It’s safe to say that each of us who protested our 45th president’s appointment of an unqualified, inexperienced, and pro-privatization billionaire to Secretary of Education was horrified (if not surprised) when the Senate and Second in Command confirmed her place in the White House Cabinet this week.
The Secretary of Education’s lack of knowledge was displayed for all to see in public hearings and disapproval by authorities on education was overwhelming. That hefty donations from her family to conservative causes–not to mention every single Senator that voted for her–might be sufficient to secure her place in the Cabinet is outrageous and should be embarrassing to all Americans. Our children are up for sale, just like the environment.
DeVos’s vision for education is not clear–perhaps not even to her–but we can expect a push for vouchers directing more public money to private, virtual, religious and for-profit schools. We can expect less regulation when it comes to assisting and protecting English learning, special needs, and low-income students. Her family donating millions to anti-LGBT groups should strike fear in yet another group of at-risk kids.
I’m hoping that this moment will not sink but galvanize supporters of public schooling for everyone. The day before the current regime took office, teachers and families across Los Angeles woke up early and stood outside in the rain to show support for their public schools. At least 30 of us met outside my daughter’s school in Chinatown, Castelar, and family and friends passed along photos of like-minded gatherings at Eagle Rock, Dalia, and Glenfeliz elementary schools.
The awareness and activism of parents has been swelling. Last year, the Castelar community fought off co-location by a charter school, and we families shared information and strategies with peers at others’ schools who faced similar threats. This year and moving forward we will continue to work together to protect and improve our public schools in spite of federal leadership or lack thereof.
Public education is not perfect, but many of us are willing to work on it and fight for it.
My friend Daryl said that our eleventh Save Music in Chinatown show might have been his favorite one so far. And who am I to argue with a guy who holds down the fort at RazorCake magazine and KCHUNG?
Of course Daryl and Gabie at KCHUNG are two friends who always carve out time from their radio shows to help us get the word out. I think it’s really cool that Gabie’s Crystalline Morphologies program is not only scheduled early enough that Eloise can go on the air, but is also archived for streaming and downloading.
We get help from so many friends. There’s also Cyrano and Lotus (a.k.a. Steve and Max) at KXLU’s Molotov Cocktail Hour. On their show, we had Rikk Agnew on the air to pick songs from the great new Rikk Agnew Band LP, and vintage solo stuff, Adolescents, and Christian Death, and share Hong Kong Cafe anecdotes from his storied punk rock life, too. Super cool!
At the show it itself, we saw a lot of old friends coming out to support the cause. There was LP3 and Carrie. Louie played for us with Evil Hearted You way back when and will return with LP3 & The Tragedy sooner than later.
Bob Forrest has played for us twice, solo at our first show ever and then with The Bicycle Thief. Holy cow, I can’t believe that reunion happened at one of our little shows. Were you there?
And how about longtime supporters Lisa Fancher from Frontier Records and David O. Jones from Alice Bag Band, Carnage Asada, Deadbeats, and a bunch of other cool projects coming out early enough to see Rough Kids?
More old and new friends: Paul from Rough Kids with Paul and Nick from Escape Artist. Nick played for us in FourEyedFour and will come back with 16 Again one of these days!
There was an Alice Bag sighting, too. How rad was it for her to come out to Chinatown and say hi to Chip, who was co-headlining our show with Ford Madox Ford. Decades ago, they used to play in the Bags and Dils, respectively, right across the courtyard at the Hong Kong Cafe!
I was especially happy to see my friend Jaime not only get time off from work to attend the show but jump on stage to sing with the Rikk Agnew Band. When I was in college, I used to go to the Anti-Club almost every weekend to see him play with the Chemical People on bills with ALL and Big Drill Car.
After seeing him so often at shows and then Hollywood Book and Poster we became friends, breaking the barrier between stage (even ones a foot tall) and crowd. One small step on the way to putting on these benefit shows…
Of course, there was my good friend Nate who helps behind the scenes of every single show. Although he’s elusive like Bigfoot, this time I got a blurry picture of him with Chip and Scott from Ford Madox Ford. But how did I miss photos of Vicki, Horace, and Clare–the latter two all the way from London?
Besides being excited and grateful to the Florida Mistakes, Rough Kids, Ford Madox Ford, and Rikk Agnew Band and everyone who showed up, I don’t have a real story to tell except that a lot of people out there want to make a difference and help out in some way.
I don’t have a radio show, play in a band, release records, or make awesome cookies. But if I can help those people get together to help kids in Chinatown receive music education at their public school, what can you do? What difference can you make?
