photo & text by nacrowe
i learned about the MANHATTAN BEACH PUNK ROCK band DESCENDENTS my freshman year of high school in 1999 when arguably their most famous acolytes in SAN DIEGO POP PUNK idols BLINK-182 were at their cultural zenith. i make that connection because there is an absolute direct connection between this band and the 80s HARDCORE scene that catapulted them and what later came to fruition in the late 80s and 90s as POP PUNK, SKATE PUNK, MELODIC HARDCORE and even POST HARDCORE a la bands like BAD RELIGION, NOFX, PENNYWISE, LAGWAGON, AT THE DRIVE-IN, RANCID, ALKALINE TRIO, GLASSJAW and, again, BLINk-182. in essence any 90s PUNK band that incorporated themes related to INTERNAL INSECURITY, PUBLIC HUMILIATION, JUVENILE HUMOR and UNREQUITED ROMANTIC AFFECTIONS as well as POP hooks basically is indebted to DESCENDENTS one way or another.
its intriguing because so many of the 80s HARDCORE bands (BLACK FLAG, DEAD KENNEDYS, MINOR THREAT, etc) positioned themselves thematically and sonically against some vision of AUTHORITY, whereas with DESCENDENTS all that FRUSTRATION and pent-up AGGRESSION was pointed INWARD out their own SHORTCOMINGS and IMPERFECTIONS. for me at least that lyrical conceit is much more PIERCING, AUTHENTIC and ultimately RELATABLE. it also showcases a level of HONEST SELF-REFLECTION and SELF-ASSESSMENT that denotes a SHARP INTELLECT and PRETERNATURAL sense of EMOTIONAL INTELLIFENCE. you get the feeling on I DON'T WANT TO GROW UP (NEW ALLIANCE, 1985) tracks like "MY WORLD," "GOOD GOOD THINGS," and "SILLY GIRL" that singer MILO AUKERMAN is arguing that he is the problem and not necessarily someone else or society at large.
i feel like that SELF-AWARE impulse is the through-line between DESCENDENTS and all that followed them. that redirection of ANGER and SEXUAL FRUSTRATION at oneself and the implied IMPOTENCE at being unable to manifest meaningful change in one's life and situation is a POWERFUL and even COURAGEOUS lyrical position. for me, PUNK ROCK before DESCENDENTS was thematically all about outside CONFLICT and initiating change in one's community from an INFLEXIBLE core position of STRENGTH and STEADFAST CONVICTION. the imposing figure of HENRY ROLLINS comes to mind and his signature power stance he maintains while singing which projects not just sounds from his diaphragm but also insinuates a RESOLUTE MIND-STATE with similarly firm convictions as well. that is something to aspire to, but AUKERMAN's SELF-DOUBT is way more my speed in general. at least it feels closer to my actual lived experience.
I DON'T WANT TO GROW UP is most definitely worth checking out, regardless of your personal affinity for PUNK ROCK in all its variations and later evolutions. its just an HONEST ROCK N ROLL record that is ever RELEVANT in my experience and remains something i continually revisit. enjoy.
being introduced to the DEAD KENNEDYS and the ENIGMATIC, politically STRIDENT cultural FOLK HERO that is JELLO BIAFRA in high school was a complete revelation and game changer. it would be another few years before i got my head around 1980s HARDCORE after being introduced to such by a childhood friend, but to me the DEAD KENNEDYS were OUTLIERS in that movement. with the exception of maybe D.O.A. and BAD RELIGION, their ability to cut through the noise and deliver scathing RIGHTEOUS diatribes related to BRAZEN POLITICAL CORRUPTION, MINDLESS CAPITALISM and DISASTROUS FOREIGN POLICY decisions, both past and present, was second to none. what set them apart in my estimation was BIAFRA's bold penchant for CAUSTIC satire and EAST BAY RAY's adoration and clever reinterpretation of traditional SURF guitar motifs. the DEAD KENNEDYS sounded utterly UNIQUE and their SCATHING lyrical content was presented with a certain amount of HUMOR and performative glee and gusto that made it that much more MEMORABLE then that of their cohorts during the same period who sounded like an incoherent angry populist mob.
