Although none of The Linda Lindas are old enough to fill out a ballot, they recorded a kickass get-out-the-vote song and made a cool video, too.
Check out this brand-new, 100 percent DIY effort featuring a ton of cameos from original L.A. punk lifers (Alice Bag, Phranc, Mike Watt, Tony Reflex from Adolescents, Hector from The Zeros, Mike from Channel 3, Atomic Nancy), pals from Jabberjaw days (Adam from Jawbreaker, Allison from Bratmobile, all three members of Emily’s Sassy Lime), familiar faces from Olympia’s pop underground (Tae from Kicking Giant, Lois Maffeo, Nikki McClure), favorites from The Smell (Bethany from Best Coast, Jennifer from Bleached, Randy from No Age), and more.
Pretty solid crew for a band of 10- to 15-year-olds, and the song is a ripper, too! Now what are you going to do to about the election?
Complete list of special guests in order of appearance: Mario Correa, Atomic Nancy, and Zen Sekizawa; Jenny Angelillo (Neighborhood Brats); Ray Barbee; Pat and Lety Beers (The Schizophonics); Mike Watt; Senon Williams (Dengue Fever); Allison Wolfe; Lois Maffeo; Randy Randall (No Age); Camylle Reynolds (Midnite Snaxxx); Alice Bag; Tae Won Yu (Kicking Giant); Wendy Yao (Emily’s Sassy Lime); Amy Yao (Emily’s Sassy Lime); Emily Ryan (Emily’s Sassy Lime); Adam Pfahler (Jawbreaker) and Amy Dumas; Laura Ling; Tony Reflex (Adolescents); Hector Penalosa (The Zeros); Rawl Morales (Mike Watt & The Secondmen) and Paloma Bañuelos (Bombón); Nikki McClure and Jay T. Scott; Bethany Cosentino (Best Coast) and Jennifer Clavin (Bleached); Daniel Wu; Money Mark; Sasami Ashworth; Maya Tuttle (The Colourist); Mike Magrann (Channel Three); Phranc; Pete Chramiec (Verbal Assault).
Mostly originally printed in Save Music in Chinatown: The Sixth Year Zine (November 2019). It leaves out the most important stuff, like how often they practice, hang out, and have fun together, and sticks mostly to shows but it’s worth putting out there as a record before it gets completely outdated!
I wish I could say that Save Music in Chinatown shows spawned The Linda Lindas, but Bela, Eloise, Lucia, and Mila were brought together by fate.
Out of nowhere, an acquaintance reached out to me asking if Eloise would be interested in taking part in a project. Kristin Kontrol, who I knew through her old band, Dum Dum Girls, had been invited to take part in a music festival called Girlschool L.A. After initially declining because she was in between projects, Kristin decided it might be interesting to get a group of kids to play. Kristin had seen pictures and video of Eloise singing at Save Music in Chinatown (“Bloodstains” with the Neptunas? “Paranoid” with Tabitha?) and thought of her.
It was a crazy idea, especially since there were only a few weeks to prepare and the children would have no musical experience, but Wendy and I said sure. Then I suggested Kristin enlist Eloise’s cousins Lucia and Mila, since the three of them have been singing, dancing, and putting on shows together since they were toddlers. And if it worked out, they might get access to my sister Angelyn and brother-in-law Carlos’s backyard studio and gear for the project, too. Not only did that happen, but Carlos wound up being the second coach on the project.
The first practice with the cousins and a bunch of other kids culled together via social media was cute but rough. Thinking that they needed a ringer who could actually play an instrument, Angelyn and Wendy reached out to see if our friends’ daughter, Bela, who was taking guitar lessons, might be available. She was.
After a handful of lessons, a lot of practice, and much pizza, Kristen + The Kids were was a big hit at Girlschool L.A., playing stripped-down covers of Cat Power, Dum Dum Girls, Mazzy Star, Best Coast (with Bethany and Bobb), and Yeah Yeah Yeahs (with Karen O.). It was a one-off project with no plans to follow up, but connections were made and seeds were planted.
