Kiss the Ring

Bad Brains in an undated photo by Lucian Perkins.

After a 25-year absence, the former front man of Bad Brains returns to Ithaca on Friday, Jan. 24 for a show at the Haunt.

HR, short for Human Rights, was born Paul D. Hudson and along with a handful of others birthed the American hardcore music scene in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. The voice of the Washington, D.C. foursome, HR simultaneously screamed louder, sang more melodically, and composed more clearly than legions of acts that would follow in his footsteps. Though he now principally performs a more restrained version of reggae and dubstep, the living legend continues to tour and impact audiences throughout the world.

“I did get a chance to get out to Argentina and Brazil this last summer, and we just came back to Brooklyn from a day in upstate New York,” HR told me on an unexpected Sunday night phone call. “We’ve been received with open hearts and open arms, and they really liked us and had a good time, and came to me with smiles, and they left with smiles.”

Just as the Velvet Underground were said to have spawned 10,000 independent rock bands—one for each record the act sold, Bad Brains is generally considered the godfather of hardcore music. A striking turn away from the hedonism of mid-1970s punk rock, hardcore promoted politics and an ideology that ranged from the “straight edge” substance-free lifestyle of Ian MacKaye and Minor Threat to the more general positive message of Bad Brains.

The visionary HR spent as much time back flipping and bringing pure kinetic excitement to his scene and he barely noticed the legacy he was creating. Along with Big Black from Chicago and Los Angeles’ Black Flag, Bad Brains turned earnestness into a badge of honor.

Reggae, hardcore, metal, jazz and fusion all somehow made it into the mix for Bad Brains, who spent the ‘80s disbanding and re-grouping. The act re-united most recently in 2007, and according to HR “will go to France and Europe in June … [and] will be playing some traditional music and some new music.”

Recently, his performances are a little more restrained, but no less profound. “The shows we do are a premium highlight of that same selection of Out of Bounds, the most recent music that you have been listening to. I am playing with a four-man band, and we’ll play from that,” HR said.

HR described his music as “a 50-50 thing; half is sharing, and half is getting together and having fellowship and congregation and righteousness.”

Hardcore seemed tailor-made for the 1980s and the Reagan Revolution, and a documentary a few years back found the (mostly) men explaining themselves. Of the group, HR and MacKaye come off as the most coherent, the former acknowledging the racial tension in the scene (Bad Brains is made up of all black members), and the latter still carrying a torch for a movement he co-founded. But back in 1981, an illustration by Raymond Pettibon depicted hardcore painting itself into a corner: Ian MacKaye’s Minor Threat had broken up; Bad Brains had taken an indefinite holiday, and Black Flag was pursuing radio airplay.

Things look a lot better 35 years later. Along with hip hop, hardcore has turned out to be one of America’s independent cultural legacies. A from-the-ground-up movement that still plays a role in many lives, it still touches teens in garages, basements, and unofficial performance spaces across the country.

Local DJ Mike "Judah" Miller will open, and the Dubb Agents, who include David Corneja, Monk Washington, and Miguel Lantigua. Miller recalls meeting HR. "They called him 'Brother Joseph.' Bob Marley also had that nickname. I met him at the Twelve Tribes of Israel house, and it was nice to meet him outside of the club experience." 

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