Thanks again to the Grand Star, the bands, the bake sale crew, raffle donors, everyone who came, and everyone who spread the word. We’ll do it again at the Grand Star on Sunday, May 7 and be ready for some top-shelf garage punk rock ‘n’ roll…
I was on my way to meet Rikk Agnew at Scoops in Chinatown, when I got a text from him saying that he doesn’t do ice cream. Of course not, it suddenly occurred to me. How could the key member of Adolescents, Social Distortion, Christian Death, D.I., and so many other gnarly bands be seen in public eating something ridiculous like an ice cream cone? Oh man.
Then I replied, adding that Scoops has non-dairy options, and he was down. Whew! It turns out that Rikk, who has shaped the sounds of punk, hardcore, and goth, is a total sweetheart who doesn’t like dairy but loves nothing more than eating ice cream with families and is down for playing a benefit to help support for music education for elementary school kids in Chinatown.
Rikk has also just released a kickass new album called Learn.
It seems like you’re genuinely having a blast singing and playing on Learn. After being an underground musician for 40 years, is it still just as much fun as it ever was?
Oh, yes. If it wasn’t, I wouldn’t be doing it. It’s got to be fun first.
But after so many bands and all the ups and downs, it would be so easy to be jaded or bored or over it. For most bands, it stops being fun when they get too concerned with being competitive, making it to the top, making money, and all that stuff. That doesn’t mix with art and music as far as I’m concerned, but it’s not like I’m going to turn down a million dollar check…
That would be a byproduct and not the purpose. Thank you. Very well said. That’s not the reason at all.
So are you a machine who automatically cranks out song? Are you addicted to the process of working on them? Do you have a lot to say? How have you kept going for decades? Well, it sounds strange but the only way I can describe it is that I have a connection to the cosmos, the muses, and the universe. The beats, the pulses–they come down to me. I can’t sit and write a song. It doesn’t work that way. It just hits me.
So does your brain catch hold of a melody? A lyric?
Actually, the whole thing just flows in.
The words, too? Just the music. The words are a whole separate thing. Words are usually personal politics and everyday experiences that affect me emotionally. I’m a very emotional person.
Whether commenting on Kelly Thomas being beaten by cops in Fullerton or changing the world, I can tell the content matters to you. It’s mostly experiences that I transform into poetry. I like to use a lot of tongue-in-cheek words and little excerpts from other peoples’ songs, like The Beatles and stuff. Usually, I put it together phonetically like a puzzle before trying to make a stream of a story.
There’s also a sense of playfulness with your spelling as well as your tone. I feel like you’re pushing people’s buttons as much as you’re getting on a soapbox. Yes, and I like to create my own spelling of words. My brother Frank is the same way. We do it because it helps us to remember things.
Isn’t he connected to the cosmos in a different way? Isn’t he an astronomer or something?
Oh, that’s Alfie. He and a team of three other PhDs at Cal State Fullerton have been working quite a long time on the theory of gravitational waves that Einstein had set out to prove almost exactly 100 years ago. When they broke through recently, it made world news and I’m so proud of him.
Maybe there will be a star or something named after you!
Back to “I Can’t Change The World,” I was wondering who is the “we” that you’re singing to. People in bands? People in the crowd? Parents? Basically everybody on the planet. I’ve belonged to this thing called Nichiren Shoshu of American and been a Buddhist since 1988 or 1989 and we believe in this thing called kosen-rufu. It’s a theory–well, I think it’s real–that if everyone in the world took one smile or be positive for just one second, the world world miraculously heal itself because Mother Earth is a living creature. We’re in a symbiotic relationship with her.
That’s a big audience, but you’re not going to reach everyone with that album cover! Where did you find those intense portraits? Originally the album cover was just going to be a picture of my face in red and black, but the overseas booking agency said that the album needed something more intense. I thought, okay fine. That was five years ago and this picture will get people’s attention.
I was looking up Krokodil on the Internet, and was under the impression that the person was suffering from Krokodil abuse. But then I dug deeper and found out it was caused by a virus caused by manmade toxins in the environment. But whether it was drug induced or created by toxins, it is still a shocking statement to say “Learn.” If anyone wants to figure out why, they can read the lyrics or talk to me. I’ll explain it.
How did Lisa from Frontier react when you told her about the concept? She backs me up on it and believes in me. It’s like what punk was originally. We weren’t out to be nice or pretty. We wanted to shock and get attention. And then give the message. My message is always positive, even if it sounds like I’m bitching or angry. My modus operandi is to get people to be positive or, as Bill and Ted would say, be excellent to each other.