A few months later, Bela was invited by her friends in Frieda’s Roses to open a show for them at The Hi-Hat. Bela invited Lucia, Mila, and Eloise to be her band and they went on to play their first show together. They didn’t have a name yet, and were billed as Bela and Friends. Bethany and Bobb from Best Coast were in attendance, as well as Jen from Bleached, establishing them as hardcore supporters from day one.
By now, I was dying to have the girls play a Save Music in Chinatown show, and because our sixteenth show was going to be celebrating my fiftieth birthday they couldn’t say no.
They also needed a name. The girls came up with some pretty interesting and funny ideas for names, but eventually I brought a screener DVD from my days as a magazine editor who wrote about Asian cinema. Nobuhiro Yamashita’s 2005 movie Linda Linda Linda is about Japanese high school girls who learn a punk song by The Blue Hearts, “Linda Linda,” for a talent show. The understated and gorgeous art movie stars Japanese indie musicians as well as the very cool Korean actress Bae Doona. I though The Linda Lindas sounded like a band from the ’50s but could also refer to the Japanese punk song or art movie, or simply mean “really pretty” in Spanish. The girls agreed and The Linda Lindas were christened.
I don’t recall exactly how it happened, but my friend Ed Lin saw a flyer and asked if The Linda Lindas would play some songs at his book release event in Pasadena. He wouldn’t take no for an answer, that turned out to be their first public show and a warmup before their first Chinatown show.
Alice Bag, Chip Kinman, and Phranc were among the fans at The Linda Lindas at their first show at Save Music in Chinatown (Phranc, Ford Madox Ford, LP3 & The Tragedy, The Horseheads). It was electric!
How could they not make a surprise appearance at the next show with the all-Dangerhouse lineup of The Dils (first show in 40 years), Alley Cats, Neko Neko, and Rhino 39?
The next show was a benefit for Jackie Goldberg with Money Mark and Best Coast. Mark played bass and our friend Justin Maurer provided ASL translation on The Linda Lindas’ cover of Bikini Kill’s “Rebel Girl.”
They went on a roll, opening at Bleached’s record release show, playing a live session at the Hurley Recording Studio, and opening for Alice Bag with Midnite Snaxxx, before playing their first festival, Viva! Pomona. Pretty good for 9-to-15-year-old girls. And they started at 8 to 14!
With so much action, I was little relieved that they were up for playing the first Save Music in Chinatown show of our seventh year, just a day after playing Self Help Graphics’ Dia De Los Muertos gig!
Except for a surprise appearance with Fur Dixon at Save Music in Chinatown 20, they haven’t played any shows in 2020 but have been keeping busy with projects that will turn up in time (keep an eye on SXSW and Netflix). And now several shows are lining up:
Friday, February 21 – Center for the Arts Eagle Rock
Sunday, April 19 – L.A. Times Festival of Books
Saturday, April 25 – Alex’s Bar, more info TBA
Sunday, May 3 – Save Music in Chinatown 21, lineup TBA
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.
A couple of days after The Linda Lindas played the Hollywood Palladium, my phone rang. At the time, Erik Caruso and I were planning mural painting at my daughter’s school, Castelar, which was timed to go with a Save Music in Chinatown fund-raising concert as well as the upcoming art show and noise jam at Harry Wirtz Elementary in Paramount, where my friend is a fifth-grade teacher.
“I would love it if The Linda Lindas could play the art show,” said Erik. “But I know the girls are students, too, and will be at school. So I’m wondering, did you happen to shoot video at the Palladium?” He thought it would be cool for his students to learn about the band, who are aged 8, 11, 12, and 14.
Funny he should ask. Ever since the concert, Wendy and I had been obsessing over three videos from different angles, smartphone footage from a handful of sources, and a bootleg audio recording from our friend Nate. We figured that all the pieces would sit in a box and collect dust like vacation or wedding photos that never get turned into an album.
So we opened up our hard drive to Erik and his filmmaker friend Mike Panganiban. They also dropped in on the next Linda Lindas practice to shoot some extra footage and conduct a casual interview, and then got even more footage a few weeks later at the Save Music in Chinatown matinee–less than 24 hours before the piece was shown at Wirtz Elementary!
