I have long had an interest in hardcore punk music, especially the straight-edge movement (punkers who eschew drugs, alcohol, religion and, some of them, sex).
My favorite bands from that genre are:
Minor Threat (and those other bands with the same singer, namely Pailhead and Embrace)
My review of the great book and documentary American Hardcore was - until I read this new book - the last I planned to write about this topic. Believe it or not I am finally realizing there's something to be said for the argument that if I write too often I may get read less so I'm trying to choose my article topics more sparingly. That said, I felt an expansion memoir was needed.
I was into this music and scene for a few years in college and find the ideas, beliefs and especially the music's lyrics quite compelling. Logan of Newsvine also wrote a great piece here about the punk music scene.
But then, I read this book. Or more accurately (since it's a book mostly of pictures taken at hardcore punk shows) I read the captions and looked at the pictures.
The book made me rethink a few things. So this piece will be about me revisiting a few things, similar in a way to my piece about a documentary about Patsy Cline made me ask deep questions about whether there is such a thing as one true story when it comes to music and art and how it is best told, etc.
I read this book two weeks ago and I, rarely unable to articulate my thoughts, have had writers block on how to tackle this one. Part of that is the book made me think about music venues I had not thought of in 20 years. It also prompted me to find - via the Internet - one particular musician who I will be speaking of shortly.
First a confession: I thought I found this musician about two years ago but, oops, it was the wrong guy. I was looking for Vic DiCara and when I was offered an interview with a hardcore band fronted by a singer named Vic I figured it was the same guy.
The reality was it was a different guy - who knew there'd be two well known hardcore punk singers named Vic. But this Vic (Vic Bondi) too was quite fascinating. I wrote an interview with him here and posted a review (and photographs) of his show here.
So speaking of shows, this book is two things at once which sometimes works better than others. The two things are a history of hardcore music in the 1980s and a collection of photos of the movement, mostly from the shows.
The book does a great job of the latter but less so of the former. For those looking for a more clear and organized history of this music, I'd definitely suggest checking out these two books for starters: "American Hardcore: A Tribal History" and "Dance of Days: Two Decades of Punk In the Nation's Capital."
The photos provide the book's foundation but it is the captions that make it much more powerful and fascinating. The book's authors have managed the unenviable task of tracking down the photographers to talk about their memories of certain shots as well, as the musicians photographed too. This provided a fascinating different look back, through the lenses of, well, photographers and their subjects.
(A quick aside: One of the other great parts of the book is that, in the back, they not only provide more biographical information about what each person quoted in the book did then, but also what they are doing now.
So, for example, I have wondered before what ever happened to Kevin Seconds, who led the great straight-edge band Seven Seconds. Answer: He owns and runs a coffee shop. That's right, the kids are now all grown up.)
I was struck by two things in looking at these captions and reading these books:
1) How many of the photographs were at two venues that I not only recognized but spent a great deal of time in, Spanky's in Riverside and the Showcase in Corona. Now I could interpret that in two ways: One is that those venues had more importance in the movement than I ever realized perhaps because, to me, they were just the two clubs closest to where I grew up, in Riverside, and thus I assumed pretty inconsequential. The other is that maybe they just had better photos and/or participation from the photographer who took those shots.
2) That it quoted and spoke about Vic DiCara, his music, his belief systems. (Details on that in a minute)
Spanky's was as close as Riverside had to a venue for punk shows. It was located downtown and it seemed a bit out of place. I saw at least ten shows there and all were good but the location was small and so things were tight. I didn't think it was anything special.
So that brings me to the moment when Vic and Spanky's intertwined. Which means it's time to do my Vic story. I was in college, living in the dorms, and starting my journalism career by working for the college newspaper. I had recently made the wise decision to switch from a career of computer programming to one of journalism (a switch I chronicle in a three part article that starts here.)
Thus I was always on the prowl for interesting subjects to write about, especially ones that I could use to be not only articles for the school newspaper but also articles for my English classes. I had already
learned the hard way that there are some questions you just don't want to ask a musician or band.
