Livin’ Is Dyin’ In This Nothin’ Town

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San Diego in the seventies was a sleepy Navy city with a decaying downtown. Plenty of gorgeous beaches but little else. The United States National Bank (owned by C. Arnholt Smith) collapsed in 1973, giving the city plenty of negative publicity. As the decade moved forward, a growing younger generation needed something to do, and somewhere to do it. Of the 1.62 million people living in the city and county by the mid 70s, many were content to hit the disco on Friday night and play the part of wage slave the rest of the week. Some were not so eager. They looked elsewhere for their kicks.

Kicks, the kind of fun that not just everyone can have. The after-midnight, the cops are going to harass us for looking different and making noise, type of fun. Kicks, the drug-fueled scream to pierce the darkness of boredom. The kind of fun that flashed memories back to greasers on bikes and girls who drank beer and whisky straight from the bottle. According to longtime music journalist Steve Thorn, downtown was “Dicey, very dicey.  But I also know how it influenced Tom Waits. Downtown S.D., National City, the LA bus terminal… all wonderfully described by Tom during his days on Asylum Records.” Thorn has been active organizing shows and covering the gamut of local and national acts since the early 70s. He witnessed the change in downtown from Waits’ fertile soil for song writing and getting beaten up by sailors on shore leave to something more gentrified.  “I’m sure the transition of the Gaslamp District into a sort of a nighttime Disneyland for hipsters has to be a drag for him,” Thorn added.

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At the Lions Club L-R LUIS GÜEREÑA (RIP), ROGER PINNELL (RIP), KEITH MORRIS, JOHN DOE and GREG HETSON

Aside from Waits, San Diego had music blasting all over the county. “The Spirit in Bay Park… now, Brick by Brick.  In addition to local bands, national groups performed. I saw R.E.M. and Let’s Active for the sum of $5! Ah, those were the days,” Thorn said. He went on to list several venues, some long gone. “My Rich Uncle’s was a nightclub on El Cajon Boulevard near the College Avenue intersection. Mandarin Wind in Hillcrest. There was the Adams Avenue Theater in Normal Heights. The building is still there but it’s now a fabric store. There were the service clubs — I’m thinking of the North Park Lions Club.  Abbey Road was in North Park. The Back Door and Montezuma Hall at SDSU. Grossmont College’s Cafeteria. I think I caught the Penetrators and Four Eyes there. And you can’t forget the Spring Valley Inn! It was the ‘Cavern Club’ for the Beat Farmers.”

“In the early ’70s, there were blues-oriented rock bands like Glory. They actually played at Grossmont High (1972) at an afternoon show in the gym in my senior year. Dan (McLain) helped organized that show. Glory impressed me because they had original songs which were the caliber of the songs they were covering. That period — before Bowie really broke in America — was represented by Fleetwood Mac, Savoy Brown… white kids singing the blues,” Thorn said. The county had plenty of choices, Thorn added.

“Prog rock was represented in San Diego too. The one group which stood out was Horsefeathers…  prog with a refreshing sense of humor. They were a cross between Gentle Giant and the Bonzo Dog Band. Their lead singer, Mick Garris, was part of a very creative core of  El Cajon Valley High School Students from the late ’60s-early ’70s — Lester Bangs, Jerry Raney, Jack Pinney, Gary Rachac, Roger Anderson, many others.  Mick is now a prominent writer-director in the sci-fi-horror world of Hollywood. He has collaborated with Spielberg, Stephen King, etc. Another prog group I liked was called Harlequin. They evoked that fairy-tale rock Genesis sound when Peter Gabriel was still in the lineup.  Power Pop was probably best represented by a band called Mutt. They might have been the first group in San Diego –maybe this solar system– to cover Big Star,” Thorn said.

Along with the emergence of Bowie world-wide, a sea change musically in San Diego was happening too. “But the local scene represented by the Zeros, Penetrators, etc., was happening all over the globe. Dan felt new wave-punk was the best thing to happen in pop music since the British Invasion. Looking back, I think he was right,” Thorn added, speaking of McLain, who would go on to join the Penetrators, form the Beat Farmers, Country Dick and the Snuggle Bunnies and the Pleasure Barons during his all-too-short lifetime. Venues like the Zebra Club and Skeleton Club sprouted up in the middle of the 70s, as places for the disaffected youth of the day to hear something more aggressive and propulsive than what had come before. In between gas rationing, The Carter Inauguration and the Padres finally having a winning season (1978), music in San Diego helped fill that void and provide some much needed kicks.