Wendy took Eloise to the screening and said that the students were captivated by the video, cheered when each song ended, and had a bunch of questions afterward. We parents thought that a bigger audience would enjoy it, too, and maybe even get inspired by the story of kids, sisters, cousins, and friends making noise, having fun, practicing a lot, and being heard. Mike kindly added credits and made some tweaks, and that was it.
At the tail end of six years and eighteen Save Music in Chinatown all-ages matinees to raise money for Castelar Elementary’s music program, you’d think we’d have it all figured out. Paying tribute to the neighborhood’s old Hong Kong Cafe, where The Bags, Weirdos, X, Black Flag, Germs, and Go-Go’s played during L.A.’s first wave of punk, check. Killer bake sale and cool raffle, check. Exposing kids who can handle it to DIY culture and seeing some of them even form a band, check. The project that Wendy and I started with inspiration from our daughter Eloise and help from our friend Nate has outlived our expectations, become a small but loyal community, and exceeded our dreams. Check out the insane list of L.A. punk legends who have become friends: Adolescents, Alice Bag, Phranc, The Dils, Channel Three, The Crowd, Mike Watt…
Just two weekends ago, how lucky were we to have The Gears play for us a second time, lugging their gear up and down the long red stairway to help out the kids of Chinatown and bringing along their new guitarist and our old friend Rikk Agnew, too. And if you weren’t moved by seeing a mob of little kids knowing exactly what to do when the pride of Glassell Park played “Don’t Be Afraid To Pogo,” off their essential 7″ single that was released 40 years ago during the first wave of L.A. punk… Well, you were probably attending the wrong show.
I was reminded that we grownups are just as lucky as the youngsters by my friend Bert, who was from visiting from Scotland and remarked that he only dreamed of seeing The Gears when he was a punker growing up and playing in bands in Washington, DC. The Gears are one of those legendary L.A. punk bands that never toured or gained as much attention as they deserved, and we gotta see them every chance we get! You never know when when they’ll play the last chord–I thought it was last year.
Our co-headliner was The Gitane Demone Quartet, featuring members of Christian Death and Screamers. The all-star death rock combo didn’t lighten up their set one bit for a rare appearance in broad daylight and actually ended it by dedicating “Eva Braun” and “We Must Bleed” to the punks! I am super proud that the children at our shows don’t need cleaned-up Kidz Bop versions of rock songs, and can handle gnarly tributes by lifers from L.A.’s underground.
Special thanks to Rikk Agnew, who plays in both The Gears and GDQ. He was into the idea of playing the double-header for the cause right from the beginning, and helped recruit both bands to volunteer their time and noise. Please don’t tell anyone that Rikk is not only a survivor and a legend of the L.A. punk scene but also a softie!
Marriage Material went on first, and I asked them to play because most of them would have attended as friends and supporters anyway. Also, I hadn’t seen them since Jenae began lending her vocals and holy crap! How did they get even more punk? And will we ever get to buy their awesome second EP on wax? Check them out! And subscribe to RazorCake!
I would like to thank the grownup performers for allowing the bands featuring children go last. They really should have gone on first, but one member of The Linda Lindas had dance rehearsals that afternoon and another was in the middle of ninth grade finals! The Castelalas made a guest appearance right before them and, after raising money for Castelar’s music program for years, it was pretty awesome to have a band with third, fourth, and fifth graders from the school taught by their awesome music teacher, Matt Brundrett. Eloise formed the Castelalas to play a talent show and, after practicing for months, they were too much fun not to ask them to play again.
As for The Linda Lindas, I have a feeling that when it’s all over our Save Music in Chinatown shows will be nothing but a trivia answer that only their hardest core fans know. Eloise went from being mascot to flyer artist to guest singer to member of the band with her cousins Lucia and Mila and their friend Bela. How cool is it these girls have not only had a blast playing super-fun garage rock covers of punk ‘n’ roll, but have shared our Chinatown stage with the likes of Phranc, Channel 3, Alley Cats, and The Dils? And now The Gears and GDQ!
