“A nostalgic trip through the past for those who lived it, but an anthropological case study of a lesser-known subculture, and quite simply, a work of art”—The Los Angeles Beat
Interview by G.L. Giles
David Markey was one of the pioneers of the Southern California punk scene in the ‘80s. He co-wrote “We Got Power!: Hardcore Punk Scenes from 1980s Southern California” with Jordan Schwartz, which is set to be released in October 2012. The book is filled with original, revealing essays by David Markey, Jordan Schwartz, Jennifer Schwartz, Henry Rollins, Chuck Dukowski, Dez Cadena, Steve Humann, Janet Housden and others. The photos will take you back to that chaotic, yet strangely nostalgic time where anarchy was the rule of the day and fashion had a mind of its own. Markey was instrumental in the formation of the band Sin 34, and he later went on to travel with Sonic Youth and Nirvana. He’s also directed videos for bands such as the Meat Puppets. Get your copy of “We Got Power!” here.
As one who grew up around the punk scene in Charleston, South Carolina in the eighties (hard to believe we had one, too—even in the conservative South!), “We Got Power!” certainly brought back lots of memories. About everyone growing up in the ‘80s knew about the punk scene in L.A. that you were an integral part of! Please tell Target Audience Magazine readers a bit about both the L.A. punk scene at that time and your book titled “We Got Power!”.
Looking at the book I realize that Los Angeles, as massive a metropolitan city as it was even then, I am struck by just how small the scene was at the time. So I can imagine what it was like in rural areas around the country. I mean, if we got shit from people out here in laid-back Southern California, I can imagine how difficult it would have been for you in South Carolina.
This scene here was documented on a very small scale. Not very many people, outside of a handful of fellow fanzines (like Flipside, Slash, No Mag), photographers (our good buddies Ed Colver, Mouse and Glenn E. Friedman) and one fellow filmmaker, Penelope Spheeris, was even looking into this music at the time.
Your book, co-written with Jordan Schwartz, is soon to be released and will probably cause many who grew up in the eighties to be flooded with memories—both good and bad. What made you and Schwartz decide it was time to write this now?
This is the end result of eight years of hard work. Jordan and I started scanning our negative archives in 2004. Eventually, that yielded close to 2000 images. We were blown away by what we were seeing, things that had happened over 20 years prior to that point. Stuff we had completely forgotten about. Many of these images made it into the documentary, American Hardcore. Before long, we had a book deal, which fell apart a few years later. We just stuck to it, determined to publish this, as we felt the content was strong and unique. Of course, we are talking 30 years since the bulk of this was captured at this point. So I think time, perspective and patience helped sort it all out.
You include copies of the original fanzine titled We Got Power as well. Looking back on those early ‘80s issues now, why do you think they were so influential? Which public figures have acknowledged their influence?
I didn’t call it influential myself. I think that’s what somebody else said. (Probably Ian, you’d have to ask him). All fanzines were influential to the few who were paying attention back then. The bands and personalities covered in this ‘zine would not have been given the attention anywhere else. Rolling Stone? Forget about it. Spin wasn’t even born yet. These publications could give a rat’s ass about this music. We even pre-dated Maximum Rock ‘n’ Roll, which funny enough is one of the few remaining publications from that era.
I also see a direct link from hardcore to the mainstream popular music of the 1990s, having an intimate relationship with both. Check out the lineage between my films “The Slog Movie” (1982) & “1991 The Year Punk Broke” (1992) . This music spawned so much in the coming decade(s). Not most music, but attitude, style, Madison Avenue; an aesthetic that spread globally.
Was it mainly the bands and locations that made the 1980s Southern California Punk Scenes different from the British Punk Scenes?
I don’t know. Most of it stands up to anything the U.K. produced (and we’re talking a ton of great stuff there.) That said, I think good music is good music, regardless of where it comes from.
