photo & text by nacrowe
in the summer of 2001 i visited a childhood friend in ORANGE COUNTY in what turned out to be an education in SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA PUNK ROCK. it was the summer before my senior year of high school and in retrospect it was the calm before the storm that was 9/11 a few short months later. it was also my first trip back to my childhood home as i had permanently left CALIFORNIA when my family moved to NIGERIA in the fall of 1996. i went into the experience expecting things to have shifted only to be completely gobsmacked to the extent to which life had inevitably moved on without me. new buildings, new facilities and new communities had sprung up during that half decade apart. like i said, it was an education of sorts.
my childhood friend was deep into PUNK ROCK and specifically 80s HARDCORE from the area. im talking about local ORANGE / LOS ANGELES / VENTURA / SAN DIEGO COUNTY bands like D.I., FEAR, CHANNEL 3, THE GERMS, AGENT ORANGE, RICH KIDS ON LSD, DR. KNOW, CIRCLE JERKS, T.S.O.L., BLACK FLAG, BATTALION OF SAINTS, THE VANDALS, MINUTEMEN, BAD RELIGION, DESCENDENTS, THE MIDDLE CLASS, WASTED YOUTH and especially THE ADOLESCENTS. now some of these bands i was familiar with but most i was not. at this point in time i had been abroad in AFRICA and then more recently sequestered in a NEW ENGLAND boarding school. i was a fast learner though. whats crazy is that my childhood friend and i went to two consequential shows that summer, WARPED TOUR in VENTURA and THE ADOLESCENTS in SANTA ANA. at WARPED i was introduced to the standup comedy that was the anti-everything LEE VING fronting FEAR. i mean even FLEA showed up for that gig.
but the more CONSEQUENTIAL event was the reunion of THE ADOLESCENTS for a show celebrating their self-titled ADOLESCENTS (FRONTIER, 1981) album. what struck me about that album was how WELL-CONSTRUCTED the songs were and how MELODIC and EXPANSIVE the musicianship was. tracks like "KIDS OF THE BLACK HOLE" and "AMOEBA" were arguably ANTHEMIC pop songs in the best SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA tradition of non-PUNK bands. likewise "L.A. GIRL," "I HATE CHILDREN," "RIP IT UP" and "WHO IS WHO" were as spit-in-your-eye VENOMOUS and SNARLING as anything dreamed up by THE GERMS or their numerous later-day acolytes. hearing the album and then seeing it live was a unique experience, especially given how RAUCOUS and VIOLENT the crowd was at that reunion show. i had never seen concert-goes outright attacking security before. sure there were mosh pits id seen at OZZFEST back in NEW JERSEY, but this was another level of proximity and intent. i pretty much immediately got the sense of why people get caught up in this flavor of PUNK ROCK as it was almost freeing to see society's unspoken mandate of civility and mutual respect lifted for a few hours.
ADOLESCENTS is a record that more than lives up to its reputation as a seminal HARDCORE album that inspired countless skate-punk and MELODIC HARDCORE bands that followed. learning about them made me rethink my association with ORANGE COUNTY, as previously i thought of that region as nothing more than a cultural abyss of which nothing seemed to emanate out of except for NO DOUBT and RICHARD NIXON. now there was a whole slew of local HARDCORE bands to enjoy like THE ADOLESCENTS (FULLERTON), THE VANDALS (HUNTINGTON BEACH), THE MIDDLE CLASS (SANTA ANA), AGENT ORANGE (PLACENTIA), CHANNEL 3 (CERRITOS), D.I. (FULLERTON), THE CROWD (HUNTINGTON BEACH), and SOCIAL DISTORTION (FULLERTON) to investigate.
like i said, that summer was an education.
parodies by nacrowe
up until 6th grade my family lived in the ORANGE COUNTY city of BREA. at the time being 11 the extent to which i knew of bands from SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA outside of THE BEACH BOYS were prominent bands that were being played on the local radio station 106.7 FM KROQ out of LOS ANGELES like BAD RELIGION and THE OFFSPRING. so i was utterly clueless about the underground music scene in and around my hometown during the period of my life when i actually lived in SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA.
