Hey! Last week the new Razorcake came out with my article about the Jabberjaw documentary. I went to countless shows at 3711 Pico in the ’90s, and the DIY punk venue played a big part in my evolution from a fan who attended concerts at places like Fender’s Ballroom and the Hollywood Palladium to a participant who has made zines, hosted bands who were in town, and even put on shows. So it was an honor to set up a zoom conversation with co-founder Michelle Carr, number-one instigator Rob Zabrecky from Possum Dixon, and touring artist Allison Wolfe from Bratmobile and Cold Cold Hearts, along with director Eric Pritchard and producer Bitten Heine (not even close to their arrangement in the screen grab below).
We talked about Jabberjaw’s rise in the years punk broke and its role in the flourishing indie scene, what it was like when major labels got in on the action, and how it came to an end. Questions also came from friends who were there including Adam from Jawbreaker, Emily from Emily’s Sassy Lime, Gabie from Canopy, Lois Maffeo and Nikki McClure from Olympia, and photographer Ben Clark. Maybe more, I can’t remember. Somehow, the crowded Q&A turned out to be a pretty good read, as well as a great excuse for the filmmakers to release a new trailer! Here it is…
But wait, there’s more Razorcake-related stuff to share! Last month, I organized an online screening and conversation with filmmakers and bands from the zine’s first three short video documentaries about punk bands from East L.A. The panel included Tracy from Thee Undertakers, Theresa from The Brat, and Jack from Stains with director Jimmy from La Tuya and archivist Dino from Streetwalkin’ Cheetahs. I just wish I got to meet them and hung out in person, and can’t not give props to my friend and Visions and Voices colleague Marie for doing all the behind-the-scenes production work and prep to make everything run smoothly.
It was a lot of fun hearing their stories about playing legendary punk venues like The Vex, Starwood, and Hong Kong Cafe alongside bands like The Plugz, X, and Black Flag. (Doesn’t every show goer, record collector, and music freak obsess over bands and shows that they just missed out on?) The chat was pretty amazing, too. Watch all the short documentaries on the Eastside Punks YouTube page and check out the chitchat below. Hopefully, there will be another gathering with the docs shown on a big screen, live music, and hanging out in person… A fourth video has already been added with Nervous Gender and I wonder what will come next?
While we have all been separated and unable to attend shows during the pandemic, I’ve been extra grateful to share stuff I like, get people together, and be part of something bigger through Razorcake. Thanks to Todd and Daryl for always welcoming my ideas, the copy editors for making me look smart, and photographers and graphic designers for making all those words more interesting. I’m already looking forward to seeing how my next article will turn out, and wonder what I can write about after that… Subscribe to Razorcake! Grow your scene! See you at a show one of these days!
The other week, my old friend Miran Kim asked me if I had any ideas for how her musician pal Fredo Viola could promote his new LP. Even though my response was that I’m not really connected to music writing anymore, she shared a link and insisted that I give it a listen. I kept putting if off and she kept asking what I thought. Eventually I caved in, and it turns out My New Head is cinematic, surreal, and smart. Or, as Neil Gaiman describes Viola’s music, “what pop music would sound like if it were made by unborn psychedelic ghosts.” The album features Miran’s artwork, too. She should have told me the latter in the first place because I’m curious about any project that involves her.
Martin: So how do you two know each other?
Fredo: I have known Miran for quite a long time—since I was living in Brooklyn, which I guess was around 2000. At the time, I was an editor/compositor working for a large beauty brand and feverishly cooking up my music after hours. I believe Miran was working for MTV.
Miran: He was one of the most knowledgeable people I knew. He knew cool music to listen to, and I always admire that! Fredo was a true gem in my life in NYC and he still remains precious in my life now.
Martin: You were pretty excited to share his music with me. Can you tell me what you appreciate about it?
Miran: It is very exciting to introduce Fredo because of his singing voice. It is like a beautiful line in a painting that expresses emotions without any words. His voice alone can create an experience that makes you feel like you are seeing everything for the first time. Fredo is a vivid storyteller, a musical artist whom I admire deeply.
Martin: Fredo, in your music I hear some Black Heart Procession, Elliott Smith, Nick Cave… But what are you into?
Fredo: I’ve got really eclectic taste but am drawn to anything that pushes outside of the norm. I love unusual harmonies and chord progressions, so have naturally been drawn to Joni Mitchell and Kate Bush. Kate Bush has been a pretty big influence on my own music, as her arrangements really showed me how surreal, cinematic, and adventurous music production could be. However, usually I’m listening to modern orchestral music, which I find to be the most meaty and adventurous. Shostakovich, Britten, Schnittke, and Stravinsky usually show up throughout the week.
