When Burning Icons got our start in early 1992 we set out to make our mark on the world. We left a mark all right. Maybe more of a good, long scratch and a couple of dings, anyway.
The ball actually got rolling in late 1991, when a collaboration between singer/songwriter Linda Black and guitar player/vocalist John Bornheimer produced some interesting musical synergy. Linda began posting ads and flyers in local music shops and Christian bookstores. One of these caught the eye of guitar whiz George Hochbrueckner. By coincidence, another came to the attention of drummer Andrew R. DeLapp, who had played drums with George in Geneseo gothic pop outfit No Fear Here. An audition was arranged, and the combination clicked instantaneously. By the time bassist Anthony Jeffrey arrived for his audition (the band’s second practice) it was obvious that we were on to something.
It was an interesting time. Revolution hung in the air like heat-haze before a summer storm. The internet, for all intents and purposes, didn’t exist yet. Alternative music was just one of many catch-phrases circulated among those ‘in the know’ about the world to the left of the radio dial.
The rampant narcissism and wanton self-destruction that characterized the unraveling of the first wave of punk had left a bad taste in just about everyone’s mouth. Any form of spirituality–long held at arm’s length by the underground scene–was barely tolerated. Christian spirituality, for the most part, was not. Similarly, anything with six strings was viewed with suspicion: underground music was just beginning to edge its way gingerly back into a guitar-driven sensibility.
The so-called Christian music scene was likewise beginning to come out of the bunker. What had begun as a revolution fifteen years earlier had become entrenched in conventional thinking. Things had gotten to the point that it was commonly believed that money-minded Christian record industry execs (many of whom not religious at all) were vetoing lyrics with too low a ‘Jesus-count’ per verse. For the most part, punk rock had passed by this corner of the market entirely, with no love lost on either side–with the exception of Christian metal, which was well on its way from niche market to standard bearer for heavy music of every stripe.
Still, whether on the ‘Christian’ or ‘secular’ scene, much was the same. Musical tastes were being expanded primarily by word of mouth, mix tapes, and underground photocopy fanzines. Change was in the air. Everybody knew something was about to happen, but nobody knew exactly what.
Burning Icons’ first gig came on a cold day in late December 1992, at the now defunct Webster Junction. Gold sparkle drums, chiming Rickenbacker guitar tones and a driving post-punk, post-funk underground beat set the ball rolling and started the controversy boiling. Would Christian audiences stomach anything that didn’t tout the same old clichés? Could a band so overt about its religious beliefs mean anything outside the doors of a youth group gymnasium? It all boiled down to one simple question: Could Christians really rock out?
Perhaps a better question would have been: how far could this really go?
These questions might have been answered by John during a church-gig someplace in Western NY when he delivered a blistering guitar solo, all the while entirely unaware that he was standing on the church communion table, raging out above the gold-painted words “This Do In Remembrance Of Me.” They might have been answered by Andy, trading fours, jamming out with the DJ after a gig at a Rochester gay bar. Or they might have been answered by George, responding to one of our infamous inter-band quarrels by providing the bread and cup–a unifying band-only communion service before a particularly stressful gig.
But there didn’t seem to be any good answers. At least, none direct enough to help.
A combination of personal stressors had been pulling at the band from its very inception. A vast army of personal and family crises wreaked destruction in the lives of all the band members–to the point where we began to wonder if we had been somehow cursed. But that didn’t stop us from exploring these issues thoroughly through our music, which was fast becoming an etherial melange, transcending musical types and audience expectations. Crisis after crisis put an edge on the Icons’ music–an edge that cut right to the heart of our subject matter with surgical precision.
A string of gigs in and around Upstate and Western New York and Canada built up a die-hard following that remains to this day. Band members were regular attenders at Cornerstone Music Festival. We played there in 1993–the video’s on YouTube. We also played Samme Palermo‘s Living Rock TV show, and there’s a video of that on YouTube as well. Here are the links, but you’ll have to open a new window and paste them into your browser yourself:Burning Icons “Why,” Cornerstone, 1993: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1mMqOIOjwMk. Burning Icons “Child of Fire” on TV: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f9SqwSctQB8.
Bassist Anthony Jeffery left the band in 1994 and was replaced by Jeff Vannest. Jeff was in turn replaced by Eric Elias. Eric moved out of state and was replaced by Tom McCollough. Anthony returned in 1995 to play on radio station WMAX’s live local music show (called Live at Dajhelon). We played opposite The Frantic Flattops, who were hosting Rockabilly great Ronnie Dawson at the time.
Eventually, however, the stress took its toll. In 1996 singer Linda Black developed serious health problems and asked to stop performing with the band. Bass player Tom McCollough left soon after. The three that remained soldiered on for a while, playing the occasional coffeehouse gig, but it was clear something was lacking. John went on to other musical endeavors. George set out to explore his entrepreneurial side, producing T-shirts and music–establishing Geneseo recording studio The Wave Station, and then Bluebrick Recordings (with Jesse Sprinkle).
Linda married Mark Ochsenbein (what is it with this band and German surnames?) and moved to Oswego to pursue an MFA in poetry. Andrew moved to Philadelphia to attend seminary, started a solo career under the name Andy Smash, and established a photocopy ‘zine called Looming Pylon (with Linda as a regular contributor). He returned to Rochester in 2002, and formed the Rust Belt Hotrods in 2004.
Meanwhile, Burning Icons maintained a presence on Rochester airwaves, receiving airplay as late as 2002 on Samme Palermo’s show on WITR. In 2005 the band stirred to life again. Recording began fitfully at first–at The Wave Station and then at Andy’s home studio, Tonehenge. The proverbial tree, when shaken, began to yield proverbial fruit: half-finished projects on dusty old reels of tape, out-takes from earlier projects, live recordings and the DAT master of our original four-song demo. Jen Kirchner helped out with some vocals when Linda was unable, and all of us displayed remarkable versatility in taking care of unfinished business. The result, released in 2008, was Iconography, available here on the website.
A variety of collaborative efforts continue. We’ll keep you posted as the saga continues.