The fun began in 1977, with the original line-up of the Penetrators: singer Gary Heffern, Joel Kmak on drums, guitarist Scott Harrington, and Chris Sullivan on bass. They played everywhere, Fairmount Hall to the North Park Lion’s Club to the California Theatre. Los Angeles radio station KROQ had their music playing in rotation, labels offered record deals. In their wake, they left great tunes, bruised ribs and plenty of great memories. Songs like “Nothin’ Town” and “I Walk The Beat” gained the Pens a reputation as more than a bunch of guys making noise — they were a bunch of guys making noise that mattered.

Throughout the decades, Thorn has seen countless acts come through San Diego. Is there a favorite show out of all the shows he saw? “So many! I think I should have just brought a cot to the Spirit Club and moved in!  Probably the most surreal night was when TK Arnold, Gary Rachac, and I celebrated the successful wrap-up of San Diego rock history series for Kicks. It was at the Spirit. Rosie Flores, Jerry Raney and the Shames were part of the lineup.  But what I recall is sitting between Frank Zappa and Gary Puckett in the club after Frank finished his show at the Sports Arena. You just can’t make stuff like that up-it really happened!” Thorn said.

Currently writing for the Troubadour for more than the past decade, Thorn said he enjoys the creative freedom of one of the county’s most-respected periodicals. “It has been the most rewarding publication for me. If I make a persuasive enough pitch, publisher Liz Abbott allows me to write about the subject. She’s great!”

Back when so many groups were heard in so many places around the county, very few got signed to major labels. “Hard to say. It might have been due to geography. When Camp Pendleton remained the only open space between San Ysidro and Ventura, the distinction between LA and San Diego became blurry. I don’t think the record company scouts were searching for that ‘hot’ San Diego sound. So, San Diego bands were not only competing with other San Diego bands but bands from the O.C., LA County, Ventura County.  But we did see the growth in bands embracing a ‘do it yourself’ philosophy — pay for the record pressing and be responsible for the distribution. Very cool then and now!”

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Getting Nowhere Fast by Ray Brandes

Even if the A&M Records and Capitol Records of the world missed out, several local acts did get product on the shelf, or in the trunk, to the fans. “The Bomp label out of LA was great at getting San Diego bands heard. It was created by the late Greg Shaw. Hopefully there will be a documentary on him someday. I think Shaw was as important as Lester Bangs of Creem Magazine and Paul Williams of Crawdaddy.  I’m sorry that all three are no longer with us — so often, they championed musical underdogs and their articles pointed me in the right direction and to dig around. Shaw was perceptive enough to see what was going on in this town — The Zeros, Crawdaddys, etc, whether on vinyl or on CD reissues, these recordings should be sought out. A fascinating time capsule of music. I think The Penetrators’ ‘I Walk the Beat’ is evocative too,” Thorn said.

Music in San Diego has gone through many ups and downs throughout the decades. According to Thorn, there is no shortage of choices. “(There is) tremendous diversity around the county. I think there are good venues for roadhouse rock and acoustic singer-songwriter acts,” he enthused. There may be plenty of options to listen to, but Thorn fears, there may not be as large an audience.

“I don’t think the 18-to-25-year-old audience in general is obsessed with music as my peers were back in the ’70s. Video games, micro breweries which may or may not have live music… this is the new popular culture landscape. I don’t want to fall into the trap of being judgmental and telling them to ‘get off my lawn.’  I became a teenager in 1967, and my only regret was that it didn’t happen a few years earlier. Books and records still occupy a lot of space in my home. Nothing’s changed,” he concluded.

The local music scene’s history has been cataloged in print and in film. Ray Brandes penned a book about the era, entitled “Getting Nowhere Fast” and  Eric Rife is putting together a documentary on the era, “Garageland.” The rough cut of Rife’s rockumentary “Garageland’ begins with the shrill alarm of “Walk the Beat” and will feature film clips throughout the period.

Still Walking the Beat

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“Seeing the band live, Heffern was equal parts whirling dervish and beat poet.”

Gary Heffern was the lead singer of the Penetrators, the band most often identified with launching San Diego’s do-it-yourself  live music scene. Labeled punk rock at the time, they weren’t alone. Local legends the Zeros played amazing sets of music that slammed off walls and reminded you that your ears were meant to hear a full spectrum of sound.