Maybe some of you saw The Linda Lindas with Best Coast and Money Mark at the Jackie Rocks! benefit in February. Or open for Bikini Kill at the Palladium in April. Or have tickets to the sold-out show with Bleached in July or their date with Alice Bag in August. If we’re lucky, they’ll come back to play in Chinatown again. It’s been as amazing as it was unplanned and unexpected to see them grow in the space that we have carved out, forming a multigenerational underground with first wave punks.
While The Linda Lindas and Castelalas represented a youth movement, there was also an art component added to our latest Save Music in Chinatown weekend. For the last several years, my friend Erik Caruso has been attending our benefit concerts for Castelar and Wendy and I have been attending the year-end art shows and noise jams that he has been organizing at Harry Wirtz Elementary in Paramount, where he teaches. This year, Erik set it up so our efforts would finally join forces.
Erik’s project entails optional contemporary art lessons and projects for fifth graders throughout the school year, capped off by an art show featuring student work and pieces by contemporary artists who participate via video or attend in person, and a noise jam with artists, many of whom are musicians, and guest players. This time around, Tim Kerr, Mike Watt, Randy Randall, Ray Barbee, Mark Waters, Hagop Najarian, and others played “Minor Threat,” and Ian MacKaye even sent a video message to Erik and the students.
For years, Erik had the artists paint murals at his school as well, but lately he has been bringing artists to other schools and Castelar was this year’s destination. It was cool getting to hang out with Erik and the artists, a lot of old friends and now some new ones. Many of the crew were able to attend the Save Music in Chinatown show and most returned to Castelar a couple of mornings later to field questions from students about the murals. That provided an occasion for one more performance by The Castelalas, and it was a thrilling revelation to see so many students having their minds blown by cool art and music. While I don’t foresee our punk rock matinees turning into kiddie shows, I hope more children in Chinatown will be open to enjoying loud music, forming bands, and getting into DIY culture in general.
Not more than half a year ago, we thought that this could have been our last show with Eloise completing fifth grade. But it turns out Castelar will be adding a sixth grade next year. And then a seventh and eight grade after that! So unless the shows stop being fun, we’ll keep organizing them–especially since it looks like education and the arts won’t stop being underfunded any time soon. Hope to see you in the fall.
I started this blog to have an outlet for writing and sharing after Giant Robot ran its course. But what my wife wrote about our daughter, her cousins, and their friend needs to be here too. By Wendy Lau:
After The Linda Lindas opened for Bikini Kill at The Palladium, I’ve thought a lot about… parenting. Martin and I have always believed Eloise is an exceptional and charismatic individual. But did I really believe she could do anything?
Last November, after The Linda Lindas’ first show at Save Music in Chinatown, Eloise’s music composition teacher Carl Protho said, “You better watch out. She’s going to play The Forum! The Greek! STAPLES Center!” I laughed and thanked him. He looked at me sternly and continued, “I’m not kidding. You better prepare yourself.” Right before he saw her perform at The Palladium last Friday, Carl texted, “Hold onto your heart!”
The day after The Linda Lindas’ previous show in February, Eloise and I ran into our friend Gabie Strong. We told her that Bethany from Best Coast sent a video of their cover of “Rebel Girl” to Kathleen Hanna because once Eloise yelled “Girls to the front!” she started crying. “Maybe they’ll open for Bikini Kill at The Palladium” was Gabie’s reaction. Again, I laughed.
Next thing you know, Kathleen Hanna tweeted the video, which has surpassed 55K views. And we all thought, that’s cool but it’s just Twitter. Then she invited them to open for one of the much-anticipated Bikini Kill reunion shows. Gabie was prophetic! First, I was shocked. Then super giddy. And then scared.
Us parents even confided our insecurities with Kathleen. Would people who paid good money to see Bikini Kill be disappointed to see a kid cover band open the show? But she was confident The Linda Lindas would make longtime fans feel like the struggle was all worth it and inspire teen girls to start their own bands. During their incredible set, so many people screamed, laughed, and even cried tears of joy. These little girls won over thousands of people waiting to see Bikini Kill! Kathleen was right.
