As members of Castelar Elementary’s booster club, Wendy and I were feeling bad about not doing anything for the students in Chinatown while sheltering in place due to COVID-19. Months of events were canceled, including a Save Music in Chinatown benefit gig, mural painting, and an art show with muralists and students, in addition to a talent show, movie nights, and other stuff. And while the global pandemic was going on, mass protests against racism broke out.
We asked our longtime friend Daniel Wu, a megastar in Asia who has acted in around 80 Hong Kong and Hollywood movies, if he would be into doing a Zoom session for the students of Castelar, not only to give them something special at the end of the year but to address what has been going on. We wanted the kids to get excited and be entertained––even if they were too young to watch most of his movies––but also be inspired and empowered. Maybe some parents, too. And he said, “Of course!”
A mutual friend connected me with the editor of Punks Around, who was looking for potential contributors for their next issue. I said, “Sure,” because they seemed cool and I’m flattered that anyone cares what I think.
The deadline was today––the end of a weekend of unrest sparked by bad cops murdering George Floyd to top off a flurry of racist activity across the country. I wrote myself into a bleak corner, accurately reflecting how I felt about the shitty state of our world and what it takes to affect real change. I had no words, no power.
My 12-year-old daughter asked, “What are you writing?” and I handed a partially told story she’s heard a million times in different combinations and now stars in. Yawn. Spotting the latest issue of Cometbus by my side, she moved on. “What are you reading?”
I told her that one of my favorite writers went around asking punk rock survivors, “What went wrong?” How did the scene fail and did it make any lasting contributions to culture or society? And why do we love clubs that are shuttered, artists who ODed, and bands that broke up, but hardly anyone celebrates the lifers who are more often viewed as washed up, sold out, or out of touch?
“What went wrong? What do you think?”
With fresh thoughts about the defunct magazine and series of concerts on indefinite hiatus, my response was, “Nothing! The process has always been more important than the results.”
Suddenly, I knew what to write.
When the magazine I helped start ran its course in 2010, I was philosophical. Sixty-eight issues over 16 years was a damn good run for a DIY publication. Advertising was drying up, distributors kept biting the dust, and the age of print was on its way out. And maybe our readers didn’t need us anymore.
The first issue of Giant Robot came out in 1994 after my friend Eric told me he wanted to make a zine about Asian stuff. I said, “Me too!” So we applied our energy and collective experience contributing to Flipside, Fiz, Fear of Grown-Ups, and other punk zines to create one of our own that featured noise music and garage rock from Japan, junk food from Hawaii, Hong Kong movies, imported and indie comics, and more. It’s hard to believe any of that stuff was still underground back then, or that when the cover of the second issue featured me wearing giant cat head and dress for a part-time Sanrio gig, that there were people out there who weren’t familiar with Hello Kitty.
We went on to feature big-time artists, pro skaters, and respectable authors, as well, and the publication evolved from a stapled-and-folded photocopied digest into glossy magazine with international distribution and a handful of shops. But to me, Giant Robot was always a punk zine with intensely personal and subversive subject matter intended to infiltrate and uplift culture. Having Yellow Power activists alongside punks like Channel 3, J Church, or P.K. 14 and underground artists like Twist and Jon Moritsugu and then big time actors and filmmakers like Maggie Cheung, Wong Kar Wai, and Park Chan Wook was pretty rad.
Mixing and matching subjects insured that we never got bored, and maybe punkers would get turned onto movies, art weirdos would get into comics, and so on. And Asian American culture would be mixed up with Asian stuff, and we’d document and share it because we thought it was important. There was an unspoken sense of pride that AAPI readers could grasp and everyone else would absorb it. We could go to a college campus and stoke Asian American student groups but then have a booth at Comic Con and geek out with readers from around the world.
By the time our magazine ran its course, Takashi Murakami’s art was on Uniqlo shirts, which were at the mall, and K drama was bigger than manga, which was in every public library. Asian chefs and street food were everywhere. We couldn’t take credit for the mass enlightenment, but the world looked pretty good from the garage behind Eric’s house where we made the magazine. Maybe, for the first time, it was not uncool to be an Asian American kid?
Our mission, to champion and grow Asian culture, was clearly over, and I could comfortably retire from the world of kung fu and return to punk rock where it all began.
A few years later, my wife and I wound up starting Save Music in Chinatown, a series of all-ages matinees to raise money for the music program at the historic neighborhood’s public elementary school. The idea was that we’d carry on the first-generation punk tradition of the old Hong Kong Café, and it’s been a pretty amazing to have the Adolescents, Alice Bag, Alley Cats, Channel 3, The Dils, Phranc, Würm, and more playing to help out the community of my immigrant grandparents and in-laws. For our daughter to attend school there, and for Wendy and me to become involved in it, was actually poetic. So was seeing our daughter, our nieces, and their friend start a punk band and play for us often.