it was when i entered high school a few years later (on the other side of the country in MASSACHUSETTS) that i was fascinated to learn about notable HARDCORE bands that were not just from nearby ORANGE COUNTY cities like FULLERTON (SOCIAL DISTORTION, ADOLESCENTS, D.I.), GARDEN GROVE (THE OFFSPRING), PLACENTIA (AGENT ORANGE) and SANTA ANA (THE MIDDLE CLASS), but also neighboring LOS ANGELES COUNTY neighborhoods like LONG BEACH (T.S.O.L.), HERMOSA BEACH (CIRCLE JERKS, BLACK FLAG), VENICE BEACH (SUICIDAL TENDENCIES), MANHATTAN BEACH (DESCENDENTS, PENNYWISE) and HUNTINGTON BEACH (THE VANDALS) that i visited often as a child. it was like learning about an alternate cultural history of a place i thought i knew but learned i knew very little about.
so i was pretty excited and thought long and hard about the bands i included on the LOS ANGELES PUNK ROCK show i did back in early 2021. contrary to the name i also included bands outside of the greater LOS ANGELES metropolitan area and included SAN DIEGO (BATTALION OF SAINTS) and POWAY (BLINK-182) as well.
what i found interesting when reading and learning about the original scene in LOS ANGELES in the late 1970s was how INCLUSIVE and EXPERIMENTAL it was. with bands like THE GUN CLUB, THE WEIRDOS, X, THE FLESH EATERS, THE BAGS and THE GERMS you had such a wide array of bands finding their distinct voice through a litany of ROCKABILLY, COUNTRY and POST PUNK influences (well not THE GERMS, they were just abrasive sonic nihilists). very much seemed reminiscent of the nascent PUNK ROCK scene at CBGBs where you had PATTI SMITH, TALKING HEADS, TELEVISION, THE DEAD BOYS, BLONDIE and THE RAMONES all sharing the same small stage and supporting one another. the following NO WAVE and especially the NYHC scene seemed to occupy the seemingly polar opposite positions relative to unbridled EXPERIMENTALISM and PUNK ROCK FUNDAMENTALISM. that same dynamic played out in LOS ANGELES with the advent of HARDCORE and all the bands from the suburbs (like ORANGE COUNTY) coming in and taking over and bringing the angry jocks contingent with them.
this dynamic i have covered in several documentaries and several books listed below. definitely check them out as well as DEER GOD RADIO episode dedicated to the history LOS ANGELES PUNK ROCK embedded below. definitely a highlight of my radio show.
DO WHAT YOU WANT: THE STORY OF BAD RELIGION BAD RELIGION & JIM RULAND
VIOLENCE GIRL: A CHICANA PUNK STORY ALICE BAG
UNDER THE BIG BLACK SUN: A PERSONAL HISTORY OF L.A. PUNK JOHN DOE
KIDS OF THE BLACK HOLE: PUNK ROCK IN POSTSUBURBAN CALIFORNIA DEWAR MACLEOD
MY DAMAGE: THE STORY OF A PUNK ROCK SURVIVOR KEITH MORRIS & JIM RULAND
THE HEPATITIS BATHTUB AND OTHER STORIES NOFX
GET IN THE VAN: ON THE ROAD WITH BLACK FLAG HENRY ROLLINS
CORPORATE ROCK SUCKS: THE RISE & FALL OF SST RECORDS JIM RULAND
CLOCKWORK ORANGE COUNTY JONATHAN W.C. MILLS
A FAT WRECK SHAUN MICHAEL COLON
FILMAGE: THE STORY OF DESCENDENTS/ALL DEEDLE LACOUR & MATT RIGGLE
MY LIFE AS A JERK DAVID MARKEY
PUNK ROCK EATS ITS OWN: A FILM ABOUT FACE TO FACE MATHEW BARRY & MAUREEN EGAN
REALITY 86'D DAVID MARKEY
WE JAM ECONO: THE STORY OF THE MINUTEMEN TIM IRWIN
photo manipulation & text by nacrowe
its been documented that when PUNK ROCK migrated from the initial late 1970s HOLLYWOOD scene south to ORANGE COUNTY, that the scene became less artsy and inclusive and more REACTIONARY and VIOLENT. the music turned essentially into a soundtrack to the interactive slam dancing in the crowd which replaced the pogoing of before. once bored jocks and the irrepressibly unruly (skinheads, white power, etc.) infiltrated the scene did things truly DEGENERATE with the SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA PUNK ROCK and the local authorities.
