LA Punks: a doco

In the introduction to a new collection of essays and reviews Virginia Woolf wrote spanning over 30 years for the Times Literary Supplement in England, many published anonymously, Genius and Ink: Virginia Woolf on How to Read (HarperCollins, 2019, arriving this December), Francesca Wade observes that art, in this case critical reviews of books by new and established authors, cannot be understood without taking the time to understand the circumstances surrounding its creation. She also observes that the intimate relationship between artists and their audiences are equally essential, in part because of the intimacy created by these relationships. For these reasons I live in biographies, memoirs, and documentary film about just about everything, but especially music, movements, scenes, and how records get made. All kinds of records.

Understanding the many fragmented, passionate, and sometimes extremely isolated punk scenes in the United States can’t be done without a deep intimate dive into the stories (bands, fans, and circumstances) that surround these artists, their audiences, and the turbulent times that created their scenes. This frequently isn’t a landscape of famous bands, in our warped social-media concept of fame today, and yet it’s every bit as vast and absorbing as anything produced about the punk artists you might have heard about. In this case, the punk magazine “Razorcake” has launched an exciting free YouTube series about the first-generation history of LA punks, their music, in their scene — a flashpoint that started in the 1970s and 1980s, in the turbulent Eastside LA underground Chicano punk clubs like The Vex. The city was burning, and so was the music.

If you don’t know about “Razorcake,” you need to know about “Razorcake.” It’s one of the last printed punk magazines on this earth. Every thick issue is packed with real-time punk music history. Their interviews of bands are always inspiring: sprawling, intelligent, with great depth and classic music photography (the kind of pictures everyone who’s ever taken pictures at live shows dreams of getting a chance to take, if only just once before you hang up your camera). And they must review everything people send them, hundreds of records and tapes, even if all any one band gets is a short paragraph. One-to-one recognition, the stuff dreams are made of.

“Razorcake” has a donation drive on now. They’re a nonprofit fighting the good fight. They always need the support of music fans like us.

We start playing and cans start flying at us. And we’re like… OK, I see guys from my school, and girls, and they’re like, ‘You guys fucking suck!’ OK, we’re doing something wrong, or right, I don’t know, and then Art [Reyes] said, ‘Yeah, keep throwing your cans, we got your fucking money.’ They stopped throwing cans.

Tracy “Skull” Garcia of Thee Undertakers, from “Eastside Punks, Episode 1: Thee Undertakers”

photo credits
(where not otherwise credited)

“Stupid people” / photograph by Brandi Ibrao on