The coronavirus crisis canceled the most recent show, which would have been our twenty-first over seven years. It also canceled any misconception that things were better off for us Asians in America, who have been getting victimized by hate crimes, scapegoating, and alienation more than I’ve ever seen in my life. And after feeling slightly reassured that we might come together to make change, George Floyd getting murdered by bad cops was the last in a string of reminders of a much bigger picture of systemic racism.
It’s hard not to feel like toiling in subculture is stupid when the dominant culture is doomed. What’s the point?
But if punk rock taught me anything it’s that life isn’t like some jock sport that can be scored with points. The coolest songs don’t make a dent in the charts. The best gigs are never the biggest ones. The ugliest artists can be the most beautiful. And maybe you’re doing it right if no one has heard of your zine or shows!
All of us underdogs continuing to struggle in the face of stupidity and hopelessness is more meaningful than ever. Quality of life is not measured by fame, money, or accomplishments and awards, but time we spend doing what’s important to us with people we love. And even if our toiling amounts to little, maybe we can add up to something together. Or at least not be defeated.
Tomorrow was supposed to be our 21st Save Music in Chinatown show. After years of coming this close, we were super amped to finally have our friends the Neighborhood Brats play for our cause before heading off to Las Vegas and Europe. And bring back our faves the Rough Kids now that they are all living in L.A. again. On top of that, our very own Linda Lindas were supposed to cap off three weekends of killer shows, coming off of a L.A. Times Festival of Books gig and then opening for Alice Bag at her record release party along with The Tissues.
Then the coronavirus came and everything got canceled. Crap.
We’re sad not to hang out with our family and friends, see a bunch of ripping bands, eat delicious cookies, and raise money for the music program at Chinatown’s elementary school at the Grand Star tomorrow. But we support doing what we can to get through this crisis.
Thanks to everyone for supporting our cause. The awesome bands who wanted to play until they couldn’t, the best bake sale crew, raffle donors, show goers, and anyone who helps to spread the word––we wouldn’t do it without you.
Maybe a new Linda Lindas song and video will make you feel better. Here’s a demo that Eloise recorded while sheltered in place.
Enjoy, share, and take care of each other out there. We miss you and want to see you on the other side of the curve!
Mostly originally printed in Save Music in Chinatown: The Sixth Year Zine (November 2019). It leaves out the most important stuff, like how often they practice, hang out, and have fun together, and sticks mostly to shows but it’s worth putting out there as a record before it gets completely outdated!
I wish I could say that Save Music in Chinatown shows spawned The Linda Lindas, but Bela, Eloise, Lucia, and Mila were brought together by fate.
Out of nowhere, an acquaintance reached out to me asking if Eloise would be interested in taking part in a project. Kristin Kontrol, who I knew through her old band, Dum Dum Girls, had been invited to take part in a music festival called Girlschool L.A. After initially declining because she was in between projects, Kristin decided it might be interesting to get a group of kids to play. Kristin had seen pictures and video of Eloise singing at Save Music in Chinatown (“Bloodstains” with the Neptunas? “Paranoid” with Tabitha?) and thought of her.
It was a crazy idea, especially since there were only a few weeks to prepare and the children would have no musical experience, but Wendy and I said sure. Then I suggested Kristin enlist Eloise’s cousins Lucia and Mila, since the three of them have been singing, dancing, and putting on shows together since they were toddlers. And if it worked out, they might get access to my sister Angelyn and brother-in-law Carlos’s backyard studio and gear for the project, too. Not only did that happen, but Carlos wound up being the second coach on the project.
The first practice with the cousins and a bunch of other kids culled together via social media was cute but rough. Thinking that they needed a ringer who could actually play an instrument, Angelyn and Wendy reached out to see if our friends’ daughter, Bela, who was taking guitar lessons, might be available. She was.
After a handful of lessons, a lot of practice, and much pizza, Kristen + The Kids were was a big hit at Girlschool L.A., playing stripped-down covers of Cat Power, Dum Dum Girls, Mazzy Star, Best Coast (with Bethany and Bobb), and Yeah Yeah Yeahs (with Karen O.). It was a one-off project with no plans to follow up, but connections were made and seeds were planted.
A few months later, Bela was invited by her friends in Frieda’s Roses to open a show for them at The Hi-Hat. Bela invited Lucia, Mila, and Eloise to be her band and they went on to play their first show together. They didn’t have a name yet, and were billed as Bela and Friends. Bethany and Bobb from Best Coast were in attendance, as well as Jen from Bleached, establishing them as hardcore supporters from day one.
