If there are two things that The Kids find cool these days, it’s old music and being (or at least advertising yourself as) a fuck-up/outcast. For example, nobody is debating the musical merits of Madball or Terror (who are both great), but anyone who doesn’t think that at least part of their semi-newfound popularity isn’t owed to dumb little kids drooling over their reputation of being on the wrong side of the tracks or the vintage of the band members is fooling themselves pretty hard. No doubt about it – punks and hardcore kids love championing the idea of people who have ‘have been through some stuff’ – particularly when they are old. How else can you explain how anyone under the age of 25 even kind of tolerates Keith Morris?
Given that this is the case, I have always kind of wondered why The Youth of Today have not gravitated more towards old LA and Orange County punk/hardcore the way they did with other “classic” 80s bands from the east coast (ala Minor Threat, Cro-Mags, Bad Brains, etc). Aside from essentially being the birthplace of hardcore and setting many important trends that radiated out to the rest of the country, the Southern California scenes (particularly LA and Orange County) were full of fucked up weirdos with “legendary stories” that you’d think sheltered suburbanites would be all about.
But I’m not here today to write another longwinded rant about how Black Flag “laid the groundwork for the DIY touring circuit” or whatever…you can read about that in about 50,000 other places. Instead, I would like to share some underappreciated cuts of classic LA/OC hardcore, that, if pretentious newjack hardcore kids had any sense, they would name drop to other pretentious newjack hardcore kids as they mill about trying to outdo each other before OFF! goes on. I’m not saying you have to like these bands to look cool to your friends, but if you are into the idea of worshiping old fuck-ups and celebrating debatable life choices, you might as well show the west coast some love so you can set yourself apart from your other friends who are presently swinging from NY’s collective nutsack. Trigger warning: old people music ahead.
Although TSOL are definitely big guys in the OC hardcore pantheon, I feel like kids these days don’t really know who they are. This is pretty unfortunate, because dated Ronald Reagan references aside, they were definitely very sick, and way ahead of their time as well: They played hardcore about as early as anybody ever was (circa the late 70s, pissing off the old, artsy first gen CA punk scene in the process), and then continued aggravating their audience by morphing into a more melodic, quasi-goth band (waaay before being a “tortured artist” hardcore band was even really a thing). Eventually they turned into a hair metal band with no original members, but that’s a whole other story. How you know they are fuck-ups: Although he has long since reformed, lead singer Jack Grisham has a very long legit rap sheet that includes assault, car theft, arson, and just about every other terrible thing a human can do short of murder. A number of the other members of the band were not exactly angels either, and when old dudes talk about how they dropped out of punk because “the shows got too violent”, they often cite TSOL as the beginning of that trend.
China White are another Orange County band who, as far as I know, never really recorded much, but were well known in Southern CA for their Danger Zone EP. Fun fact: I used to beef with their original singer (not on this recording) on the OCpunk message boards over politics about a decade or so back, annoying him and his friends to the point where I was receiving death threats from crazy old OC punk lifer guys semi-regularly. Oh, to be young, and say a bunch of really dumb shit on that easily could’ve gotten my ass kicked… (Protip: don’t aggressively argue with people who could beat you up on the internet, ever. Not unless you enjoy wondering if or when you might get jumped at shows, anyway.) How you know they are fuck-ups: This band named themselves after the type of heroin that Germs frontman Darby Crash used to kill himself in 1982, and that many others in the early LA scene were strung out on at the time. If nothing else, this certainly reflects a mindset a significantly more bleak and grounded in the depressing reality of the time rather than than some dork flirting with satanic images to look edgy.
D.I. will always hold a special place in my heart because they were the first ‘real punk’ band I saw where the singer, Casey Royer (the original drummer of The Adolescents, whose song “Amoeba” you may remember from the Tony Hawk Pro Skater 3 soundtrack) was just hanging out in the audience after his set, and was super nice and approachable – thus being my first experience with the whole “no division between band/audience” thing that fans of Real Hardcore find very important. Although musically, The Adolescents and D.I. were pretty similar, D.I. never got nearly as much attention nationally, which is unfortunate because they are, next to Adolescents and TSOL, possibly the definitive example of the dark but melodic 80s OCHC sound. How you know they are fuck-ups: In 2011, Casey Royer was discovered by his 12-year-old son passed out in front of his tv, overdosed on heroin. Fortunately, I’ve heard that since then (and following a brief subsequent jail stint for child endangerment and heroin possession), he has cleaned up his act and is touring again with DI.
