Why Save Music in Chinatown 7 is my next perfect day

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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.

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Save Music in Chinatown 6 on KCHUNG’s Crystalline Morphologies

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Thanks to my longtime friend and Save Music in Chinatown supporter from the beginning Gabie Strong. She invited Nate Pottker and me onto her Crystalline Morphologies radio show on KCHUNG to talk about the cause, play some music related to the shows, and get the word out about our May 31 lineup.

For the first time, I actually tried to scribble down mini sets to play. Here’s how they went:

Anarchy Jerks – Oi! Oi! Oi!
Adolescents – Monolith of Mountlake Terrace, A Dish Best Served Cold
Mike Watt & The Black Gang – Rebel Girl
Brain Failure – Living in the City
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Dengue Fever – Glass of Wine (demo)
The Zeros – Sometimes Good Guys Don’t Wear White
The Gears – Let’s Go To The Beach
Channel Three – Indian Summer
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Birdstriking – TV at 7PM
Carsick Cars – Ono
P.K. 14 – Voyagers (I think)
Dear Eloise – Castle
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The Bicycle Thief – Max, Jill Called (Live at Save Music In Chinatown 4)

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I tried to play a Chui Wan song after Dear Eloise, but the CDR didn’t work. Bummer. Maybe you heard them on NPR lately anyway? I’ll try again on KXLU’s Molotov Cocktail Hour next week…

In the meantime, stream or even download the show at http://archive.kchungradio.org/2015-05-21/Save_Music_In_Chinatown_6-05.21.2015.mp3.

Thanks, Gabie! Thanks, KCHUNG! Seeya May 31!

Chris Ashford on The Gears documentary, Don’t Be Afraid To Pogo!

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My friend Chris Ashford has done a lot of cool stuff. He recorded and released the first Germs 7″ as well as key releases by Agent Orange, The Dils, Skull Control, The Controllers, The Gears, Davie Allan and the Arrows, and The Ventures on the What Records? and Iloki Records imprints. These days, he still releases punk, jazz, and punkers playing jazz through Wondercap Records.

As if Chris hasn’t contributed enough to the L.A. music scene, his latest effort is a documentary about his friends The Gears. Although the surf-infused punkerbilly mutants were huge in the days of the Hong Kong Cafe and the Vex, these days they are strangely overlooked among their peers. The Don’t Be Afraid To Pogo! movie will remedy that. In advance of the movie’s premiere at the Vista Theatre in Los Feliz on Thursday, March 26, I had to ask him some questions about it.

MW: As someone who has never made a movie before, what inspired you to make a documentary about The Gears?
CA: Well, Martin, The Gears and I were at a Gears BBQ/meeting and I came up with the idea of a doc to help promote the band and let people know that they are still around. I started to think about it and thought maybe I could try to see it off the ground.

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MW: What is it about The Gears that you feel is important and needed to be documented?
CA: Their music wasn’t hardcore and they didn’t play north of San Francisco (mostly playing in southern California in the early years) makes them easy to not include in punk rock history. But their album was very well-received and they were one of the best-drawing local bands in Los Angeles from late 1979 to early 1982. In my mind, it is also important that they grew up in a culture that didn’t always lead to playing a mostly white style of music, and didn’t end up in gangs.

MW: Tell me about the film’s crew. It’s loaded!
CA: To keep the story short, I hired Dave Travis (A History Lesson, Part 1: Punk) to shoot the interviews, a live set by The Gears with Freddy Cannon at the Messaround, and some footage in the recording studio with Freddy Cannon. I also rented Alvas Showroom in San Pedro, where Dave Travis, Dave Markey (We Got Power!), and Mark Farina (multi-media artist) shot two sets. Mark did some later interviews when Dave was too busy setting up Cafe NELA.

Dave Horowitz was the editor I worked with, and he did a couple of the later pick up interviews as cameraman. We each brought ideas to the table. I learned on the job, and it became a good collaboration. The overall final sound mixing of the film was done by Jeff Peters, who is the engineer on The Gears album, When Things Get Ugly.

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MW: Isn’t there some older footage, too?
CA: As time went by, I was able to come up with three live sets from 1980. The original idea was for something maybe about 20 minutes long but as I kept interviewing and coming up with great material, it expanded to a 95 minute film.

