Thursday, May 29, 2008

Guest Blogger Dave: Who You Calling Punk?

This post about KROQ and the Los Angeles post-punk scene of the early 1980's comes from my poker buddy Dave (a.k.a. "davesap"). Dave was the first person ever to post a comment on STWOF. His comment inspired me to ask him to put together this guest post--and here it is! Take it away Dave...

Dave here. After a business trip to Seattle, I had a few hours to kill and decided to rent a bicycle next to the Green Lake pathway. Unfortunately, it was raining (in Seattle?), and the rental shop was closed. When I ducked into a Starbucks, a machine in the corner caught my eye, “Make Your Own CD.” Four hours, a healthy dose of caffeine, and many stops and starts later, I walked out of Starbucks the proud new owner of my own compilation, called Who You Calling Punk?, complete with a picture for the cover.

Track List:
The Buggles - Video Killed the Radio Star
X - Breathless (buy album)
Siouxsie & The Banshees - Christine
The Talking Heads - Psycho Killer
The Pretenders - Brass in Pocket
The Boomtown Rats - I Don't Like Mondays
The Alarm - Where Were You Hiding When The Storm Broke?
The Clash - London Calling
Blondie - Rip Her To Shreds
The Surf Punks – My Beach (buy album)
Oingo Boingo – Only A Lad (buy album)
Suicidal Tendencies - Institutionalized
Jim Carroll Band - People Who Died
Bow Wow Wow - I Want Candy
Go-Go's – We Got The Beat (buy album)
The B-52's - Rock Lobster
Squeeze - Black Coffee In Bed
Soft Cell - Tainted Love
The Jam - Town Called Malice
The English Beat - I Confess
the Special A.K.A. - Free Nelson Mandela (buy album)

The songs were loosely selected from the playlists of my favorite radio station growing up, KROQ in Pasadena. In those few, but pivotal, years, KROQ went from playing the Circle Jerks and the Dead Kennedys to Duran Duran and a Flock of Seagulls. The destination was okay, the origin better, but the journey sublime. This post focuses on a few of the local songs that defined for me the post-punk LA music scene. A special shout-out goes to my sister Sheri who introduced me to all these bands.


X exploded onto the scene with their debut album Los Angeles. The title track Los Angeles is one of those songs that remains in your head long after it finishes. Somehow, even though I had listened to this song hundreds of times during the 1980’s, it was only in the last couple years that I understood the song’s lyrics.

I was stunned by what I heard:

She started to hate every n**ger and jew
Every Mexican that gave her a lotta sh*t
Every homosexual and the idle rich
She had to get out

X - Los Angeles (buy album)

How do you make sense of a song whose subject is so irredeemable? Even though the punk movement at the time was identified with skinheads and neo-Nazis, I did not want to believe that the band I loved shared that sordid affinity. I wanted to believe that John Doe and Exene Cervenka were above that.

Fortunately, when I google’d the song, I found a commentary that made sense to me. The commentary reminded me that Los Angeles (the album) is not warm and fuzzy. Its themes run from drug abuse to date rape, and the album even contains a song aptly titled Nausea. In this context, the title track was not glorifying the narrowmindness of its subject, but instead vividly depicting the neglected underbelly of the city.

That explanation fits logically with the rest of the song. The subject is not revered, but rather someone who “gets confused, flying over the dateline.” The epitome of her shallowness is her consumerism. She buys a clock on Hollywood Boulevard the day she leaves Los Angeles. “It felt sad. It felt sad.” I think I get it, John and Exene. It is the subject that is sad.

The Surf Punks

One of the iconic landmarks of Los Angeles are the Santa Monica Mountains. They not only divide “the City” from “the Valley” geographically, but also socially. The Valley may have spawned Moonunit Zappa’s Valley Girl, but the City gave us My Beach.

Oingo Boingo

Perhaps no band better symbolizes the transition (sell-out?) from punk to new wave than Oingo Boingo. In Only a Lad, a song from the band’s first EP, the band angrily depicts a justice system that coddles criminals and keeps them on the street:

You really can’t blame him (Only a lad)/Society made him (Only a lad)
Hes our responsibility (Only a lad)/He really couldn’t help it (Only a lad)/He didn’t want to do it (Only a lad)
He’s underprivileged and abused/Perhaps a little bit confused.