the documentary CLOCKWORK ORANGE COUNTY (ENDURANCE PICTURES, 2012) recounts this transition through the history of the legendary HUNTINGTON BEACH venue THE CUCKOO'S NEST as told by its owner JERRY ROACH and members of local bands T.S.O.L., BLACK FLAG, THE CIRCLE JERKS, AGENT ORANGE, THE ADOLESCENTS, THE CROWD and THE VANDALS and notable fans like SKATEBOARDING legends STEVE OLSON and DUANE PETERS. what transpires is a narrative of bored SUBURBAN, disaffected youth looking for an outlet to burn off some steam that comes from being a product of such a culturally and socially conservative enclave. HARDCORE was a reaction to that tired social milieu as well as the REAGAN ADMINISTRATION and coalesced into one hell of a youth phenomena.
i grew up in ORANGE COUNTY until my family left in 6th grade and to tell you the truth, we never looked back. i remember telling my basketball coach that i was moving to AFRICA and his wife thought that such was a state. seriously. that is the level of naivete and ignorance that was endemic in that environment some 10-15 years after the events that transpire in this film. to say that these kids were raised in a protective cocoon is not hyperbole. ORANGE COUNTY is an inward-facing community that historically is a bastion for regressive REPUBLICAN politics and social conservatism. this film basically allows a view of how such a closed system reacts badly to a new burgeoning YOUTH CULTURE. as they do with all other aspects of foreign influence, they didnt react well. in fact they shut that shit down.
in some ways the HUNTINGTON BEACH scene presented is a microcosm of AMERICAN politics writ large. decades later the contents of this documentary do not feel all that much removed from the unrepentant racist and blatant xenophobic ethos of the TRUMP ADMINISTRATION and MAGA world. it feels like our current chaos incarnate. just saying.
photo by nacrowe
much like the previously reviewed UNDER THE BIG BLACK SUN: A PERSONAL HISTORY OF L.A. PUNK (linked HERE) KIDS OF THE BLACK HOLE: PUNK ROCK IN POSTSUBURBAN CALIFORNIA (UNIVERSITY OF OKLAHOMA PRESS, 2011) by DEWAR MACLEOD deals with the LOS ANGELES PUNK ROCK scene that began primarily around HOLLYWOOD in the late 70s and then quickly proliferated to the surrounding suburbs and statewide thereafter in quick succession.
whereas UNDER THE BIG BLACK SUN is by design an oral history by participants of the original scene with some HARDCORE musicians sprinkled in, MACLEOD's take on the subject is of a more academic, anthropological variety including economic, media criticism and social historical insights. unlike UNDER THE BIG BLACK SUN, he analyzes both scenes, those being the original LOS ANGELES scene and the fragmented suburban scenes it spawned, with equal critical attention and weight.
in UNDER THE BIG BLACK SUN there is the presentation of HARDCORE as the bastardization of the original scene which was described as diverse and inclusive of various art and minority communities. the almost exclusively WHITE MALE kids that made up the HARDCORE scene in the suburbs where abrasive, boorish and exceedingly violent and their music was a sped-up, dumbed down, sonically conservative variant. that was general criticism of such from that book.
MACLEOD here presents HARDCORE instead as a progression of an art form by kids who grew up within communities that by definition had no center, no core, no essence as they were part of the seemingly infinite suburban sprawl. their communities were defined by shopping centers and shallow consumerism. HARDCORE and its community was both a rejection of that complacency and a brutal, primal return to a cultural of year zero, L.A PUNK that preceded it included. these were not sophisticated art kids that jumped on PUNK as a means of expression as the original scene originated in the wake of the example of the SEX PISTOLS and the BRITISH variant's social and stylistic concerns, which were mimicked. HARDCORE, as MACLEOD argues, was the manifestation of a generation of kids raised in the suburbs with seemingly no locust of control over their surroundings, it was this dislocation, this imbalance that led them collectively to seek out HARDCORE in its extremities as a public sublimating ritual for control. that was what i gathered from this book regarding the violence that grew out of HARDCORE with the transition from BRITISH inspired "pogoing" to "slam dancing" behavior.