MW: Did you read a lot of books about making movies or watch a lot of band documentaries to prepare?
CA: I didn’t really read any books, but there are a few music docs that I really like that gave me ideas. One of my favorites is Who Is Harry Nilsson And Why Is Everybody Talkin’ About Him? It is well paced with lots of info and good interviews, and it seems to go by very quickly. Another one is about trumpeter Jack Sheldon called Trying To Get Good, which has the same attributes as the Nilsson doc.

MW: And how was it, starting your first movie?
CA: I started out by asking questions that were very comprehensive and by their answers, I was able to shape the story. I was going to have a narrator in my mind in the beginning but the interviews played out where they pretty much tell their own story.

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MW: Was it easier or harder to film guys who are friends?
CA: It was probably easier to work with friends because they already trusted me, and weren’t as put off by having me in their pockets for two plus years as they probably would be for a stranger.

MW: You knew the guys very well, but was there anything surprising in the story that wound up being told?
CA: No, I wasn’t surprised by anything that they told, but I became more informed. There are a lot of perceptions that differ in the memories of the members and I tried to show some of those differences and let the audiences make up their minds on what they want to believe.

MW: Now that the movie is made, do you have the filmmaking bug?
CA: I actually don’t have the bug to do another at this point but I’m not ruling another out. I’m used to making records or recordings which happen in a much quicker time frame. This was almost three years and I’m very disappointed that some people in the film have passed on before it was finished.

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Watch Don’t Be Afraid to Pogo! with friends because it’s more fun that way:
Thursday, March 26 at The Vista Theatre in Los Feliz – Premiere screening followed by a Q&A with the band and perhaps a short set.
Wednesday, April 8 at Alvas Showroom in San Pedro – Intimate screening for all friends, family, and fans.
Saturday, April 25 at Alex’s Bar in Long Beach – Screening followed by sets by The Gears, The Crowd, and The Horseheads.

And for additional screenings and booking information, check out wondercaprecords.com.

Seeya in Los Feliz, Long Beach, and Café NELA!

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Save Music in Chinatown 5 photo dump with Mike Watt & The Secondmen, The Gears, and Adolescents (surprise set)

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Save Music in Chinatown 5 happened on Sunday and I’ve finally unloaded the SD card… Everyone knew the show would be badass when the universally loved and respected Mike Watt went on first with the Secondmen. The heavy trio blew the minds of the kids and adults alike with their jazz-fueled punk (or is it the other way around?) and only true legends could follow.

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Clockwise from top left: Mike Watt with Secondmen Pete and Jerry, as well as Missingmen member Tom Watson; Adolescents crew digging Watt & The Secondmen; members of the Missingmen, Red Krayola, and HowardAmb; photographers Ben Clark and Krk Dominguez in the crowd with Una from Keep, Laurie from Track 16, and so many others…

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I like these photos of Mike Watt & The Secondmen because you can see Steve and Tony from the Adolescents and Axxel G. Reese hanging out in the background. In the second panel, the bassist for Minutemen, fIREHOSE, DOS, and so many other projects is encouraging the audience, “Start your own band!” at the end of the set. Perfect for a show raising funds for music education at Castelar Elementary.

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Clockwise from top left: Tony Adolescent and Krk from Flipside; Me with Chris from What? Records, Iloki Records, and Wondercap Records and Watt; Steve from Adolescents with Lisa from Frontier Records; thanks to KCHUNG’s Kings of Punk DJs and Gabie for lining them up. What would our city do without KCHUNG or KXLU?

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The Gears played next and their combination of first-wave punk energy (coming from The Controllers) and rockabilly swing makes for one badass live show. I already love all of their recordings from old to new but in concert they’re just plain unstoppable. Look for a documentary on the Masque-era favorites to make the rounds soon.

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Left to right: Tony Adolescent said that when you’re a singer who’s following a frontman like Axxel G. Reese, you just keep your feet planted and don’t even try; Ace has been doing sound for Adolescents shows for decades and kindly made ours sound better. That’s Save Music in Chinatown co-conspirator Nate the Man on the far right.