So you have the Rikk Agnew Band, which reminds me of early Adolescents and your All By Myself solo record, but you also play death rock with the Gitane Demone Quartet and what else?
I’m in five bands now! One of the others is called Ann B. Davis, with Casey Chaos from Amen who was also the bass player for Christian Death during the reunion. And then there’s the original bass player James McGearty from the Only Theatre of Pain lineup and we had George, but he’s a policeman in St. Louis and the commuting and work were just too much. We parted ways with him and now we have Hoss, the drummer who played with Mondo Generator. We’re recording an EP and then there’s going to be an album and then we’ll go out and blast it out there. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard the band Amen but they were like Korn, Slipknot, and that sort of thing. I was in the band in the mid ’90s, but now we’re taking that sort of music and mixing it with Gothic deathrock. Good songs, amazing stuff.
The other two bands?
I’m in a band called The Only Theatre of Pain, which is kind of a tribute to the album with a singer called Steve Skeletal who’s a 6’5″ version of Rozz. We do the album and songs from back then so I’m in my own tribute band. They asked me to do it and I said, why not? And then I recently joined the Deadbeats. That’s a dream come true for me. I used to watch them in the ’70s at The Masque. The new double album is great. It’s a unique thing we’ve got going on with a unique stage show, too.
Playing in all those bands–your brain must on fire right now.
The nice things about being in multiple bands is you have multiple outlets.
One of your best-known songs is about living in Orange County. So when did you come to L.A.? About three and half years ago. I’ve wanted to since the ’70s. We’d come up here and hang out for weeks at a time at the Masque with Brendan Mullen and the Controllers, or hang with Gerber or Jane Drano, but I never had the confidence that I’d make enough money to stay. Hung out frequently at the Church in South Bay for a spell.
Do you think L.A. is still good for being in bands with all the gentrification going on?
Yeah, and it always will be. It isn’t the location as much as it is the spirit and the people. And for people like Gitane, myself, and others who’ve survived, we’re not above anything. We used to play the Santa Monica Civic or Palladium and now we play little places Cafe NELA, but it’s fun. If we didn’t do it, I don’t know what else I would do! There are so many punks who got into acting like Lee Ving or got PhDs like Milo or Greg Graffin, My Brother Alfie, but they’re still doing it. Why? Because there isn’t anything more fun to do and they feel the same way.
And you can make a difference, too.
I’m glad you include lyrics because they’re really smart. It’s punk that an adult can listen to, but it’s still bratty.
I have an inner child that’s in me that never leaves.
Does your daughter listen to your music? She was assistant engineer for the Learn LP. She joins me onstage to sing “Amoeba” sometimes and has a blast doing it! But I almost lost her this past August when she was in a bad car accident. She’s healing up pretty well, but you know how it feels to be a parent.
I’m really proud of my daughter. She’s a great artist and an amazing singer. She’s been working for Disney for a while and has other jobs on the side, but she’s a really, really good person, a heart of gold. I couldn’t ask for a better child.
If our children aren’t creative and rebellious, we’re all screwed! Someone interviewed Tony about that song “I Hate Children” and he laughed and said, “I love children. Children are our future.” It was a personal politic thing about begin the oldest boy taking care of four rugrat siblings when his mom was an alcoholic and his dad was nowhere to be found back then.
Every few Adolescent shows, I’ll hear him tell the audience why they don’t play that song. I love it when he explains that. And he should. I love interacting at shows. Whether I’m on a big stage or a little one, there is no dividing line and if someone says something, I’ll answer.
I think it’s great how you stay in touch with old bandmates and the new record is on Frontier. It’s amazing and cool and telling that there’s so much love from your past instead of burned bridges. We all go through our periods, but if you ask any of the punks who’ve been around and they’ll tell you that it’s all about love. It’s like Johnny Rotten sang in “Fodderstompf”: “We only wanted to be loved.” Everyone took it like he was being a smartass but he meant it. I just finished reading his book, Anger Is An Energy, and it’s amazing. He’s one of my heroes.
Like him, you have explored different genres and defied fans when you easily could have kept making the same type of music. You have to satisfy yourself first. If you don’t, you’ll become a slave to the people and you won’t be where you should be. Even if it makes a lot of people scratch their heads and wonder, “What happened?” As an artist you get bored doing the same thing, so you jump ahead not for competitive purposes but just for fun. It feels like you’re on a mission to keep things rolling and keep perpetuating.
