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.
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.
Five years ago, Save Music in Chinatown was just a crazy idea that Wendy came up with.
A couple of weeks after Eloise started Kindergarten at Castelar, we received a handout asking us families if we could donate money to the elementary school’s excellent but underfunded music program. We knew there was no way the mostly blue-collar neighborhood would cough up enough dough to make a dent in the amount. And we aren’t rich. But Wendy and I straddle Chinatown’s immigrant culture (her parents and my grandparents) and punk rock past (my favorite type of music), and have a background in DIY projects. Why not build a bridge between two of our favorite subcultures in one of our favorite places to raise money for kids who live in and around Chinatown today?
With no experience in organizing benefit shows but a lot of help from old and new friends, we set up our first all-ages matinee fund raiser inspired by the old Hong Kong Café, which hosted early shows by the Germs, Go-Go’s, Weirdos, Bags, Black Flag, and other legendary L.A. punk bands. Except we had cookies and coffee, little kids dancing in front, and a very cool raffle with autographed records and books, and gift certificates for donuts and pho!
We didn’t expect our humble shows to last more than five years, couldn’t have expected that so many amazing bands would play on our behalf, or never even dreamed that we’d be part of a small community that has raised about $10,000 for Castelar’s music program every school year. Amazing and totally unexpected.
And, personally, Wendy and I have become fixtures in Castelar’s booster club, recognized advocates of the teachers union, and regular contributors to the historic neighborhood’s resistance to gentrification.
Eloise is now a fifth grader, and several of her teachers have told Wendy and me that they will miss her when she moves on from Castelar next year. But I think we have grown and learned at least as much as our daughter—and are savoring everything that is going on and grateful to everyone who has helped in any way. Thank you for being a part of it.
In advance of our sixth year and sixteenth show, we made a Save Music in Chinatown: The Fifth Year zine. This essay was written for it, and we hope to see you at Save Music in Chinatown 16 on Sunday, November 4 with Phranc, Ford Madox Ford, LP3 & The Tragedy, The Horseheads, and The Linda Lindas.
Our fifteenth Save Music in Chinatown show was going to be amazing. I felt like the lineup was carved in stone before the fourteenth show (Lois, Dub Narcotic Sound System, PHAG featuring Phranc and Alice Bag, and Mike Watt & The Missingmen!) even happened. But timing didn’t work out and the deck got shuffled leaving us with only a super-secret headliner that we couldn’t promote because we didn’t want stage divers and slam dancers to crush little elementary school kids at our all-ages matinee. And what sort of lunatic would pay 12 or 15 bucks to see a show if they don’t even know who is playing? We can’t have that sort of weirdo around our children!
But like Tang Sanzang in his journey to the west or Tampopo in her ramen shop, we received help from the coolest collection of legends and oddballs. Each band really deserves its own story.
Cringeworthy is the humblest type of group–a tribute band. But they play the songs of Cringer and J Church, two punk bands that I not only loved but was actually close to. The singer and guitarist Lance Hahn was a dear friend and J Church would not only stay with me when they toured but Lance would come over just to hang out. He was a songwriting and DIY animal, who had his own record label and zine, and we shared a lot of overlapping interests outside of punk rock: Hong Kong movies, vegetarian Chinese food, Hawaii. It meant a lot to me that he dug the magazine I helped make, and it was brutal when he died at the young age of 40–not long after he was supposed to play my Chinese wedding banquet (a precursor to our Save Music in Chinatown shows and a story for another time).
But Cringeworthy was formed to play an anniversary show at Epicenter Zone, where Lance volunteered, and features Bay Area and Sacto veterans of the punk and hardcore scenes including Kamala from Cringer and Kamala & The Carnivores, Frank from Star Fucking Hipsters and The Love Songs, and Lory and Anthony from RAD and Sick Burn. Anthony is also my cousin! How cool was it that he would get his Lance tribute band to come down to Los Angeles to play our benefit and even ask our daughter Eloise to sing one of my favorite songs by him: “Confession.” There is so much to love about that particular moment–J Church, Lance, Anthony, Eloise, Chinatown– it almost hurt to watch.
I knew it was a long shot when I asked my old friend Maggie (ex-Bangs) if Hurry Up might be interested in playing our humble benefit show. Who would come all the way from Portland to play for free? But judging from her radio show, I knew that she was not only a fixture in the PacNW’s underground music scene but also an aficionado of all cool music including early L.A. punk. It turns out Maggie had been talking to Kathy and Westin about embarking on a short tour the day I contacted her, and it might not have hurt that her partners’ other band The Thermals had just announced a breakup. All that plus cheap airline tickets made the unlikely trip possible .
It was very cool to see our little benefit show from an out-of-town visitors’ point of view, especially because they were so stoked! Seeing little kids from Chinatown mixed with legends of L.A. punk bonding over music and cookies must have been a surreal experience, and the power trio played like they were out of their minds. Conversely, friends in the crowd were blown away by the power-pop infused, garage punk ‘n’ roll band’s musicianship but also their pure joy. After seeing Hurry UP play three ripping sets in two days (one with Save Music in Chinatown friends and LA punk legends Alley Cats) and getting to hang out with them so much, I was very sad to see them drive off to San Diego.
The Unhushables didn’t even exist when we started planning the show. But not more than an hour after their Facebook page launched, which was a big deal to me because I was a huge fan of Franks’s old band Big Drill Car as well as Dave and Art’s Supernova, I asked my friend who managed them if they might be interested in playing our show. Just like that, they said yes and I had to try hard not to fan out. I probably saw Big Drill Car two or three dozen times in the early ’90s, and have fond memories of Supernova pulling up to Jabberjaw in their space van.
