Written by Bevis M. Griffin
The most important thing to remember is this: To be ready at any moment to give up what you are for what you might become. Now isn’t that the truth? ~ W.E.B. Du Bois
By 1982 The Bats had barnstormed throughout the Texas club scene with the precision of a well-oiled machine. We’d received rave reviews from fans and pundits ranging from The Daily Texan to Texas Monthly. The Austin American-Statesman didn’t even have a dedicated music editor during this time and The Austin Chronicle was merely a burgeoning street rag. I knew Roland Swenson before he was old enough to gain admission to Raul’s (legally that is). All of that to say that professional career opportunities were scarce!
Upon discovery of a rising new-wave band from New Zealand who’d also dubbed themselves The Bats, C.K. Bailey and I initiated a full-throttle campaign to come up with the most eye-catching unique moniker. Resorting to the random cut-and-paste word-scramble method developed by William Burroughs and later famously adopted by artists such as Brian Eno and David Bowie, we eventually agreed upon BANZAI KIK. Naming a band is a lot like skillfully arranging the sartorial ensemble for the first date of a newfound lover. Our criteria were always based upon the syllabic snap-crackle-and-pop of how the moniker looked in print.
In Japanese, the name BANZAI literally means “Ten Thousand Years” and is used in joyful celebration. But in the context of rock & roll, it barks aggressively, due to its infamous depictions in WWII films that focused upon the amphetamine-fuelled Kamikaze attacks in combat films like Midway, and Tora!Tora!Tora! Banzai was implicitly an aggressive attitude committed to an assault with total disregard for one’s survival. Growing up in South Central Los Angeles, I personally related to this degree of reckless abandon myself. Despite my penchant for androgynous fashions, behind the hair and make-up, I was gangster to the bone!
For years I carried a traditional physician’s satchel stocked with a small arsenal of weapons ranging from nun-chucks, blackjacks, brass knuckles, various hook-knives, box-cutters, butterfly knives, and bandages. As previously illustrated from my formative years touring with Franklin’s Mast, I was not to be “fucked with”. The name Banzai Kik served as an eponymous battle-cry that simultaneously invoked arena-rock energy. Once again, Chris and I became deeply infatuated with the endless possibilities for artistic graphic design.
As local headliners, Banzai Kik firmly established itself as one of the most original presentations in Texas. However, despite our musical prowess, Austin was still sadly deficient in the realm of talent development. By this time there were many popular local acts that drew consistently well within their respective genres. Bands like The Fabulous Thunderbirds, Stevie Ray Vaughn & Double Trouble, The Skunks, Big Boys, Lou Ann Barton, Joe Ely, Dough Sahm, and Delbert McClinton were fixtures of the early 80s. Banzai Kik stood apart as a musically progressive, no-holds-barred, theatrically daring, rock extravaganza!
In 1983 the combo-gods returned in the guise of my dear friend, and fellow vocalist, Miss Lou Ann Barton. I had recently enjoyed a special appearance by Little Steven & The Disciples of Soul, staged at Club Foot. Steven Van Zandt, aka Little Steven of Bruce Springsteen‘s legendary E-Street Band, was touring solo throughout the south and my long-time friend and stage-manager, John Falcon, took him out-on-the-town.
Allegedly, John introduced Steven to Lou Ann, after her gig at The Continental Club, and the trio decided to hop-over to Club Foot to check-out Banzai Kik. Unbeknownst to me, Steven was very impressed and Lou Ann escorted him backstage to meet us after our set. As always, I was dripping wet with perspiration when I met Little Steven in person. After an enthusiastic greeting he gently pulled me aside and whispered, “If EVER you decided to come to New York, I think I could really boost your career… You are FANTASTIC!”
And with that, he gingerly scribbled his personal digits on a CBS Records business card and disappeared. After the routine revelry of post-show interactions, I eventually became fatigued and made my way home. As I began the ritual of decompressing from my hyperactive state, I knew that I’d prevail, against all odds!