American Hardcore: A Personal Tale


My last longish music post regarded springtime, the nice weather, the birds and bees, all that wonderful stuff. This entry is about my roots. Bob from Brockley‘s posts on music, in particular the one on “rockism” had me thinking about my youth. Just so I’m clear, I had a “Disco Sucks” t-shirt when I was eight and by the time I was eleven I was listening to rock n’ roll.

But this post concerns hardcore punk, the music of my teens. A good friend in San Diego turned me on to “the scene.” Being a metal kid, I thought punk music was crap. But there were bands like Black Flag, Circle Jerks, Suicidal Tendencies and Battalion of Saints which really caught my ear. I liked the speed, the power and the insanity of the music. We saw Black Flag and the Meat Puppets at the Adams Avenue Theater and that was it.

So one dude gets turned on to some bone-headed music. Big deal. But what happened was pivotal for me and a lot of other testosterone driven males of my generation. At that time, the mid 1980s, California (and the entire country) was experiencing if not an explosion, an incredibly large creative boom in this form of hardcore music. More importantly, where this was happening was in your home town. The bands were composed of people who looked like you (young), who were interested in the things you did (skateboarding, etc.), and who were not trying to do the whole rock star thing. They were not distant, they were right there, whether pulling people on stage, or spitting in their face.

One place that typifies this boom in creativity is Oxnard, California, a rural town about 50 miles north of Los Angeles. Oxnard is an agricultural and covered by commercial farms. The population is largely Mexican-Americans and Mexican immigrants. Oxnard birthed the Nardcore scene (Oxnard + Hardcore = Nardcore) and bands like Agression, Ill Repute, Stalag 13 and Dr. Know.

The original (U.K.) punk scene had working-class origins, but the same could not be said for U.S. punk. Many of the bands were composed of members of the middle-class (or higher) and their songs reflected that reality.

Marginalized working-class Americans found their expression through a genre known as “hardcore punk” or simply, “hardcore.” While the genesis of this musical form is difficult to pin-point, many would start the scene with the seminal D.C. band Bad Brains who started in the late 1970s. By the early 1980s a variety of bands had developed on the East Coast (Agnostic Front, Cro-Mags, Minor Threat, S.S. Decontrol, etc.) and West Coast (Battalion of Saints, Black Flag, Circle Jerks, Dirty Rotten Imbeciles [DRI], Suicidal Tendencies) and throughout the country (Big-Boys from Texas, Jody Foster’s Army [JFA] from Arizona, etc.).

The scene was incredibly varied and included blacks, whites, Asians and Latinos, people sporting skinheads, crew cuts, mohawks, and even the occasional long-hair. What bound the hardcore scene together was the music as well as a somewhat juvenile/macho credo:

1) Support the scene: By attending shows, buying records and trading tapes.

2) Defend yourself and your friends: Always be ready, willing and able to fight, when necessary.

3) Have fun: Skateboard, surf, and, for some, beer drinking and other imbibing.

4) Anti-Politics: For me that meant anti-totalitarianism (both communist and fascist varities) combined with an extreme cynicism towards representative democracy.

I embraced all of this willingly and wholeheartedly. In the process I made some stupid decisions that I regret. But I do not regret the lessons learned or the friends I made. Most of us have married and moved on, some have passed away, but we old farts keep that fire in our hearts and whenever I meet someone who is down, it’s like meeting an old friend from past.

Here are some songs in alphabetical order. Turn it up as loud as you can…

Agnostic Front (NYC): “Public Assistance

Non PC hardcore at its finest. My favorite tune by these guys is “Shoot his Load.” An ode to Bernhard Goetz

Bad Brains (DC): “I Against I”, “Soulcraft” and “Hired Gun” all in one.

Battalion of Saints (San Diego, CA): “Fighting Boys

Cro-Mags (NYC): “Hard Times” Poor video quality but it captures the energy of their shows quite well.

Dead Kennedys: “Kill the Poor

Rich Kids on LSD–RKL (Montecito, CA): “Scab on my Brain

Bonus: “Blocked Out” Peep the drums (Bomer) and bass (Joe) on this track:

RIP Bomer, Jason and Derrick. You are missed…

Stäläg 13 (Oxnard, CA): “Conditioned

Nardcore. Awesome. One of my all time faves. Cover of the album is by Jaime Hernandez. Wetto, you rock!!!

VOID (DC): “Who Are You?” Void was totally out of control. If you know where I can find a vid of “Black, Jewish and Poor” let me know. RIP Sean Finnegan.

Great stuff:

More here and here.

Hope you liked the tunes…

3 responses »

  1. Someone is hotlinking your image at

    If I were you I’d replace the image on my post with a new name and then re-upload this name as something appropriately insulting.

    Asking source where it is hotlinked at stand by.

  2. Thanks. Tried to edit the file but WordPress would not let me substitute an image, only delete it. I also tried to put a new image but the url is not the same and I was unable to change it to the url above.

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