Zombies are back!


In early 1981 a Los Angeles punk band called the Flesh Eaters made a record called A Minute to Pray, a Second to Die for the Slash Records imprint Ruby. The band members that recorded the album played only a handful of shows and then went their separate ways. Now, almost 25 years later, these monsters have crawled out from under a rock to perform just a few more times, concluding with an appearance at the influential All Tomorrow’s Parties Festival, in Great Britain. Minus any additional details, this might seem like nothing to get excited about, but for anyone who cares about the genesis of the West Coast punk scene, this is a bona fide event.

The Flesh Eaters began in 1977, masterminded by singer Chris Desjardins, hitherto known to the public simply as Chris D. The film school graduate and erstwhile B-movie junkie named his project after a particularly sleazy 1964 sci-fi-horror flick, foreshadowing the sordid lyrical matter to come. An embryonic 7-inch EP on the Upsetter label was self-released the following year (appearing as bonus tracks on the Atavistic reissue of their 1980 debut, No Questions Asked, also on Upsetter), featuring howling, almost cartoonishly intense vocal depictions of decay and desolation bolstered by vigorous, stripped-down, guitar-driven rock.

What ultimately set the Flesh Eaters apart from the glut of period LA punk identikit units was the macabre eloquence of D.’s words. Often channeling chilling imagery through his characters’ psychotic delusions, the results loom like some sort of cryptic, hallucinatory-schizophrenic crime-scene testimonial. Early songs such as “Dynamite Hemorrhage,” “Cry Baby Killer,” and “Jesus, Don’t Come Through the Cotton” evoke surrealistic images of murder, addiction, and religious dread with a focused, poetic articulation matched by few contemporaries.

By 1981, after cycling through a seemingly endless series of backing musicians (featuring people from Wall of Voodoo, the Plugz, the Controllers, and other influential bands), Chris D. hit upon a winning combination featuring John Doe and D.J. Bonebrake from X, Blasters Bill Bateman and Dave Alvin, plus future Los Lobos member Steve Berlin. The second Flesh Eaters album, A Minute to Pray (released by Slash and titled after a 1968 spaghetti western), revealed a perfect collision between D.’s outrageous noirshock prose elocution and hard-nosed rock ’n’ roll that also masterfully fused modern punk angularity with elements of jazz and subtle allusions to early rock and American roots music.

One of the striking things about the album is the unexpected integration of marimba and saxophone into the mix the former firmly punctuating and prodding the nimble rhythm section; the latter adding vivid color to the chord progressions before lashing out with succinct solos teeming with articulate dissonance. The overall feel of the music swaggers with raw emotion and force while retaining a sense of swing and nuance not necessarily commonplace in much of the so-called punk rock of the era. Chris D. is in fine form on standout tracks like “See You in the Boneyard,” in which his gurgling crypt-keeper mewling climaxes in hair-raising shrieks a crazed undertaker drowning in a life of decrepit damnation.

Performing together live only a few times during the spring of 1981 (documented on side one of the 1988 Live LP, on Homestead Records), the various members of this punk rock “all-star” incarnation went on to various levels of mainstream success with their primary concerns. Chris D. soldiered on through the decades with his various live and recording pursuits (including intermittent, sometimes heavy metalinclined Flesh Eaters formations) before the bright idea of momentarily reincarnating the mythological A Minute to Pray band came to pass.

While many rock ’n’ roll reunion acts tend unintentionally to err on the side of flatulent and half-baked either missing the point or lacking any of the impetus that made their own prime work great the musicians who make up this combo have never strayed very far from their original inspirations. After almost a quarter century away, skeptics might wonder what’s in store. But this crack ensemble comes armed with classic material, and it’s a safe bet the Flesh Eaters will once again rise from the grave and devour their fans.

Flesh Eaters

With HUD

Wed/5, 9 p.m.


333 11th St., SF


(415) 522-0333



For proof – as if any is needed – that television is overwhelmingly a right-wing medium, one need only contemplate the manner in which DNA evidence is cited in the glut of true crime shows that crowd A&E, CourtTV, and other networks. Almost without fail, DNA is shown being used to convict the guilty. It is presented as proof that the legal system – with scientific help – is just and right.

Jessica Sanders’s new film, After Innocence, is devoted to the kind of true-life stories you probably won’t find on Cold Case Files. The DNA evidence here exonerates men who have been sentenced to life, men who’ve already spent decades in prison on false charges. With this type of subject matter, Sanders can’t help making an emotionally affecting movie.

But After Innocence also looks beyond the entwined grief and relief in these men’s lives to the bullheadedness of the system that put them there. For example, in the case of at least one of the film’s subjects, a prosecutor continually refutes seemingly irrefutable evidence because he can’t face up to the fact that he made a – knowing, not innocent – mistake at trial.

I’ve read reviews of After Innocence that complain that Sanders doesn’t stick to her theme – that her dedication to these men’s lives after imprisonment wavers, giving way to an advert-like portrait of prisoner’s-aid group the Innocence Project. These complaints from a too-literal view of Sanders’s title. After Innocence is by no means perfect, but its name refers not only to the lives of those exonerated but also – and just as crucially – to the actions of the criminal justice system. How will it treat a prisoner after his (or her) innocence has been established?

The answer isn’t a satisfying or inspiring one – it’s maddening. Quite often robbed of more than half their lives, the men of After Innocence are expected to be grateful that they’re "free" today. Compensation? Not a chance. Rather like a certain commander in chief, the legal and criminal-justice forces at play here consider themselves above even having to make an apology. (Johnny Ray Huston)