Seeing the band live, Heffern was equal parts whirling dervish and beat poet. The Pens’ line-up changed to include Dan McLain, who owned the record store Monty Rockers, on drums. He would evolve years later into Country Dick Montana and help bring the Beat Farmers into the world.

Back when it took more than a laptop, a garage and an hour, releasing music on vinyl was an earth-shaking achievement.  “Walk The Beat,” “Nothin’ Town,” “I-5”  and “Sensitive Boy” were all brilliant, propulsive gems of surf, new wave, rock and electronic genres all rolled into a ball and played fast and loud. All of the music released out of San Diego since, owes a debt of gratitude to the bands that came before. The Pens were one of the first on the scene decades ago. Without them, Comic-Con, the Zoo, Legoland or the Mighty Pacific Ocean is a good start to a city, but not a city with a musical heritage worth mentioning.

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Gary Heffern / Photo by Eric Rife

I first met Gary Heffern in 1982, backstage at a fundraiser for a Grossmont College political club on campus. One of my jobs that night was to make sure the bands — the Pens and the Rockin’ Roulettes, lead by the short, angry, brilliant Buddy Blue — had everything they wanted. Heffern looked exhausted, but he entertained 18 year-old star-struck questions with good-natured candor. I was writing for the G, the now defunct Grossmont College newspaper. He was more famous than anyone I had interviewed in my previous three weeks on the job.

Eventually, he moved to Seattle and then on to Finland (a long story for another day). He has recorded music constantly in the years in between and published a book of poetry and lyrics entitled “Unholy Dreams.”

Currently residing in Finland, Heffern agreed to answer some questions, in spite of a hideous internet connection and a fairly significant time difference.

 

Cinema Spartan: Full disclosure, I’m aware of your band Monotone and the Nucleoids but I’ve never heard them. What did they sound like and how long did they last?

Gary Heffern: I had to find Danny Ramirez to get the answer to this – old age, ya know? Here’s what he wrote “Here’s what I remember. We started the set with “Wipe Out” and you would come running in near the end. We use to practice at Juan’s house in San Ysidro. He had all the equipment. I only remember playing a few shows and some of the songs we played were, “Sonic Reducer,” “God Save The Queen,” “ You Really Got Me,”  and “I Wanna Be Your Dog.”  Just  cool covers. The only original song we ever tried and never really did anything with was one you wrote about the movie Psycho. “I’m Psycho and I Wanna Take a Shower With You.” I loved it. That’s also around the time you gave me the nickname, Danny Personality.

What was the music scene like in San Diego before the Penetrators?

The bands I remember seeing most often was Eric Heuschele’s band, King Biscuit Blues Band and Jerry Raney and the Shames.

You’ve cited Iggy Pop and David Bowie’s 1977 “Idiot Tour” as inspiration to start a band. What was it about that show that inspired you?

I was given the microphone that night during “96 Tears” and sang on it with them from the audience – there is a recording out there. I think it’s on the Che Underground where you can hear me singing. It was thrilling. The next time Iggy came and played at Montezuma Hall he again gave me the microphone during the song “Gloria.”

What do you remember about the Skeleton Club and the North Park Lion’s Club?

Everything was broken, it smelled like urine, stale beer and sweat. And I loved it. And when I say everything was broken, that included all the people that were there in the beginning. But it was the most exciting time of my life. Everyone was taking chances.

Who was booking bands at the time other than Jerry Herrera and Tim Mays?  Were there options, or did you have to play anywhere that would have you?

There were mostly parties. But also Tom Griswold, Dan McLain, Jim Ryan from the Cardiac Kidz, Laura Fraser (Skeleton Club), Steven Schneider and Rene Edgington (Shark Presents) , Tim Maze (Silent Partner with Laura), Cheri Cotton (Rash Presents).

Other than the Pens and the Zeros, who else was making noise at the time?

GH: Mega Death, Social Spit, The Dinettes, DFX2, Injections,  Xterminators, The Cardiac Kidz, Battalion of Saints, Claude Coma & The IVs, NON, Colour TV, Eleven Sons, Crawdaddies, Unknowns, Hitmakers! The Standbys, Manual Scan, The Puppies and others that I am sure I am forgetting.

There was a near riot at Golden Hall when you opened for the Ramones. What do you remember about that night?

