by featured contributor, Troy Farmer
We must start, dear readers, by begging your pardon. Usually, with Whistle While You Work, we endeavor to divine those subtle strands that connect two seemingly distant realms of art; that of culinary alchemy and that of musical conjuration. True, comparing two such separate art forms runs the risk of offending some. For instance, Passion Pit has to be one of my favorite new bands from the last year, but I'm not sure how they'd feel about being compared to mango jicama salad. For that matter, I hear jicama doesn't really care for the way Michael Angelakos sings. And, to be perfectly honest, I, for some reason, have always absolutely detested most any artist that incorporates food in their work or moniker (by way of example - macaroni art, any sort of fruit sculpture at a wedding, Meatloaf, Pearl Jam, Neutral Milk Hotel, Hall + Oates...this weirdness). But, in an effort to consistently bring you exciting vegan food and superb, often lesser-known musical acts in a not-so-conventional package, we march on, trying our best to coax out such connections between good food and music. This time, however, we just went for a cool name combo. So we give you the summer crisp heat of Heaven + Hell Tacos and the recently unearthed, mind-blowing protopunk from the 70's Detroit band, Death.
One of the common things you’ll hear people say about the first time they heard Death is something along the lines of ‘it blew my fucking mind.’ I have to number myself among the people who had that same reaction. It was akin to the first time I heard the 60’s brit band, the Action. I couldn’t believe that the sound I was hearing was over 30 or 40 years old and, with both bands, I was shocked to find out that something so good had gone largely unheard for so long.
Death was formed in 1973 by three black brothers from Detroit—David, Bobby, and Dannis Hackney—who, by all accounts, had some very nurturing parents growing up. At 20, 18, and 16, respectively, their mother let them replace their bedroom furniture with musical equipment so long as they agreed to practice for three hours every day. They started out playing R+B but switched over to good ol’ rock immediately after seeing an Alice Cooper show (thank you, Mr. Cooper). At first, they were met mostly with confusion by audiences, which makes sense when you consider the date. This was right around the time that the Ramones were just getting going, and they were in New York. The Hackney’s were basically presenting this sound—this bridge between 60’s and early 70’s hard rock and what would become punk—in Detroit. This was also one and two years, respectively, before the Sex Pistols and the Clash had even formed in London. And the fact that they were black and doing this in what would soon become a white-dominated musical genre is all that much more mind-blowing.
Despite the resistance to their sound, and partly in response to it, Death marched on (hah) and actually met with some success in their short run. They recorded a demo tape in ’74 and were signed by the studio’s owner, Don Davis. As the story goes, Don Davis at one point presented the demo to renowned record exec, Clive Davis—who signed acts like Janis Joplin, Donovan, Santana, and the Boss. Clive reportedly loved the sound but hated the name. According to what is sure to now become punk legend, David, the eldest brother, who wrote the groups songs and acted as their driving force, reacted with a fervent “Hell no!” when told that they would have to change their name to reach any real success. Though neither of the Davis’ seem to remember much about this encounter (it was a really long time ago and those dudes are old now) the two still-living Hackney brothers stand by the story. Sadly, David died of lung cancer in 2000, so a true Death reunion isn’t possible. Regardless of what’s true and what’s not, it’s a great story, and there’s absolutely no arguing with the sound the Hackneys produced. Fast-paced, hard-edged, beautiful punk-before-punk songs with political themes and innovative structure. They were truly ahead of their time.
So we should all be thankful that fate put Julian Hackney—son of guitarist, Bobby—randomly heard the rare self-released single at a party in San Francisco last year and recognized his father’s voice. Crazy, right?
After Death…er…died in 1976, in the face of the massive joint take-over of the airwaves by disco and corporate programming, the Hackneys basically moved on with their lives, venturing into other music and being met with varying degrees of success. Bobby and Dannis actually still play the college hackey-sack circuit to this day in the reggae band, Lambsbread. So it was quite a blast form the past when Julian approached his father, asking about Death. The two were lucky enough to uncover the original demo in Bobby’s attic and then be championed by an enthusiastic record collector, who used his connections at the Chicago-based indie label, Drag City Record, to get the demo released this year as “…For the Whole World to See.” Seven songs of utter protopunk might and a highly recommended gem of a recording. Not to mention a kick-ass story to back it all up. Check it:
and the insanely awesome Politicians in My Eyes:
So, again, apologies, but I’m not going to attempt to make any sort of ‘so hot they’ll kill ya’ death/Death analogies here, but, for your eating pleasure, I do give you Heaven + Hell Tacos. Why Heaven + Hell, you ask? It’s basically the same premise as the McDLT from back in the day, where McDonald’s gave you the hot side of the hamburger in one part of the crazy terrible Styrofoam container and the cold ‘fresh’ vegetable side of the hamburger in another part of the crazy terrible Styrofoam container. We’re just going for an edgier, some might say more punk (eh?) name. Plus these are tacos. Not hamburgers. The recipe is simple and fairly modular, but it’s based on the idea that you want a base of spicy, savory, protein with some fresh, crisp vegetables that are a little on the hearty side for a more unique crunch. The top it all off with some awesome South American aji sauce (best).
So, here we go. This should make two tacos. Feel free to double or triple if you like lots of tacos.
Heaven + Hell Tacos
For the protein, we recommend any of the following: - 4 oz. Seitan (homemade’s great and cheaper, but store-bought is fine), sliced into small pieces or - 1 Field Roast Sausage or other vegan sausage, chopped into small chunks or - 4 oz. Shiitake, Crimini, or Portabella Mushrooms, chopped into small chunks - 1/2 cup Homemade Barbeque Sauce with a little spice added (here’s a nice homemade barbeque sauce recipe we did, just add about 1/2 tsp. cumin and 1/2 tsp. paprika when you’re cooking the protein), or some Adobe Sauce or other spicy, savory sauce - 1 tbsp Olive Oil
For the crispy topping, we recommend: - 4 medium Radishes, sliced into thin strips, roughly 1/4 inch square and the length of the radish - 4 Radish Leaves, sliced into thin strips - 1.5 cup Watercress, stemmed and packed - 1/2 Red Bell Pepper, sliced into strips to roughly match the radish - 1 Spring Onion, sliced into thin circles - Juice form 1/2 Lime
And for the aji: - 1 Spring Onion, diced - 3/4 cup Fresh Cilantro, diced - 1 Fresh Jalepeño, seeded and diced (watch fingers-to-eyes action after chopping this one) - dash Cumin - dash Salt - 1 cup White Vinegar - 2 Soft Taco Shells or Wheat Tortillas (we like the small fajita ones that are about 6” in diameter)
*Don't forget tortillas or shells!
- So, basically start by chopping all your fresh ingredients and putting them in small dishes for quick assembly later.
- Add the juice from one half of the lime to the dish with radishes and let them soak while you prepare things.
- For the aji, simply mix the ingredients in a container and set in the fridge to chill.
- Now take whichever protein of your liking and brown it with the olive oil in a cast iron skillet. After 5-10 minutes, add your sauce and let it sauté for another 5 minutes.
- Warm your tortillas in a pan or the microwave for a few seconds, toss in the protein, top with your fresh ingredients, and add liberal doses of aji as you go.
- That’s that. Enjoy Death and the heaven and hell that follows.