by the time i discovered the DEAD KENNEDYS in 1999 through other DJs at my high school school radio station, i had already lived in NIGERIA for three years and bore witness to the intersection of GLOBAL POLITICS and INTERNATIONAL COMMERCE. SANI ABACHA was the dictator during my time in LAGOS and he ruled at times with an iron fist, killing political opponents and prisoners (often in public) with no regard for human rights any semblance of a fig leaf for judicial due diligence. it was a hopelessly CORRUPT and DANGEROUS situation that was reinforced with funds from the petroleum industry, of which my family was a part of. i dont blame them for providing for us, but i came out of the experience with the notion that the world is very COMPLICATED, with many competing NATIONAL INTERESTS and AGENDAS. with a figure like BIAFRA, whose name interestingly is a reference to the former breakaway NIGERIAN republic, there is a certain unflinching gaze and distinct perspective on how to make sense of these COMPLEX issues. if anything he is shedding a light on said INTERNATIONAL CONFLICTS (KHMER ROUGE, BUSH OIL WARS I & II, SEPTEMBER 11th, AFGHANISTAN, JANUARY 6th, etc.) and foreign policy decisions in an INTELLIGENT, THOUGHTFUL and (yes) ENTERTAINING manner that tasks his audience to research and inform themselves and not become a thoughtless drone mouthing off stale copy provided by corporate media interests. in a sense BIAFRA is a secular prophet pointing the way to a better state of affairs where we are not isolated by our complicity with mobile digital platforms and political parties, instead advocating for a more INTIMATE, FORGIVING and ultimately EMPATHETIC relationship with our local community. such could serve as a point of reference for the world, rather than the threat of ECONOMIC and POLITICAL VIOLENCE via our military and long-held INSTITUTIONAL HEGEMONY through the likes of the UNITED NATIONS, WORLD BANK, INTERNATIONAL MONETARY FUND and so on.
do i agree with JELLO BIAFRA on everything. most of it yes, some probably not but that isnt really the point. his perspective is something i cherish and seek out to make sense of the UNITED STATES' position (both past and present) in the world, much like the wider chorus of NOTABLE voices that includes that likes of JON STEWART, N SCOTT MOMADAY, TIMOTHY SNYDER, HOWARD ZINN, ALEX HALEY, HEATHER MCGHEE, ROBERT MASSIE, JOE SACCO, NOAM CHOMSKY, GEORGE CARLIN, LEA YPI, HENRY ROLLINS, MISHA GLENNY, RACHEL MADDOW, RICHARD DAWKINS, MARK TWAIN, BARBARA DEMICK, RICHARD RHODES and so on. im glad he's still around and as VITAL as ever.
embedded below is a DEER GOD RADIO episode from the winter of 2021 on nonprofit internet radio station MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC dedicated to the music of JELLO BIAFRA and the DEAD KENNEDYS, as well as most of his side projects and collaborations of the years. enjoy!
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 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.
check out HERE this recent streaming video episode of DEER GOD RADIO that examines over 40 years of LOS ANGELES PUNK ROCK!
past episodes of DEER GOD RADIO are available here at the DEER GOD website as well as in the MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC archives.
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photo manipulation by nacrowe
seriously, how cool is it that someone finally made a documentary about the DESCENDENTS?