I am going to answer you with the question I sent you back “are you talking about Montezuma Hall Ramones show, which got stopped by the promoters for a few minutes and then we got to finish our set? Or the Penetrators when we headlined the Golden Hall which ended up with people throwing trash cans over the roof of the parking lot? Or the show with 20/20 that got stopped by the police only a couple of songs in and they sent in a full on riot squad that we had to watch on tv?

Were there constant hassles from the police? Didn’t the Fire Marshal shut down some shows?

The cops hated us. The bouncers hated us. Yes we had shows shut down regularly by the cops. Glorietta Bay comes to mind. Along with those I mentioned above. Here’s a funny story for you though. One night after a show I had to take a piss and ended up in a parking lot of a bar that was empty. So, I was doing my thing and all of a sudden there are headlights coming towards me. I finish, and figure they didn’t see anything but of course they did, and wrote me out a ticket for urinating in public. I mean come on; it was two in the morning and no one around. After he writes me a ticket the cop says “aren’t you the guy from the Penetrators?” And I say yes I am… hoping he will throw away the ticket. And he pulls out a piece of paper and says, “my niece is a fan of yours. Can I get your autograph?”  So I do it. A couple of weeks later I meet a girl who tells me that at her Thanksgiving dinner her uncle who’s a cop tells her that story and gives her the autograph. Oh fuck, I  was so pissed. So I didn’t pay the ticket, finally had to in court. Good grief.

You were approached by record labels but never signed, were the offers never good enough?

The offers were actually fantastic. But we thought we would be selling out. Fuck. Everyone already thought we were sell outs by then we should have taken the offer. I mean we met with fucking heavy weights. Offered a full month of free studio time at Caribou Studios. Management by Danny Goldberg who went on to the Go-Go’s, Nirvana etc. He sat in the room with us. Gold chains and all. Weird.

The Pens have been referred to as “Punk,” “New Wave,” “Hyper-kinetic” and several other terms. Which one, if any, comes closest to describing your sound?

I like to think that we were just a band that had a lot of heart and punk is what set us free. I follow my own path. And maybe it’s kind of like watching Richie Havens perform his song “Freedom.” It’s punk as fuck. But there is so much heart and passion in it. And it’s real.

What was the inspiration to “Walk the Beat?”

When I was in the Penetrators at the beginning I was also working for Ma Bell installing telephones, and they sent me up to Los Angeles for a pole climbing school for a month and free hotel and something like $35 a day for food expenses. So I would go to classes and then go to the Masque or other places to see shows and ended up at a lot of parties. I knew a lot of those early LA punks from shows they did in San Diego and so was welcomed with open arms. John Doe and Exene got me into seeing the Germs at the Roosevelt Hotel with the Go-Go’s playing either their first or second show. The Mau Mau’s were playing too. There were maybe 40 people there, tops. Nothing at all like what they show in that biography “What We Do Is Secret.” There was a single light bulb in the room. When the Germs came out to play the singer for the Mau Mau’s came out and punched Darby (Crash, Germs vocalist) out. The thing that surprised me the most was how after the shows, you would see people like Black Randy and other punks out on Santa Monica Boulevard hustling, prostituting themselves to make a living. It fucking broke my heart. That’s what that song was about. I never really revealed it to anyone. And it would kinda freak me out, but at the same time I would be thinking to myself when people sang along to it – especially the jocks. Man, if they only knew what this was about.

What caused the breakup of the Penetrators?

Drugs. Burnout. I had become a parody of myself. I remember one night at the Roxy, I can’t remember the name of the club there, but they had a dance night, and we would all meet at the Boys Club and do our thing starting around 5 in the evening and show up wasted. I remember one night sitting there with the late Bob Bennett and I was dozing off from heroin, and asking around the table if anyone had any coke to pick me up. And him just looking at me and saying “you are a fucking mess, you need to go and look at yourself in a mirror.”  I was living with Mojo Nixon on his couch. and a couple of days later remembered that. I looked in a mirror and saw and weighed myself and had gotten down to less than 100 lbs. I said to Mojo “what should I do?” And he pulled out a map and said “if I was you I would close my eyes and just point at a place on this map and go there and start all over again. Otherwise you will just die.” I did that and it was Seattle. I did one last show with the Penetrators, gave away everything I had and took the train and landed there with 40 dollars in my pocket. He saved my life.

You’ve done reunions in the past, any chance of another one, or two in the future?

I would love to do more. I just have to get back to the States. Waiting for my house to sell but at the same time am thinking right now of other ways and means to get back there.

