Frequency Rotation

Frequency Rotation: Spizzenergi, “Where’s Captain Kirk?”

Each week, Frequency Rotation spotlights a different song with a science fiction or fantasy theme. Genre, musical quality, and overall seriousness may vary.

I’m speaking from personal experience here, so trust me: Most punks are geeks. Granted, punk rock—in all its manifestations over the past four decades—is best known for being crude and stupid. Certainly no one would accuse the punk band Spizzenergi of being otherwise. And yet, the quirky English outfit made its admittedly subatomic mark on music history in 1979 with “Where’s Captain Kirk?”—a song that, while cruder and stupider than most, wasn’t shy about flaunting its obsession with one of the icons of high geekitude.

In the late ’70s, punk rock was still a free-for-all. Long before bands like The Clash and The Ramones became respectable enough to join the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, punk was a haven for random burnouts, malcontents, artists, mental cases, opportunists, and even the occasional star-in-the-making. Kenneth Spiers was a little bit of all of the above. After jumping on England’s punk bandwagon in 1977 (when he leaped onstage during a Siouxsie and the Banshees concert, grabbed a microphone, and decided to add his own backing vocals), Spiers took the name Spizz and started Spizzenergi. At first the band was called Spizzoil, but the name was changed in time for the December ’77 release of their fourth single, the wiry, hyperactive, Star-Trek-theme-song-swiping “Where’s Captain Kirk?”

One of the great things about vintage punk is the subject matter. In the late ’70s and early ’80s, punks would, and often did, sing about anything: overthrowing the government, sniffing glue, lynching the landlord, or even just masturbating way too much. But one thing all punks loved to scream about was TV. Everyone from The Clash to The Damned to The Dickies to Black Flag had some rant against the boob tube, which at the time was still being blamed for the mental and moral degeneracy of the children of the ’70s. (I’m proud to be living proof of the validity of that theory.) Punk’s overall attitude toward TV, though, was this: Big Brother was using it to control our brains, rot our will to revolt, and keep us idiotically pacified. Spizz, though, didn’t have anything bad to say about television. On the contrary: “Where’s Captain Kirk?” is a loving (if kitsch-happy) homage to Star Trek—and especially its square-jawed, twinkly-eyed, ass-kicking hero.

That said, “Where’s Captain Kirk?” ends on a curious note: After fixating on all things Shatnerian (including a cute little scenario in which Spiers imagines he’s traded identities with the captain of the Enterprise) for a little over two minutes of spastic, dorky punk, Spizz closes the song with the echoing line, “Where’s Spock?” It was probably meant as nothing more than a parting joke—but when the song became a freak hit (it was actually the first #1 song on the U.K.’s just-created Indie Chart in 1980), Spizz followed it up six months later with a sequel: “Spock’s Missing.”

Slower and weirder (especially as performed in the clip below, a live performance from this year), “Spock’s Missing” didn’t fare nearly as well as “Kirk.” After changing their name again—this time to the more new-wave-sounding Athletico Spizz 80—the group began a quick descent into unpopularity, aided perhaps by the fact that, well, Spizz was never really very good. Not to mention the fact that they’d already pegged themselves as little more than a geeky, science-fiction-loving novelty band (an image that wasn’t helped by song titles like “Robot Holiday,” “Alien Language,” “New Species,” “Ecotopia,” “Love Me Like a Rocket,” and “Mega City 3”—the last being perhaps the first recorded instance of a Judge Dredd-themed song, long before Anthrax’s “I Am the Law”).

But the affair between Spizz and Star Trek doesn’t end there. In 1982, the band made one final album, Spikey [sic] Dream Flowers. Released under the name The Spizzles, it flopped. But you can’t fault Spiers and company for their perseverance; the album contains a third Trek-inspired song“Five Year Mission (Featuring the Return of Spock)”—which concludes the Trek trilogy on a low note (or so I have to assume; I can’t find the song online anywhere). Don’t get me wrong; I love Spizzenergi. There’s a demented exuberance to their music that I latched onto the first time I saw the band’s performance on the legendary post-punk concert documentary, Urgh! A Music War. And it’s amazing that, over 30 years on, Spiers still plays the nostalgia circuit with a new lineup of Spizzenergi. (Hell, even R.E.M. has covered “Where’s Captain Kirk?”) But Spizz deserves credit for making the case that punk rock—even during its glory days—had far more going for it than bad attitudes and leather jackets. It had freaks. And fun. And phasers.

Jason Heller writes for The A.V. Club, plays guitar in some bands, and crams punk into his speculative fiction every chance he gets.


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