Tony Kinman, one of California punk rock’s most creative, forceful and influential artists, died on Friday morning following a brief struggle with cancer. He was 63.
As a founder of The Dils, Kinman, with younger brother Chip, introduced a terse, roaring and highly politicized brand of the very new musical style. Dils songs such as “Class War” and “I Hate the Rich” were not only groundbreaking and thoroughly unforgettable, they were also durable — a short, stunning set of classic numbers that have stood the test of time far more gracefully than many of the period.
Tony and Chip, perpetually one step ahead of the pack, broke The Dils up in 1980 and re-emerged, in Austin, Texas, with their wildly innovative, country-influenced Rank & File, a band that first conjured the entirely new genre known today as Americana. The group created a sensation that resonated throughout the music business, as evidenced by the Everly Brothers' choice to include a cover of Rank & File’s “Amanda Ruth” on their 1986 album.
By then, the brothers were already moving on, crashing Rank & File into a full-tilt metal mood before abandoning it entirely and forming their magnificently iconoclastic 1987 techno-insurrection duo Blackbird, a band with a downright cataclysmic sound that, thanks to mind-breaking, beautifully composed and arranged songs like “Quicksand” and “Big Train,” perhaps best represented Tony’s restless, perpetually searching creative spirit.
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The siblings’ final official collaboration was Cowboy Nation, a bare-bones twosome whose particularly specialized Western-folk approach closed out the 20th century in a fittingly reflective manner.
Tony and Chip never looked back; the brothers refused to consider, and frequently turned down, pleas for a Dils reunion, and apart from “Sound of the Rain,” which made its way into Rank & File’s set, never again performed a Dils song. While Tony effectively retired from music years ago, resolutely maintaining the dignified solemnity that was always his calling card, he recently produced and co-wrote songs for Chip’s current FMMDXFD incarnation.
Tony, the dark, intense baritone counterpoint to Chip’s high-flying, upbeat tenor bandstand persona, always took his art, craft and cultural role exceedingly seriously but offstage, he was a brilliant, hilariously funny man. His naturally satiric perspective, oft-withering observations and sheer embrace of good-timing humor was as boundless as his deep intellect.
Tony’s stupefying knowledge of world history was matched by a penetrating insight and elevated analytical prowess, qualities that always distinguished him from just about every one of his colleagues. A genuine individualist, his mix of stoicism and poetics conjured a nobility and soulful truth that was his alone, a rare combination that make this loss an incalculably sorrowful one.