How is the book selling?

Not as well as I hoped. People that have it seem to like it and it speaks to them. So, if this interview is speaking to you and you have not read the book please do so. Support your brother in arms.

What are you up to these days?

I am waiting for my place to sell. I have an album I need to finish. And so much work I want to do with musicians from all over. Especially with folks that I have played with in San Diego in my side groups there. Also, the Penetrators have been offered a deal to put out a double album of all of our works. But trying to get everyone together is difficult. It makes it really hard because I am here in Finland. Oh. Yeah. And I want to thank everyone who did the benefit for me at the beginning of the year. It helped so much. I only wish that the market here would open up. And the economy so my place can sell. I have it priced so low. But no one is buying anything, anywhere. The biggest market chain here and company just laid off 1,000 people.  So it’s tough going right now. And I want to say I love and miss you all. Every single one of you. And appreciate you. Love, Heff

The ‘Family Tree’ of San Diego

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Everything you need to know

While putting together the information for this piece, everyone told me to get “the family tree.” I had seen it before, many times and loved how it charted the history of bands from San Diego, and like the Book of Numbers, it illustrates who begat who. A copy was sent to me by multiple people, but it was originally written by Dan McLain. I was just never aware of the story of its creation before. Steve Thorn was writing an article for San Diego Kicks Magazine. “(Dan) did that for me in one night! It was featured in my article ‘The History of San Diego Rock’. Not all of the bands obviously, but he hit the major players during the DIY-indie ’70s,” Thorn said. Below is the artistic rendering, brought to you by the ever-fabulous Dan McLain.

Putting it all on film

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San Diego’s Finest

Like a lot of people my age, I was slightly too young to experience most of the local scene first hand. By the time I was old enough, or had procured a fake ID, many of the stalwart acts that put San Diego on the map musically had morphed into different bands and many nights I was told by some guy at the bar how I missed the good old days. I always wondered how three years could make that much difference. Apparently, other people have too. At least one, native San Diegan Eric Rife, is attempting to chronicle the sights, sounds and the still photos and fliers of the era on film.

The SDSU graduate agreed to answer some questions about the era just after the loose and loud seventies in San Diego, an era no less fertile musically and no less volatile culturally.

Cinema Spartan: What’s your earliest memory of San Diego-based music?

Eric Rife: My earliest memory of San Diego based music would have been incidental – my father shot a photo of a Navy ship and then created a mirror image of it which he entitled “Iron Butterfly” and sent it off to the record company to elicit interest. Unfortunately, it was never used on one of their covers. I knew they were originally from San Diego, but as I was only around 5 or 6 at the time, I didn’t know much. My first real introduction to San Diego music would have been in the Reader when I would see these ads for groups like “Thunderbolt the Wondercolt.” I thought, “Who in the hell names their band THAT? And who in the hell would go see them?”

My first local gig was in 1980 at a small downtown club, whose identity is still a matter of some debate. It wasn’t at the Zebra Club (which was 21 and up) or the Skeleton Club but the two bands that were playing were the Executives (who recently reformed) and the Exterminators. I went with my friend Bobby. Anyway, it was the day after John Lennon was shot and as luck would have it, Darby Crash had died the same day. Everyone was talking about Darby … with wildly different opinions. Some people were saying “Ahhhhh man, did you hear about Darby?” and others were saying “Fucking Darby Crash was an asshole. I’m glad he died.” That’s about all I remember from the show other than the feeling that this show was different from all the big shows I’d been to at the Sports Arena like Led Zeppelin, Blue Oyster Cult, Cheap Trick, etc. It felt dangerous. It felt like something could go off at any time. Shortly after that I saw the Penetrators a bunch of times and started going to shows at Fairmount Hall, Wabash Hall, Adams Avenue Theater, Kings Road, Carpenters Hall and a bunch of other places where local bands opened for other touring punk bands.

What’s your favorite show you’ve seen?

A lot of shows come to mind that stick out for various reasons. The best show ever (for me) was the Clash with the English Beat at Golden Hall. They were unbelievable.

What lead you toward becoming a librarian?