More or less, I kept my cool and even asked them if they’d be interested in making and selling a small run of CD-Rs with hand-printed sleeves (since their LP was only available digitally) and invited them to KXLU they could introduce themselves over the airwaves while promoting the show and cause on the Molotov Cocktail Hour (they stayed for the entire show). The nicest humans! The most fun set! The music is entirely new but us old fans could clearly detect the weirdness of Supernova and exuberance of Big Drill Car. I hope they play again and often.
I have been trying to get Midget Handjob to play our show for around a year now. Their name is PG-13 (possibly R) but the music is mind-expanding to all ages with an all-star cast of noise-making punkers who can also play hard jazz and noise and Keith Morris reading fever-dream stories on top of them. Yes, the original singer of Black Flag, Circle Jerks, and OFF! It isn’t easy to wrangle seven schedules when every contributors plays in multiple bands but somehow the stars lined up for our show. And I didn’t find out until two weeks before the show, when Keith sent a message saying, “Weren’t we going to perform?” Okay!
We simply opened doors a little earlier and Keith was cool with us tweaking the combo’s name into Midget Oddjob, since flyers were going to be hung at our daughter’s elementary school. But nothing about the set was dumbed down, watered down, or made kid friendly. The band is a real jewel of L.A. punk that doesn’t play very often and they burned a searing impression into every single ear and brain cell with their supremely and equally trippy and psychotic jams. Freak out at the all-ages matinee!
The Adolescents were our secret headliner–again. At our fifth show, founding member Steve Soto was announced to play a solo set and then the entire band played. I don’t think that either Mike Watt & The Secondmen or The Gears knew who was going to play after them! For Sunday’s matinee, our fifteenth, we did a better job of spreading the word to friends, family, and anyone who follows our updates and had a comfortably packed room full of curious kids, punk lifers, and supporters of the cause. Maybe having Lisa Fancher, who released their first and best-known Blue Album, be our deejay was a clue, too?
Before the set, singer and longime champion of our cause Tony Reflex talked about how the band has played Chinatown many times since 1979 and described his landmark moments in the historic neighborhood, including getting arrested for the first time and proposing to his wife. I would add their shows for us at the Human Resources gallery and now the Grand Star. For a band with that sort of legacy and imprint in L.A. punk to give our cause their seal of approval not once but twice (and Steve did come through with a solo set on top of that) means the world to me. Their set was a full-on rager starting with “Brats in Battalions” and ending with “Amoeba,” peppered with more classics and brand-new faves in between (“Flat Earth Stomp,” “5150,” and the title track off their excellent upcoming Cropduster LP will blow you away). They don’t hate children and none were crushed.
Of course, Save Music in Chinatown shows are more than concerts and not just because there was a kickass bake sale and little kids in dancing around in front. We raise money for music education in the inner city, where many students are immigrants, English learners, and underserved kids who don’t necessarily get opportunities for a thorough music education outside of school. We build on the punk rock tradition of the neighborhood’s old Hong Kong Cafe (where first-wave bands like X, Black Flag, Germs, Weirdos, Go-Go’s, Bags, and Dils played) by inviting artists who played there back in the day as well as newer members of the underground music tradition, both local and from as far away as China. We mix up immigrants and underground music, my favorite subcultures, that have crossed paths in the very same plaza as our shows at the Grand Star and unite them for the sake of kids, art, and the future.
After helping to start and edit an independent magazine for 16 years, where I met my graphic designer wife, I figured Wendy and I would never do anything that cool again. Who knew we would be able to embark on something like this with old and new friends, building a scene, supporting public education, and exposing kids who can handle it to underground and DIY culture? Who knew we would be able to do it and make a difference in the neighborhood where my immigrant grandparents and in-laws found community?
My observations and gushing are mind-numbingly similar after each of our shows, and they must be a blur to anyone who actually checks in on my posts. But as our fifth school year draws to a close, I am more shocked than ever by the events we have shared, allies we have made, and how much our daughter has grown alongside the project. She has become our in-house artist, top spokesperson, and guest performer as well as lead inspiration. I didn’t get exposed to zines, DIY, or indie culture until I was a teenager and it blew me away. What can stop someone who is empowered by those sorts of things as a child?
With Eloise entering her final school year at Castelar, it’s hard not to anticipate the end of our project looming. That means we will have to make those three matinees especially great. (What bands want in? Do you dare miss a show?) It also means finding ways to make its impression go beyond 18 shows with 150 -200 people attending each afternoon. (An article for someone? A full-on book? The words may be dull, but we sure have some great photos.) Instead of taking a break this summer, I plan on doing a lot of digging into how these shows have reflected and affected the community, thinking about making the transition from school booster to activist, and considering where to go from here. Hopefully the posts won’t be too dull and we’ll still see you when school resumes in the fall. Have a great summer!
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.
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.
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.
Let’s pause for a moment and consider how unlikely and awesome Sunday’s benefit was. We had Birdstriking, Chui Wan, and Deadly Cradle Death, underground bands from Beijing playing our little show in Chinatown. Headlining was Dengue Fever, a hometown band with a huge following that typically plays way bigger stages than ours. And then we had a new venue, the Grand Star Jazz Club, located in Chinatown’s main plaza and in spitting distance of the The Hong Kong Cafe and Madame Wong’s, legendary dives that inspired and informed our series of DIY concerts. Walking up the stairs from the main bar to the top floor with its low ceilings, small stage, and Oriental windows was not unlike entering O.G. school punk shows back in the day…