Former Detroiter and noise-punk trailblazer Bob Madigan has died in San Francisco from liver failure. He was 47.
Madigan founded the demented, drug-addled and noisy band Slaughterhouse in 1983 in Detroit, pulling together a bunch of friends to meld guitar feedback, banging drums and Madigan’s shouted lyrics into a viable noise combo. The band never really hit the big time, but Madigan was all over the Detroit scene, encouraging people to listen to and perform weirder, stranger sounds. It was he who nudged 29-year-old Al “the Carp” Halversen into looking for a space to host all-ages shows, which would eventually become the Hungry Brain. He had cultivated a friendship with G.G. Allin, who once promised to commit suicide in Detroit. Madigan was always pushing things a bit farther than others in the scene; once Graystone manager Cary Safarian had to leap into action to stop Black Flag’s Henry Rollins from punching Madigan, who had been nagging him from the audience all night to “read poetry!”
A Slaughterhouse show could be kind of an ordeal, even if you liked Madigan. I recall in particular once night at Blondie’s perhaps in 1987. Between the screeching feedback, the constant strobe light and the re-looped videos of animals being disemboweled in an abattoir, it was hard to take. Luckily, Madigan had hooked up a car battery to some electrodes and offered audience members the chance to get a good, strong electric shock. He demonstrated, but I don’t think any guests took him up on it.
By the 1990s, Slaughterhouse was over. By the 2000s, Madigan had moved on to San Francisco, had adopted the stage name “Donkey Daddy” and was in a group called Fluff Grrl, sometimes wearing a meat loin cloth on stage. He teamed up and did some radio with Boom of erstwhile Detroit punk band Boom & the Legion of Doom, who had a DJ gig at college station KUSF, doing a show called Rampage Radio (rampageradio.com).
Over the years, evidence would trickle in suggesting that Madigan was
drinking more than he should. As in nonstop. We had a bit of a laugh a few years ago when somebody sent us a link to a Bob Madigan for president commercial. Then we saw the original footage, and didn’t find it quite so funny. Or this clip of Madigan from several years ago, in which it is difficult to tell if he is drunk or brain-damaged.
Well, a week ago, word came to us that he was hospitalized with complete liver failure and compromised kidneys. It took a week, but Madigan was able to recognize guests and died quite peacefully, sitting with his brother, watching Frank Zappa on the tube.
Madigan leaves behind him a legacy of sorts — a noisy, confusing, almost insane legacy of high jinks and low points — but damn if he didn’t cheer others on in their weirdness. I remember a cold night in the 1980s when I’d run away from home with my girlfriend. Madigan found a spot for us on the couch of his apartment on Michigan Avenue in Detroit. And, drinkin’ and doobin’ or not, it was might nice of him to open up his home and watch Psychomania for the 100th time with us. And maybe that’s the point: Madigan was more than a weird guy; he inspired weirdness in others and praised it. In that way, Detroit’s ever-weirder music scene owes its lost son a great debt.
Some of Madigan’s old punk friends are rumored to be planning a get-together starting at 9 p.m. Friday, March 2, at the Old Miami (3930 Cass Ave.; 313-831-3830). We’ll post updates if we hear anything more. And feel free to share your own memories of Madigan as well.
As for you, Bob: Thanks for everything.