punk

Bohemian Bridges

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The good people at Guardian Stewardship Editions have included my piece on housing rights/squat activist Steve DeCaprio in their new anthology, Bohemian Bridges, which collects writing on American (especially Californian) social, cultural, and political change. I’m honored to be a part of the project.

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Campaign

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This is a cool and unexpected thing: The Atlanta punk band Campaign asked to use a photo of mine for the cover of their new ep, Boys of Bummer Vol. 1. Go have a listen.

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Angels, Protesters, and Patriots

photo illustration by Ethan ParkerMy new piece in California magazine is about the essential weirdness of patriotism, and its wildly varying meanings in our politics. It’s an article that takes in the Hells Angels and hippies, Regan and Obama, punk rock and Bruce Springsteen, and a bunch of other stuff as well:

It starts with a guy named “Tiny.” Tiny was 6’7” and 300 pounds. And he really liked to fight.

He was first into the breach that fall afternoon in 1965, punching his way through the front of the seven-block-long peace march on Adeline Street, near the Berkeley–Oakland border. Tiny was a member of the outlaw motorcycle gang Hells Angels, and more than a dozen of his brothers followed in his wake, ripping down antiwar signs and screaming, “Go back to Russia, you fucking Communists!”

The Angels, at first blush, seemed unlikely patriots. Though not yet well known, they had a reputation with law enforcement for drinking, smoking dope, and sacking towns like modern-day Visigoths, answering to no authority higher than their East Oakland clubhouse. But now there they were, waving the flag. Their form of patriotism was gut-level, atavistic, loyalty to nation through blood and fire. Their group persona, meanwhile, was the stuff of American mythology, a grab-bag of frontier clichés sprung to life—they were contemporary cowboys, John Wayne’s unwashed, scofflaw cousins.

Perhaps the truest thing anyone can say of patriotism is that it’s personal. I came of political age in the Reagan era, and in the hardcore punk scene that grew in response to it. I devoured righteous broadsides on apartheid, the prison-industrial complex, and Salvadoran death squads in Maximum Rocknroll, the Bay Area punk bible. I listened to bands with gleefully provocative names—Jodie Foster’s Army, Millions of Dead Cops, Dead Kennedys.

When, in 1984, Reagan adopted Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA” as a campaign anthem, my parents dragged me to a Springsteen concert. I suffered as only a 12-year-old can suffer. It was years before I realized that the song was actually an indictment of the country’s piss-poor treatment of its Vietnam veterans.

My wariness of patriotism comes from the tribalism that creeps alongside it and the Us and Them divisions it inevitably creates. There’s an undeniable appeal to tribal membership, of course. We all want to be part of the club, however we define it—Hells Angels, the GOP, punk rock.

(Photo illustration by Ethan Parker.)

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Berkeley
California
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H8

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My Discharge piece from last year–in which I chronicle an iconic punk band’s disastrous experiment with hair metal–gets a second life as a supplement to the New Inquiry‘s latest issue, titled “H8.” I’m pleased there’s a new audience for the story, of course. The best part, though, is the new title the editors have bestowed on my piece: “Fuck You! Fuck You! Fuck You!

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More on Discharge

Reaction to my Discharge piece was spirited and generally positive. I particularly enjoyed this comment thread. A sample:

“One thing that article got wrong: Metal sucked then and it sucks now. Up yours metalheads!(except Lemmy)”

I love that.

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Rules of the Tribe: Hardcore Punks and Hair Metal in the 1980s

discharge

My latest feature is about punk and metal specifically, but it’s also about tribal loyalties–and what happens when you violate the rules of your tribe. In 1986, the iconic English hardcore band Discharge–inspirations for Metallica and Slayer, among many others–went glam metal. The band then embarked on one of the most disastrous tours in music history. My story for The Appendix, chock full of multimedia and other cool stuff, chronicles that tour.

The chant began less than two minutes into the first song. An undercurrent at first, just a few hecklers. But it got louder with repetition, each wave building on the last. Soon the chant threatened to drown out the band itself.

“Fuck you! Fuck you! Fuck you!”

It was tough to take. But it was entirely in keeping with everything else about this disastrous tour. The angry crowd in Long Beach. The broken-down van in the Sonoran desert. Sixteen tickets sold in Portland. Now, onstage in San Francisco, the members of Discharge—the fastest, meanest, most uncompromising English hardcore punk band of the 1980s—must have wished they were somewhere, anywhere else.

The story isn’t available online yet, but I’ll post it when it is. For now, you can subscribe to The Appendix here.

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Housing a Movement, redux

utne31The current Utne Reader features a condensed version of my story about Steve DeCaprio, Oakland’s punk-rock squatter guru. I remember Utne from way back–what liberal doesn’t?–so it’s pretty cool to see my work in there. (Here’s a pdf, by the way, of the uncut version that ran in California Northern a few months ago.)

