Thursday, March 16, 2006

American Hardcore

I just finished reading Stephen Blush’s book American Hardcore: A Tribal History, a frank and uncut look at the very important American hardcore scene of the early 80’s. The book is a collection of interviews and the author’s own recollections of the various scenes from around the country that have heavily influenced most of what we call “punk,” “alternative” and “indie” today.

The book is a great document of what went on and even if you know a little bit about some of the bands, it’s a must for anyone who likes to read about music or needs a confirmation that the hardcore scene has been the single most important music movement to come along in the last 25 years. The book is rough; there are plenty of spelling errors and the narrative gets a little wonky. It’s surprising because Blush is an editor at Paper Magazine, but hey, it’s pretty punk not to spell check.

I got into hardcore in probably the last throes of the movement. It’s funny but Blush refers to hardcore’s death in 1986, just when I was reaching my punk apex. I think I heard Black Flag (a large amount of the book is deservedly dedicated to them) for the first time in ’84, but I didn’t fully go hardcore until late ’85. Really the Black Flag’s and Minor Threat’s of the world were no more by then, but the spirit lived on.

Reading the book and the descriptions of the shows brought back a lot of memories for me. If you were punk in Denver, there were many epic shows. The book only gives Denver a paragraph and probably rightfully so. There weren’t really any truly great hardcore bands that came out of Denver (none that could compare with the likes of Minor Threat et al) but the kids were into it. One of the mentions that Denver does get refers to a Nig Heist show that Barry Fey shut down yelling “you will never see this kind of shit on my stage ever again!” Hilarious because Fey is such a vile and terrible person himself, that he didn’t want something as horrific as Nig Heist on his stage is just incredibly ironic.

The other part talks about some of Denver’s bands (Happy World, Bum Kon) and how unmemorable they were (author’s opinion, not mine) and the most famous single to come out of Colorado, the Frantix “My Dad’s A Fucking Alcoholic.” He also goes on to mention a memorable Dead Kennedy’s show that was raided by the police and another violent show in a “terrible Mexican hood” that I took to mean a show at the Azatlan. But it could have been anywhere; I just happened to see a lot of very violent shows at the Azatlan.

And that’s one of the points American Hardcore makes: music is safe now. Punk today is just weak compared to this amazing and often times, out of control underground scene that was. Today you have Good Charlotte playing arena cock rock and New Found Glory sells t shirts for $30 a piece. They’ve reaped all of the benefits of being punk without taking one single boot to the side of the head. The crazy shit that went down in the 80’s would never happen today in the sanitized version of punk that gets played on the ol’ Mtv. Stage diving today is expected. I literally got thrown out on my ass from a show at the Rainbow Music Hall (now a Walgreen’s) for stage diving. Now I think you get a free button for every five successful dives.

And that’s cool, not everybody can be in on something from back in the day. I got in on the second wave of hardcore, and while not quite as important (and definitely more metal) it was still wild. I see teenage kids now into punk and I don’t think it’s stupid; they’re just kids who have gravitated to punk like I did. But what I saw and what they see now is completely different. They will never know terror like going to a show where the security is run by the hated Denver Skins. Just walking into the show was like walking into the lion’s den (lions den…not the Lions Lair….that’s another story entirely).

At a C.O.C. show at the Azatlan, the skinheads fought everybody and it was ugly. Waves of fistfights broke out across the crowd. It was amazing. Then somebody broke out the mace and people scattered. Sucker punches were thrown and it seemed like everybody in the whole place was fighting. Me and my friends were right by the stage and we climbed up onto the cabinets to get away from the violence. I was a skinny kid and wanted no part of getting my ass beat, so I desperately tried to get away from the onslaught. As we climbed out of the mess, there was so much fighting going on, I expected to be pulled off the stage and get clocked at any moment. It died down once the skinheads were driven out, presumably by whoever started macing people. The cops showed up and surprisingly didn’t clear the place out, but when California band BL’AST! played, the cops made everybody sit down. That didn’t last long when the singer told everyone to get up. Everyone rushed to the front and it was on again. The funny thing was, once the skinheads were gone, everybody had a great time. There was a pit but it was one of the best ones I had ever seen. No one was being a dick and everyone helped each other out. The cops of course didn’t see it that way and the show was shut down shortly after. C.O.C. never played.

