Ask Eric Friedl what a "goner" is, and he'll come up with something like this: "It's a funny way to say that you're doomed. The Ramones used it in a song called 'Locket Love,' off Rocket to Russia," he explains. "'Hang on a little bit longer/Hang on you're a goner.' Things are hopeless, but it doesn't really matter."
Despite that fatalistic attitude, things are anything but hopeless for Friedl. A former member of the Oblivians, Friedl is the founder of the Goner Records label and co-owner, with friend Zac Ives, of Cooper-Young's Goner retail store. The duo recently published the Goner Records Cookbook. They've got four new releases scheduled to drop on their label. And, this weekend, they're hosting a four-day music festival, the first annual Goner Fest. (Forget what the poster to the right says. There's another event on Sunday, featuring an appearance by Harlan T. Bobo.)
Friedl launched the Goner label in 1993 to release the Oblivians' first single, "Vietnam War Blues." Copies of that rare slab of vinyl now fetch $50 on eBay. Soon after, he pressed an album by Japanese rock band Guitar Wolf. "They gave me a tape, and I shipped 200 Wolf Rock LPs to Tokyo," he says. "That was the first moment they realized we were doing a full album. They thought I was gonna press a single! I had no idea what I was doing, but we ended up selling more than 3,000 copies of Wolf Rock."
The Web page came next in 1998. "I was selling Goner releases, then friends in other bands gave me their records to sell, and it grew into an online store," Friedl says. "I wanted a message board, so I used one from a label called Bulb Records as a prototype. Everybody tells me it's out of date and slow, but that just fits the Goner aesthetic!"
The Goner message board, which gets more than 800 hits a day, has become a virtual hangout for rockers, record collectors, and musicians from around the globe. Friedl verifies that the board has become a cultural touchstone for fans of the garage-rock genre. "I didn't want it to be about 'I know all about '60s music and I have a bowl cut and I'm cooler than you,'" he pantomimes. "It's just about good music -- rock, punk, soul, whatever -- and movies and sports and food, all dealt with in an unpretentious way."
A recent visit to the site confirms Friedl's description: Entries about the Grizzlies' 2005 season, upcoming gigs, favorite albums, record shops, and restaurants are posted from Goners around the world.
Last spring, Friedl and Ives -- a publicist at Archer>Malmo -- expanded the Goner brand with the record store, located at 2152 Young. Since opening shop, the two have hosted numerous art openings and in-store performances, which led to this weekend's music festival.
"We're putting out four new records, and we decided to bring one of the bands, the King Khan & BBQ Show, down to Memphis. When word got out, a lot more folks asked to play, and we ended up with a festival," Freidl says, noting that more than 20 groups are now on the bill for the four-day event, which will be held at Goner Records, the Buccaneer, and Club XYZ.
Goner Fest will serve as an impromptu record-release party for Friedl's label, starting with the Montreal-based King Khan & BBQ Show's 12-song album, which was recorded in Hamburg, Germany, in late 2004. New Orleans rocker -- and occasional Memphian -- King Louie Bankston, also appearing at the Goner Fest, has a new album called Chinese Crawfish on the label as well. Other new releases include seven-inch E.P.s from Corinth, Mississippi's Johnny Vomit & the Dry Heaves ("a punk-rock parody that's somehow lasted for 15 years," Friedl jokes) and Friedl's own group, the Dutch Masters.
Other bands slated for Goner Fest include New Orleans' Die Rotzz and Kajun SS, Chicago's Headache City, Milwaukee's Night Terrors, Atlanta's the Black Lips, Mississippi's the Eunuchs and the Jenny Jeans, and local groups such as 6 String Jets, the Secret Service, River City Tan Lines, and Ives' band, the Final Solutions. Free hot dogs and a shrimp boil will provide sustenance for the festivities.
"Calling yourself a 'goner' sounds negative, but it's not meant that way," Friedl says. "It's about being an underdog and forging ahead however you can. I'm actually surprised by how many people get it." n
For the full Goner Fest schedule, go to Goner-Records.com.