After five years and 15 shows, you’d think organizing Save Music in Chinatown benefit shows wouldn’t be a big deal anymore. Yet another matinee with old music and young kids–don’t they all blend together and are there even show-goers who like either? Maybe they would come for cookies. Or cake!
My wife Wendy and friend Nate, who also obsess over our series of all-ages matinees year-round, were right on board when I decided to made our 16th show my 50th birthday party, hoping that maybe a couple more people would come out to help raise money for music education at Castelar, Chinatown’s public elementary school, by carrying on the punk rock tradition of the historic neighborhood’s old Hong Kong Cafe.
As usual, the lineup came together perfectly but from totally different directions. Phranc has been playing at punk rock shows and benefit gigs for decades, and we had been in touch with the All-American Jewish Lesbian folk singer since she and our mutual friend Alice Bag teamed up to play our 14th show as PHAG. I loved the Smothers Brothers-inspired duo’s topical songs, which were as progressive as they were current, and two-of-a-kind banter, but wanted our audience to get a rare taste of Phranc as a solo artist as well. Is there anyone cooler or more calming, more sensible or funny, in a state of chaos? She was doing it way before “Life’s a Beach” and the Reagan and Bush years and she’ll be around long after 45 and “YOLO.” Phranc was and will always be the original Life Lover that reassures all of us underdogs to not give in or give up.
We’ve been shocked a few times when a friend, whose cool band had no business playing a rinky dink show like ours to begin with, has asked to play for our cause a second time. Mike from Channel Three and Tony Adolescent approached us about a record-release show and secret gig last year, and this time it was Chip from Ford Madox Ford. What an honor to have lifers and veterans of the first wave of punk in Chinatown come back to play for the kids who go to school there now. What a relief not to grovel to potential headliners and co-headliners! And I don’t even know what the blues are, but I love the combo’s rock-solid groove mixed with Chip’s original punk energy and nonstop layer of noise provided by his guitar shredding son Dewey.
I lined up LP3 & The Tragedy and The Horseheads during a bittersweet afternoon at Alex’s Bar in way back in July. Nate and I were commiserating with Louie Perez III and Mike Martt at Steve Soto’s memorial, and one of the beloved bass player’s last shows with the Adolescents in SoCal was actually at our May benefit. Louie had been working closely with Steve and was devastated. He only came to the gathering because Mike asked him to bring some gear so CJ Ramone and a few Adolescents could play a short set (which they joked Steve would have hated, but made everyone feel better). Somehow, I built up the courage to ask them if their bands would be interested in playing our show and, perhaps partly in tribute to Steve’s memory and the legacy of his great music and big heart, they said yes.
Having LP3 & The Tragedy and The Horseheads was a very cool pairing of cowpunk legends, lifers, and torch carriers–perfect since Chip and his brother Tony formed the genre’s instigators Rank & File–and how about Chip coming up to sing “Class War,” a Dangerhouse single released by the brother’s previous band, The Dils, with LP3? The famously unruly Horseheads covering “What’s so Funny about Peace, Love, and Understanding?” for a crowd with as many children in the audience as survivors of the Hong Kong Cafe days? “See That My Grave Is Kept Clean” provided a gritty balance that pleased the blues purists and fans of Mike’s other old band Thelonious Monster
Bolstered by a kickass bake sale and cool raffle as usual, the show would have been amazing enough right there–way above and beyond what we should expect from our humble project, cause, and efforts. But it gets better and I actually get emotional when I look back at it, largely because The Linda Lindas played. Eloise has gone from mascot to flyer artist to member of a band with her cousins and their friend. While we hoped to raise money for our daughter’s school all along, having a scene grow around it was a total surprise, and who knew that it would be a place where kids that can handle it could thrive? They play covers now (Go-Go’s, X-Ray Spex, Ramones, Bikini Kill, Joy Division) but who knows how far they will take it?
And on top of all that, it was my birthday! What a cool present for so many friends, family, and supporters come out and eat a Ramones-themed cake for my twin brother Greg and me? Or hear Phranc sing “It’s Cool to Grow Old in L.A.” name-checking Save Music in Chinatown, The Linda Lindas, and The Hong Kong Cafe?
I’m grateful not only that so many people come out to support public school and music education in the historic neighborhood for my immigrant grandparents and in-laws, and now my daughter, has found community, but also that they contribute to my most fun, amazing birthday ever. And I never make a big deal out of my birthday but this was a big deal.
Hugs, high fives, and thanks to everyone who played, worked the bake sale, contributed to the raffle, helped get the word out, and came and had fun. Reaching 50 could have been a somber event, but I’ve never felt more excited, engaged, joyful about uniting my favorite subcultures of punk rock and immigrant kids and trying to make a difference in my favorite neighborhood, Chinatown. And to do it with my family and so many old and new friends is simply the best. We hope to see you at our next shows in January and June… I wonder who we can get to play?
Left to right, top to bottom: Artist Vicki Berndt; Dewey Peak from Ford Madox Ford and too many other bands to list; Phranc, Horseheads, and Bela from The Linda Lindas; Castelar alum and one of the flyer models, Tatawan; Alpine Decline; Gabba Gabba Cake from KG Bakery; Tsubasa from Rough Kids and family; Chip from Ford Madox Ford, Rank & File, Dils, etc. with Alice Bag and The Linda Lindas; Zen and Atomic Nancy; RazorCake crew; Chris from Scoops, who brought custom ice cream, and Mamie, whose family ran the Hong Kong Cafe; post-show birthday dinner crew at Golden Dragon.
For news on the next shows, keep an eye on this blog or follow the Save Music in Chinatown page on Facebook!