Another show where the skinheads made things miserable for people at the Azatlan was when Youth of Today came to town and recent Denver emigrants, Agression headlined. Agression was and old school southern California punk band that moved out to Denver in the mid 80’s. They were all right, I had one of their records, but the band’s close association with those asshole Nazis made everyone stay away. So, Youth of Today (a fairly well known, east coast band) plays and everyone starts to leave. Agression had been around for awhile and the novelty had worn off. As we leave, the skinheads are all over everybody. “Why you leaving?” “Agression hasn’t played yet,” and generally in everyone’s faces about it. It just sucked. Here we are, skinny 17 year olds having to get through these scary, violent, psychopaths…who were running the show. Now tell me this would happen at a Good Charlotte show?

The interesting thing is years later we became friends with Agression’s lead singer Mark Hickey. Hickey used to hang out at the Lions Lair and we played pinball with him. He was a good guy and I think he just got wrapped up in all the skinhead bullshit back then. He formed a blues band (Hickey Bluez) and he used to take out his pierced dick and wack it on the pinball table for good luck. He unfortunately died a few years back, but after getting to know him I forgave him for all that skinhead business.

Read Blush’s American Hardcore if you want to re-live those crazy times. I picked up a lot of stuff I didn’t know (like how big of dicks Bad Brains were and how so not compatible Brian Baker was with Glen Danzig). And if you know a young punk rocker, force him or her to read it and ask them if they still think Avril Lavigne is punk.



hubs said...

sounds like a good recomendation, i'll have to check it out. any mentions of the warlock pinchers (maybe not hardcore i guess)? how about S.O.D or D.R.I.? i'd be interested in hearing their history.

you just can't compare the misfits to good charlotte because only one of them actually is punk!

J Reidy said...

there is a bit on DRI because there's a section on texas...probably about a page or so on them.

no SOD...too metal for the author maybe?

unfortunately, no warlock pinchers mention. i'm sure they didn't fit the defintion of "hardcore" by the author and i don't think they started playing until the mid to late 80's...i'm sure someone can give me the those guys ruled.

there's a big section on the misfits which is great because i'm a huge fan. danzig is typically seen as a dickhead, but when you hear what was going on with that band back then, you can't really blame him. still, very bad blood which makes for good readin'.


Anonymous said...

Hey JR,
Having grown up seeing shows in Denver in the 80s, do you remember seeing bands playing at a place called the Colorado Indoor Sports Arena (or something like that)? I think it was off of Federal or somewhere, and they used to put on these crazy hardcore and metal shows there. I remember seeing the Cro-Mags there, and maybe even DRI. Those times were crazy.
I live in DC now and I have a friend who is 41. He grew up here and was a big fan of the old punk scene. He has crazy stories about old Minor Threat shows, seeing the Bad Brains, etc. The times have definitely changed.

J Reidy said...

i started seeing shows when i was 14 which was 1984. i didn't go to a grungy, sketchy place until probably the next year. i think if minor threat and bad brains came through (i did see bad brains way later in like '89) it was before my time.

i don't remember the place you mentioned but there was the meat packing warehouse or something like that where there were a bunch of shows, but if i recall, that was more near 5 Points. i'd have to ask a couple of people to be sure.

i saw a lot of shows at the Azatlan, the Blue Note in Boulder, the world famous Norman's (DRI played there i's now office space), and various small shacks that i couldn't find now if you gave me a map.

it was crazy, but honestly it's all a blurry memory. reading that book brought back a lot of memories and it's great to remember not remember it.


Anonymous said...

Great post! It brought back a ton of memories... thank you!

As far as Warlock Pinchers - Mark and Dan formed the original band in the spring of 1987. They graduated from high school, dropped some members and then gained a few up in Boulder that fall. I went to school at CSU so didn't keep close tabs on 'em after that.

Anonymous said...

the pinball machine was Fire.I lived in the same Apt building as Mark and he was in my wedding. We miss him very much.