 years before I was even born. There’s something very wrong with this picture.
And so I have nothing very much I feel I can say — should even be allowed to say, about the CD entitled Bert Switzer: 1977-2002, a retrospective of this man’s career as a drummer, from his first recordings with guitarist Henry Kaiser as the band Monster Island at Harvard in ’77, through his stint with the apparently despised Boston punk band The Destroyed, through the ’80s, during which he “rehearsed alone with the occasional jam” in his basement — the fruits of this period represented on the CD by a recording of him playing drums for a thirteen year old guitarist on a cover of Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train,” through a dry spell starting in 1993 when he quit playing the drums, all the way up to last year, when he picked the sticks back up and entered a recording studio to produce the two new tracks included in this collection.
No matter what I think or say about the music on this CD, I sit here an wonder: how can I possibly be comfortable with critiquing this man’s entire musical life? The Monster Island tracks are listenable and interesting to me mostly as a record of Henry Kaiser in his formative years. As early punk goes, actually, The Destroyed is pretty good, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they have a fervent cult following somewhere. I’m surprised, really, at Switzer’s statement that they were “Hated by….the punk audience…the crowd threw bottles at us.” They sound alternately like The Cramps and The Doors, only not as rehearsed and with a powerful live energy to the recordings. They’re by no means the cream of the crop when it comes to early punk, but they seem to be a fairly solid, rocking band.
Then we come to the inexplicably-included, poor basement recording of thirteen-year-old Bobby Powers zealously jamming away on Ozzy’s “Crazy Train,” with Bert coming in with fairly simple drum lines to back him up. It’s hard to tell whether Switzer is seriously including this as something he’s proud of from that period, or whether he just thought it would be a fun thing to put on a record. If the latter, I have to say, I agree with him. I’d like to assume that it’s both his sense of humor and his punk rocker mentality that caused him to think “Hey…why the hell not?”
The CD is bookended by the two new tracks Switzer recorded last year. The first one has a friend of his (Bill T. Miller of Headroom Recording Studios, where Switzer laid down his new material) joining him on screaming noise-guitar and seemingly arhythmic bass, which actually compliments hid furious drumming quite nicely and even seems to evoke the spirit of Henry Kaiser, his first collaborator. The last track is nothing but drums: fast, furious, and plentiful. Switzer seems to be saying that, hey, if nothing else at the end of this journey, at least he can actually play. Which he can. In the opinion of this talentless 19-year-old, he can play quite skillfully. Which, I guess, is the only judgement I’m allowed to make here.
Bert Switzer: http://www.bertswitzer.com/