RIP Mark Waters

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 the 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)

Thank you for reading to the end. Read the Claudine’s updates on Mark and donate to help out the Waters family at https://www.gofundme.com/f/help-for-mark-waters-and-family. And stay home and wear a mask and be distanced if you have to go out.

Action Now! with Tim Kerr at Operation: Creative Freedom 2 (June 1, 2019)

Recent Projects with RazorCake and the Gratitude Attitude Show

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.

The Linda Lindas and friends say VOTE!

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).

The Linda Lindas – Mini-Set for Operation: Creative Freedom #3

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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.

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Daniel Wu on Zoom for Castelar: About acting in Hong Kong movies, sheltering during the pandemic, and fighting racism

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Photo: Tony Reflex

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!”

Check it out and share if you’d like.

Punks Around, Cometbus, and me: Thoughts from the 2020 pandemic and uprisings

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.

Save Music in Chinatown 21 got canceled but here’s “A Song for You”

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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.

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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!

Hello, Linda Lindas!

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!

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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.

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Pre-Linda LIndas at Girlschool LA at The Bootleg (February 2, 2018)

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.

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Pre-Linda LIndas with Karen O. at Girlschool LA at The Bootleg (February 2, 2018)

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.

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The Linda Lindas at Ed Lin book reading and signing at Vromans in Pasadena (October 9, 2018)

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.

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The Linda Lindas at Save Music in Chinatown 16 at the Grand Star (November 3, 2018)

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.

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The Linda Lindas with Chip Kinman from the Dils at Save Music in Chinatown 17 at the Grand Star (January 27, 2019)

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.

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The Linda Lindas with Money Mark and Justin Maurer at Jackie Rocks! at the American Legion Eagle Rock (February 23, 2019)

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.

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The Linda Lindas opening for Bikini Kill at the Hollywood Palladium (April 26, 2019)

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.

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The Linda Lindas opening for Bleached at the Moroccan Lounge (July 11, 2019)

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.

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The Linda Lindas at Hurley Studios (August 1, 2019)

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!

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The Linda Lindas opening for Alice Bag at the Hi Hat (August 10, 2019)

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?

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The Linda Lindas at Viva! Pomona at the Glass House (August 24, 2019)

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.”

 

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The Linda Lindas at Save Music in Chinatown 19 (November 3, 2019)

Kathleen Hanna tweeted the video and it has 57,000+ views to date. Then she invited the band to open for Bikini Kill at the Palladium. Unbelievable.

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The Linda LIndas at Self Help Graphics’ Dia De Los Muertos Celebration (November 2, 2019)

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!

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The Linda LIndas with Fur Dixon at Save Music in Chinatown 20 (January 26, 2020)

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

 

Follow The Linda Lindas at http://instagram.com/the_linda_lindas for the latest news, and see you at their shows!

Note: The zine with this article, including different typos and the Friends Files in their full printed glory, is available only at Save Music in Chinatown shows.

 

Save Music in Chinatown 20 recap with WÜRM, Fur Dixon, Slaughterhouse, and Otniel Y Los Condors

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Henry and Otniel from Otniel Y Los Condors with The Duke at SMIC20

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.

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Otniel Y Los Condors at SMIC20

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.

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Eddie, Veronica, Taylor, and Nick from Slaughterhouse with Wendy and me at SMIC20

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.

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Slaughterhouse at SMIC20

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.

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Fur Dixon at SMIC20

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.

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Fur Dixon with The Linda Lindas at SMIC20

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.

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WÜRM at SMIC20

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.

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David O. Jones from Alice Bag Band and Carnage Asada, Lora from Chuck Dukowski Sextet, and Dave Travis from Carnage Asada and Cafe NELA at SMIC20

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.

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Photographer Zen Sekizawa, Atomic Nancy, and artist Mario Correa at SMIC20

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.

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Eloise from The Linda Lindas with Kristen and Jim from The Crowd, The Stitches, and 16 Again at SMIC20

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.

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With David O. Jones and members of Otniel Y Los Condors after SMIC20

Our 21st show is shaping up to be on May 3! Hope to see you there.

Save Music in Chinatown 19 Recap with The Last, Zander Schloss, The Vulturas, PR Shake, and The Linda Lindas!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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…

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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.
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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!
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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!
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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.
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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!
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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?
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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!
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* 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!