Hardcore Punk Historian Travels Back to the ’80s Southern California Scene in New Book
In the past few years, we’ve seen the early eighties American Hardcore Punk scene finally get the recognition it deserves. From film documentaries to books to deluxe vinyl re-issues, we are seeing the homespun and fervent energy of those times recognized outside of its wise enclave as the catalyst that launched some of the greatest thinkers and do-ers of our present times. Among your Rollins and Grohls and MacKayes, you’ll find Dave Markey.
You might know Markey as the director of videos for Sonic Youth, Mudhoney or the Meat Puppets. You might know him from his independently produced films such as The Reinactors or Desperate Teenage Lovedolls. But before all that, Markey and his buddy Jordan Schwartz documented the early ’80s Southern California punk scene in the pages of their fanzine, We Got Power.
Next month, Bazillion Points publishing will be releasing WE GOT POWER!: Hardcore Punk Scenes from 1980’s Southern California; a 300 page behemoth of a book featuring all the issues of the fanzine as well as a heap of unpublished photos from the time accompanied by present-day essays by members of Black Flag, Circle Jerks, the Germs and many others.
Noisecreep recently caught up with Mr. Markey to talk about the upcoming book and got a little window into those (not so) innocent days of the early L.A Punk Scene.
How did you and Jordan Schwartz first get the idea for putting this book together?
First,it was just a project involving the digitization of both of our individual negative archives. I bought a scanner and the laborious process of scanning each individual frame began. This was back in 2004. I think we had a couple thousand between the two of us. From the start we were surprised by the images we were seeing, many of which we haven’t seen in twenty or more years. Some of them were under-exposed; you couldn’t hardly make out an image on the negative and wouldn’t have gotten much if you were printing the old-fashioned way; with a projector on photo paper in a lab. But thanks to computer technology, suddenly amateur mistakes of 30 years ago were corrected!
Shortly after that process was completed, Steven Blush and Paul Rachman were at my place interviewing Jordan and I for their documentary, American Hardcore, and I showed them the scans. They shot my computer monitor as I ran through each photo. Many of these images made it into the film.
I remember hearing about the making of this book a while ago. What was the hold-up?
This book was eight years in the making. I don’t usually take this long to see something through to completion. But a lot of it was out of my hands. Thurston Moore had approached us at some point in ’04 or ’05 with the interest of curating the images into a volume that he would publish through his Ecstatic Peace imprint. We handed over a digital copy of the files, and then he sat on it for a few years. I had some pretty firm ideas of how I wanted the book to look. He wasn’t interested in collaborating. He did interview us; having us detail the photos, but he did not do much with it. He eventually completed a much smaller and lesser book called Party With Me Punker. Eventually his company imploded, and with it that project.
It seems in the past few years, the early ’80s Hardcore scene has been given a bit more respect than it has in previous years. Why do you think that?
I suppose it was just a matter of time. There was a lot of warts and ugliness that a lot of people would not care to deal with in its day. But the simple fact of it is, there’s a lot of good music there, and I suppose a great deal of it stood the test of time. No one really knew about this music in the 1980s. It stayed for the most part, totally underground. I think there’s an interest because of that fact. I mean, there were successful bands that had a loyal national following (Dead Kennedys, Black Flag, Circle Jerks, Minor Threat et. al) I think certain parts of it were usurped quite successfully by some bands that got really huge, like say Metallica.
When you look back on the Southern California Hardcore scene you were a part of in the early eighties, what do you remember most fondly about it?
How can I explain that era to you? It was a more innocent time perhaps. Just the excitement of going to a gig was a rush. It’s all you would think about for weeks. It was like a cross between the Ramones movie Rock ‘N’ Roll High School meets Brian DePalma’s Carrie with a dash of Fast Times At Ridgemont High. We had a great venue in our town; The Santa Monica Civic Auditorium. That’s where I saw all my first shows. I saw Devo there in ’79. X in 1980.
Just the excitement of walking into the parking lot before the sun went down, buying bootleg concert T’s and “New Wave Buttons” from vendors on the sidewalk was enough to get you going. But really, this was “pre-Hardcore”, although it was pretty hardcore to me at the time. I remember graduating from Santa Monica High School (actually sitting out the graduation ceremony in punk protest, (because I thought it was dumb), but I did go to watch Jordan do the cap & gown thing, shaking the principal’s hand… But later that night we crossed the street to go see Black Flag, Adolescents, DOA, & the Minutemen at the Civic. That show WAS MY GRADUATION.
Watch Black Flag at the Santa Monica Civic Center
WE GOT POWER!: Hardcore Punk Scenes from 1980’s Southern California will be released Sept. 11 by Bazillion Points Publishing.
The release party for the book will be held Sept. 8 at Track 16 Gallery in Santa Monica, California and will feature live sets by The Adolescents, Sacchrine Trust and White Flag. More info here.