So are you going to tour to support the Rikk Agnew Band album? Oh yes. I want to do the world.
Is it hard getting all five members to take time off and commit to it? They’re great and they’re faithful and I want to be on the road for most of 2017 to promote the album. And if they can’t take time off work to make it to Europe or wherever, I have people there who can and they’re all good with it and won’t feel insulted. I’m lucky.
Will you play stuff from all of your bands, as you’ve been doing, or will you just play the new stuff?
Well, more of the new stuff because we’re promoting the album but we’ll also play longer sets. I like to say that we’re like a wedding band because we play old songs, new songs, borrowed songs, and blue songs from the Blue Album.
What do you think about a playing matinee that is not only for music education at the public elementary school but one that will have little kids in the audience?
Well, of course! They can witness who and where the funding comes from firsthand (an education in itself–public relations, organization, hands-on assistance even!) as well as have the best experience of the whole process. The excitement and spirit of the music. The bands. The people. And the interaction between the performers and kids is such healthy and different dynamic. Lots of love, lots of fun.
Is there anything cool about playing in Chinatown? Can you share any feelings or memories of the plaza where so many cool and key shows happened? There’s everything cool about playing in Chinatown: It’s cultural, festive, and fun. Great feelings, too,
Too many memories and shows to remember but: The Plastics from Japan in 1980 at Madame Wong’s and sitting outside on the curb drinking beer and smoking weed across from Madame Wong’s when Robert Fripp did His Fripptronix thang.
And shows at the Hong Kong Cafe: The Germs – Didn’t get in, got arrested outside by an LAPD undercover sting sweep that nabbed Dez Cadena, Janet Housden, and other punks. I was on many hits of acid! Aaargh!
The Slashers – My band at that time was scheduled to play but we were frying way too hard to play with the Outsiders, The Humans, and an opener.
Adolescents – We played there a couple times, once on Halloween with the Stingers, Speed Queens, and others. Agent Orange and I forgot who else, it was the first time I saw anyone do a stage dive (1978-1979). The OG diver was a blonde waif of a boy that was barefoot and insane looking: Tony Bones a.k.a. Cadena a.k.a. Bee.
Nervous Gender – With Phranc and Don Bolles on board, they were strangest sounding band at that point–more so than the Screamers or DEVO.
El Duce- I first met him there, He was doing an impromptu manifesto post show behind a podium in the back room area, We all gathered, speechless.
I could go on, but wait and read that chapter in my book.
I was even more stressed out than usual about our tenth Save Music in Chinatown show. Was the previous evening’s Long Beach gig, which I also helped set up, going to turn out alright for the bands that were coming all the way from Beijing? Wasn’t it going to be extra difficult for the musicians, helpers, and attendees to make it to the Grand Star with Ciclavia happening on the same date that we set way back in the spring?
It was less convenient getting to the Grand Star and parking cost twice as much, but everything turned out fine. Actually, excellent.
Really, how could those who made it to the show not be blown away by the raw chemistry of the Alpine Decline duo, soaring and psychedelic musicianship of Chui Wan, or buzzsaw riffs of the power trio Carsick Cars? The urgency and excitement of a new generation of artists who are out of their minds and inspired by the entire history of rock being unloaded on China all at once?
I was first introduced to Carsick Cars along with P.K.14 way back in 2007 when I stalked them for a magazine article and have been obsessed with Beijing’s underground music scene ever since. How amazing to see them in Chinatown.
And then there were the dark, swirling sounds of SISU. I became familiar with the band when I interviewed Sandy as one of the Dum Dum Girls and became a fan of her main musical outlet as well as a friend.
At first, SISU agreed to come out of seclusion to play as a stripped-down version for the cause but it wound up being a full-on headlining set with all four members along with a projector and fog machine!
And then they played a cover of Sonic Youth’s “Little Trouble Girl,” arranging for a handful of kids including Eloise and her cousins to go onstage and sing backup. Wow.
For my favorite bands to play all-ages matinee fund raisers to support the unfunded music program at my daughter’s public elementary school in Chinatown is surreal. And for us to be embarking on our fourth year of shows is really incredible. We had no experience when we started this project and have gotten by only with the help of so many supporters.
There are awesome bands, old friends and new friends, all of my family and so many community members, killer bake sale, and super cool raffle to make it a completely unique and excellent afternoon. But even better is the community that has grown over the years. To not only raise money and awareness to help kids but also create a scene in Chinatown is something we never anticipated and are always humbled by.