By now, I was dying to have the girls play a Save Music in Chinatown show, and because our sixteenth show was going to be celebrating my fiftieth birthday they couldn’t say no.
They also needed a name. The girls came up with some pretty interesting and funny ideas for names, but eventually I brought a screener DVD from my days as a magazine editor who wrote about Asian cinema. Nobuhiro Yamashita’s 2005 movie Linda Linda Linda is about Japanese high school girls who learn a punk song by The Blue Hearts, “Linda Linda,” for a talent show. The understated and gorgeous art movie stars Japanese indie musicians as well as the very cool Korean actress Bae Doona. I though The Linda Lindas sounded like a band from the ’50s but could also refer to the Japanese punk song or art movie, or simply mean “really pretty” in Spanish. The girls agreed and The Linda Lindas were christened.
I don’t recall exactly how it happened, but my friend Ed Lin saw a flyer and asked if The Linda Lindas would play some songs at his book release event in Pasadena. He wouldn’t take no for an answer, that turned out to be their first public show and a warmup before their first Chinatown show.
Alice Bag, Chip Kinman, and Phranc were among the fans at The Linda Lindas at their first show at Save Music in Chinatown (Phranc, Ford Madox Ford, LP3 & The Tragedy, The Horseheads). It was electric!
How could they not make a surprise appearance at the next show with the all-Dangerhouse lineup of The Dils (first show in 40 years), Alley Cats, Neko Neko, and Rhino 39?
The next show was a benefit for Jackie Goldberg with Money Mark and Best Coast. Mark played bass and our friend Justin Maurer provided ASL translation on The Linda Lindas’ cover of Bikini Kill’s “Rebel Girl.”
They went on a roll, opening at Bleached’s record release show, playing a live session at the Hurley Recording Studio, and opening for Alice Bag with Midnite Snaxxx, before playing their first festival, Viva! Pomona. Pretty good for 9-to-15-year-old girls. And they started at 8 to 14!
With so much action, I was little relieved that they were up for playing the first Save Music in Chinatown show of our seventh year, just a day after playing Self Help Graphics’ Dia De Los Muertos gig!
Except for a surprise appearance with Fur Dixon at Save Music in Chinatown 20, they haven’t played any shows in 2020 but have been keeping busy with projects that will turn up in time (keep an eye on SXSW and Netflix). And now several shows are lining up:
Friday, February 21 – Center for the Arts Eagle Rock
Sunday, April 19 – L.A. Times Festival of Books
Saturday, April 25 – Alex’s Bar, more info TBA
Sunday, May 3 – Save Music in Chinatown 21, lineup TBA
As news trickled through Los Angeles about the shocking and violent death of Kobe Bryant, his daughter, and other victims of a helicopter crash, a handful of us were in a beautiful bubble. Quivering and doomed to pop, but beautiful nonetheless.
At the Grand Star Jazz Club, just three or four miles away from the shell-shocked Staples Center, we were celebrating our twentieth Save Music in Chinatown all-ages matinee carrying on the punk rock tradition of the neighborhood’s old Hong Kong Cafe to raise money for music education at its public elementary school. So pardon me if you’ve heard this 19 times before, but maybe it’s new to someone else. And the facts probably mutate every time I look back. 🙂
The shows were born when Wendy and I received a flyer from Castelar, where our daughter just started attending Kindergarten, asking families for donations to support the school’s excellent-but-underfunded music program. We knew they wouldn’t get a lot of dough from the community’s largely immigrant and working class households (one of the things Wendy and I love about the school because that describes her parents and my grandparents) and wondered what we could do.
Wendy and I went to Chinatown when we were kids, ate dim sum at Golden Dragon with my in-laws almost every weekend when we started dating, and had our wedding banquet at the Empress Pavilion before our daughter started going to school in the neighborhood. And we also dug that The Germs, X, Bags, Go-Go’s, Black Flag, and other cool bands played right there at the Hong Kong Cafe during the first wave of punk. We thought it would be interesting to build a bridge between the overlapping-but-never-really-connecting subcultures, which we happened to be parts of, to help kids.
Somehow, our DIY matinees have kept going for seven years now.This time around we had our new friends Otniel Y Los Condors opening up the show, carrying on the East L.A. punk tradition of The Plugz, The Brat, and Los Lobos with their fully realized and rocking bilingual cuts. Rock solid rhythm section with Henry and Edgar, ripping leads by Luigy, and the killer melodies of OT–they have it all and brought a ton of friends and family, too. My type of band. And they learned a Weirdos song just for us!