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Musical badasses. Too bad The Gears didn’t play “Don’t Be Afraid To Pogo” since I trained my six-year-old in the original punk dance move in advance. But omitting “I Smoke Dope” from the set was totally understandable. And did I mention Mike from CH3 came up with his crew? I totally blew it and didn’t take a picture with him, but what a rad guy. His band played our second benefit and I first saw The Gears with on a show they booked at Alex’s Bar years ago…

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Clockwise from top left: The Gears circa 2015; Me with Lisa from Frontier Records, Mr. David O. Jones, and Chris from What? Records, Iloki Records, and Wondercap Records; Adolescents playlist being scribbled; Save Music in Chinatown crew includes my wife Wendy and pal Nate.

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A solo acoustic set by Steve Soto was advertised as the top bill–and he was actually going to start off with a few songs–but the band decided to just dive into the unannounced Adolescents show with “Rip It Up”! Lots of songs off the Blue Album but also from the ripping new LP which is finally coming out domestically on Frontier next month.

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Left to right: Before the surprise set, Tony described his ties to Chinatown, including meeting his wife in the courtyard between the Hong Kong Cafe and Madame Wong’s during the neighborhood’s punk glory days and his in-laws attending the Italian-language church up the street; filmmaker and good friend Pryor, Wendy, and the family of Ben from Evil Hearted You, who had played a rare show at the previous benefit.

smic5-11 Tony has been very supportive of our DIY fund-raising matinees since we started last year, but I never dared to think that he and Steve would actually bring the Adolescents to one of our benefits. I’ve always loved the band because they are as political and funny as they are polished–a perfect balance of purpose, anger,  and tunes. How amazing is it that they made time to gather for our very humble benefit at an old kung-fu-movie-theater-turned-art-gallery.

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After wiping down and cleaning up Human Resources and then having dinner with my family and friends who stuck around, I had just enough time to hustle over to Cafe NELA and catch a secret set by The Gears, who played an all-requests set with the missing songs and more. Excellent.

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Thanks to three of my favorite bands who happen to be the best humans ever, friends like Grant and Eric at Human Resources who make the shows possible, contributors and helpers at the bake sale (and interTrend/Imprint for providing coffee), raffle donors (Keep Shoes, Donut Friend, Berndt Offerings, Scoops Chinatown, Tum Yeto/Toy Machine, Jawsey Bruce Records, Sticky Acres, The Beatle Years, and so many more), Gabie, Steve, and Max who promote the shows on KCHUNG and KXLU, and everyone who spreads the word and attends the show. How awesome is this for Castelar students and the Chinatown community, and how far can we take this scene that we’re growing?

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Our next benefit is on Sunday, May 31, and when the lineup comes together you’ll see it here first…

Announcing Save Music in Chinatown 5: Mike Watt & The Secondmen, The Gears, Steve Soto (Solo, Acoustic)

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The lineup for our next Save Music in Chinatown show came together in about 48 hours. On Tuesday I had lunch with my old pal Chris Ashford, who happens to be making a documentary about The Gears. He hit them up, and the next day they generously agreed to play.

The Gears at Alex's Bar (May 14, 2013)

The Gears at Alex’s Bar (May 14, 2013)

Yesterday morning, Save Music in Chinatown’s secret weapon Nate Pottker received a response to a cold email that he had sent to Mike Watt about the show. The legendary bass player was down, adding that he and The Secondmen would love to open for The Gears.

Mike Watt & The Secondmen at Fun Lovers Unite! at The Echoplex (November 18, 2014)

Mike Watt & The Secondmen at Fun Lovers Unite! at The Echoplex (November 18, 2014)

Right away I shared the good news with Tony Adolescent, a supporter of SMIC from the beginning. He said that his bandmate Steve Soto was up for playing a solo acoustic set for us. In about 10 minutes, they checked the date and locked it in.

Steve Soto with The Adolescents at the tribute to Bill Bartell at  The Echoplex (December 19, 2013)

Steve Soto with The Adolescents at the tribute to Bill Bartell at The Echoplex (December 19, 2013)

And there we have it: another killer benefit gig to raise money for music education at Castelar Elementary, and another excellent punk show in Chinatown to boot. I’ll put up a Facebook event page and Eventbrite ticketing page after Thanksgiving, but until then keep an eye on the Save Music in Chinatown community page for updates and everything else.

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Check out the Facebook event page and ticketing at Eventbrite, and we’ll seeya at Human Resources in Chinatown on Sunday, January 11!