FILMAGE: THE STORY OF DESCENDENTS/ALL (ROGUE ELEPHANT, 2014) is basically a celebration of the music and legacy of legendary HARDCORE band DESCENDENTS and their fraternal twin band ALL. the common link between the two is drummer BILL STEVENSON who famously also was a member of BLACK FLAG in the early 1980s, as has also moonlighted as an in-demand producer over the past few years that has overseen albums by everyone from RISE AGAINST, THE LEMONHEADS and LAGWAGON to A DAY TO REMEMBER.
the film can be seen as a love letter from the PUNK ROCK community to a band largely credited with establishing the POP PUNK genre with its pummeling musicianship and anti-rock star frontman, the iconic MILO AUKERMAN, who sang songs that had melody and lovesick lyrics about not measuring up in high school. with peers like KEITH MORRIS (BLACK FLAG / CIRCLE JERKS), MIKE WATT (MINUTEMEN), BRIAN BAKER (MINOR THREAT / BAD RELIGION), GREG GRAFFIN (BAD RELIGION), BRETT GUREWITZ (BAD RELIGION), KIM SHATTUCK (THE MUFFS), DAVE GROHL (NIRVANA / FOO FIGHTERS) and subsequent bands they influenced like MARK HOPPUS (BLINK 182), FAT MIKE (NOFX), JIM LINDBERG (PENNYWISE), MIKE HERRERA (MXPX), TIM MICIIRATH (RISE AGAINST), TREVER KEITH (FACE TO FACE) and JOEY CAPE (LAGWAGON) all making enthusiastic appearances and giving praise about this criminally underrated band, it feels almost like THE SMITHS-level adulation. its touching.
what i found most interesting in this documentary was how it covered the split personality of DESCENDENTS with their counterpart ALL, which was essentially the same band without MILO. this was amicable as MILO left to pursue a doctorate and career as a researcher in MOLECULAR BIOLOGY. how PUNK ROCK is that? but his departure left a void that couldnt be filled by subsequent gifted singers that played with ALL. the band never got the critical recognition or fan adulation as the DESCENDENTS. DAVE GROHL was the perfect person to speak about this dilemma. famously he lived through it when establishing FOO FIGHTERS in the wake of the swift and brutally public demise of NIRVANA. choosing to start a new band in the wake of a successful band can only be done for the love of the music he argues. FOO FIGHTERS were financially successful, ALL not so much. but their friendship and brotherhood is intact and the PUNK ROCK community has continued to support them.
when i first heard the DESCENDENTS in high school i was immediately taken with how raw and almost uncomfortably exposed the lyrics were and how that contrasted with the aggressive nature of the music. they were HARDCORE band that went against any macho posturing. they sang about food and bathroom humor as well as being dumped; all with a melody. very distinctive. i had NERF HERDER as well in high school but to me it seemed more a straightforward POP PUNK record in the vein of many other bands. there was no tension or angst, just competent songs sung well without much fanfare or identity.
the lesson of STEVENSON's example, and in essence he is the central figure in this film, is to be passionate about who you do and go for it. despite being awkward and overweight and dorky. use that to your advantage. be an outsider. be original. DESCENDENTS are originals and that is why they continue to be celebrated.
easily one of my favorite DEER GOD RADIO shows since its inception, this episode dedicated to 1980s HARDCORE is a topic i have further explored in book reviews for the likes of GET IN THE VAN (HENRY ROLLINS), MY DAMAGE (KEITH MORRIS) and UNDER THE BIG BLACK SUN (JOHN DOE) as well as other related episodes concerning the concurrent scene in INDIE ROCK as well as '77 FIRST-WAVE PUNK ROCK, NEW YORK HARDCORE, POST-HARDCORE, and later 90s ALTERNATIVE ROCK.
it is seemingly the topic that will never die and continues to be of interest to me, largely because it was the palette cleanser that served to further distill PUNK ROCK to its absolute core essentials, of which we have been building back up around ever since. it is the foundation for any decent ROCK music that has sprung up in its wake.
so check out this show that originally aired around CHRISTMAS 2018. hasn't gotten old yet.
artwork by nicholas crowe
tune into DEER GOD RADIO tonight at 8PM on MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC where we will be risking all credibility ;) and playing nothing but POP PUNK from the past three decades. yes, we are all that old. thing is the genre is probably even older, which will be part of our discussion.
past episodes of DEER GOD RADIO as well as other MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC shows like MAKE HER SPACE, NOWHERE FAST, and THE SYNTHESIZER SHOW are available here at the DEER GOD website.