Slaughterhouse went on next, with dark and heavy vibes that recall early TSOL and X. I love how Veronica prowls the floor while Taylor, Eddie, and Nick blow up the stage with their energy! So cool to catch bands like them and Otniel Y Los Condors while they are on the cusp of taking over the world.
Fur Dixon was next, and I still can’t believe that she actually approached us about taking part our humble benefit show. Wow. She played bass for The Cramps the first time I saw them at the Hollywood Palladium in 1986! These days, she’s playing in a raw, stripped-down blues style with gorgeous riffs to go with her punkerbilly snarl.
A few days before the show, I asked Fur if she would be into The Linda Lindas (kind of our house band, featuring our daughter Eloise (11) and her cousins Mila (9) and Lucia (13), who have been coming to our shows since they were kids, along with their friend Bela (15)) singing backup vocals on “Don’t Tread on Me” (the a-side of her 7″ single and my favorite song by her). This escalated to Mila playing drums, Eloise playing bass, and Lucia and Bela singing backups. Fur was cool with everything and even dropped by their band practice the day before the show to teach them the song. They worked on it for about 40 minutes that afternoon, practiced one more time on the day of the show, and then nailed it on stage.
I still can’t believe WÜRM headlined our show. One week after The Last played our previous Save Music in Chinatown show in November, I went to see them at the Hermosa Saloon and was hanging out with guitar slinger Philo. During small talk, he mentioned that he had started playing with Chuck Dukowski, and I said, “No way! WÜRM?” He went on to say that Chuck’s newly reborn pre-Black Flag band was going to play with No Age and Milo Gonzalez at The Smell, adding that it was really important to Chuck that they play all-ages shows.
Having fond memories of the Chuck Dukowski Sextet playing our third benefit show, I reached out to The Duke the very next day and the show was confirmed by that evening. Wow. The first WÜRM show since 19895! What an honor, and a real cool preview for next month’s big show at The Smell. In addition to Philo with original members Chuck on bass and Loud Lou on drums, a younger guy German handled vocals and was a beast. What a combo!
In addition to killer songs off their album and “I’m Dead” single, they played two great new cuts that happened to be engineered by my buddy David O. Jones, who kindly accepted the show’s sound duties after our sorely missed friend and longtime sound guy Nate Pottker moved to Washington, D.C. I love how our shows make the big city we live feel like a small community.
I also love that not only do my favorite bands play for the cause, but that the crowd is full of family and friends, including members of bands that have played for us before, local activists, Chinatown locals, and punk lifers. And kids. And many of the bands’ families with kids! Seeing this multigenerational and intersectional scene grow in our space has been a very cool and unintentional byproduct of these shows.
I was too young to attend the Hong Kong Cafe back in the late ’70s and early ’80s but these days are pretty great, too. Not only do we have a potent mixture of legends and cool newer underground bands that carry on the tradition, but we have cookies, coffee, and children dancing around in front. And for them to support the cause of public school, music education, and kids in an underserved community is even better.
Thanks to the bands, the raffle donors, the bake sale helpers, everyone who helped set up and clean up, everyone who came to the show, and all the supporters who spread the word. Walking out of the show into the sad Los Angeles skyline lit in purple and gold underlined the truth that nothing lasts forever, including these shows. We appreciate that so many of you out there have helped us last this long, continue to make a difference, and have a blast.
Our 21st show is shaping up to be on May 3! Hope to see you there.
I thought we’d be done with Save Music in Chinatown after our sixth year––after Eloise had gone from Kindergarten to fifth grade. Maybe Wendy and I would organize one all-ages benefit matinee for Castelar’s music program per year, because we still love the school and the neighborhood where my immigrant grand- parents and in-laws, and now our daughter, have hung out.
And carrying on the punk rock tradition of the neighborhood’s old Hong Kong Café has been an unexpected and awesome ride for a guy who thought his coolest years were behind him. But we’d likely dial back and redirect our efforts toward middle school.
I actually came to grips with ending our journey. We started with no experience or expectations, and I would have been totally happy ending it with last year’s shows: Phranc played my fiftieth birthday party show, we hosted the first Dils show in 40 years, and my daughter formed a garage punk band with her cousins and their friend. Things can only go downhill––especially when our trusty sound guy Nate is about to move away.
Then a funny thing happened: Principal Fung decided to add a sixth grade, which will be followed by a seventh and eighth grade. If everything goes according to plan, Eloise will be going to Castelar for three more years! Guess the Save Music in Chinatown shows will keep rolling along until we run out of bands that will play for us or they stop being fun.