with HARDCORE in a SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA context you also have to be aware of the sensationalism behind its portrayal at the time by the media. cops at shows became a regular occurrence after the inexplicable 1979 ELKS LODGE MASSACRE, a show played by first-wave L.A PUNK bands like THE PLUGZ, THE WEIRDOS, THE SKULLS and THE DICKIES among others that was famous infiltrated by plainclothes police and resulted in a mini-riot and the public beatings of PUNK kids. after that event and the media attention that followed, the scene in LOS ANGELES was viewed as volatile and senselessly violent, which only drove those types of people to future shows, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. thereafter the scene ceded control to the masses.
one other thing that interested me about this book was MACLEOD's sociological read of the early scene which included various participants, cliques and independent zine writers/editors all attempting to define the scene to no avail. when i think of NYC where PUNK originated i think of closed, defined, claustrophobic spaces, both physical and spiritual. PUNK was a burst of energy and a claim to identity rooted in this perceived hostile environment. with LOS ANGELES, you dont have that sense of enclosing space like in NYC. but what you do have is the sense of the painful vacuous, vapid nature of the middle AMERICAN mindset, which i would argue is just as reductive and spiritually exhaustive.
interesting book that presents lots of interesting reads on a scene that no-doubt has had ripple effects on modern AMERICAN culture beyond the HARDCORE scene of the 1980s. definitely worth seeking out.
paradies by nacrowe
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BOOK REVIEW | "UNDER THE BIG BLACK SUN: A PERSONAL HISTORY OF L.A. PUNK" BY JOHN DOE WITH TOM DESAVIA AND FRIENDS
photo & text by nacrowe
this book covers what i would consider an often overlooked history in the story of PUNK ROCK and HARDCORE, which is that of the first wave of L.A. PUNK ROCK which lasted roughly from 1977-1982. much as what distinguishes this scene in terms of the diversity of its participants (varying race, sexual orientation, geography, class, political affiliation) and their sound (rockabilly, traditional chicano, avant-garde, mixed-media, performance art), this book reflects such with its multiple authors as curated by X's JOHN DOE and co-author TOM DESAVIA. these writers include members of THE BRAT, THE GO-GO's, THE ZEROS, T.S.O.L., THE FLESH EATERS, THE MINUTEMEN, THE BLASTERS, BLACK FLAG, THE SCREAMING SIRENS and X. incorporating this many voices with their own chapters gives the book a unique depth from other books on the topic. you really get a feel for how the scene was initiated, evolved and ultimately fractured through the viewpoints of participants with varying perspectives on the topic. this was a deft structural decision by DOE and DESAVIA as it places the community as the author, which it seems was the ethos of the scene.
much of what has been written on L.A. PUNK is more or less associated with the HARDCORE scene of the 80s with such notorious bands as BLACK FLAG, CIRCLE JERKS, THE ADOLESCENTS, T.S.O.L. and THE MIDDLE CLASS, and deservedly so as such have had immeasurable effect on modern PUNK-influenced music, active sports (bmx, skateboarding, motocross, surfing, etc) and associated lifestyle industries. it could be argued modern youth culture is defined by this scene. what doesn't get as much appreciation is the fact that this scene evolved (or devolved) out of the first wave which was decidedly less violent and more inclusive.
in essence the first wave was an art movement informed by the previous GLAM ROCK fanbases of bands like T.REX and DAVID BOWIE morphing into the early PUNK crowds that first encountered 1977 PUNK bands like THE DAMNED, THE RAMONES, THE CLASH and THE SEX PISTOLS. its arguable that the ethos of the first wave was informed by GLAM ROCK and early PUNK. even hispanic participants from EAST L.A. took these influences as the impetus for picking up an instrument, not the inherited musical traditions of their parents.
the real inflection point of this novel is the transition that happened in the early 80s to HARDCORE, which was decidedly more violent, less inclusive and less experimental in its approach. this variant was all about aggression and spoke to an audience beyond the borders of the original scene. reading about how that played out and how both sides felt about it is beyond interesting as it constitutes a debate on the nature of PUNK ROCK and what that ever-mercurial tag actually means.
on one side you have a scene that prizes individuality and personal expression as a means of combating societal norms, whereas the other is not concerned with such subtleties and has more interest in burning the fucker down as a means nihilistic rage rooted in the subversion of the failed AMERICAN DREAM as exemplified by the vacuous SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA lifestyle. its all a matter of perspective and of course, there is no correct interpretation.
this confusion is what i expect DOE was interested in when writing and compiling this book and i highly recommend it for anyone interested in PUNK or HARDCORE.