The way I see it is American first wave punk began in garages in the 1960s, a lot of it in LA: Arthur Lee & Love, The Seeds, The Standells. Some of it began elsewhere: The Velvet Underground, The MC5, and The Stooges; which spawned punk of the 1970s: New York Dolls, Television, Talking Heads, Ramones, etc. It then went to England and we got the Pistols, the Clash, Buzzcocks, Wire, and The Fall. Then it came back for a second wave in the states as “Hardcore Punk Rock,” which gave us Minor Threat, Circle Jerks, Black Flag, Dead Kennedys, The Adolescents and countless others. Then that lead to a different kind of music, bands like Butthole Surfers, Meat Puppets, Minutemen, Sonic Youth and Redd Kross.
How did the Southern California Punk Scenes differ from the punk scenes in other parts of the United States?
Southern California has always had an indigenous sound. The culture here just assures that somehow. The sunshine, the beaches, the smog, the endless traffic; it all makes for a great backdrop. Then, throw in surfing, skateboarding and a “radical” teenage lifestyle to the mix. This genre of music started here and eventually spread nationally by bands like Middle Class, The Germs, Black Flag and the Circle Jerks. This sound comes from L.A.’s Westside, Orange County and the South Bay of Los Angeles. So much came out of this as far as “Hardcore” is concerned; the stage dive, the slam pit (not the “Mosh Pit,” please). This music has stood the test of time, if you ask me. I’m not so sure if that is true of other cities’ underground scenes; I’m glad this is L.A., not Boston. If you don’t get the reference, this is a jab at the famous hardcore compilation “This Is Boston, Not LA,” which we actually liked a great deal. We Got Power was looking at the national scene as well as the local. We have plenty of touring bands covered in the ‘zine and in the book.
Chuck Dukowski has a great essay in “We Got Power!” titled “Sanity Is a Lie.” What role did Dukowski play in promoting the fanzine?
I don’t know if he promoted it, per se. I know he was down with it. We became friends with him once the fanzine had run its course, and we were on to other things (“Painted Willie” / “The Lovedolls” films). He was and is a very musically knowledgeable individual. He was the articulate guy you went to in any given early Black Flag interview. He was a closer friend of Jordan, who he hired to work along side of him at SST / Global in 1985.
In Dukowski’s essay, the punk scene is shown in a fairly positive light. By contrast, in your own essay titled “We’re a Riot Fight,” you show the darker side of the L.A. punk scene. You tell how the punk scene became filled with followers and those with a gang mentality mindset. What year did you notice a widespread change?
Somewhere by the end of 1984, I think it had run its course (at least creatively, as far as I was concerned). Within a few years this music had completely vanished from the landscape here. Hair Metal had taken over. Bush 1 was in the White House. The party was over.
TAM readers, like me, will be interested in knowing more about the punk-rock band Sin 34. What year did it form? How did it get its name, and who were your band mates?
I helped start the band in 1981 at the age of 17. I named it from a UHF local television station, channel 34, which happened to have the initials SIN (which stood for Spanish International Television). None of us knew how to play at all when the band started, we learned as we went. Julie Lanfeld screamed out the vocals, Phil Newman was on bass, and we had a number of guitarists until we found one that stuck, Mike Glass (AKA “Mike Geek”).
Tell Target Audience Magazine readers about your movies and music videos (how they got started, etc.).
My website can do a better job of that than me, www.wegotpowerfilms.com, as I get bored quick talking about myself.
What do you have in the pipeline for 2013? Beyond that?
I’m taking the gallery show of our photos on the road, mainly to promote the book. Out first show (“We Got Power: We Survived The Pit”) at Track 16 Gallery was just a few blocks away from where I grew up and met Jordan and his sister, in Santa Monica. So that felt really right. Besides the book, I have a new documentary feature “My Career As A Jerk” which is the story of the Circle Jerks. I shot, produced, directed and edited myself. It’s a return to the old days of my filmmaking for me, where I do it all myself. They don’t call it D.I.Y. for nothing.