Martin: How does the new record fit into your body of work?
Fredo: I feel like this album snapped the pieces together. My first album was really all about the discovery of being able to make music with my voice. The songs on that album, The Turn, were really the very first songs I’d ever written and I was very lucky to have them receive quite a big critical success in France. I love my second album, Revolutionary Son, but it wasn’t until My New Head that I found a proper maturity and connection between the music and the lyrics. I feel like I simplified, unfolded, and revealed more vulnerability with this album. This is also the first time I feel successful with the overall form of the album. It’s meant to be almost a physical experience, like walking into a landscape or a living sculpture. That’s an aim I’ve always had—as I had studied to be a film director—to make something truly immersive, and this is the closest I’ve come.
Martin: It feels to me like music that that is meant to be heard alone, in concentration, with headphones on, which is perfect for something released to a world in various stages of pandemic. Is that accurate?
Fredo: Totally accurate. That’s how I listen to music, as well, although I’m a believer in that also being a communal experience. I have a dear friend in my COVID bubble, and every few weeks or so over the last year we would get together to listen to an album together. You pick up so much more from that kind of listen. It’s like the difference between driving through a neighborhood quickly and having a walk: On your feet you make so many intimate discoveries; it’s not just a bunch of houses zooming by. That’s the way I would like people to listen to my music. But I also think it’s a creatively stimulating album, and I have had great responses from creative folk that enjoy making art to the music.
Martin: Can you tell me why you chose Miran’s art for your record’s packaging?
Fredo: Miran’s art is amazing and it made quite an impact on me from the first time I saw it. It’s at times quite dark, but never oppressively so, and there is always the contrast of innocence and light. I love the mystery of her subjects, the surreal nature of her imagery, and her sense of color is second to none. I wanted to work with her for my second album but our scheduling wasn’t aligned. I am absolutely thrilled with what Miran made for my My New Head. She’s truly an incredible artist.
Martin: Miran, how did you approach the cover portraiture? Is it different depicting a friend and a fellow artist rather than, say, David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson, or a Garbage Pail Kid?
Miran: When I was approached to make the album cover art, Fredo had a specific concept in mind and he also shared a small portion of the tune from his new album. From there, not knowing too much about the whole album, I approached the personage of Fredo with more mystery and openness than I normally would for other projects. Visual cues within the portrait painting both came from me and Fredo, and our artistic collaboration was a really enjoyable experience.
Martin: Fredo, does your music sound different live? What are crowds like at your shows?
Fredo: Honestly, I don’t perform much. I enjoy it while its happening and always give it my all, but the weeks leading up to a show fill me with so much anxiety, it’s kind of torturous! I’ve been secretly relieved that COVID has made performing impossible. Back when I released my first album, I did a bunch of shows throughout France and the audiences tended to be early 20s, 30s, and up. I loved the French audience, which was quite attentive and thoughtful, but also had fun. We’d make slightly more rock-arranged versions of the songs and, as the songs are all quite melodic with very warm harmonies, it usually worked well like that. My dream would be either to perform with seen amazing singers and a handful of acoustic instruments, or build a visual installation, as I also have a substantial body of my visual work which could be supported. I’m also always making what I call “live cluster videos,” which are live performances of all of my voices without correction, usually reflecting a space in a creative way. Those will always be happening.
Martin: For both of you, how has your art been affected by this year of COVID? What can we anticipate from you two looking forward?
Fredo: I’m keeping a sense of optimism while acknowledging the rather destructive impact COVID has had on everything. What was left of the music world mechanism has been somewhat pulverized. But perhaps it needed to be destroyed! The music “industry” has been rather dysfunctional, certainly from the perspective of the musician, for some time. Our job now is to keep creative and watch for new growth. Art is universal and it will just take an open mind and imagination to find the new windows and doors through which we will find beautiful creative spaces.
Miran: I discovered the magical life in nature. I was fortunate to have access to a beautiful flower garden during COVID and closely examined the flowers and vegetation. There is a restorative life source in nature that is my new personal fascination and inspiration to my artwork. I am working on a very fun project right now and can’t wait to share it with you soon.
Martin: Anything else you want to add?
Miran: Thank you, Martin, for taking the time to hang out with us. It is always a huge honor for me to talk with you!
Fredo: Thank you so much for this opportunity, Martin!