What led me to becoming a librarian? I took a wrong turn on my lunch hour. I worked as a crime beat reporter for City News Service, a wire that serves the West Coast, Nevada and I think Arizona. I was based out of a small, closet-like room at the Central Police Station downtown. One day I went to lunch and accidentally found myself in front of the Central Library. I hadn’t been in there for some time and decided to wander inside. On the third floor in the Social Science department I found a friend of mine who used to work with me at the Daily Aztec. I asked him how he liked working at the library and he said he loved it. He told me what he was making (which was more than twice what I was getting as a crime reporter) and said they were hiring. I put in an application, got hired for a one day per week gig and that turned into a 20-hour gig and then a few months later, a full time gig.  It’s very similar to how I got my job at Off the Record. I happened to hear the owners talking about needing to hire someone to replace Cliff Cunningham who worked at the store for years. I was a long time customer and I said, “Hey, if you’re looking for someone, I’d LOVE to work here.” I was hired the next day and quit my other job.

What lead you to create Garageland?

What led me to start work on Garageland was a program we started at the Central Library. The library received a state grant to work on personal, oral histories from the public. With the grant we bought an iMac (the one with the camera embedded at the top of the screen) and some other equipment. The idea was to have people come in, tell a story and we’d illustrate it with photos and other ephemera they brought with them. Trouble was, everyone has a story to tell, but not many people can tell it concisely!

At any rate, around the same time the City Water Department discovered over 50,000 large format negatives documenting the turn-of-the-century construction of the city’s water system and dams. They gave them (temporarily) to the library to see if we would store them.  I took about two dozen negatives home, scanned them and made large prints. I told the library we should have an exhibit and so I put together a short video featuring hundreds of the photos and narrated it with a script written by Rick Crawford, the library’s archivist. The exhibit was called “The Story of Water” which I thought was a dumb title but I went ahead and tacked it on to my video. You can probably find the video online but we also have a copy at the Central Library. I’m actually listed as an author in the library’s catalog.

So I thought, “That wasn’t too difficult. I’ve got a bunch of fliers from way back when, why not put together a short punk doc?” So I started scanning and putting out the word that I was looking for more images. As time went on and I started acquiring more and more stuff, I thought “I should really go the extra mile and put together something longer.” So I became more ambitious, bought a Canon XL2 (and then eventually two more) and started shooting reunion shows, interviewing people, scanning their snapshots and flier collections, acquiring all the local music I could find (usually digitizing other people’s rare 45s and LPs) and digitizing old VHS tapes of shows shot in San Diego. The film was put on hiatus due to a number of factors, but also because it was becoming expensive and I was funding everything out of my own pocket. I spent at least $25,000 on cameras, microphones, mixers, lighting, multiple computers, hard drives and god knows what else. I was able to pay for some of it by holding record sales at my house and at Kobey’s. I also tried selling some of my concert photography (including an exhibit at Amoeba Records in Hollywood) but never made too much from it. I knew I’d have to do some sort of crowdsourcing and Kickstarter accepted my project. But when I saw how much work was required for a successful KS project, I got discouraged.

Around 2012, I came across a photographer, Troy Paiva who specialized in light painting, especially abandoned buildings and cars AND he provided details for how he got his shots. I was immediately impressed and decided I’d give it a try. So I started driving out to Death Valley (including Barker Ranch!), Arizona and Nevada. I don’t want to say too much, but I called my friend who had been editing “Garageland” and told him that what we really needed for a successful crowdsourcing project was an impressive, off-the-wall documentary. Suffice it to say I found it and have been working on it for the past three years.

The name is an obvious reference to the Clash song, how did they help shape your love of music?

I was already a huge music fan long before I heard the Clash. My grandma Rife bought me a turntable when I was two years old and the rest of the family thought she was crazy. A few years later, she bought me a PlayTape, which looked kind of like an 8-track but with only four songs on each tape. I had tapes from the Beatles, Chad & Jeremy, the Kingston Trio, the 1910 Fruit Gum Company and others.

I grew up liking the music my dad liked – Bob Dylan, Jefferson Airplane, Elton John, Blue Oyster Cult and Patti Smith. Dad had photographed Big Brother and the Holding Company, the Doors’ first show in San Diego, Steppenwolf and others during the 60s. We started going to concerts around 1975 or 1976. My first show was Jefferson Starship with Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen opening at the Sports Arena. My second show was at Balboa Stadium – Yes, Peter Frampton, Gary Wright and Gentle Giant. I saw a lot of those types of bands in the late 70s. But at the same time, punk was starting to happen. My dad brought home Patti Smith’s “Horses” and we both loved it, although he never associated Smith with punk rock. Bands like the Ramones and Blondie and Elvis Costello were coming to town but I could never go to the shows because I was too young to drive.