Shattered Faith are another band who, when I think of OC punk/HC, are one of the first to come to mind. I went to middle school and high school with their lead singer’s son, who for better or worse got me into punk in the first place and was a pretty big influence on me at the time. Years later, in 2008, I found out last minute that Shattered Faith was to play this shithole in Raleigh. I ended up being one of 9 people there to see them (two other audience members were in a band they were on tour with). A couple of the other audience members were white power skinheads who, in their private 2-man mosh pit, somehow managed to knock me into the stage, smashing my face on the corner in the process. There have been many surreal, awkward moments in my life that I owe to my time spent hanging out in punk and hardcore circles. However, few of them compare to that of being a tiny, scrawny Jew, bleeding profusely in the middle of an empty bar, as a Nazi skinhead comes over and apologizes profusely through broken front teeth while wiping blood off of my face with his grimy bare hands. Punk sucks. How you know they are fuck-ups: Coming up when bands like Millions Of Dead Cops and The Dead Kennedys were in their heyday, Shattered Faith were a conservative Christian punk band with pro-Reagan songs. While there isn’t anything inherently regrettable about that fact, it does speak to the sheer lack of fucks given, and extremely weird social climate of Orange County at the time (which persists to this day).
Political Crap were fronted by Duane Peters, a lifelong fuck-up best known for being a pro skateboarder (inventing a bunch tricks, and popularizing skateboarding amongst punk rockers and HC types in the process), and later on as the vocalist of US Bombs (who, if you are old enough, you may remember as the house band on Comedy Central’s Premium Blend). How you know they are fuck-ups: Although Duane will always be one of my favorite skaters and frontmen, he unfortunately has lived a pretty rough life – continually on and off of hard drugs, no front teeth from smashing his face against concrete so much, locked up for battery at one point, and most recently, he went completely missing for a number of days, prompting friends and family to post worried Facebook statuses asking fans for leads regarding his whereabouts. Thankfully, he has since re-emerged, but I hope that even this late in the game, he can at some point pull a Jack Grisham and get his shit together.
While I personally don’t think they are very good, Circle One are one of the more notorious LA bands and deserve mention here. Formed in 1980, Circle One’s lead singer John Macies is best known for having started P.U.N.X., a BYO-style booking organization that arranged local shows for no more than $5 each (preempting Fugazi’s $5 only show policy by about 7 years in the process), doing tons of drugs, beating a bunch of people up, and founding a hardcore gang known as The Family, which was a weird almost cult-esque Christian hardcore gang. How you know they are fuck-ups: Macies and his crew gained a pretty serious reputation for violence at shows and elsewhere, and there are numerous accounts of him getting into physical altercations not just with other gangs, but the cops themselves. He was later diagnosed with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. This all came to a very sad end 1991 when Macies, in the grip of severe, untreated mental illness, lost his life on a Santa Monica pier during a shootout with the Santa Monica PD. In case it needs it to be spelled out, there is nothing remotely “cool” about this story – just another unfortunate consequence of years of accumulated drug use, mental illness, and erratic behavior left unchecked.
Although it’s hard to argue that the best and most influential hardcore band to come out of San Diego isn’t Fight Fair, Battalion Of Saints were the first and, for a while, only hardcore band of note to come from there. BoS had a decidedly more British vibe than the vast majority of US hardcore bands playing around this time, which came full circle when Terry “Tezz” Roberts of UK hardcore/d-beat inventors Discharge joined a 90s reunion version of the band. How you know they are fuck-ups: Aside from lead singer George Anthony, literally every original member of this band is dead.
I could easily keep going, but for the sake of anyone who may somehow still be reading, I’ll leave with this classic cut from LA’s Channel 3. Lots of Southern California bands had songs about owning guns, and given the amount of crime in LA and the amount of conservatism in Orange County, I was never entirely sure whether any of them were intended to be sarcastic or not. Fuck-up cred: None really – although they did essentially turn into a street punk band in the early 2000s :(
So, there you have it: when it comes to old hardcore scenes with a history of terrible conduct and poor decision-making, New York (or if you are trying even harder, Boston) are not the only two horses in town. One could stand to reason that this idea of sheltered little kids glorifying and mythicizing the horrible behavior demonstrated by the bands/crews that they worship is at best stupid and embarrassing, and at worst could get you primed for a serious ass beating if you wind up around the wrong group of people (I should know, it easily could’ve happened to me multiple times). However, the purpose of this article is not to judge, merely to inform. When it comes down to it, I feel that informative articles such as this provide a service to naïve little punk/HC kids similar to that of a needle-exchange program for junkies: Regardless of how you feel about the target audience’s pattern of behavior, you acknowledge that they are going to continue engaging in these activities for at least some period of time, so better that they have access to resources that will encourages safer, more scene-credible practices rather than leaving them to do something even more destructive such as jocking Floorpunch or something.
Discussion: Who is your favorite seminal Southern California punk/HC band that I left off this post because they are already on 80 other “greatest punk/HC bands of all time” lists? If scene cred is a marketable commodity, then does crime really pay after all? Does anyone born after 1989 think any of this sounds even remotely good? What do you think will be the next “old school” scene to get jocked once people get bored with New York (and, to a lesser extent, Boston)? Is the tendency to reward bands who engage in bad behavior with attention and popularity a defense mechanism contrived by the bands’ audience through which they are able to pat themselves on the back – vicariously through the bands they worship – for placing 4th in society?