Now that the late 1970s Masque punk scene has been so fully mined in literary form by numerous books of photos and prose (examples are here, here, here, here and here – all worth your $$$), I believe that posterity will now begin recognizing the outsized musical and cultural contributions made in Los Angeles by the immediate children of the late 70s scene: the hardcore punks, the paisley underground, the gothcore weirdos, the experimental free-music freaks and the SST crew – among many others. Now that I think about it, that documentation is already well underway, with Black Flag and Paisley Underground books and films about The Minutemen and so on all having come out the past decade.
Hardcore punk left an indelible stamp on Southern California in the early 1980s. I continue to be supremely jealous of my friends who came of age in this location at a time when fast/hard/raging punk rock music was played on commercial radio every night at 8pm; when being a "punker" might expose you to some high school ridicule but also put you in a well-defined and exploding subculture of thousands of local kids; and where amazing records came out nearly every month. If you were a little more enterprising and clued in, you could tap into the over-21 scene and take a peek at what was going on with the Gun Club, Flesh Eaters, Dream Syndicate, Bangs, Green on Red camps, and so on. As Dave Markey and Jordan Schwartz's "WE GOT POWER" photo and essay book makes clear, there was considerable overlap between the prime movers of these scenes as well.
These two enterprising latchkey kids gathered up their cameras & skateboards and used their love of the exploding punk scene to begin documenting and living it in every way, shape and form. They started WE GOT POWER fanzine, a hand-written, somewhat silly magazine with photo collages that nonetheless captures the essence of the day exceptionally well, at least from the partyin' hardcore punk's perspective. Their definition of what was rad was expansive enough to include and celebrate The Minutemen, Red Cross, Saccharine Trust, 45 Grave and other heroes of mine, as well as a big reliance on and friendship with the bands who had their own gangs: Circle One and, later, Suicidal Tendencies. As Markey helpfully explains why they befriended many of the lunkheads who formed their own punk armies, "You know that Beach Boys song 'I Get Around' - 'The bad guys know us, and they leave us alone'?"
This book's a big cut above most punk rock photo books because it's at almost a snapshot level. By that I mean, rather than focus solely on bands posing or jumping in the air, there are a lot of candid photos of punk parties, graffitied locations, people lounging around at Oki-Dog and the like. The book provides a rather bounteous picture of what it was like to be a 16-year-old punk rocker in 1982 Southern California, lying to your parents about a sleepover at a friend's house so you could see Circle One, Sin 34 and RF7 at The Fleetwood on a Friday night. The best photos are ones of bored skate punks hanging out in front of drugstores, or trying to make a makeshift ramp, or getting wasted at some 3am party in Pico Rivera or Downey or Canoga Park.
Markey himself drummed in Sin 34, which is barely mentioned in the book despite numerous photos of the band hanging out and getting drunk. I always thought that We Got Power was Schwartz's thing and his alone, not realizing until now the contributions of his sister Jennifer (from the Love Dolls, and who overlapped with me at school in the 80s at UC-Santa Barbara), of Kim Pilkington (who sounds like a legendary piece of work) and the guy whose name escapes me now and whose dorm address was listed on the first two issues, but who's persona non grata in the book itself. Their collective looked to be a pretty tight unit, and they were obviously out and about at least 4 times per week, wherever the shows and the parties happened to be.
"WE GOT POWER" is a collection of over a dozen essays by folks close to the beating core of the 'core. Henry Rollins, the McDonald brothers of Red Cross/Kross, Mike Watt, Keith Morris, Janet Housdon, Chuck Dukowski and more. There are a few interesting and surprising takes on the scene that capture the excitement certain bands generated for a few months, like Jula Bell's essay on the wacky Nip Drivers. Most folks aren't too snotty or bitter about their teenage and early twenties involvement in this ephemeral scene, except for Jeff & Steve McDonald, who, rather than coming off as the funny and insightful pop culture punks they were in their youth, are actually still sort of angry about the motley collection of junkies, alcoholics and intolerant jocks whom they used to pal around with and who came to their shows. I suppose that, to me, hardcore is "funny" is many ways, when it's not still exhilarating and still a blast to listen to. Even if my tastes had greatly evolved from those I had at 16 – and I believe that they have – I'd be somewhat proud to have caught, ridden and helped to define this low-culture wave when it was at its peak & blowing suburban minds all over the Los Angeles basin. I was surprised to see them get the last word, and for it to be a dismissive one at that.
I figured the best way to experience my review of this book would be to listen to some crazy-ass SoCal hardcore while you read it. So here are a couple of my favorites that aren't the usual 'Flag, 'Jerks, 'Men etc.
Listen to Sin 34 - "Nuclear War"
Listen to Circle One - "Destroy Exxon"