Jon Charles Newman

(In memory of Brady Rifkin.)

For most of 1977 I was 13 years old. I was a proghead, and from what I’d seen of UK punk, I thought it was silly. But I heard “God Save the Queen” on the radio and decided I wanted the single, and then figured I should get the whole album. So just after New Year’s (having turned 14 the previous month) I plunked down the money and got the US version of “Never Mind the Bollocks.” I got it home and I put it on.

And bam! By the time “Holidays in the Sun” was over, I was a different person. I was amazed to hear someone as confused and miserable as I was, and the music itself awakened some sort of rock ‘n’ roll thing in me that seemed to have been just waiting to rear its ugly, beautiful head. For a month or more I played the album three times a day (no exaggeration), and then started hunting around for similar records. I also started to listen to Rodney Bingenheimer’s Sunday night show on KROQ for all the latest stuff coming out.

Back then there were a few publications you could get free at record stores, like “Rock Around the World” from the late, lamented radio station KWST, and the great “Phonograph Record.” I would read up and seek out records that sounded intriguing. Of the older proto-punk records, most were out of print in the US. Since there was no way to hear them before I bought them, I had to take a leap of faith and spend the money on “Raw Power” without having heard a note. Much jumping up and down on the bed and screaming along with “Shake Appeal” ensued.

As far as the contemporary records went, I usually heard some bits of them on Rodney’s show. He used to play Generation X all the time, so I got the US version the day it came out. I’d already acquired LPs by Wire, the Clash, the Damned, the Jam, and maybe some others I can’t think of now. These would soon be joined by the Ramones.

Somehow I also got a copy of an issue of Slash magazine. It was fascinating. There seemed to be a whole world beckoning — a little bit intimidating, but too interesting to be ignored.

Still 14, I tried out for a punk band as a guitarist. My shitty little amp wasn’t nearly loud enough, and I still didn’t look the part (I wasn’t quite ready to cut my hair). I’m sure the band had a good laugh after I left.

I had yet to go to a more typical punk show, but in November ’78 I did go to the (so I’m told) now-legendary free show that Talking Heads did outdoors at UCLA. I became a big fan.

In April 1979 my dear friend Mike Levy was in town from NoCal, and his cousin worked at A&M. She had tickets to see the Dickies at the Whisky, were we interested? I guess I had never seen a real rock ’n’ roll band before, but we were blown away. So much energy!

Finally I shyly tried to make friends with the punks at Taft High in Woodland Hills. They began to accept me. I’m still friends with most of them. Then a major event came up that we couldn’t miss: the Screamers at the Whisky! Life-changing. Not only were they unlike anything I had ever seen or heard before, here was the world I had read about in Slash — for real! I think this was a big growing-up moment for me in general, at 15. The real world existed beyond Tarzana.

The rest of 1979 was spent at shows nearly every week. The Hong Kong Cafe in Chinatown was all-ages, so I can’t count the number of shows I saw there. It seemed like every Friday there was someone to see at the Whisky.

It was a great time, and I feel so lucky to have been here when it was happening.

By 1980 my leanings were heavily into post punk, and I couldn’t relate to much of the later scene, like the stuff that was coming out of Orange County and places south. I would return to much of it later. Punk for me was something beyond music — almost a gateway into adulthood, and into a world that existed far beyond my suburban upbringing.

My first punk show was seeing The Dickies at the Whisky, April 1979.

I have worked for several record labels. Warner Special Products in 1989, much temping for CBS in the mid ’80s and early ’90s, and then Sony Music 1992-2004. I also worked for Music Plus in Sherman Oaks, Record Factory in San Francisco, Tower Video (records adjacent). 

While I never worked directly for a fanzine, the first gig for my SF band The Wow was a benefit for BravEar.

These days I work in online media. I have a partner but no “family.” Living back in Tarzana — lived in SF 1982-84.

(painting is watercolor on cold press paper, 6″x6″)

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