Thanks to everyone who makes our shows possible, building on the punk rock tradition of the old Hong Kong Cafe and Madame Wong’s, and helping the largely underserved kids who live in Chinatown today. It not only gives them access to music education and a creative outlet, but empowers them with the DIY aesthetic.
Wendy and I were shocked when we received a memo from the LAUSD stating that Castelar Elementary had been identified as a possible site of co-location by Metro Charter School. What an insane idea to have a charter school occupy the “unused” classrooms at our daughter’s campus. Besides the fact that most of the space was utilized by Chinatown children for music, art, science, and P.E., two schools on one campus would be a logistical nightmare, as well as an unhealthy environment in which the school and students on either side would be in constant measurement and competition against each other. And how tragic would it be for Castelar to be drained of kids and resources by Metro–the pattern in co-location–weakening Chinatown’s historically excellent neighborhood public school and trusted resource for generations of immigrant families. What would be the social repercussions in the neighborhood where my grandparents, in-laws, and now daughter had found a community?
Neither Wendy nor I considered ourselves to be activists, possessing resumes that have mutated from indie publishing to organizing DIY punk rock matinee fundraisers, but our unique backgrounds turned out to be useful in Castelar’s fight against co-location. When a march to popularize our struggle didn’t receive media coverage, I wrote a blog about it that has garnered nearly 2,200 views. And then I posted a petition that has been passed around and received more than 1,800 signatures from family, alumni, community members, and other supporters–complementing 600 physical signatures gathered in front of the school and around the neighborhood. Wendy used her graphic design skills to create bold, wall-sized posters that communicated to parents exactly what our children would lose and what events they could attend in English, Spanish, and Chinese. And then every morning she used her limited Cantonese to get as many Chinese parents to sign the petition and attend the Metro board meeting as possible.
Observing our efforts, a lot of my good friends pitched in even though they didn’t have kids at Castelar. Wendy, Eloise, and I collaborated with Save Music in Chinatown co-conspirator Gabie Strong to host a special #savecastelar radio program on KCHUNG to discuss saving public education in Chinatown, DIY activism, and punk rock. Artists Susie Ghahremani, Nate Pottker, and Martin Cendreda provided incredible #savecastelar pieces that we used for posters, flyers, and social media. Filmmaker and actor Daniel Wu posted a #savecastelar photo on his Instagram page, instantly giving our cause a boost to fans of his work and also the Chinese press. For them to put themselves out there means a lot to us, because charter schools are not only a divisive topic among parents but backed by people and groups with a lot of dough.
We made new friends, too. When we attended a TEAch meeting wearing Castelar T-shirts, a retired teacher walked up to Wendy and me in her vintage Castelar sweatshirt and said, “I know who you are and what you’ve been doing.” We became instant allies with Phyllis Chiu, who shared valuable information and forwarded letters to politicians for us. She introduced me to King Cheung, a member of the Chinatown Community for Equitable Development, who could be our translator. He and his wife Diane Tan became our activist mentors. It was sort of like being like a kung-fu movie where we met different masters that would train us in their specialties and then accompany us in our journey.
A handful of us parents joined forces and rallied 50 family members to get into cars and pack Metro Charter School’s tiny board meeting room. We had at least two dozen Cantonese speakers, and King translated for half of them. We had numerous Spanish speakers, as well, and spent about 30 minutes detailing why we didn’t want our classrooms taken away and how important Castelar is to the Chinatown community. While our hosts were civil and repeatedly emphasized that they never chose Castelar, they never said they would not be coming at the meeting or when I followed up with a thank-you email.
Metro Charter School might not have chosen Castelar, but if they invoked Prop 39 and asked to co-located in public classrooms they should have expected resistance from the targeted school and community.
Attending the Chinese American Citizens Alliance lodge meeting with the hopes of getting a letter of support was both surreal and cinematic. While chatting beforehand, the president frankly told me that she would have to invite someone from Metro Charter School to hear their side of the story. Crap! But after I finally gave my spiel, several members stood up and said that the lodge had to support Castelar, their kids’ and grandkids’ alma mater. After my allotted time was up, I tuned out while the last of three politicians tried to curry support from the organization until the president asked me about the LAUSD’s timetable. Members unanimously voted to bypass the lodge’s protocol and promised a letter of support for Castelar on the spot! I felt like I was in a Jimmy Stewart movie, and that was a real cool moment that I will never forget.
