My first experience with Wax Trax Records happened in the mid-80s. I happened upon the store late. The founders had moved on to Chicago to start a record label by the same name. They maintained ownership of the original store in the seedy Capital Hill area of Denver, just south of Colfax Avenue behind the state capital. The store served as a pilgrimage site for me every time I would head up to Denver for any reason. If my friends and I were headed up to see a concert, we always allowed several hours to go to Wax Trax. It was part of the ritual. Today, when I talk to my friends about record stores—bemoaning their deaths with quiet, romantic sympathy—it is often Wax Trax that I am talking about. I can recall asking the clerks about the association between the Denver store and the Chicago label on my second or third visit. By that time the focus had shifted from the Denver punk scene to Chicago industrial. The store combined elements of both major musical movements in a way unique to the entire state of Colorado.
The Wax Trax store helped introduce me to a huge number of bands I would never have discovered otherwise: Front 242, Hüsker Dü, KMFDM, New Order, Sisters of Mercy, Joy Division, My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult, Depeche Mode, Nine Inch Nails, Sinead O’Connor, Ministry, Bauhaus and the Revolting Cocks.
So when I began talking to my friend and co-worker, Bruce, about our various hobbies a few months back, he began describing his interest in music. I talked about my reintroduction to photography. He would show me the various specialized tubes he had purchased for his music equipment. I would talk to him about lenses and darkrooms. Bruce is a quiet, introverted, highly skilled engineer. I respect him a great deal. He has a passion for elegant technical solutions to difficult problems and the experience and track record to back up his quiet confidence. He also moonlights as a sound engineer and plays guitar in his own band. Some time ago we began exchanging books as well. I have lent him On the Road by Jack Kerouac and Rock On by Dan Kennedy. He just lent me the recently-published Chris Connelly autobiography: Concrete, Bulletproof, Invisible and Fried: My Life as a Revolting Cock. I have just started reading it.
The book promises to open up the lives of the people who were in the middle of the music scene I only orbited second-hand in Denver. The back cover reads:
Connelly’s superbly written, funny, irreverent, and sometimes downright scary memoir is one of the finest portrayals of a man trapped in the eye of a post-punk industrial storm this side of Armageddon.
In it Connelly attempts to paints a fair, but disturbing picture of a drug-addicted, out-of-control tyrant in Al Jourgensen, the founder of Ministry. He describes both the personalities and places with wit, originality and humility. The book includes a litany of hallowed Chicago nightlife institutions from the 80s and 90s: places like Smart Bar, ChicagoTrax, and Cabaret Metro. Places I missed by four or five years as I moved to Chicago too late to experience most of these at their prime. My visits to those places came after Wax Trax Records filed for bankruptcy in 1992. Seattle grunge was on the rise, not Chicago industrial.
I wonder if there is a connection there to draw upon with my relationship to my child bride. Whirl arrived in Chicago out of the grunge scene of the Pacific Northwest where I came to Chicago through this musical path. I will have to think about that as I turn the pages and get back to you.