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Housing a Movement

calnorthCalifornia Northern magazine runs my piece on squatting, punk rock, and the Occupy movement. I tell the story through an Oakland squatter and activist named Steve DeCaprio (he also plays in the black metal band Embers), in whom all of these threads converge. There’s just an excerpt posted online now, but I’m told the whole thing will be up there at some point.

“One night a little more than a decade ago, Steve DeCaprio pulled his bike up to an abandoned house in Ghost Town, a poor neighborhood in West Oakland dotted with vacant lots. He cut through the rusty lock on the chain-link fence with bolt cutters, then pried open a plywood sheet that stood where the front door once had. Then he replaced the locks with his own. This is how DeCaprio, a longtime East Bay squatter and veteran of the punk and metal scenes, “acquired” his home.

He already knew that the previous owner of the house had died in the early 1980s and that no one had come forward to claim it. The turn-of-the-century bungalow had sat empty for many years. The kitchen floor was burned out, and the back of the house hung off the foundation. An acacia tree in the back yard had grown into the roof, leaving the interior open to the elements. The top floor was piled with the carcasses of dead raccoons and other small animals. “They would climb the tree, jump down, and get stuck,” he says.

Later, DeCaprio and a crew of friends got to work making the place habitable. “At first, it was basically just urban camping,” he remembers. It took eight months of on-and-off work to fix the roof. He got the water flowing, bought storm doors and painted the exterior, planted cacti in the front yard, and yanked out another backyard tree that had begun to menace the house next door. He named it Noodle House, and he currently shares it with three people plus the occasional touring underground band.

DeCaprio, who turns forty in August, has tousled, graying hair and favors Carharts and black t-shirts bearing band logos. In a more mainstream context, he would be described as a “go-getter.” He plays guitar in a black-metal band named Embers, works as a member representative for the California League of Conservation Voters, and is pursuing a law degree through an independent study program (he expects to take the bar exam next year). And, of course, there’s the house. Right now, DeCaprio is working on a solar array to provide electricity. “There’s gonna be this moment when I turn on a light switch and it’ll be epic,” he says.

… “

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Berkeley
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Victory

fb4c543b6489242586e2f24991cd0671e35f6ebd_wmeg_00001Today, on Huffington Post San Francisco, I’ve got a piece on the Bay Area’s underground metal scene. Besides being a good excuse to name-check a few of my favorite local bands (Acephalix, for instance), the piece is a paean to underground concerts of all sorts, from punk to metal to bluegrass to hip hop.

I have no idea how the guy managed to sleep through Acephalix, because it was really loud. The San Francisco death metal band emitted a growling, galloping roar, the stuff of bad dreams, and it enveloped the room. The pit, meanwhile, was going off, a hostile ballet of bodies pinging off one another in front of the stage.

But this dude? He was dead to the world, mouth hanging open, slumped against the back wall. Next to him sat an equally incongruous giant stuffed donkey.

It was a Sunday night in early summer, and we were at the Victory warehouse in the Oakland ghostlands, a few blocks from Uptown but worlds away from its hipster sheen.

There’s something special about an underground show. I grew up outside Detroit in the late 1980s, as the city went into freefall. Paradoxically, Detroit’s collapse was great for the scene: there was no shortage of empty places to play, and the police were too busy to care about permitting or zoning. At college in North Carolina a few years later, I went to the occasional backyard bluegrass show. At a house in the woods about 20 miles from town, Teva-ed types sipped moonshine as guys with banjos and mandolins played Ralph Stanley tunes. While working in South Africa a few years ago, I found myself at a hip hop show in a weedy lot in Soweto, the country’s largest black township. While a succession of aspiring MCs jumped around on a makeshift stage, people drank beer and smoked weed, flirting with one another. Guys showed off their tricked-out cars, a parade of spinning rims and superfluous DVD screens mounted to the seats.

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Salad Days

md001Last week, Thought Catalog published an essay of mine on growing up punk in suburban Detroit. It’s a personal piece about high school, the 1980s, skating, and, mostly, the shitty hardcore band I was in. We did, however, have a great name: Moral Decay. Anyway, here it is.

Like thousands of other basement bands across the country at the time, we spent our days skateboarding, building launch ramps in our driveways, and working up new ways to express our dissatisfaction with the world. Plenty of stuff pissed us off. This was 1986, after all, the high Reagan era. The U.S. was always invading some country I had never heard of, and the threat of nuclear war seemed very real. I wasn’t happy at home, either: I didn’t get along with my parents, and they didn’t get along with each other. Plus, I lived in the suburbs of Detroit, which even then had a feral, end-of-days feel. That year, there were nearly 400 arsons in a three-day period. I remember sitting in front of the TV on Halloween night, watching the city burn. [ ... ]

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