Robert Omlit: An American Hardcore Inspiration Too Punk for the Punks

The name Robert Logan – even under his regular preferred pseudonyms of Robert or Rob’t Omlit – is not one that’s known widely even among the circles of early American punk and hardcore. It’s long past time, though, to give a little more credit to one of the unheralded heroes of the scene, someone who endlessly inspired others to be their own creative selves while living up to that standard in all ways.

Korye Logan

Omlit’s formal legacy comes in glimpses hinting at a larger whole. Watch the film American Hardcore, based on Steven Blush’s history of the scene, and there’s his name in the end credits among other deceased musicians. Take a look in Blush’s book itself and in the section talking about early Orange County bands, there’s a photo of him in the Fullerton apartment immortalized in the Adolescents’ song “Kids of the Black Hole,” sitting by himself and looking just a little ill at ease with the universe. Dig back into We Got the Neutron Bomb, Marc Spitz and Brendan Mullen’s more specific history of Los Angeles and OC punk, and there’s this from Social Distortion’s Mike Ness: “This guy Robert Omlit was my roommate at the Black Hole. He was an odd fellow and we used to take his Throbbing Gristle records and throw them across the street.”

Funny enough, sure. But that should tell you something about Omlit right there – if he out-weirded the weirdos (and for all that’s known, the actual Weirdos on top of it), who was the bigger punk? With an unpublished and unreleased archive of music and art that Omlit created before his untimely passing in the early ’90s still to discover, he might well be soon lauded as one of the great lost American eccentrics.

The full story of Omlit has yet to be told, but for now it’s enough to call attention to him as someone deeply and fondly remembered by many as an energetic, inspired and restless soul. His younger brother Korye Logan, currently in the process of setting up an archival website, recalls Robert’s sometimes tumultuous youth as a mix of clashes with their conservative father, often objecting to his early openness about his homosexuality, and happier moments, like the day the whole family pitched in to help create a homemade glam outfit for a David Bowie concert, spray-painting his jacket silver sprinkled with glitter as he lay out in the backyard wearing it, while his father made him custom five-inch platform shoes.

“Robert defied gravity... all while looking like a cross between a mad scientist, kid monster and Orville Redenbacher.”

Rikk Agnew

As well as numerous endeavors ranging from show bookings – GG Allin once wrote him a letter to apologize for being unable to make a concert due to jail time – political protest and underground comics, Robert’s own original response to punk was the creation of the band the Omlits. In ways, their time together – a slew of regular live performances, a growing reputation, various studio and live recordings done but nothing ever formally released – makes them the OC equivalent of LA’s famed Screamers. But unlike the Screamers’ own distinctly wonderful synth punk, the Omlits careened even further into leftfield, finding a kinship more with the bursts of No Wave, the glam theatricality of his younger days and the audiovisual chaos of his beloved Throbbing Gristle and other similarly outré acts, including local legend and Germs leader Darby Crash.

“The Omlits remain important for what they inspired not really for the music they made,” said Blush in a recent email. “In the late ’70s any nonconformist band attracted like-minded misfits. Robert's shows inspired the rise of the American Hardcore explosion, and for that alone he deserves to be remembered.”

“It was like early Hole and Flipper,” remembers longtime friend and associate Rikk Agnew of the Adolescents. “Very chaotic, total lunacy on stage from sexual acts to outrageous costumes and props. Robert defied gravity. He was very childlike, but genius. He was on fire with creativity and very much the prankster. Full blown imagination, fashion destroyer, all while looking like a cross between a mad scientist, kid monster and Orville Redenbacher.” No video of the Omlits appears to readily exist, but this New Wave Theater clip of another act of his, Several Pamelas, gives a taste of that kind of mania – not to mention confirming Agnew’s description of Omlit’s approach to fashion.

Even after the Omlits wound down by the mid-’80s, his own solo musical work seemed to ramp up. He never stopped recording, producing a series of cassettes with new and recompiled work done on a four-track machine for distribution among family and friends. At the same time that the Frogs began getting national attention for their over-the-top riffs on supposed gay life, Omlit’s own work often tackled, with both often bizarre, extreme humor and with vivid anger, what it actually could mean, especially in a conservative paradise like 1980s Orange County. One tape was simply called Gay is OK! – its testimonial epigraph, from “Darby Crash ‘88 (via Ouija),” was “It is not commonly known that ukelele is one of the seven deadly sins” – while one of its most memorable, pointed songs, “Oh My Little Basher,” was a slow, twisted a capella country blues both hilarious and terrifying.

A YouTube clip from an early 1990s art gallery showing finds Omlit looking understatedly well, but in his final weeks, he wrestled with health issues such as scoliosis, depression and, as partial alleviation of those burdens, drugs and the recurrence of a drinking problem, leading to his early passing at 33 years old. Korye Logan still remembers his brother’s death with sorrow 20 years later but also recalls why he remains an underappreciated legend: “A lot of his life was amazing, but a lot of his life was pain. Now that I live most of my life in Austin, Texas, I constantly think, ‘Fuck, I wish Robert would have moved here.’ He would have just fit in. He could be big in a small group – to be big in a larger group was outside of his comfort zone. He would be the most interesting and inspiring person, to encourage us all to be amazing.”

Image and music courtesy of Korye Logan

By Ned Raggett on October 2, 2013

On a different note