And so our seventh year began last weekend with a set of melancholy songs by Zander Schloss for Nate–a favor I asked just a week before the show. Nate had invited Zander to play for us twice before–once as half of Sean & Zander and then solo–and I thought it would be perfect to have him back. Not only because Nate loves Zander’s music (and Repo Man is one of my favorite movies of all time) but also because his gorgeously nuanced, acoustic style is pure hell for a sound guy to handle in a low-budget operation like ours and Zander and Nate are good enough friends that the former can give the latter the stink eye for the slightest bit of feedback! Amazing musicianship and soul-baring songs, as always, from the ex-member of Circle Jerks, Thelonious Monster, Weirdos, Joe Strummer’s band… The cover of “Straight To Hell” that he’s been playing is great, too. Check out his page for announcements on new shows and songs…
Next up was PR Shake, a band with Giuliano Scarfo who has played for us twice with Ford Madox Ford and again with The Dils. I love having regulars come back with different projects; it feels like family. He rules on the drums, and I think it’s cool that his dad Chip and Louie Perez III’s dad (LP2?) were both on Slash records, with Rank & File and Los Lobos, respectively. More family, and the underlying connections from band to band are kind of like a good mix tape. But back to the badass power trio, they have added bass now, and might even have a 7″ single coming out soon. Pure garage punk magic, and you know it is guaranteed to totally rock out if Giuliano is involved in any way. They aren’t online a lot, but they share flyers and photos on Instagram.
Louie Perez III’s new band Vulturas has his buddy Eric Fuller, who played with him in LP3 & The Tragedy and Evil Hearted You for us before, and big-time OC punkers Rob Milucky and Shane Strange. To me, they sound more like The Stooges than the roots punk or slam pit stuff that their other bands the individuals are associated with. Maybe he put on the dinosaur suit to make sure the kids in the crowd could hang! Or to provide padding when he makes himself comfortable in that awkward zone between the stage and front row? Explosive front guy action with killer riffs to back it up. The the re-press of their sold-out debut on Hostage Records while you can and look for an EP soon!
What can we say about The Last? It was a real honor to have the pre-punk, power-pop legends from the South Bay play for our cause, probably made possible because one of them is a fan of The Linda Lindas. They played the Hong Kong Cafe with Black Flag 40 years ago, and Joe Nolte said it was good to be back in Chinatown. I have more than a few Last LPs and 7″ singles but I don’t think any of them capture the power of The Last in concert. (The closest might be the latest–the 2013 Danger release with Bill Stevenson and Karl Alvarez of The Descendents providing rhythm.) Incredible power and musicianship and cool memories about the first wave of punk. I especially loved The Go-Go’s story he shared after finding out that The Linda Lindas had met Belinda Carlisle a couple days before. He and Jane Drano formed a mutual appreciate society until The Go-Go’s blew it by becoming big! Read more cool stories and dig into their library of excellent music at laexplosion.com!
Due to homework commitments, the youngest band played last. They wore T-shirts looking back at bands that have played previous Save Music in Chinatown shows (Upset, Bombon, Hurry Up, Dangerhouse Records like Alley Cats, Alice Bag, Dils…) and played a Muffs cover as a tribute to recently lost L.A. punk legend Kim Shattuck! A real nice follow-up to the previous night’s Dia de los Muertos gig at Self Help Graphics and a real cool return to Chinatown after a busy summer opening for Bleached and Alice Bag, playing the Hurley Studios and Viva! Fest… All four girls are busy with different combinations of school, sports, dance, travel, and just being kids, so I don’t take any appearance for granted. In fact, they’ll probably be taking a break when the January show comes around, so follow them on Instagram for more news and surprises.
Our 19th show was a real blast, full of all the stuff that makes our show feel special to me: multiple generations of L.A. punkers, family everywhere, friends sprinkled throughout the crowd, and my favorite espresso brownies at the bakesale. Joe from The Last was excited to learn that Castelar alum, parent, aunt, volunteer and bakesale chief Mamie used to work the door at her dad’s old restaurant and the legendary L.A. punk club, the Hong Kong Cafe, which sat right across the plaza from the Grand Star!
And, of course, everything comes together to help out Chinatown’s public elementary school’s music program. When Eloise started Kindergarten at Castelar, we loved that it felt like a safe, warm, small town community that welcomed Engish-learning immigrants and blue-collar families–a lot like my grandparents or in-laws. After finding out the music program was underfunded, we immediately thought of the neighborhood’s punk rock past and decided to try throwing these all-ages matinee fund raisers with no experience but a lot of help from friends. Who knew we would make it to our 19th show and seventh year? That a community would grow around the shows or that Eloise, her cousins, and their pal would form a band and play shows in that space?
