photo by nacrowe
it has been said that the lasting cultural impact of 1980s HARDCORE was the touring circuit they networked one city at a time. this circuit of VFW halls, LIONS CLUBS and basements across the nation was the common proving ground for INDIE bands of that same era and underground ALTERNATIVE bands of the 90s. this self-published printing (now long out of print) of his tour journal finds BLACK FLAG frontman HENRY ROLLINS in GET IN THE VAN (1995, 2.13.61) giving the reader a first-hand account of the hardship and endurance it took to get out the message.
in ROLLINS we see a guy that knows his place. he appreciates his good fortune in being asked to join his favorite band at a moment when they sought to reshuffle roles within the band. one theme carried on throughout journal is this theme of isolation and alienation from the straight world he so passionately wished to escape from. the longer he is on the road, the more severe that estrangement becomes, for his former peers (exception being friend IAN MCKAYE) can't appreciate his position. they see a rock star on tour where his actual reality is sleeping in vans, moving equipment, fighting skinheads, fighting concert promoters, lack of food, lack of sleep and lack of money. on top of that they are blazing through under-appreciated markets that don't have a frame of reference for their version of PUNK ROCK quite yet. they are very much the pioneers that got scalped to borrow horrible offensive and culturally antiquated turn of phrase.
ROLLINS attitude throughout is one of defiance. he talks about hating his audience, his bandmates and the straight world in general. his misanthropy seems rooted in a deep-seated internal fortitude to bear any burden, carry any cross for his band. what seems interesting in retrospect is how much he has transitioned since the myopia of his early 20s, when much of these entries were written. he is the very embodiment now of adventurousness, traveling tirelessly and choosing to use any of his various platforms (spoken-word albums, documentaries, podcasts, tv shows) to promote the understanding of culture across borders and inclusivity. it is basically the opposite trajectory of MORRISSEY, once the embodiment of transgressive gender politics and now just a sad mouthpiece for the extreme-right in ENGLAND (sighhh). as someone who traveled a lot growing up as a THIRD CULTURE KID, i definite sympathize with his misanthropy and retreat into himself when confounded with radical change and senseless violence during what amounts to his formative years. its comforting to know he transcended such self-destructive ideations.
one of my favorite aspects of this book is the friction between AMERICAN HARDCORE bands and their BRITISH counterparts. at the time it had only been a handful of years, but the chasm culturally between these two cousins was pretty wide and ROLLINS spares no quarter in taking on what he considered shitty bands that couldn't play their instruments. i take this as a grain of salt given the fact BLACK FLAG were the tip of the spear for a new more potent wave of PUNK ROCK and for them there was a definite "us vs. the world" mentality, but it is interesting nonetheless on purely sociological grounds.
the journal is a bit hard to get through and is quite repetitive but at its most potent you get a real sense of the absurdity of touring life, fan adoration and the unique hardships of being a trailblazer. true, ROLLINS was the 4th singer of BLACK FLAG, but none of the others toured like his version of the band, which makes them the de facto committed to popular memory.
BOOK REVIEW | "UNDER THE BIG BLACK SUN: A PERSONAL HISTOY OF L.A. PUNK" BY JOHN DOE WITH TOM DESAVIA AND FRIENDS
photo 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, politcal 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.
photo manipulation by nacrowe
ok i realize that BAD RELIGION by no means is a new band and that in the past i only highlighted recent, more obscure bands in this CHECK OUT THIS BAND series. but really i just felt the need to write about them.
with all this shit surrounding DONALD TRUMP and the dire future of american democracy conceivably going the way of a strong-man dictatorship like those i've lived under in the past (ALBANIA, NIGERIA, MYANMAR and VENEZUELA), its disheartening how few recording artists these days have explicitly addressed this sense of existential dread in an intelligent manner.
enter BAD RELIGION. they're whole career has been a rallying cry against corporate greed and fascism since the 1980s, but to continue doing so publicly at THIS stage during THIS political moment with THIS proto-fascist in charge is beyond admirable, its a necessity. i can't express how much i respect them for that, giving an intelligent voice for the opposition is unequivocally HARDCORE, absolutely PUNK ROCK. i would argue it is their finest hour.
i just wish other musicians would stop worrying about the music industry and how to maximize their market-share and consumer brand identification and just go for the jugular like these QUINQUAGENARIANS! it bothers me that a group of BABY BOOMERS are the only relevant cultural force out there addressing this sort of thing, but then maybe i shouldn't be that surprised with everyone inwardly concerned about their social media presence and sponsorship/cross-branding opportunities. just a shame.
we still have BAD RELIGION thankfully. support them and the organizations they assist. and register to vote. please.