/ long rants

welcome to the show

I might've mentioned that when I was coming up there was no World Wide Web that we know and hold dear in these here modern times, right? I'll likely say this in every other post because 1) I have no memory and 2) I'm a surly old punk and 3) this surly old punk doesn't give a damn.

So there I was, this up-and-coming punk getting glimpses of the punk rock underground vis-a-vis all the music I was accumulating. I saw photos of live shows and flyers featuring staggering line-ups, so I knew these events were happening somewhere - but I didn't know anything about where the shows were in my neck of the woods.

dk epic show

Epic line-up, cool flyer...where are these infernal shows happening?

first taste

Of course I knew of the big concerts, bands like The Police, The Kinks coming to town. Hell, I even went to see The Clash in the GWU Smith Center in 84 (pretty sure not 83). I suppose there's a certain badge that comes with being able to say The Clash were truly the first band I saw live. Then again, they were the only band I got a chance to see back in those days. I'm sure that distinction would have fallen on Def Leppard or Foreigner or some band like that if I'd had the opportunity before I began down this less-traveled musical road.

The Clash show was a pretty eye-opening experience. We were around older people who seemed a little rougher (probably crazy tough college kids from Georgetown or UMD). We had seats in the upper deck and could see all these silhouettes of fuzzy heads hopping around at the front of the stage while the Clash put on a pretty incredible show (albeit without Mick Jones sadly). The only thing I can recall about the process of getting tickets and getting to the show was it seemed like a lot of things broke just right to make it happen.

Although that Clash show was a great musical experience, it also left me wanting just a little more. It was great to hear the songs live but I felt kind of removed from it all. Those older looking kids who were bouncing around up front looked like they had gotten a much richer experience out of it. I seem to remember an interview with Joe Strummer from that tour in which he had complained about loogies getting spit onto his guitar - which fair enough, would be something to piss about - but which also meant that some of the "all the young punks" were close enough to The Clash to do that. I liked the idea of getting a lot closer to the sights and sounds, even if that meant putting up with a little spit, too.

As I descended deeper into punkrock-dom, it seemed rather unlikely that the bands I was getting into would tour like The Clash in a big arena that we could get tickets to, and that someone's mom or dad would be ok taking us to.

Circle Jerks show

Can you pretty please take us to the Circle Jerks?

another little taste

I did manage to make it to Rock Against Reagan (RAR) in DC which was an event over the 4th of July that kind of morphed into Rock Against Racism (RAR again, get it) as well as sometime pro-pot demonstration. It was a mixed bag of politics and protest music including a little old fashioned punk rock.

We went down to the Mall (that's National Mall to you non-DC folks, not the place with Spencer's and Orange Julius) to check out what was worth checking out, there were all manner of anarchists, political activists and of course punks. Most of the music in the early part of the day was forgettable and maybe not even punk rock.

In any event, we had to leave before it got dark, but we lingered long enough for a bona fide looking punk rock band to get on stage. They were a band from Cali named Killroy and one of the guys in the band had a head full of spikes so we knew this was the real deal. The small crowd broke into the typical mosh pit formation which was my first up-close look at real punk rockers doing it. Killroy sounded pretty good to me, definitely good enough to warrant buying the 12" EP they were hawking - which isn't saying that much because I was buying all the punk records back then.

RAR was a perfect opportunity for me since it was an all day affair on the Mall and was easy enough to get to - it was fairly straightforward to get buy-off from my folks because everyone in the hood hung out on the Mall on the 4th. But this wasn't really scalable. I mean, after all, how many times a year is it the 4th of July? That's rhetorical there punkster.

getting warmer

Being that this was the summertime (of 84), most of my friends and I were scattered to our respective corners of suburbia, most of us spending time at jobs. In order to feed my vinyl habit, I was working at an Italian Restaurant in the heart of Suburbia named Rocco's. There was a pretty good record store around there I'd go to sometimes, can't remember what it was called but was in a Fairfax City strip mall (yeah I know, doesn't exactly narrow it down much).

In those days in the burbs, punk rock was kind of like the Fight Club. There were people in the scene but it wasn't necessarily obvious and they wouldn't just talk to anyone about it.