But Vic, I quickly realized, was more than just the subject of a single feature story.
He would also do things that amazed us in the dorms. For instance, someone once played him Guns N' Roses "Sweet Child o' Mine" (right when that song came out - he had not heard it yet) and, within five minutes, he could play it note for note.) So musically, he was quite impressive.
What caught my attention more was knowing someone who was a Hari Krishna. This guy did not seem like he was brainwashed, he was not someone who you would think was into a cult (as some brand that faith). So when he invited me to go with him to a Hari Krishna service I did so.
Frankly, it was not as weird as I had anticipated. I thought a lot about that visit as I later did a movie review and discussion about a great
documentary about Jonestown. And before anyone, including Vic, says that's an unfair comparison let me add that he was incredibly open-minded and patient as he would explain to me WHY those are apples and oranges (an appropriate metaphor since they are vegetarians.)
Long story short I followed him around and wrote a two part article about his life and music. I think I received zero reaction to the story I remember getting a D from an English teacher who said the topic bored him and I remember thinking, "If he does not find this topic - a college student who is Hari Krishna punk rocker and straight edge -interesting then he will probably never be satisfied."
I wish I had saved copies of those stories and when I recently reunited via email with Vic, he too wished I had it because it would have been fascinating to read all what was said. So I'm not sure if anyone remembers it besides Vic and I but to us it captured a moment in his complicated counter-culture life.
Several times over the years I have told of one particular anecdote that came about due to that story and research and that was this: I met Vic at a rehearsal at Spanky's. He was the guitarist in a band called Inside Out (Vic wrote a piece about that band here.)
I'll pause at this point because those who know their punk history are saying "wow, that was a hell of a band." While those like me at the time, who were new to the genre, had no idea this band would ever be a footnote in future books, let alone be mentioned at least ten times in that book.
What makes the band well known, besides being a tight powerful band was their singer: Zack De La Rocha. Now most of you are saying, "That name sounds familiar," and it should because Zack left, after the band wrote a song called Rage Against the Machine, to start a new band called, yes, Rage Against the Machine.
So did I spend more than five seconds acknowledging or speaking with Zack? Nope, because I was focused on Vic. Oh, well. Small world, right?
I lost touch with Vic after I moved out of the dorms. Vic went on to play in Shelter, which was a Hari Krishna hardcore punk band. There's a poster in the book of some punkers opposed to the band because its embrace of a religion ran counter to a music movement that could be summarized by the Minor Threat line "flex your head"; in other words, think for yourself
Meanwhile, Zack's band became huge and I'd sometimes grumble that I could have had the early scoop or interview with him but I'm OK with that.
The book has photos and captions showing Inside Out playing at Spankys, perhaps at one of the shows I saw them at.
I want to end this review/memoir piece with two quotes straight from the book.
This caption, by Adam Nathanson, of the band, Born Against, is for a photo showing a band performing outside of Spanky's. Behind them you can see the Riverside bell symbol.
Born Against and Rorschach played outside in front of the club in protest of the club's door price, for the show we were supposed to have done inside that afternoon. It was fun to play outside spontaneously in a public square setting, but our reasons for doing so were kind of stupid. We took such a strong stance against door prices above five dollars, and as I recall, this one was around eight dollars. Whatever. The middle aged Middle Eastern guy who ran the club was totally confused. He had a reputation for ripping off the bands, but in the long run, who cares?"
And, lastly, this caption written by Vic:
The idea Zack had was to inject an older D.C. influence back into hardcore with more complicated riffs. His idea and personality was so introspective, the name Inside Out was meant to be taken as wearing what's inside you outside, so you're not hiding anything. We needed a new venue for shows and Ryan from Chain of Strength found this Persian restaurant called Spanky's. Two notes into our first song we had to stop because the owner freaked out, he thought the restaurant would be destroyed with everyone dancing and going crazy. Ryan told him that everyone would sit down, so the whole crowd sat down Indian-style and watched Inside Out play. It was so intense because with no distractions you knew everyone was watching every move you made."