Our efforts didn’t go perfectly. Not once but twice, I posted that organizations had supported our cause prematurely. How awkward to put potential supporters in a position like that. And then after weeks of pushing our case on social media, a Metro Charter School parent accused me of spreading rumors. I posted a photo of the February 22 memo and she turned out to be quite reasonable. Not like the other one who mocked me for being “so dramatic” without ever denying the possibility of co-location.
One of the hardest-to-take moments stemmed from one of the most minor events. A Downtown-based online news site ran a puff piece about Metro Charter School having a tough time finding a new location, and described resistance from Castelar community as a “minor outcry.” Since when does more than 2,400 signatures on a petition and 50 Castelar family members and supporters traveling across town to voice disapproval to the Metro Charter School board meeting qualify as minor? I had actually provided the writer with the facts before the article posted, and then asked him to correct the piece but he has stuck by his verbiage. He considers it minor because Metro never chose to locate Castelar and had chosen not to take LAUSD’s offer and, in his opinion, the Castelar community was making a big deal out of nothing. He is entitled to that take–and his outlet doesn’t have the largest audience anyway–but calling the response minor is not only untrue but dismissive to an entire community. This misinformation also lives on in a dark corner of cyberspace and I’m still pissed off about it.
And that’s why, even as this particular struggle against co-location is wrapping up, it’s important to talk about and document what has happened. The LAUSD Facilities Services Division and and other charter schools that might be considering to occupy Castelar in the future need to know that the Chinatown community will not give up its neighborhood school without a fight. The families in Chinatown and kids who attend Castelar, as well as other schools that are fighting against co-location, need to know how families banded together and what steps we took to protect our community, and the Chinese newspapers and KPCC were the only media that responded to our outreach.
Before Castelar’s Open House, a small group of parents attended an LAUSD committee meeting to present our case and personally invite board members to see the school were were trying to protect and attend the assembly afterward, with the intent of having a packed auditorium voice dissent with co-location. The lion dance opening the assembly was perfectly cathartic, totally powerful, and could only happen in Chinatown. And when Principal Shum was given permission to announce that Metro Charter would not be occupying our classrooms, everyone could really feel the room brighten, lighten, and practically elevate. Afterward, many of the Cantonese-speaking ladies that Wendy recruited thanked us for letting them know what was happening and how they could help stand up for Chinatown’s school–a nice ending to a steep learning curve and emotional roller coaster.
Thanks to everyone who signed and shared the petition and spread the word. Thanks to the parents who stood outside school with clipboards, joined community groups, and attended board meetings. Thanks to our new friends and allies who support public education in Chinatown. And thanks to the faculty and teachers who supported us and voiced their appreciation all the way. What everyone had in common was how much all of us love Castelar and Chinatown and, while these weeks have been scary and exhausting, our children and community are worth fighting for. With the Broad Plan for privately-run charter schools to take over half of all public education in L.A. over the next few years, we’ll likely be doing it all over again sooner than we think.
And thank you for reading all the way to the end of this post. Click and scroll through the petition comments at change.org to read additional testimonials from alumni, family, and friends of Castelar.
Even if you just skim my blog, you know how much I love Chinatown and Castelar Elementary. The historic neighborhood is where my immigrant grandparents hung out and where I went to wedding banquets and dim sum as a kid, and it’s even cooler that punk bands like X, The Weirdos, Germs, and Dils used to play there at the old Hong Kong Café. And now that Eloise goes to school at Castelar, Wendy and I spend a lot of time in the area, eating at O.G. restaurants like Golden Dragon and Philippe as well as newer spots like Scoops. We are having a blast organizing all-ages punk matinees at the Grand Star to raise money for the school’s defunded music program, too.
So of course we would be involved in this morning’s “Walk In” to celebrate Castelar. Even though a lot of kids are immigrants and English learners, our school excels and scores very well in standardized testing. The Mandarin Dual Language program is wildly successful, too, and provides a model for larger programs that have many more resources. And although our campus is in the inner city, it is a real safe haven without the bullying, gangs, or violence that many other public schools suffer from. The staff, teachers, and families of Castelar love the school and about 200 of us were proud to demonstrate it.
There was also a less gushy side to the event: to raise awareness about a charter school’s interest in co-locating at Castelar. Representatives from LAUSD have already toured our campus and tagged multiple rooms as vacant. It doesn’t matter that many are used for music, art, drama, or P.E.
There’s a law stating that charter schools must be given access to empty classrooms. If Castelar were a dying school, that would be one thing. It isn’t. Castelar is a unique and thriving center of the community. For the school to be cut up, deprived of resources, and possibly drained of students (those nice uniforms and organic lunches sure look great) is unconscionable. For us families to be left out of the process altogether, unforgivable.
