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.