I remember thumbing through records before a work shift, picking out the Scream record, don't know if I bought it or was just checking it out or just wanting to seem legit to a girl there flying the punk rock colors. I guess the Scream record lent a sufficient amount of credibility despite my Rocco's red t-shirt and black pants get-up, and the girl asked me if I was going to the upcoming Scream show. When she dropped the name of the place where the show was at, I gave her a knowing nod belying the fact that I really had no fucking idea where she was talking about. But that was a clue.

Other clues popped up from time to time, you'd see a review or an upcoming show listed in the free City Paper on a trip into DC, or you might hear on WHFS when they ran through upcoming shows. Sometimes wedged between announcements of "Birdsongs of the Mesozoic" and "Slickee Boys" appearances there might be a mention of a "Minutemen" show or something like that. So you knew shows were happening, just not necessarily with enough notice to do something about it. And you certainly didn't know where they were happening with places named cryptically Wilson Center and Newton Theatre.

And so it came to pass that I heard tell of a Black Flag show - I can't remember where they were playing, too faded in Papa Punk's memory bank. What I do remember is that I was jonesing hard to make it to that show.

Even in my nascent stage of punkdom I recognized that Black Flag was pretty legendary. I became a massive BF fan later on (and to this day) but I don't know how strongly I felt about their music at that time. I had not particularly cared for early BF stuff (it's the shit for me now, trust me, but then I hadn't developed a good palate, the astringency of early BF might have been too much) but loved the Damaged-era stuff and had a bit of a love/hate/confused reaction to My War which had just come out and I think was one of the last releases I bought on tape.

But that's neither here nor there. The important thing was this was a show that was going on during a night that I was supposed to work so I had an alibi, I had a name of the place and I think I even had the address of the place. I just needed a ride somehow. Some of my friends were starting to drive but it was a tall order to convince their parents to let them drive deep into DC late at night.

So it's worth mentioning that DC was kinda rough those days. There were hookers and dealers and users on 14th St right after you crossed the bridge into the city, basically right in the shadow of the Washington Monument, making very little effort to hide what they were doing. Muggings and shootings were a fact of life in the city, with DC being known as the homicide capital of the country. At least on a per-capita basis. The mayor Marion Berry was notorious for his drug habit, his affinity for strip clubs and his corruption, but was so popular he was affectionately referred to as "Mayor For Life". Many blocks of DC were dark and boarded up, creating a landscape that oozed varying degrees of grittiness and seediness like so many hues of grey.

Well young Papa Punk didn't give a fuck about all that. It was high time to see a show and it was Black Flag. There were rumors of Henry Rollins sporting long hair and songs that went past the 4 or 5 minute mark that were slower and heavier than was comfortable for many. That be damned, I was still going to the show.

Somehow, and this is where my memory unfortunately really fails me, I happened to mention it to the head cook at Rocco's - can't remember his name but he was a young guy probably in his early 20s from Mexico who didn't speak English that well. It wasn't like we were close or knew each other much or ever hung out, he worked in the kitchen and I bussed tables in the front and helped with the dishwashing every other Sunday and that was about the extent of our relationship.

I would love to know how the Black Flag show came up in conversation that day. I'm not sure who's idea it was either but the cook decided he wanted to go to the show, too, and would take me there, I think he thought it would be funny to see what a punk show was all about and maybe partake in a little of the slam-dancing. Or maybe he was a skeeze but I don't think so, as he went through a lot of trouble for an entire evening without trying anything funny.

We spent a few hours that night looking all over NW-fucking-DC trying to find this place. Had anyone heard of a nearby music hall that hosted live shows? Had anyone heard of the Black Flag show? Blank looks from the folks we bothered as we covered block after gritty block. I wish I can remember where we were trying to get to, might've been Wilson.

If it was Wilson, well no shit we wouldn't be able to find it. I wouldn't be able to locate it today. I must have gone there a good dozen or so times during the heyday and I could get lost for 30 minutes if I made one deviation from the normal scripted route there. No one outside the scene would know anything about it because it was the basement of a church and I think Wilson was just the name the punks gave the place, in all likelihood few from the neighborhood knew it by that name.