Thanks again to everyone who plays for us, helps out at the shows, donates to the bake sale and raffle, spreads the word, attends the gigs, or just says nice things. Who wants to join us on Sunday, January 26th? We’re not totally sure who is going to play, do sound, or show up, but we would love to see you in Chinatown that day! For the kids! For the arts and public education! For delicious cookies! Be there and follow the Save Music in Chinatown page on Facebook or my Instagram feed for the latest news and propaganda!
* Some parts of this post have been repurposed from the intro to the Save Music in Chinatown: The Sixth Year zine. Get it at our shows!
A couple of days after The Linda Lindas played the Hollywood Palladium, my phone rang. At the time, Erik Caruso and I were planning mural painting at my daughter’s school, Castelar, which was timed to go with a Save Music in Chinatown fund-raising concert as well as the upcoming art show and noise jam at Harry Wirtz Elementary in Paramount, where my friend is a fifth-grade teacher.
“I would love it if The Linda Lindas could play the art show,” said Erik. “But I know the girls are students, too, and will be at school. So I’m wondering, did you happen to shoot video at the Palladium?” He thought it would be cool for his students to learn about the band, who are aged 8, 11, 12, and 14.
Funny he should ask. Ever since the concert, Wendy and I had been obsessing over three videos from different angles, smartphone footage from a handful of sources, and a bootleg audio recording from our friend Nate. We figured that all the pieces would sit in a box and collect dust like vacation or wedding photos that never get turned into an album.
So we opened up our hard drive to Erik and his filmmaker friend Mike Panganiban. They also dropped in on the next Linda Lindas practice to shoot some extra footage and conduct a casual interview, and then got even more footage a few weeks later at the Save Music in Chinatown matinee–less than 24 hours before the piece was shown at Wirtz Elementary!
Wendy took Eloise to the screening and said that the students were captivated by the video, cheered when each song ended, and had a bunch of questions afterward. We parents thought that a bigger audience would enjoy it, too, and maybe even get inspired by the story of kids, sisters, cousins, and friends making noise, having fun, practicing a lot, and being heard. Mike kindly added credits and made some tweaks, and that was it.
At the tail end of six years and eighteen Save Music in Chinatown all-ages matinees to raise money for Castelar Elementary’s music program, you’d think we’d have it all figured out. Paying tribute to the neighborhood’s old Hong Kong Cafe, where The Bags, Weirdos, X, Black Flag, Germs, and Go-Go’s played during L.A.’s first wave of punk, check. Killer bake sale and cool raffle, check. Exposing kids who can handle it to DIY culture and seeing some of them even form a band, check. The project that Wendy and I started with inspiration from our daughter Eloise and help from our friend Nate has outlived our expectations, become a small but loyal community, and exceeded our dreams. Check out the insane list of L.A. punk legends who have become friends: Adolescents, Alice Bag, Phranc, The Dils, Channel Three, The Crowd, Mike Watt…
Just two weekends ago, how lucky were we to have The Gears play for us a second time, lugging their gear up and down the long red stairway to help out the kids of Chinatown and bringing along their new guitarist and our old friend Rikk Agnew, too. And if you weren’t moved by seeing a mob of little kids knowing exactly what to do when the pride of Glassell Park played “Don’t Be Afraid To Pogo,” off their essential 7″ single that was released 40 years ago during the first wave of L.A. punk… Well, you were probably attending the wrong show.
I was reminded that we grownups are just as lucky as the youngsters by my friend Bert, who was from visiting from Scotland and remarked that he only dreamed of seeing The Gears when he was a punker growing up and playing in bands in Washington, DC. The Gears are one of those legendary L.A. punk bands that never toured or gained as much attention as they deserved, and we gotta see them every chance we get! You never know when when they’ll play the last chord–I thought it was last year.
Our co-headliner was The Gitane Demone Quartet, featuring members of Christian Death and Screamers. The all-star death rock combo didn’t lighten up their set one bit for a rare appearance in broad daylight and actually ended it by dedicating “Eva Braun” and “We Must Bleed” to the punks! I am super proud that the children at our shows don’t need cleaned-up Kidz Bop versions of rock songs, and can handle gnarly tributes by lifers from L.A.’s underground.
Special thanks to Rikk Agnew, who plays in both The Gears and GDQ. He was into the idea of playing the double-header for the cause right from the beginning, and helped recruit both bands to volunteer their time and noise. Please don’t tell anyone that Rikk is not only a survivor and a legend of the L.A. punk scene but also a softie!
Marriage Material went on first, and I asked them to play because most of them would have attended as friends and supporters anyway. Also, I hadn’t seen them since Jenae began lending her vocals and holy crap! How did they get even more punk? And will we ever get to buy their awesome second EP on wax? Check them out! And subscribe to RazorCake!