I truly believe my kid can do anything. Moving forward, I will always protect her but never stand in her way. This post has been about Eloise because I’m her mommy, but I could write a whole essay on each of The Linda Lindas: Lucia, Mila, and Bela. These unbelievably awesome girls just showed us all they’ll rule the world.
Wendy and Eloise backstage at the Hollywood Palladium (April 26, 2019) Photo: Jessie Cowan
Wendy, Eloise, and I have been putting on benefit shows for Castelar’s music program for six years now and it’s been great. Music education, kids, Chinatown, and punk rock–totally unplanned but perfect. And it has been a slippery slope from raising money for the school to becoming advocates for Chinatown and activists for public education, supporting community efforts to slow down the takeover of the historic neighborhood by developers and backing the teachers in their fighting back against the dismantling of public education by privatizers and union busters. After getting fired up by last month’s teacher strike, it made sense to help organize an event to support Jackie Goldberg’s bid for the seat of LAUSD school board 5 .
Wendy and I met Jackie Goldberg in March 2016, shortly after Castelar Elementary was identified for co-location. We had no idea what that meant, so we went to a TEACh (Transparency, Equity, and Accountability in Charter Schools) meeting where we were introduced to Jackie and given information and encouragement. We went on to help stop the charter school from taking space and resources from the neighborhood school in Chinatown.
So last weekend, we teamed up with my sister Angelyn and a bunch of friends (especially Euphronia and Lois) to organize a benefit show and rally for Jackie. To support the legendary activist and educator in a multigenerational, DIY setting with so many families and kids who are affected by the LAUSD school board election seemed like a perfect fit and Jackie’s campaign manager Zoë agreed. After confirming that Jackie would be able to drop in on our event, we started putting together our bill.
We thought it would be really cool and important to have public school kids play the event and have a voice in an election that concerns them most. Of course, The Linda Lindas (Save Music in Chinatown faves featuring our daughter, nieces who attend a District 5 elementary school, and their friend) would play. And we had just become friends with Justin Maurer at our last Chinatown benefit although he was already a regular. The ex-Clorox Girl and member of Maniac had been in the spotlight providing ASL translation in the teachers strike, and how cool would it be for him to sign for the girls?
We got some other pals to support the cause and get on the bill, too. My old friend Money Mark was already a Jackie Goldberg fan and my brother-in-law Carlos had been working with Best Coast, who were already Linda Lindas fans. We wanted to have more kids from schools in District 5 and our friends’ son’s band, The Phews, were into it. Getting family and old and new friends behind a cause and having fun doing it is the best, and our show was exactly that.
I love how Mark and Justin joined The Linda Lindas, Justin signed for Jackie, and Carlos played with Money Mark and Best Coast. The Linda Lindas played with Best Coast, too. The sold-out show had a real friendly feel to it, and afterward we were able to donate about $3,000 to Jackie’s campaign between ticket sales, a cool raffle and silent auction, and delicious bake sale. More importantly, we got a bunch of voters together who will spread the word about Jackie. Hopefully, we helped children feel involved in the process and empowered, too.
Public education is at a crossroads in Los Angeles and our city needs Jackie to advocate for all children as well as the teachers, and protect schools from union-busting privatizers who aim to profit off children and our future at the expense of the public good. Jackie has decades of experience as an activist and educator, champion for underdogs, and progressive lawmaker.
Jackie is endorsed by Tony Thurmond, Dolores Huerta, Betty Yee, and Hilda Solis, and and is UTLA’s choice to balance out the school board that has been being bought by privatizing interests and carry out progress started in last month’s teachers strike. It’s a real gift for Los Angeles that Jackie is coming out of retirement to fight for our public schools and we hope to spread that message.
And the local election is not only important to families with kids who attend LAUSD schools. Everyone who wants to stand up to the privatization of public education, stop the attacks on the teaching profession, and improve conditions for every single student should be paying attention. The city we love and its future are better off with excellent and equitable public schools.
If you get junk mail for the special election, then you are in District 5 and can vote. Spread the word and get out the vote for Jackie on Tuesday, March 5!
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.