So, we abandoned the BF show. All things considered, was probably just as well. I got a sense at least, the adrenaline rush trying to find a show in some hard-to-find spot in DC, the backdrop of the rough neighborhoods we ranged through to try and find it. It was exciting and I was too dumb and single-minded to consider the risks.

breaking through

When I got back to high school after summer was over, it seemed like a few of us had gone through a similar transformation, or maybe I just had a keener eye for the Fight Club signs: a t-shirt with some punk rock band or reference here; a shaved head there; some combat boots; untucked flannel shirt; a band's logo on a jacket or silk-screened onto the back of a too-large button-down shirt. And yes some lucky bastard was even flying a My War t-shirt from the most recent BF show. These colors and markings helped us kind of self-organize - we'd huddle up in the halls, catch the names of bands and records to pick up, learn who was who in the scene, and most importantly, there'd be talk of shows.

One band that everyone was buzzing about was Marginal Man. They had just released the Identity record and it had pretty broad appeal across the punk spectrum - it was emotional in a way that a young angsty teen could relate to while at the same time delivering a large dose of unbridled energy. Some of the wiser heads had seen them live and attested to the power of their performances.

Marginal Man Identity Cover

Cover of the iconic Identity album but you probably knew that already and if you didn't, you probably figured it out pretty quick

It turns out Marginal Man had an upcoming show at the Wilson Center and I believe it was with Government Issue. It seems like I've seen those two on the same bill a few times during that time and could be that I'm confusing this show with another, but I'll stick to my story for now until I stand corrected by a fellow old-ass punk with a better memory.

A big group of us from my high school road-tripped to the show, some of the older punks could drive and had wheels and some of the younger punks had older siblings that were willing to take us.

I'm guessing I came rolling out of a station wagon with my shaved head, clad in my only cool punk rock t-shirt emblazoned with DOA ( my Clash concert T was decidedly not nearly punk rock enough in my mind at the time) and an army jacket and some black work shoes both of which I co-opted from my pop's closet - it seemed to convey a proper punk profile.

The city punks eyed us critically and warily, they had us marked as suburban kids from a mile away. But once inside the Wilson Center it didn't seem to matter who you were or anything.

As I mentioned previously in bumbling fashion, Government Issue probably played. I love GI and have seen them more times than I can count. I'm sure they left a pretty big impression at the time when I first caught them live, it's just all their shows have ended up a big blur in this addled mind of mine, through no fault of their on-stage performances which truly blew me away.

And what I recall most from this first show is the Marginal Man set.

I had no idea what to expect. They looked like regular guys for the most part, a couple looked like they could've stepped directly from the chess team to the stage.

Once they kicked off the first song the stage and floor in front of them exploded, Polcari leaped like a madman, and there was a lot of sweat and motion. I don't think any words I put together will do justice to the experience of a live Marginal Man set.

While ripping through heartfelt songs like Friend, they would get the entire crowd gyrating around and singing along - not shouting out a chorus or belting out an angry line fist-out but actually trying to sing word-for-word. Crazy. It was not in the least bit goofy when the crowd called out the echo in "Rat (rat, rat, rat") Race (race, race race)".

And let's just say when they ended the set with the song Marginal Man, oh lord. One of the all time great punk rock intros, it turned the floor into a dance pit of sweaty torsos, moving and bumping around but in fun and anticipation of the wait-for-it moment where the song turns into a powerful frenetic locomotive - the floor goes from fun-lovin' punky square dancing to fun-lovin' communal slam-dancing at its finest.

It might sound a little over-the-top but if you ever experienced that wait-for-it moment - and MM would like to reallllly stretch that moment out for as long as they could - truly cathartic.

I left that show with a smell in my clothes and skin that was new to me and would later become so familiar that it still takes me back whenever I catch a whiff of it - that stale, faintly sweet blend of equal parts sweat and some cloves/cigarettes mashup.

After going to my first show, it was like the hidden underground world of punk show was torn wide open. News of upcoming shows were passed along by well-connected scenesters or mentioned by bands on stage or announced in flyers circulated at the shows.

No matter how intimidating some of the punks looked, for the most part, you were accepted regardless of how you looked. There was a kind of communal respect for the music and spaces and a DIY ethic and it just felt right to me - at least for a while it was that way.

It was an exciting time and place to be a young punk.

shake your head, left and right
like the old man who shows up here every night
what does he hear in this kind of music?
why don't you ask him?
find out what you need to know
all ages show

-- All Ages Show, Dag Nasty

Papa Punk

Papa Punk

Just an old punk that wants to share old stories with other old punks about the scene - before my memory goes completely.

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