Straight Outta Livonia: The Abbreviated Story of the Hysteric Narcotics
The Hysteric Narcotics burst onto the Detroit rock and roll scene in 1983. With their first gig at Paycheck’s Lounge opening for the phenomenal Bootsey X and the Lovemasters, the four-man version of the group made an indelible splash on the city that is now more famous for its music than it is for its automobiles.
With a few personnel changes, the Narcotics lasted until 1989 before calling it quits except for the rare reunion show. It was a long, strange howl in between that had the band visit the East Coast twice and the West Coast once. In that span of time, the band released their only vinyl LP, “Batteries Not Included,” and released four singles.
Loud, boisterous, truly hysterical, and smitten by the bugs of musicality, hijinx, and harmony, the Hysteric Narcotics must have played hundreds of shows during that six-year-period and thereafter, but, apart from a few regrets (too few to mention), things ended on a good note. Cloistered at the end in a beat up and rusty Dodge van, it should be noted that their beginnings were shaded by a different kind of insularity.
Livonia, an incubator suburb west of Detroit, seemed just right for babymaking and bandmaking. A boring, centerless, burb with plenty of high schools, two major shopping centers, a race track, and basements and garages galore, Livonia was noted as a rock n’ roll wellspring during the highly-combustible punk rockstrosity of the late 1970s.
Mark Niemenski (bass), Charles “Chip” Sercombe (drums), Sean Curran (guitar), and Mike Murphy (vocals) had all been part of the once-vibrant punk scene that primarily blared from Bookie’s Club 870. By late 1983, the four original members of Hysteric Narcotics added keyboard/guitar player David Feeny, and searched for something new.
Turned out they managed to make something old new again. Equipped with a slightly obsessive penchant for 1960s garage rock brought on by the 1970s appearance of Lenny Kaye’s Nuggets and Greg Shaw’s then-dawning Pebbles series, they wrote originals in the spirit of the bygone era when seemingly every teenager across the country was in some kind of garage band.
Then, in short order, Sean Curran left the band to pursue a degree in occupational therapy. Mark took over on guitar, and Keith Soucy joined the band as bass guitarist.
The Hysteric Narcotics watched with wide eyes as already established and likeminded bands such as the Fleshtones, the Lyres, the Three-O-Clock, the Vipers, and the Pandoras grew in popularity. They ran into local bands like the Frames and the Vertical Pillows who mined the same fuzzy bedrock that bled into both 60s punk and white trash R&B.
The band also answered an ad for a light show and snatched it up. It turned out to be the same light show used at Detroit’s legendary Grande Ballroom. That colorful spectacle combined with the raw energy and wild trousers of the Hysterics psychedelicized both the band and its Detroit-area audience. The group hit the road, in order to turn the rest of the country onto their unique brand of garage-punk-psychedelia i.e. rock and roll.
In the matter of three years, the band picked up a decent following in the Detroit area, but its line-up shifted radically. Chip graduated from college and finally settled into a real day job and Dave left to create the Orange Roughies. Drummer Jerry Barterian and keyboard player Lawrence Ulrich replaced them respectively.
Although the Hysteric Narcotics remained very popular in Detroit-area clubs, they could not seem to master the art of touring, and a tour of the Western states did more damage to the band than good. It was simultaneously a wild ride and a rude awakening, and shortly thereafter, the band officially broke up but kept up its presence in the Detroit area by playing annual reunion shows, which came to a halt in 1996.
Apparently still not done, the band reformed in 2008 to play friend Jim Shaw’s birthday party, and reformed again in 2010 for a revival to boost the release of their 25-song retrospective CD, “From the Desolation Where the Greasewood Grows.” Newly revived, they may not be finished yet.