And for an affluent charter school to move into Castelar’s space is to dismiss its enviable level of instruction under difficult circumstances. It will physically divide the campus and take away rooms that are being utilized. In addition to losing space for music classes (instruction that the school pays for with help from our Save Music in Chinatown shows), art, drama, and P.E., we will have to share our computer labs, library, lunch area, and blacktop. The school budget can’t afford to pay for a nurse every day of the week, but when she is present I doubt she’ll turn away an ailing charter school student.
If children from the charter school want to attend Castelar, they should come. We have awesome kids, excellent teachers, and that amazing Mandarin Dual Language program (which actually needs the extra space to grow). There’s also easy access to dim sum on minimum days. But cutting into our school and taking away from our students and community is not acceptable.
We appreciate all the staff, teachers, kids, and families who showed their support for Castelar this morning. Wendy, Eloise, and I look forward to working with the community to protect and grow our school. Please join us (that’s our friend and fellow Castelar parent Angelica painting signs with us). We can use all the help we can get!
Postscript: A few people have asked what they can do to support Castelar. There are petitions and gatherings in the works to stop the charter school from moving in, but the very best thing to do in the big picture is to spread the word about how Castelar is a uniquely excellent public school and for families to send their kids there. If you live in the neighborhood, check it out.
And if you have children or know children who are approaching Kindergarten age, consider enrolling them in the Mandarin Dual Language program. Wendy, Eloise, and I live about 5-10 minutes away from Chinatown but found it easy to transfer to Castelar because it offers something that our home school doesn’t. There are slots for non-LAUSD kids to attend, as well, and it’s a great option for those who work downtown.
Save Music in Chinatown 8 took place a couple of weeks ago at the Grand Star, but it feels like just happened. Seeing The Crowd at Fitzgerald’s in Huntington Beach (above) and Bad Cop/Bad Cop in Pomona (below) last weekend might have something to do with that. Bands take note: If you thought I went to a lot of your shows before you played one of our benefits, you won’t be getting rid of me afterward.
But back to Save Music in Chinatown 8. Placing flyers at record stores and on friends’ refrigerators all over town and posting about the shows incessantly on Facebook–you never know when one thing will actually lead to another. After writing about our gig with the Adolescents, Gears, and Watt, Dennis Walsh commented, “Why haven’t The Crowd played one of these shows?” I asked him to introduce me and he replied, “I’m the drummer!”
I’d already been stalking The Crowd for years and started saying hi to Dennis whenever they’d play Alex’s Bar. But then last summer, I saw him hanging out with Channel Three (above) and BC/BC (blurry and below) who just played with the Adolescents and Weirdos at the Roxy. The right place, the right time, just like the song goes. We agreed that it would be rad if The Crowd, FourEyedFour (another one of Dennis’s bands), and BC/BC played for us.
All the bands were as awesome as they were nice. Bombón (who I immediately contacted after seeing them play a RazorCake show at Pehrspace) pulled aside their last kid-sized cat shirt for Eloise and made everyone smile and dance with their DIY surf sounds. FourEyedFour sounded as amazing as their self-released CD, really smart and slightly psychedelic pop with a ton of punch.
Bad Cop/Bad Cop are a dynamite live band with massive hooks, killer harmonies, and so much upside. It’s a good thing we got them right before they took off for Europe to tour with Snuff… (Aaron Brown, a member of the BC/BC gang as well as an old friend, made an animalistic rock ‘n’ roll flyer for us, too.)
The Crowd’s set was raging and full of angst and slurred lyrics and banter, and could have taken place at a dive bar instead of an afternoon matinee. And I thought it was great. Our idea has always been to have all-ages shows that kids attend but never to have kiddie shows. How great were the legendary Beach Blvd. and ROTR Vol. 1 comp contributors and how cool was it to have Tony Cadena sing “Liberty” with them? Yet another great Tony moment at Save Music in Chinatown to file away…
When Eloise started attending Castelar Elementary as a kindergartner, Wendy and I had no idea we would start organizing benefit concerts or that we would be doing it this long. But with help from parents who run the bake sale, friends who donate to the raffle, and all the selfless bands who volunteer to play for us, we can not only help keep the defunded music program going but start a scene. How cool is it to build on the legacy of the old Hong Kong Café and Madame Wong’s? How great it it for kids to be included?
And now that Eloise is a big second grader, she has become more involved in our shows than ever. In addition to making a flyer, she introduced all the bands, danced in the front row for all of them, and even chose records to play on our friend Daryl’s KCHUNG radio program to promote the show.