Ed Lin is a persuasive guy who will not be denied. Back in 2018 when my friend and prolific novelist was promoting Ghost Month, he wouldn’t stop asking if The Linda Lindas would play his event in Pasadena. As if that wasn’t enough, he had the gall to request that they play a Joy Division song because his book’s antihero loved the Manchester band so much he called his noodle stall Unknown Pleasures! I hemmed and hawed, and said “Why would you want a bunch of kids to play your grownup event?” and “They haven’t even played a proper show yet!” But Ed was relentless. And now he is a trivia answer for the hardest core fans of the band: Whose book release did The Linda Lindas play a couple weeks before they made their official debut at the Save Music in Chinatown show with Phranc, Ford Madox Ford, LP3 & The Tragedy, and The Horseheads?
But when Ed asked me to write an introduction to his new book, there was no convincing necessary. He explained that his friend who ran the BooksActually shop in a Singapore wanted to print a story that was serialized on the old Giant Robot website. And Kenny was a big fan of the magazine that I helped start and spawned the site. Wow. Who gets asked to write a forward to a book? Who even gets a couple bucks out of it? That would be me, and I immediately told Ed I was going to blow all the money on the Bad Brains reissues.
Here’s what I submitted, and hopefully they fixed all the typos and mistakes:
I am honored to not only re-introduce Motherfuckerland to the world but be part of its first proper presentation in dirty, grainy, foldable, and Post-Itable print. It was first serialized by my friend Ed Lin on the Giant Robot website in 2012––a couple years after the zine that I edited published its final issue. But the saga of Sean Kerry is the opposite of slick cyber content. Not having eye-catching art to make it skimworthy, not being a listicle of bite-sized sketches of pop culture, and pretty much the opposite of erotic fan fiction, I wonder how many people actually read it online?
Although Motherfuckerland was a humble effort shared with the handful of loyal weirdos in the Robot Lounge, the pages you are now holding are packed with everything I love about Ed’s writing. A reporter by day and writer by night, one might look for and find unflinching, hyper observant slivers of Sam Quinones or Joan Didion. But to me his work is closer in spirit to DIY punk zine publisher and novelist Aaron Cometbus––stripped down, straightforward, low-key punk, and free of bullshit with poetry coming not from clever wordplay but the swirling undercurrents of just plain life.
I could swear there’s some Repo Man in there. Our hero is a suburban kid in a dead-end job surrounded by other oddballs with dead-end jobs but set in Lin’s sleazy New Jersey boardwalk instead of cult film director Alex Cox’s mutation of early L.A. punk. As Sean smokes out, just gets by, and is eventually forced to choose a path, his peers provide glimpses of what it means to be an actual outsider instead of a slacker. There’s also a brief-but-important (to me) conversation contrasting local products The Boss, Glenn Danzig, and Bon Jovi that compels me to imagine what the soundtrack to Sean’s story might include. In addition to being one of my favorite living writers, Ed has excellent taste in music.
Don’t get your hopes up. A movie won’t be coming any time soon or ever. But at least we have this book to put on the shelf alongside our favorite paperbacks, magazines, videotapes, records, and everything else that celebrates the lowlifes, badlands, and bittersweet truths of Motherfuckerland.
Martin Wong Los Angeles January 2021
Thanks, Ed! Thanks, Kenny! I look forward to hanging out when the pandemic is over. Everyone else, buy Motherfuckerland straight from the source at the link below for just 25 bucks. If you are a high roller, get the signed copy with an obi for 50 and let me know what it looks like!
The Linda Lindas almost weren’t in Moxie. On the set, Amy Poehler told the band she wanted them to be in the Netflix movie after seeing them open for Bikini Kill at the Palladium. But we heard that others on the team thought they were too young to be in a high school movie. Bela and maybe Lucia, who were 15 and 13 when they shot their scene, could pass. But 12-year-old Eloise and 9-year-old Mila? No way!
It’s practically urban legend that Bikini Kill lead singer Kathleen Hanna stood up for the band, saying they were the only ones who could play their song “Rebel Girl” in the movie (the song plays a key part in Jennifer Matthieu’s YA book). A line about The Linda Lindas being allies from a nearby middle school was added and tutors were hired to watch them at the recording studio and take them away from the movie set during downtime to do homework. Bummer, but they still got good snacks and food from craft services!
After a flurry of recording their songs during Thanksgiving break and filming in the first week of December in 2019, there was no news regarding the movie until the trailer came out in February 2021. Whew, the movie was finally coming out on March 3. Cool, the band was still in it. Then they got asked to play for a preview screening for cast and crew, which is how they found out their Muffs cover was going to be used, too. Rad!
