The first time I became aware of punk rock I was in the 5th grade. The Sex Pistols were in the news and coming to the states and the hype was such that people were actually afraid of a rock and roll band. Between that hype, reading Creem magazine regularly, and my father’s outrage at my request for the Pistols album, I was hooked. I loved the idea that just the mention of a band could inspire such emotion. From 5th to 7th grade I was listening to Bowie, Iggy, the first Dead Boys record, and anything else I could sneak past my dad. I never courted violence, in fact I only ever ran from it. Nevertheless, I loved the idea that my Bowie shirt inspired such homophobic rage from the assholes at the pinball joint down the street (later the video arcade: same thing). I knew there was something wrong with dominant youth culture at the time even if I didn’t have the intellectual chops to codify it. If the tough boys listening to Zeppelin hated what I liked then I thought I must be doing something right. Fast forward to junior high. Now in junior high there were real punk rockers! Of course I wasn’t yet cool enough to know them, and I lived in fear that I would be labeled a poseur, but at least being a part of this thing was within reach now.
As I grew older, and to be fair as I listened to a lot more of the Clash, my political sensibilities began to develop. In the 9th grade I was kicked out of school for dyeing my hair pink. I was harassed endlessly by one teacher in particular for not reciting the pledge of allegiance. I was called out in another class for not looking sad enough that Reagan had been shot. All of this felt right somehow. Of course I couldn’t yet put it into words, but I was eager to be a part of some kind of oppositional culture. The Reagan years were awful. A national consciousness shifting away from the upheaval of the 60s, and the libertine 70s, into some kind of 50s revival where gender, class and race were heavily policed. Class politics were particularly exhausting for me. Within youth culture. The “preppy” look was just another way to code whiteness and affluence. I had one of the two but felt a million miles away from what they stood for. What else was there for a poor kid who loved rock and roll? For me only punk rock.
As I began going to shows I was at once liberated and terrified. The real threat of violence at a gig seemed necessary and yet still scared the crap out of me. I loved the music but somehow never could adopt the proper uniform. So here again I stood out. I remember chatting with Alice Bag much later in the early 2000s and her telling me that what had been an arty scene for misfits, Bohemians, and queer kids had morphed into a violent circus run by angry white boys by the time I got involved in 81-82. That seems about right. When it should have been about creating real oppositional culture to the oppressive Reagan Years, masculinity, heteronormativity, and yes, race, were heavily policed in that punk scene.
Later on I found a happy medium with kids who called themselves peace punks. We all worked at Follow Your Heart (vegetarian joint in the West Valley) and at least in theory were not racist, homophobic, sexist, etc. Of course we were all of those things but just less so than other aspects of the hardcore scene and with better intentions. Some grew up with convictions intact and others defaulted to reactionary right wing politics. The pressure of the dominant culture was too much for some. In any event, to me punk was about direct opposition to the dominant culture. The openly gay kids in my high school seemed way more punk to me than some angry white boy in a uniform who felt the need to join a punk gang that adopted the trappings of Mexican gangs but in the end were openly white supremacist.
Now for the fun part of this project. My first gig was the Stranglers at the Country Club in Reseda in 1980-81 (not sure). The best gig for me is a tie between Iggy at the Palladium (81) or the Clash at the Palladium (82 I think?). It has to be said that Vice Squad and Chron Gen at the Whiskey was pretty damned exciting too. The record that most impacted me was Sandinista. It gave me hope that I didn’t have to look or think like everybody else in the scene to be punk.
I’ll close with my most tender punk moment: It’s 1981 and I’m 14. Without going too much into it my mother suffered from mental illness and my father lived elsewhere. I was my mom’s caretaker essentially for most of my childhood. At one point she went off to commit suicide (I knew because she told me before leaving) and so I caught the 93 bus down to Hollywood Blvd. I was determined to get “in” with the punks that hung out there and slept in Motel Hell. I walked up to some and spilled my guts about what I had just been through (I wore my heart on my sleeve a lot back then). They invited me to hang out. It was a weird moment because I was as sad as I could be about my mom being dead (she wasn’t but I believed she was) but I had never felt so cool to be hanging out with these kids I looked up to. Eventually I was passed off to different punks and as night fell I was with Ted (whatever happened to Ted I wonder?) and Bob 2 Tone (I’m sure many of you will know that name). We were drinking behind the liquor store on La Brea. Bob 2 Tone, the coolest and toughest guy ever to a 14 year old Kevin put his arm around me and tenderly invited me to cry about my mom. Indeed, he insisted. So I cried while he and Ted comforted me. That one moment of humanity is the primary reason I can still remember most of that time fondly.
These days I’m a cultural and applied anthropologist. I am a part time lecturer at CSUN and a full time academic advisor. I’m married 25 years and have two boys, 13 and 24. I’m back in Van Nuys and sometimes I wish I could hop on to the 93 bus to Hollywood Blvd to find Acid Scott. But I know that nothing looks or feels the same.