Sometimes I stress about our shows not getting enough attention (what part of punk matinees with a bake sale to help kids in Chinatown isn’t awesome?) or big enough crowds for the bands (the lineups are way too good for our humble venue). But in the end they’re always perfect: nothing but old and new friends and family. Hope to see you at the next one in the spring.
I’ve already shared my photos (above) and thoughts on our most recent benefit, and you can check them out at imprintculturelab.com. But then I received images from my photographer friend Ben Clark (maybe you’ve been checking out his images all over the new Jabberjaw coffee table book) and they are worth sharing, too.
While digital photography has made it easy for hacks like me to take pretty good photos, there’s no substitute for a skilled photography. Rachel’s friends and family sitting on the floor, Nate behind the soundboard–Ben really conveys what the room feels like and doesn’t just take band pics.
The California image below reminds me of Joe Strummer… And Adam’s Saccharine Trust shirt! Does he break that out for special occasions or wear it all the time?
Dustin’s expression in this image below is amazing–probably one of the few times he wasn’t smiling during the set!
How great are Upset? How cool is it that you can see the girls rocking out in front. They raged! Before talking a little bit about our cause and introducing the band, I got to say, “Girls in front!”
Steve Soto is a legend who has played with so many excellent bands: Adolescents, Agent Orange, Manic Hispanic, 22 Jacks, Punk Rock Karaoke… But his solo songs are simply gorgeous and to see him on an empty stage is actually a little jarring.
How great are Sean & Zander? And who knew what their stripped-down take on roots and Americana would appeal to the kids so much?
Proof that the kids love Sean & Zander.
Thanks to Ben, who doesn’t go to as many shows as he used to but set aside time to attend ours. And all the musicians, supporters, attendees, and friends who helped to make it happen. Looking forward to our next benefit in January!
In a couple of weekends, we’ll be hosting our seventh Save Music in Chinatown show. Some things haven’t changed since Wendy and I came up with the harebrained idea to try organizing all-ages benefit matinee concerts to raise money for the defunded music education program at our daughter’s public elementary school.
• Castelar still must raise $50,000 annually to pay for music classes for the kids. Our shows can’t pay for all of it but we can make a difference, raise awareness, and foster a community.
• The lineups are stellar, our stash of raffle prizes is amazing, and the bake sale has achieved legend status.
• We still rely almost entirely on word of mouth and I still stress out and wonder when people will start buying tickets, but it always turns out great. (Doesn’t it?)
But some things have changed, too.
• We’ll always appreciate Human Resources for giving us a place to start and grow as well as a connection to the neighborhood’s awesome art scene, but finding a new home at the Grand Star is a step toward carrying on the punk rock heritage and adding to the tradition of the Hong Kong Café and Madame Wong’s.
• We’ve amassed a small-but-dedicated army of friends in awesome bands, rad venues, and DIY media outlets that love the history of punk rock in Chinatown and help us pay tribute to it while helping the local kids.
• Personally, Save Music in Chinatown has been a shift from making things on a printed page to making things happen in real life, but I’m in the process of making a Save Music in Chinatown zine in time for our next show!
I’ve stated this before and I still believe it so I’ll repeat it. When we have a Save Music in Chinatown gig, we’re really make my perfect day a reality (sorta like the ones we used to print in Giant Robot mag). Waking up late and rolling out on a Sunday afternoon when there’s free metered or cheap parking available, seeing a bunch of amazing bands for a bargain price with killer snacks and quality coffee, and being able to take kids if they can handle it. Seeing friends and family who don’t go to as many shows as they used to because of stinky, late night venues full of assholes and poseurs. Being done around 6:00 p.m. so you can grab some noodles for dinner before getting home at a decent hour and being ready to get up early on Monday.
And not only are we helping mostly immigrant kids at an inner city school receive music education, but we are exposing the handful that show up to DIY culture. They get that music isn’t just played by rock stars or rappers at Staples Center but by regular folks who lug their own stuff around and play on tiny stages for friends. And if even lame parents can be part of something cool, why can’t they?
Please check out and share the event page on Facebook and ticketing information at Eventbrite, and hope to see you in Chinatown on Sunday, September 27. Thanks for the support and hit me up if you have any questions!
Below, clockwise from top left: Elvis, Tony from The Adolescents, Donut Friend, Margaret Cho, Scoops Chinatown, and Dan from The Adolescents and Dennis from The Crowd are down with the cause.