Due to the pandemic, the band members were filmed at home on dropped-off gear, with Sawhorse Productions directing from afar and then assembling all the pieces. It was awesome to finally see Amy Poehler introduce the stream and tell everyone to stick around for a performance by the “amazing” Linda Lindas. It turned out great!
The movie turned out great, too! I love how Poehler mashes up the rebellion of Rock ‘n’ Roll High School with the squeaky clean vibe of a John Hughes-era teen movie and then subverts both with intersectional feminism. The humor is low-key (and not gross-out like modern teen movies) and so is the riot grrrl indoctrination. I kept waiting for our hero to go through her mom’s crate of records and wanted the concert scene to be longer, but there are more than enough buttons, stickers, flyers, zines, and posters to appease us viewers who took part in the riot grrrl scene. And enough reflection to let everyone know it wasn’t perfect.
Writing a concert into the story was a great move for a movie with zines and leather jackets, too. And featuring The Linda Lindas instead of a fake band or a bigger band with no connection to riot grrrl or punk rock was kind of brilliant. They are young girls. They are half Asian and half Latinx. They have played with riot grrrl legends and pioneers like Bikini Kill, Alice Bag, and Phranc, in addition to bands that build on it like Best Coast and Bleached. And while their scene is brief, it is packed with pure joy, true friendship, and punk rock power.
Audiences who aren’t familiar with the subculture can look up The Linda Lindas and see that they are living, breathing examples of the legacy of riot grrrl and DIY punk. They were already covering “Rebel Girl” and dedicating “Big Mouth” to the memory of Kim Shattuck before they were asked to be in the movie. And if they are real, why can’t intersectional feminism, unity, compassion, and revolution be real, too?
Thanks to Amy Poehler and Kathleen Hanna for getting The Linda Lindas in there! Thanks to Sawhorse Productions for making the video and letting the band share it! Thanks to Bikini Kill and The Muffs for being awesome! After being such a huge fan and seeing them so many times, I can’t believe my daughter, nieces, and our family friend are now a small part of their stories. One day, we’ll see movies in theaters and bands at shows again, but this is very exciting and inspiring right now.
So much love and sadness for Mark Waters, who died yesterday. Nearly 400,000 Americans have perished from COVID-19 so far but Mark is my first friend to be a casualty. He is about the same age as me and leaves behind a spouse and child. And although I would never compare whatever I’ve done to the body of work and legacy he leaves as an instigator, supporter, mentor, and creator of skateboarding culture and cool music, I also consider Mark a peer. I have a lot of fun sucking at skateboarding and have many buddies who do it for a living/for life but met him through art, music, and activism.
Mural painting in Paramount with O and Ben Clark (June 6, 2016)
For the last few years, we’ve been crossing paths out at Erik Caruso’s annual Operation: Creative Freedom art and music jams in support of public education and encouraging elementary school students to express themselves joyfully and fearlessly. For the kids, he donated his photography, played music and donated practice space, and recruited I don’t know how many big names to support the cause–even if the students had no idea who they were! At the last gathering that took place in person, he approached my daughter and told her he loved what her band was doing, to keep it up, and that he always tells girls who skateboard that they can do anything the guys can do. At a Dogtown-related event at Pizzanista, he gushed about The Linda Lindas to Glen E. Friedman!
With Tobin Yelland at Operation: Creative Freedom (June 2, 2018)
This summer I was honored to contribute photography to the online OCF art show alongside Mark’s shots of some of my favorite bands and skaters. And looking through my record collection, I have a stack of singles he helped release featuring many of my favorite bands: J Church, Fluf, Olive Lawn, Supernova, Three Mile Pilot… But when I think of Mark, I’ll always envision him having a blast playing music with friends for friends for the cause. Smiling nonstop and cracking up when his son runs up to play air guitar with them. Being on the side and out of the spotlight but doing what he loves with friends and family in support of others.
Action Now! at Operation: Creative Freedom (June 2, 2018)
Thanks to Mark’s wife Claudine for the difficult task of sharing updates on him with his network of friends and followers around the world for the last month or so, as well as always encouraging readers to wear masks and take COVID seriously. Our hearts break for her and Avery but they also burst from being the beneficiaries of the Waters family’s art, efforts, love, and PMA.
Action now! with Ray Barbee at Operation: Creative Freedom 2 (June 1, 2019)
Despite the pandemic, I’ve contributed to some pretty cool projects with friends. I’m listing some recent ones here since I can’t stuff them into a bookshelf or stack them on a coffee table.