The track ends with a call for frontier justice:

Hey there Johnny boy, you really don’t fool me
You get away with murder
And you think it’s funny
You don’t give a damn if we live or if we die
Hey there Johnny boy
I hope you fry!

Years later, as the band became more popular, they started playing larger venues. I knew they had jumped the shark even before they took the stage at the Universal Amphitheatre. Their now pop audience was so out-of-touch with the band’s roots that they booed off the stage a fantastic, unknown warm-up act that was delivering an energetic, power-filled set. The band’s sin: playing punk-tinged music that could have played back-to-back with Only a Lad without skipping a beat. The band’s name: The Red Hot Chili Peppers.


If I am going to blast Oingo Boingo for their forays into pop, why on earth did I put the Go-Go’s onto this compilation? As Walt Whitman said, “You say I contradict myself. So I contradict myself. I am full. I contain multitudes.” Long before the Go-Go’s went on “Vacation,” they were rocking venues like the Whisky with tracks like their unforgettable cover of Cool Jerk. And if you are cool with the Mayor of the Sunset Strip, you are cool with me.

Go-Go's – Cool Jerk (buy album)

The Untouchables & The Specials

My compilation ends with one of my favorite ska songs, The Specials’ Free Nelson Mandela. Unfortunately, the database did not have the song that I would have used for my penultimate song (or for that matter any of the Violent Femmes catalog or the Little Girls’ Earthquake Song). That song would have been Twist ‘n’ Shake, a hip-shaking, dance number from LA’s ultimate ska band, The Untouchables. If you think you like this song, try it out with the under 10 crowd.

Untouchables – Twist 'n' Shake (buy album)

Happy trails to all.

Paul Here. Thanks for the great post Dave! I'm still on blogging hiatus. While I'm "gone" please vote in the STWOF favorite country artists poll if you haven't already.


bob said...

surf punks- i thought i was the only one with a copy of that.

Hank said...

"Free Nelson Mandela" is by the Special A.K.A. ≠ not The Specials. TX

Paul said...

We don't get hung up on technicalities here at STWOF. The record we've got says "The Specials." Same dudes anyway.

Paul said...

OK. I was wrong about it being "the same dudes." There were some lineup changes.

Paul said...

General Disclaimer: This is a blog. I've got a real job and just write this stuff off the top of my head for free. I'm not sure what Dave's excuse is...

So hank, thanks for the correction. I learn more about music from the comments to this blog than anyplace else. Seriously.

dr kill said...

Nice site. I'm just cruising by, but FWIW I also am a huge punk and alt-country fan. I just can't listen to that shit they peddle on commercial country radio. Tim McGraw? Faith Hill? Carrie Underwood? It hurts to even write their names.

Have y'all tried I find it a very good place to stay in touch with new alt-country acts.

Then there is, public radio in my old home town. There is some new indy being made that is worth a listen.

Also make your own station, and they will throw in some songs you haven't yet heard.

But about the best country acts? After Merle and JC, for about six months I been stuck on Ray Wylie Hubbard, and not just Up Against The Wall, either. Try Choctaw Bingo. He makes that crystal meth 'cause the 'shine dont sell. That's what I'm talkin' about.

Shukran Habibe

carrie said...

I must admit to scoffing a bit at this, you know in the way you grow out of KROQ, but I d/l'd the zip file anyway and boy, am I glad I did. What FUN! It sure did take me back. I added Romeo Void to the mix and a couple other songs but you pretty much nailed it. It definately took me back. I couldn't believe myself singing along to Suicidal Tendencies while mopping the kitchen floor. LOL. Thanks for a great blast of music from the past.

davesap said...

You made my day, Carrie! Glad you enjoyed it. Romeo Void is a perfect addition to the mix.

Anonymous said...

this "who you calling punk" comp looks like really a lotta fun.
possible to re-üp?
thanks, enx