21-Guitar Salute: André Schlesinger from The Press

The Press performing at NYC's Downtown Beirut, 1987. (Photo: Erin Guinnane)

Okay steady, get ready
Everyone put in the boot
We've got the equalizer
It's called the 21-Guitar Salute

There have been a slew of music-related deaths so far in 2016. This latest one has really hit home for me and peers from my age group that grew up watching The Press at defunct NYC clubs like Downtown Beirut, Lismar Lounge, and CBGB's. The Press' iconoclastic singer, André Schlesinger, sadly passed away this week in NYC.

Going to shows in New York during the mid-'80s was an exhilarating experience. The hardcore scene got most of the attention, but there was a huge parallel punk/Oi!/ska scene, and The Press were one of its leading lights. They were arguably the first Oi! band in NYC, tracing their beginnings to 1984. Mixing a classic British Oi! sound with '77 punk à la The Clash/Sex Pistols and nods to mod, soul, and ska wrapped up in catchy, slogan-filled anthems that resonated with skinheads, punks, hardcore types, and music lovers of all stripes. They were outspoken anti-fascists and were one of the first groups that the early SHARP (Skinheads Against Racial Prejudice) scene rallied around, and later on they were a big inspiration for the RASH (Red and Anarchist Skinheads) faction in the '90s. It is this unapologetic political stance that André championed, and his Socialist-inspired lyrics reflected a striking contrast to the more right-wing elements in the American Oi! scene. Their classic split LP with The Radicts from 1989 left a deep impression, and its influence trickled down throughout the years with street punk bands like the Dropkick Murphys covering their signature "21-Guitar Salute" anthem.

I met André casually through mutual acquaintances during the band's heyday, and reconnected a couple of years ago when I started writing online articles. He really dug a piece I wrote about the proto-Oi! bootboy glam sound, and forwarded it to the person he considered his mentor: the legendary Oi! provocateur, Garry Bushell. I was stoked to hear that Garry dug my piece, and tentatively made plans with André to help me answer some questions on a history of NYC Oi! that I wanted to write.

André ultimately declined talking about those days with The Press, as he had some issues with people being more interested in the band now than they were in the '80s and '90s. He had moved on and was focusing his energies on his current project, Maninblack, which Garry Bushell happened to be managing. Maninblack was a different beast altogether, but once you peel away the synthesizer layers, you'll find the Oi! spirit at its core. I respected his decision not to dwell on the past, and we talked about getting together for drinks sometime in the near future.

This all came back to me as I read a friend's Facebook post that André had passed away. I was skeptical at first, but digging around confirmed he had succumbed to medical complications. It's inevitable that the people we knew growing up will start to expire, but I really didn't expect it to be so soon. André's music deserves to be remembered and cherished. The Press were a unique, diamond-in-the-rough kind of band; or, as Garry wrote in the liner notes to their CD discography:

"Other US Oi! and Oi!-influenced bands were to go and make a bigger splash, but never forget The Press. They deserve to be recognized. The Press were the first. They got it, they took it, they made it their own. The kids were alright."

-Garry Bushell, 2004

Rest in peace, André. Take a look at his Maninblack project on Facebook.