I would like to thank the grownup performers for allowing the bands featuring children go last. They really should have gone on first, but one member of The Linda Lindas had dance rehearsals that afternoon and another was in the middle of ninth grade finals! The Castelalas made a guest appearance right before them and, after raising money for Castelar’s music program for years, it was pretty awesome to have a band with third, fourth, and fifth graders from the school taught by their awesome music teacher, Matt Brundrett. Eloise formed the Castelalas to play a talent show and, after practicing for months, they were too much fun not to ask them to play again.
As for The Linda Lindas, I have a feeling that when it’s all over our Save Music in Chinatown shows will be nothing but a trivia answer that only their hardest core fans know. Eloise went from being mascot to flyer artist to guest singer to member of the band with her cousins Lucia and Mila and their friend Bela. How cool is it these girls have not only had a blast playing super-fun garage rock covers of punk ‘n’ roll, but have shared our Chinatown stage with the likes of Phranc, Channel 3, Alley Cats, and The Dils? And now The Gears and GDQ!
Maybe some of you saw The Linda Lindas with Best Coast and Money Mark at the Jackie Rocks! benefit in February. Or open for Bikini Kill at the Palladium in April. Or have tickets to the sold-out show with Bleached in July or their date with Alice Bag in August. If we’re lucky, they’ll come back to play in Chinatown again. It’s been as amazing as it was unplanned and unexpected to see them grow in the space that we have carved out, forming a multigenerational underground with first wave punks.
While The Linda Lindas and Castelalas represented a youth movement, there was also an art component added to our latest Save Music in Chinatown weekend. For the last several years, my friend Erik Caruso has been attending our benefit concerts for Castelar and Wendy and I have been attending the year-end art shows and noise jams that he has been organizing at Harry Wirtz Elementary in Paramount, where he teaches. This year, Erik set it up so our efforts would finally join forces.
Erik’s project entails optional contemporary art lessons and projects for fifth graders throughout the school year, capped off by an art show featuring student work and pieces by contemporary artists who participate via video or attend in person, and a noise jam with artists, many of whom are musicians, and guest players. This time around, Tim Kerr, Mike Watt, Randy Randall, Ray Barbee, Mark Waters, Hagop Najarian, and others played “Minor Threat,” and Ian MacKaye even sent a video message to Erik and the students.
For years, Erik had the artists paint murals at his school as well, but lately he has been bringing artists to other schools and Castelar was this year’s destination. It was cool getting to hang out with Erik and the artists, a lot of old friends and now some new ones. Many of the crew were able to attend the Save Music in Chinatown show and most returned to Castelar a couple of mornings later to field questions from students about the murals. That provided an occasion for one more performance by The Castelalas, and it was a thrilling revelation to see so many students having their minds blown by cool art and music. While I don’t foresee our punk rock matinees turning into kiddie shows, I hope more children in Chinatown will be open to enjoying loud music, forming bands, and getting into DIY culture in general.
Not more than half a year ago, we thought that this could have been our last show with Eloise completing fifth grade. But it turns out Castelar will be adding a sixth grade next year. And then a seventh and eight grade after that! So unless the shows stop being fun, we’ll keep organizing them–especially since it looks like education and the arts won’t stop being underfunded any time soon. Hope to see you in the fall.
I started this blog to have an outlet for writing and sharing after Giant Robot ran its course. But what my wife wrote about our daughter, her cousins, and their friend needs to be here too. By Wendy Lau:
After The Linda Lindas opened for Bikini Kill at The Palladium, I’ve thought a lot about… parenting. Martin and I have always believed Eloise is an exceptional and charismatic individual. But did I really believe she could do anything?
Last November, after The Linda Lindas’ first show at Save Music in Chinatown, Eloise’s music composition teacher Carl Protho said, “You better watch out. She’s going to play The Forum! The Greek! STAPLES Center!” I laughed and thanked him. He looked at me sternly and continued, “I’m not kidding. You better prepare yourself.” Right before he saw her perform at The Palladium last Friday, Carl texted, “Hold onto your heart!”
The day after The Linda Lindas’ previous show in February, Eloise and I ran into our friend Gabie Strong. We told her that Bethany from Best Coast sent a video of their cover of “Rebel Girl” to Kathleen Hanna because once Eloise yelled “Girls to the front!” she started crying. “Maybe they’ll open for Bikini Kill at The Palladium” was Gabie’s reaction. Again, I laughed.
Next thing you know, Kathleen Hanna tweeted the video, which has surpassed 55K views. And we all thought, that’s cool but it’s just Twitter. Then she invited them to open for one of the much-anticipated Bikini Kill reunion shows. Gabie was prophetic! First, I was shocked. Then super giddy. And then scared.
