Jackie Rocks! concert to get out the vote for Jackie Goldberg with Best Coast, Money Mark, The Linda Lindas with Justin Maurer, and The Phews

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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 .

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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Save Music in Chinatown 16 recap with Phranc, Ford Madox Ford, LP3 & The Tragedy, The Horseheads, and The Linda Lindas plus Gabba Gabba Cake

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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?

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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?

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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.

 

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Thank you to everyone who played, contributed, attended, and had fun at #savemusicinchinatown 16 at @thegrandstarjazzclub this afternoon! It's unbelievable to me that our all-ages matinee fund raising concerts for Castelar's music program has not only survived into its sixth year but that we can get a lineup like @horseheadsmusic, @lp3andthetragedy, @fdmdxfd, and @phranc.la to play for our humble cause. Or that my daughter would go from being a kindergartener dancing around in front to flyer artist to guest singer to member of a band on the show, @the_linda_lindas! Why not make this show my 50th birthday party, celebrating not only a birthday but Eloise's awesome school and my favorite neighborhood's punk rock past at the Hong Kong Cafe. And cookies! Is there a cooler way to grow old in L.A. or anywhere else? If you were there and loved it, please share your pictures and spread the word! And if not but it sounds right up your alley, I'll be blabbing about our next show sooner than you think! Who wants in?

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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?

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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.

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For news on the next shows, keep an eye on this blog or follow the Save Music in Chinatown page on Facebook!

Save Music in Chinatown: The Fifth Year zine and sixth year

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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!

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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.

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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.