I discovered the Clash only when they released “London Calling,” which was the first of their albums available domestically. Imports were way out of my price range and the record stores I went to at the time (that I could reach on my bike) only carried domestic releases. I got a copy of the “London Calling” single because I’d heard “Train in Vain,” the b-side, being played on the radio. This would have been late 1979. I listened to that song over and over before I finally flipped it over to hear the other side. I was blown away. I thought “Goddamn, I’ve been listening to the wrong song! This is fucking great!”

I loved them. There was no one else like them. The NYC bands, especially the Ramones, were fun. Really, really fun. But the Clash, to me, was important. They were revolutionary. They were angry. And if you ever saw them perform, you’d see Joe Strummer up there singing like it was his last night on Earth. Suddenly, Cheap Trick and Blue Oyster Cult didn’t matter very much to me anymore!

 

How much footage comes from the 70s? Where do you get most of the footage?

I don’t have a lot of video footage from the 70s because so little exists. I do have footage of the Zeros’ appearance on Channel 8’s “Sun Up” program, the Dinettes at the Roxy, the Executives at the Skeleton Club and the Penetrators opening for the Ramones at Montezuma Hall. I think all three of these shows were shot in 1978 or 1979. I’d love to find more! There’s supposedly a video of a riot at a high school during a Penetrators performance, which Eddie Vedder happened to attend. I’ve never seen it, but I’m told it exists. I’d love to get more footage from the 70s (and the 60s for that matter), but most of the footage I have is from the 80s. Until more video surfaces, I’ll be relying on the multitude of photos and fliers I’ve collected over the years. People like Mike Stax, Ray Brandes, Bart Mendoza, Jon Moore and Jim Call are also invaluable for both their personal experiences and their near encyclopedic recall of local music history. I’m grateful to them because so many of my experiences are just a total blur!

Have most of the older bands been easy to track down?

Most of the older bands (or rather, some of their members) have been fairly easy to track down and interview. A lot of people have died though.

 

You’re currently working on a different documentary while Garageland is on the back burner, what’s it about?

I’m sorry, but I really don’t want to talk about the other documentary except to say that I expect to be finished with it by the end of the year. I’ll say this – it’s a psychedelic desert doc that, like Garageland, celebrates the human drive to create something out of nothing for no other reason than the realization of an aesthetic vision.

 

Your Dad was a photographer for the Union and Tribune in the 70s, did you inherit your love of photography from him?

My dad worked at the Union Tribune for over 40 years, starting in 1963. He photographed John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, the Queen of England, Morrissey, Patti Smith, Emerson, Lake and Palmer,  Lou Rawls, the Doors, Janis Joplin,  Vietnam War protesters, the 1972 Republican convention and lots of other stuff! He has a zillion stories. He’s on Facebook and would be happy to talk to you. I had a reputation as having “the coolest dad in the world” and he was. He would come to my school to give presentations and even helped me put together a musical slide show documenting the revolutionary movements of the 1960s. I went on a few assignments with him, including a bull run in Tecate and two trips to the La Mesa Penitentiary in Tijuana where we photographed an American doctor performing free cosmetic surgery on inmates.

I inherited my love of photography from him. He was the one who gave me my mom’s camera when she died and kept me stocked with film and photo paper from the Union Tribune. He retired some time ago but continues to document the world around him, especially his wife Jan and their neighbors in San Miguel de Allende, where they live. He got on Facebook a couple of years ago and posts everyday. I wish I posted photos every day!

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Author: Barry Benintende

Barry has spent his entire adult life watching movies, listening to music and finding people gullible enough to pay him to do so. As the former Executive Editor of the La Jolla Light, Editor of the South County Mail, Managing Editor of D-Town, Founder and Editor of sQ Magazine, Managing Editor of Kulture Deluxe, and Music Critic for San Diego Newsline, you would figure his writing would not be so epically dull. He has also written for the San Diego Reader, the Daily Californian, the Marshfield Mail, Cinemanian and too many other papers and magazines that have been consigned to the dustbin of history. A happily-married father of two sons and a daughter, Barry has an unhealthy addiction to his hometown San Diego Padres and the devotion of his feisty Westie, Adie. Buy him a cup of coffee and he can spend an evening regaling you with worthless music or baseball trivia. Buy him two and you’ll never get rid of him.

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