Us parents even confided our insecurities with Kathleen. Would people who paid good money to see Bikini Kill be disappointed to see a kid cover band open the show? But she was confident The Linda Lindas would make longtime fans feel like the struggle was all worth it and inspire teen girls to start their own bands. During their incredible set, so many people screamed, laughed, and even cried tears of joy. These little girls won over thousands of people waiting to see Bikini Kill! Kathleen was right.
I truly believe my kid can do anything. Moving forward, I will always protect her but never stand in her way. This post has been about Eloise because I’m her mommy, but I could write a whole essay on each of The Linda Lindas: Lucia, Mila, and Bela. These unbelievably awesome girls just showed us all they’ll rule the world.
Wendy and Eloise backstage at the Hollywood Palladium (April 26, 2019) Photo: Jessie Cowan
While editing Giant Robot magazine, I got to interview a lot of cool filmmakers and actors. So I was pretty excited when Eloise told me she wanted to interview Daniel Wu for a school assignment to write about a famous Chinese person. Why not? He’s a longtime friend and I thought conducting the interview in Mandarin would be an outstanding project for her dual-language fourth grade classroom. I traded some texts and Eloise placed a phone call to Uncle Dan last May.
As Into The Badlands is about to conclude its third and final season, I asked Eloise to translate the interview into English to get us viewers ready for its long-awaited return. And if you are a fan of hardcore Hong Kong-style martial arts and choreography, dig the energy and production value of cable shows like The Walking Dead, and appreciate the humor of Nick Frost but haven’t checked out the AMC series yet, don’t miss the double premiere on Sunday, May 24, and Monday, May 25! Prepare to be entertained, addicted, and blown away every week.
Eloise: Hi! Daniel: Hi, how are you?
Eloise: Good, thank you for doing this.
Daniel: No worries. Are you ready to start?
Eloise: Yes. So my first question is, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Daniel: When I was 13, I wanted to be an architect.
Eloise: And when did you get into acting?
Daniel: In 1997, right when I graduated from college. I went to Hong Kong, and someone asked me to be in a TV commercial. Then the director of my first movie, Yonfan, saw the commercial and looked for me.
Daniel: It was just that easy.
Eloise: Wow! Since you weren’t experienced, was acting extra fun? More difficult?
Daniel: More difficult, because I had to work on two things: How to act and how to speak Chinese. Both at the same time!
Eloise: When you were filming in Hong Kong or China, what was the most fun movie you worked on?
Daniel: My most fun movie was One Nite in Mongkok. Of all my films, that is my favorite.
Eloise: What’s a difficult thing about acting that most people don’t know about?
Daniel: A lot people think that acting is really easy, and you just go to the location, go home, and that’s it. But you have to do a lot of homework. There’s more homework and preparation than actual work. And filming just one hour of a movie can mean four or five hours on the set.
Eloise: When you were in China, you were already a big star. Why did you come back to work in America?
Daniel: I didn’t give up on China, but I’m an American so I can do English films, too. Now I do both.
Eloise: Is Into the Badlands the hardest thing you’ve ever worked on?
Daniel: Probably. I work really hard on it—more than in movies. For Into the Badlands, I have to do kung fu every day for 10 hours and it’s exhausting. It’s also easy to get hurt.
Eloise: Do you think your work has had a positive effect on the world?
Daniel: Um, I hope so! I’m not trying to change the world, but I hope at least a few kids who watch Into the Badlands will want to learn kung fu. When I was a kid, I watched movies and wanted to learn kung fu. I think that would be a good influence.
Eloise: Which of your movies should us 10-year-old kids to watch?
Daniel: The movie I just finished, Tomb Raider. I think it’s got a good message that girls can be heroes, too.
Eloise: When are we going to El Cholo to eat green corn tamales with you again?
Daniel: I hope we can do it soon. Your dad introduced them to me and I really like them! Maybe next month I’ll come and we’ll have them.
Daniel: Are there any more questions?
Eloise: When did you meet Daddy?
Daniel: In 1995 or 1996, I really liked reading Giant Robot magazine. I wrote a letter to your daddy saying I really liked it, and if they needed help I would contribute. The first time we met was in New York City. I was visiting my sister and don’t know what he was doing there—probably Giant Robot stuff.
Eloise: That’s all. Thank you!
Daniel: Good luck. I hope you get an A on your report. If you don’t, I’ll come to your school with my sword!
Watch the final episodes of Into The Badlands Season 3 on AMC and stream the previous episodes on Netflix, Amazon Prime, etc. And, yes, Eloise got an A on her project and, no, Eloise is not allowed to watch the series yet!