The writing was on the wall back in the early 80’s Poshboy Records heyday: Orange County came only to play loud, party hard, and fuck shit up. For a hairyass night out this could be a heck of a lot of fun – but as a foundation upon which to create durable, lasting music, it was mighty flimsy indeed. You knew it had run it’s course by the mid/late 80’s, when the dumb (PLAIN WRAP!), the dumber (DOGGY STYLE), and the totally redundant (BIG DRILL CAR) were your best bets for a Saturday night gig down in OC. So when THE OFFSPRING rose to alt.rock prominence in the 90’s hamming it up over pilfered AGENT ORANGE riffs, it was just more of the same goddawful dreck we’d been trying to ignore for nearly a decade.
That said, I’ll always maintain that early OC hardcore punkers had something more to offer, even if sometimes it was nothing but screaming blind rage. Given the conservative social climate at the time, such expression was totally crucial to giving the rest of us permission to cut loose. While they didn’t succeed in changing much, it did make the journey us kids were destined to take into the Black Hole that much more fun. Again, I’m no expert – but this place/time has been on my mind lately. Fr instance:
1. RIKK AGNEW All By Myself (Frontier Records, 1982) While not on the level with other SoCal 6-string innovators like Ginn and Biaza, Rikk Agnew did pioneer an influential take on ringing hardcore punk gtr and a unique, surf-inspired way of arranging and balancing melodic/harmonic content – listen to THE ADOLESCENTS’ “Kids of the Black Hole” or even CHRISTAIN DEATH’s “Romeo’s Distress” (two early Rikk pinnacles) for powerful examples of his style. All By Myself follows naturally from raging ADOLESCENTS achievements, but as the whole shebang was recorded solo, it also emphasizes just how downright arty – in a non-wank, suburban sense – his musical instincts actually were. Sadly, this more eccentric side to OC punk was quickly buried in the shit-storm of trad HC that belched forth down there then. Would be great to hear more OC musicians today keying in on the subtleties of Rikk’s finely wrought sound.
2. TSOL Beneath the Shadows (Alternative Tentacles, 1983) Always resented the fact that dudes this egotistically cocksure got so big in SoCal back then. But I confess that, to this day, hearing those intro gtr figures on their Weathered Statues EP brings back primal memories of being really young, saying something stupid on a dare, and almost getting my skinny ass pummeled to raw meat. This LP follows on from that EP, bouyed by Greg Khuen’s piano & synth to create a moody pop/punk hybrid that had no real peers around the beaches then. None of these guys were particularly talented (I wish they’d have learned a few musical lessons from them SST boys up the coast – the rhythms are all tick-tick-tick straight ahead) but together they were something else entirely. The songs are really good, Thom Wilson’s production timeless, and the kinda New Romantic, Strawberries-era DAMNED flair an audacious move up against a wall of OC surfer/skinheads. For once I agree with AllMusic’s entry about this by Joe Viglione. Wanna know why punk rock guys go out with new wave girls in OC? This record will help you understand.
3. THE CROWD – Letter Bomb (Flipside Records, 1996) Everybody agrees their earliest Beach Blvd. cuts are classic, but few seem to wanna to confront the less-than stellar reality of their A World Apart LP. That rec saw THE CROWD pulling in the reins a bit, angling toward daylight KROQ airplay – all beneath the weight of lifeless/flat production. Talk about bad timing: at that very moment when every other good band in the area was cranking the aggro up a notch or two, these guys decide it’s time to go power pop! Had it come out a year or two earlier, they might’ve sounded totally forwardthinking – sort of an OC cousin to THE LAST’s LA Explosion. As it was, it must’ve sounded dated within weeks of it’s 1980 release.
But the plain-as-day fact is that their LETTER BOMB CD from ’96 (newly reissued on TKO last year with bonus tracks) has been far and away their greatest achievement thus far. Somehow these aging surfers ignored all them GREEN DAY yahoos clogging up the works and put out something timelessly bitchen, just like a late 70’s ZEROS or RHINO 39 might’ve, had they persevered. Or hell: what THE CROWD should’ve, as they practically invented this shit. These songs are catchy as a nasty case of the clap, the band loose/live sounding, and the singing cutting the sickly sweet schtick of yore with a nasty bitterness that spells RIGHT ON to me. Even the lyrics shine . . . man, I’d wish I’d taken up that offer of a friend to go see em play back then. Clearly, they were on to something huge.
4. THE DUANE PETERS GUNFIGHT S/T (Disaster Records, 2005) In a world where unreleased demos by HB originators like THE OUTSIDERS and THE HATED can be easily accessed via handy MySpace pages, do we really need this guy anymore? Well . . . Duane represents that living breathing never-say-die older punk contingent (imagine a sun-tanned version of THE MISFITS’ Jerry Only) who are still tucked away in various states of decomposition all around OC. Invariably it was guys this who I’d find myself queuing up behind in Costa Mesa when I was jonesing for a few fish tacos during lunch breaks in the late 90’s. Yes he’s been a chunky, tatted up skate legend now for years in bands like U.S. BOMBS and THE HUNNS, but his voice can still peel paint at 50 paces. This recording – a likeably grim collection of Cali Oi – ain’t one you gotta sell your firstborn to hear, but I like the apocalyptic vibe of the lead in cut “War With You” so I’m glad he’s still flying the flag. Maybe I’m just a nostalgic fuck? Either way, you/I probably prefer to remember Duane sounding/looking something like this.
5. Urban Struggle: The Battle of the Cuckoo’s Nest DVD – coming to an internet retailer near you really, really fucking soon. The slightly earlier, late-Hollywood generation documented in The Decline of Western Civilization was great, but it was at this junction in SoCal history (1981, Darby Crash RIP) that yours truly first became aware of hardcore punkrock. The stark B&W live clips of TSOL, BLACK FLAG, FEAR, & CIRCLE JERKS capture the testosterone-fueled power of them daze perfectly – giving these smog-choked suburbs an even more noirish fatalism than memory alone conjures up. At this point, OC kids had literally mowed down much of old Hollywood and really were threatening THE BIG TAKEOVER. No doubt the vicious crackdown by the Costa Mesa PD was born outta genuine civic fear. Shit, even retrospective interview clips I’ve seen of club owner Jerry Roach looking back on them gnarly times look damn curious. Check out the trailer here.