Following up on a Vulturas Q&A I set up for RazorCake 119, my co-interviewer and editor Todd encouraged me to make a video. It was way easier and more fun than I expected, largely because I was also able to supplement pieces of the conversation with red hot, garage punk ‘n’ roll footage from my new pal Ricky Menace of TAXI TV. (Check out his livestreams from gigs on YouTube.) Spawned by The Cuckoo’s Nest and The Vex, what does it mean for The Vulturas to be a punk band in the era of no shows? Watch the video below and then order wax from Hostage Records.
I’ve been contributing to fanzines and supporting subcultures and scenes for 30 years. But getting asked to do stuff like be on Isaac Ramos’s Gratitude Attitude Show still comes as a surprise to me. After having much cooler mutual friends like Una from Keep Company and Randy with No Age on the podcast, he really wanted me join him?
I immediately agreed and I’m glad I did. Isaac is a great guy who I got to know better. And after interviewing people for Giant Robot for 16 years, it’s fun to be on the other side of the microphone. Back then I never considered what I was doing to be part of any story but now… You know where I’m going with this. I’m grateful to be surrounded by friends and family who allow me to do interesting, surprising, and sometimes even important stuff. You can stream the episode below and survey the entire season here.
What’s next? I don’t know but I look forward to finding out in 2021. See you there––maybe even in person.
Although none of The Linda Lindas are old enough to fill out a ballot, they recorded a kickass get-out-the-vote song and made a cool video, too.
Check out this brand-new, 100 percent DIY effort featuring a ton of cameos from original L.A. punk lifers (Alice Bag, Phranc, Mike Watt, Tony Reflex from Adolescents, Hector from The Zeros, Mike from Channel 3, Atomic Nancy), pals from Jabberjaw days (Adam from Jawbreaker, Allison from Bratmobile, all three members of Emily’s Sassy Lime), familiar faces from Olympia’s pop underground (Tae from Kicking Giant, Lois Maffeo, Nikki McClure), favorites from The Smell (Bethany from Best Coast, Jennifer from Bleached, Randy from No Age), and more.
Pretty solid crew for a band of 10- to 15-year-olds, and the song is a ripper, too! Now what are you going to do to about the election?
Complete list of special guests in order of appearance: Mario Correa, Atomic Nancy, and Zen Sekizawa; Jenny Angelillo (Neighborhood Brats); Ray Barbee; Pat and Lety Beers (The Schizophonics); Mike Watt; Senon Williams (Dengue Fever); Allison Wolfe; Lois Maffeo; Randy Randall (No Age); Camylle Reynolds (Midnite Snaxxx); Alice Bag; Tae Won Yu (Kicking Giant); Wendy Yao (Emily’s Sassy Lime); Amy Yao (Emily’s Sassy Lime); Emily Ryan (Emily’s Sassy Lime); Adam Pfahler (Jawbreaker) and Amy Dumas; Laura Ling; Tony Reflex (Adolescents); Hector Penalosa (The Zeros); Rawl Morales (Mike Watt & The Secondmen) and Paloma Bañuelos (Bombón); Nikki McClure and Jay T. Scott; Bethany Cosentino (Best Coast) and Jennifer Clavin (Bleached); Daniel Wu; Money Mark; Sasami Ashworth; Maya Tuttle (The Colourist); Mike Magrann (Channel Three); Phranc; Pete Chramiec (Verbal Assault).
On Sunday afternoon, The Linda Lindas played an outdoor, distanced, and masked (except for the singers) mini-set to support this year’s Operation: Creative Freedom group show, which my teacher friend Erik Caruso organizes to support art, music, and the empowering of kids at Harry Wirtz Elementary in Paramount, CA. Due to the pandemic, the art show took place on Instagram and the gig was streamed on Instagram Live.
It was the band’s first online performance and our first time streaming something like that. Sadly, I didn’t figure out how to save the footage with streaming comments. But we did set up a few video cameras, and Eloise edited the footage into what was live-streamed. You can watch it below!
It’s sad not having live shows these days, but exciting that opportunities and outlets like this are still happening for The Linda Lindas. Not everyone gets to work with friends (Erik and I go way back in supporting each other’s efforts, he coordinated the “Meet The Linda Lindas” video to show the fifth graders at his school last year, and we had so many mutual friends participating in the art show as well) on causes that matter to us (art, music, public education, kids) and have a platform to make statements about current events (wearing masks, showing support for BLM). We are lucky ones.
Thanks to Erik for always thinking of my family, our Save Music in Chinatown efforts, and The Linda Lindas. Thanks to everyone who helped make the show happen and watched it live. Perhaps the video that Eloise made will find its way to people who weren’t able to view the performance when it happened, and hopefully we’ll all be able to participate in person next year.
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.