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Bad Breath To Your Ears

11 Jun

OK so yeah I do have a somewhat guilty but tender affection for pretty much ANYTHING remotely tagable as early 80’s SoCal hardcore. I know, I know – alot of it just wasn’t all that together, musically speaking, and it’s no secret how freakin’ rigid the whole thing quickly became, but hey: as a kid, this stuff blew my mind in 100 different cool ways, the kinds of ways that’ve helped me navigate life (alive no less!) into my 38th year. I owe it one.

(Me, age 15, imitating Darby Crash)

It was when the South Bay suburbs exploded in 1981 (thank you very much BLACK FLAG) that I remember first hearing the word punk in reference to rock. And then – overnight! – hardcore became an irrefutable fact of teen (er, pre-teen) life. I’d start seeing it’s graffiti on the sides of buildings, I’d catch a few of it’s songs on Rodney B.’s Sunday night show, and invariably I’d spot it’s adherents sulking/smoking out in front of local 7-11 chain stores. And you either avoided it like the plague, or you were drawn to it like a moth to fire. Me, I love flames.

Yes: hardcore did attract all manner of idiot toughguys & fascistic meatheads. Skinnyass me, I once got chased halfway down Melrose Ave. by a bunch of skinheads (L.A.D.S. perhaps?) who were older, bigger, and waaaaaay drunker, slurring: “kid – what you asposed to be, a s-s-s-suicidal or something?” But no lie: HC was Thee Giving Tree from which all things remotely exciting, interesting, and inspiring fell in the suburbs during those dark days. And since suburbs constitute like, 95% of Southern California . . . well basically we all had to shut up and eat it, since bitchen subcultural options for the underage set remained mighty limited for years to come.

As a parallel-universe record collecting geek, I spent a lot of time sifting through all manner of punk and early hardcore detritus in the mid-80’s, and then . . . got bored with it all and moved on. But then the 90’s came along, and with em those early, Nuggets-like archival punk/HC comps (thank you Johan Kugelberg). Not long after, punker CD reissues began coming down fast and hard. By the mid 90’s, a manical freak named Brian “GTA” Sheklian began mining forgotten, second-tier HC types on his BOMP RECORDS distributed GRAND THEFT AUDIO label. He eventually released nearly 60 titles, and fully 1/3 of these focus on lost bands from LA and environs (which is where this post ought to’ve begun.)

Now, because I exhibit what might have once been called blatant localism, I’ve only ever bothered to check out those GTA releases by Southern California bands. And truth be told, none are what your average non-punker listener would call amazing; many are only semi-competent approximations of what others – BLACK FLAG, ADOLESCENTS – were carving out in more powerful/meaningful ways at the time. Yet all are totally fascinating to me, as they stand as rich time capsules snatched from a few of those narrow-world, cropped-haircut punk microcosms that flourished all around SoCal then. If you’re so inclined, they might just spin your aging ass too, like they did mine. Here’s a rundown of a few:

1. SIN 34Die Listening 1981-1984 (GTA 003-R #020) – This is most fun you’re gonna have in the HC set. SIN 34 were a West LA band notable for ushering drummer/amateur filmmaker Dave Markey (Desperate Teenage Lovedolls, The Year Punk Broke, etc.) into the scene. His presence in a band meant he got his camera close to lots of underground music dwellers at a time and place absolutely nobody else gave 2 flying fucks about documenting. SIN 34 were also one of the few to have a girl singer (Julie Lanfeld), and a rad one at that. She had guts, a sense of humor, and a one of those perpetually-stoned SoCal drawls that covered up for the fact she couldn’t actually sing – but then, what self-respecting HC singer could? Julie’s best bratty couplet: “Now BLACK FLAG is uncool, but you used to write it all over your school!” This CD collects everything NOT actually released on any of their records proper. That’s 36 cuts of demos/live/comp. material that’ll drive your parents up the freakin’ wall.

On a personal note, I used to date someone who was routinely mistaken for ex-SIN 34 singer Julie around the South Bay. Naturally, we both took this as a totally righteous compliment.

2. FUNERALHave You Seen My Leather Jacket? (GTA #037) – Forgotten Long Beach punkers who were dragged back into the jaundiced light via the inclusion of their “Waiting For the Bomb Blast to Arrive” cut on the Bloodstains Across California comp. from the early 90s. They plied a sound aligned with SOCIAL DISTORTION (moody, melodic punk) and they did it surprisingly well. Although Long Beach had its fair share of worthy HC punk bands in the early 80s (THE CREWD, SECRET HATE, etc.) it was a scene that was sadly overshadowed by the whole Huntington Beach/Edison High School thing a few miles down the coast. Which is a shame, cause these guys and their town clearly deserved more. Few articulated that baleful, apocalyptic suburban worldview better. Singer/gtrist Mike Martt went on to drunk-rock infamy playing with the likes of TEX & THE HORSEHEADS, THELONIOUS MONSTER, and THE LOW & SWEET ORCHESTRA, and still roams the backstreets of Signal Hill to this day.

3. RED SCARE1982-1988 As Promised (GTA 007-R #056) – You had to be fucking tough to survive as a woman on these kinda stages, what with all that testosterone a-flowing free back then. There’s a couple of live tracks on this thing that’ll give you an idea of the kinda BULLSHIT a woman-led band had to put up with on stage. But Bobbi Brat, the singer here, was most definitely up to the task. Her best lyric: “Can’t you see, little boy? I’ll only hurt you; because to me you’re a toy, I play around and desert you.” Although I can’t say this is classic hard stuff (it’s got that weird stiffness that comes with a drummer playing faster than he can reasonably rock) I have spun it alot, esp. when I used to drive deep into OC to meet psychotic Mexican-American vets as part of my last job ever in the States. So, I’m keeping this one. For what it’s worth, there’s a memoir of Hollywood streetlife floating around out there called Coloring Outside the Lines by Aimee Cooper that incorporates some old memories of Ms. Brat.

4. ANTIThe Hardcore Years 1980-84 (GTA #028) – Fairly rote HC with that polka-beat we all came to dread by the mid-80’s. A couple songs of this so-called peace-punk is all I’ll ever need (though I admit the bonus “anti parent” radio broadcast they’ve tagged on here is pretty hilarious). I wish they’d’ve expanded their sound a bit – but they didn’t, and so people promptly forgot about em. I do like the smudgey, howling singer though – it’s the voice of someone who dug smoking pot, which was a rarity in HC circles then. Their bassist Danny Phillips went on to be in a lame bottomwrung major-label, U2-ish act called EASTER in the late 80’s – please, please don’t post here about how great they were. Danny could be found working at Recycled Records in Hermosa Beach back then, always your best bet for scoring cheap copies of ANTI records at the time.

5. ABANDONEDLos Angeles, Motherfucker! (GTA #020) – Tony Adolescent was the main culprit here. And yeah, the spirit of the early ADOLESCENTS does shine through this thing, but in a nasty-ass, dark-alley TALES OF TERROR sorta way. Tony was clearly not enjoying his time in La Habra or wherever the fuck he was eeking out his existence at this point. This is not at all bad – but it’s grim, in that way only low-rent suburban LA life could be in the early/mid 80’s. I like this one, but it does make me fucking wince. Anybody ever see these guys play? Betcha they were simultaneously hot and a cheap, swift punch to the kidney.


More to come. I just gotta do the circle dance one time, ok?