Punk in the Bay Area started around 1976 or 1977. There were a couple of bands. Mary Monday’s “I Gave my Punk Jacket to Rickie” was probably the first record. Whatever you say or do, an obscurist will find something older so there’s no point in trying too hard to nail it down (unless you are an obscurist). Soon after the formative phase, there were more bands. By 1978 there were venues in San Francisco, Berkeley, Santa Cruz and other places that were doing punk shows. In the ’80s we had the onset and the decline of Hardcore in the original sense of that word. In the ’90s we had another 100 derivations. You can read the details in this book.
The Oral History format has the great advantage of eliminating the Rock Writer. The Rock Writer writing about punk generally has one aim: to arrogate intellectual ownership of something he or she knows absolutely nothing about. That bullet is dodged here.
The stories that follow are the real thing. Jack and Silke painstakingly sought out and interviewed countless people over the course of two years of nearly full-time effort. Their incredible gift, both in terms of a unique skill and in terms of what they are passing on to us, is that they found people who have a lot to say but haven’t said it yet in quite the way they do now. They caught the real spies at a time when those agents were most ready to tell their story — with enough distance to reflect but not so much that they have lost the sense of excitement about what went down and what is still going on.
Many of the people who speak here are as smart and creative as it gets. That is the nature of people who are right there in the forge when a universe is being hammered out. Also featured are many complete morons. That is the nature of people that show up when there is a lot of loud noise and alcohol available. Everybody will have a different idea of which is which. The stories of the great artists aren’t necessarily more fun to read than those of the train-wrecks. And of course, particularly in the early days, most people in punk were a little bit of each.
People will bring their own stories to their reading of this, their own reasons for why it has meaning. For what it’s worth, mine is as follows:
It was 2007. I was 38 years old, broke and unhappy. I was driving from Berkeley to Sacramento and a tire blew out. It felt like a juncture where my own history was reaching some kind of summation point. Twenty-five years of punk rock, even a certain amount of success within that world, had led to this. The car was a beat-up Nissan that had 170,000 miles on it. I got out to look for a jack in the trunk. It was raining. I had cigarettes but no light. Of course there was no jack.
Giving up on repairs, I dug around in the debris in the trunk, looking for matches. There were old tapes back there. While I was waiting for a friend to drive the 40 miles to the industrial farm belt I was parked in, I started cycling through the cassettes on the weary tape player in my car.
One of the tapes was an old mix a friend had made for me which he titled “Don’t Laugh, Your Next! (sic)” Among other bands the strains of the Avengers, Social Unrest, Negative Trend and the Dils sputtered out of the dashboard, competing with the rain on the roof.
Once again I heard the sound. All was well. When the truth is alive, nothing life or the world or even the self comes up with can touch it. I sat there for an hour, playing that thing over and over again.