“…it was like the only thing left that made any sense was to try and bash your head against it and hope to wake up somewhere new…”
Unlike other book reviewers, I detest opening my articles with a quote. In all the years I’ve been writing this column, I think it’s the second time I’ve pulled out this trope.
Well, when I woke up this morning, (Wednesday,) I learned that President Trump had just dismissed FBI Director James Comey.
He had his personal security guard deliver a letter that basically said, “YOU’RE FIRED!!!”
It finally happened.
“The Apprentice” and the government of the United States of America have finally merged into one massive entity, all in the service of money and power.
I’m in a tough spot, myself, as I spent a year and a half before the election warning about our now-lunatic-Commander-in-Chief. And given the ridiculous nature of what’s transpired since he won, I find myself reluctant to continue the barrage here.
It all seems so pointless.
A few months ago, when everyone was talking about how “unprecedented” this all was, I scratched my head, and asked, “What about Nixon?”
I even asked my father directly, as Nixon’s break-in buddies were indicted on the day I was born, March 4th, 1974.
How is this not the same, I wondered?
“No, this is different,” Dad said then, though I suspect he’s since changed his tune. (Though in fairness, he has said for months he thought a 9/11-style special commission would eventually be empowered to look into the Russia mess, leading to Trump’s ouster.)
To be clear, I’m no sage, as I certainly didn’t predict the Donald would win. And I’m wrong often enough, so this is no ego-trip.
Rather, it’s the honest admission of an opinion columnist that I’ve reached the point where the degree of absurdity has exceeded my capacity to ruminate.
Sure, he must think, let’s fire the one guy who has the power to indict my buddies. Maybe no one will suspect my motives? And even if they do, at this point in time, there are no human beings alive who can stop me. So I’ll just have a private meeting in my office with the very Russian operatives that caused this whole mess to begin with.
What does a simple, rural, photo-book reviewer have to say that will stand up to a Hollywood-nightmare-plot-gone-wrong-from-which-none-of-us-can-wake-up?
The answer, my friends, is Punk Rock.
I was never a Punk Rocker, if we’re being honest, even though my cousin Jordan caught on to The Clash and all that good stuff while I was still bopping my head to Billy Joel.
My parents would play Donna Summer all night long, as the Disco era and then the early-80’s-one-hit-wonder phase dominated our 8-track, and the car stereo.
I wore my Izod shirts, and let my mother comb my hair like a good boy. I grew up playing sports, in the suburbs, and didn’t even know my parents hated Reagan until I was older.
“Just say no, Nancy Reagan? Ok. If you say so. Good boys don’t smoke weed.”
That was me. (Then.)
Punks were true rebels. They stuck pins through their flesh, and wore ripped clothes. Nowadays, I’m pretty sure you can spend $1000 on a pair of pants that are sold covered in fake mud.
Back then, in the late 70’s, after Nixon’s fall, this country was hanging on by a thread. (Sound familiar?)
And kids responded by throwing up their hands, saying “fuck it,” and then vomiting on each other. Or pissing in their own van.
Mohawks and skinny jeans and a sense that the world was too crazy to change. Political organizing was for squares, man. Punk was about violent music, fighting with your friends, and living with the calm assurance that the grownups running the world were morally and financially corrupt.
Rather than claim my current ennui stems from a Punk Rock ethos I’ve never possessed, I’ll just admit this rant was inspired by “Order of Appearance,” a new book by Jim Jocoy, recently published by our friends at TBW Books in Oakland.
I’ve interviewed their publisher Paul Schiek before, and that man, unlike me, is Punk Rock. He lived it, and told us so. He met his buddy, Mike Brodie, (he of the train-hopping punk photographs,) at a party where I’m pretty sure the pink puke was fresher than the beer.
So seeing this book turn up in the mail, from his imprint, made sense to me. I’d never heard of Jim Jocoy before, nor did I know this book was about Punk Rockers.
But it didn’t take much time to figure that out. The vibe, the style, and people were all just right. The book, however, denies us any dates, times or places until the end.
It’s sly, but a sticker affixed to the shrink wrap contains a quote from Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore, so I guess that’s the only clue that sets the scene, until the captions.
The book features a look at the original Punk scene in San Francisco in the late 70’s. Mr. Jocoy, like many a photographer before him, was the guy in his crew who liked to take pictures. (I’m guessing, but the proof is in the pudding.)
These photos, which were recently scanned from nearly-40-year-old slides, feel like they’ve been rescued from some old age home for Punks.
Can you just imagine?
The furniture would all be ripped. The carpet smelly. The fridges filled with only ketchup and a few stray cans of PBR, and the nurses would give you your pills at random times during the day, just to screw with you.
Some pictures are sharp, others blurry, and the color palette is vibrant, but not hyper-real. The blue of dyed hair, the ochre of Allen Ginsburg’s man-purse, the yellow of a club wall all feel like they were made in a world of chemical color.
The San Francisco I knew when I lived there, from 1999-2002, was on a roller-coaster ride of consumption and decline. The dot com boom, the dot com bust.
The San Francisco of these pictures was more dire, as there was no Internet. No email. No cell phones. No one to have your back, unless they were standing right beside you.
The photographs don’t scream action. They are more structured than that, though we do have an up-the-crotch vision of a dancer, probably at some club on Broadway. (The caption confirms as much, though I guessed b/c that’s where the go-go bars have always been.)
There’s an overturned car, a dude bashing an ambulance with his head, and a bevy of people passed out from whatever cocktail of booze and drugs they chose that evening.
I can’t say I’ve never seen anything like this before, as other books by TBW have mined the same broad territory. (Rebellious or down-scale white folks. Like “Lost Coast,” which we also featured.)
But what I like most about this book is that it’s not broad. It’s super-specific. These were the kids, and musicians, that responded to 70’s America with disdain, and an arrogant sense of their own righteousness.
They weren’t trying to change the system. Rather, they chose to opt out, in their own way.
These days, we don’t really have that option. It’s hard to hide when you’re bombarded by information and noise, no matter where you lay your head.
Which is why I opened this review with a quote. Sometimes, we do all want to “…bash your head against it and hope to wake up somewhere new…”
So if you’re feeling that way this week, take comfort. You’re not alone. And also remember, they got Nixon in the end. Trump might be on top now, but history has a way of flipping the script.
Bottom Line: San Francisco OG Punks, back in the day
If you’d like to submit a book for review, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org