Punk Rock Rebels, Repressive Regimes Fight Back

Today is the 33rd anniversary of the Elk’s Lodge riot in downtown Los Angeles where the LAPD cracked the skulls of punk rockers at a multiband show near MacArthur Park. Officers in riot gear stormed the historic Elks Lodge where local bands X, the GoGos, the Plugz, the Alley Cats and the Zeros were headlining, swinging batons, terrorizing and arresting young citizens for being different.

Rock and roll has been the music of rebellion and social change since the 1950s, and each successive wave of youths have discovered its power (chords) and embraced its do-it-yourself aesthetic. Punk rock and technology, from cassette tapes to MP3 and file sharing have made music the most easily understood and easy to identify mode of rebellious self-expression. The music, lyrics, and yes, fashion have been and are still threatening to the powers that be: Los Angeles Police chief Daryl Gates viewed punk rock, especially the band Black Flag, as a major threat, regularly sending in riot cops for their shows and says Black Flag drummer Greg Cameron:

Gates would get Black Flag tour dates and phone ahead to the local law enforcement agencies in those towns to “warn” them that Flag was coming.

Today punk rocks continue expressing dissatisfaction and challenging authority; and while punk may be almost 40, its revolutionary, self-empowering spirit has spread throughout the world to some of the most oppressive regimes, where musicians and fans are being imprisoned, “re-educated,” and murdered for daring to think and act differently.

In the past month in Iraq, per Reuters, 14 youths were stoned to death in Baghdad

in what appears to be a campaign by Shi’ite militants against youths wearing Western-style “emo” clothes and haircuts, security and hospital sources say.

Emo is modern style of punk music and dress that evolved in the late 1980s and is still popular with youth around the world. The Iraqi government has denied emo was the reason for the youths’ brutal death, but over the past weekend:

Militants in Shi’ite neighborhoods where the stonings have taken place circulated lists … naming more youths targeted to be killed if they do not change the way they dress.

The Guardian UK reports that in December 2011, where Indonesian youth which has been expressing itself through punk rock for two decades:

[A] punk gig took place in Aceh, Indonesia, the “special province” of the country that has its own police force pledged to maintain sharia law. Supposedly because the event’s organisers had forged official documents to gain the requisite permit, 64 of its attendees – who had travelled from all over the country – were arrested, and taken to a nearby detention centre, before being transported to a “remedial school” 37 miles away. There, their mohican hairstyles were forcibly removed because they were deemed “insulting to Islamic traditions”. According to a police spokesman, the group was held there to “undergo a re-education, so their morals will match those of other Acehnese people”. Demonstrations followed not just in Indonesia, but in London and San Francisco.

The recent Russian election brought punk rock to the forefront in the former Soviet Union when members of the feminist guerrilla punk collective (punk rock was the first genre where women/girls played all their instruments themselves) Pussy Riot were charged with hate crimes and violating a public order the day before the election, which kept Vladamir Putin in office as expected. Two members are still jailed and on a hunger strike.

Meanwhile last night at the über-hip SXSW in Austin, Tom Morello played a live concert for Occupy SXSW (Occupy Austin) attended by lots of folks who weren’t credentialed for the laminate-only festival/industry schmoozefest which was shut down by the police. Today, to celebrate the six months anniversary of the Occupy movement, there’s a Million Musician March for Peace taking place right now through the streets of Austin. Let’s see how the cops behave.


Art: Raymond Pettibone for Target Video, private collection

HT: We Got the Neutron Bomb: The Untold Story of L.A. Punk, by Brendan Mullen and Mark Spitz

The Go-Go’s Get Star on Hollywood Blvd: All Girl Band Broke Stereotypes. And The Top 40!


Today, over thirty years after their first gig, The Go-Go’s got a star on Hollywood Blvd, right outside the Masque where their first rehearsal took place in 1978.

The Go-Go’s were the first band to come out of the LA punk scene to break Billboard’s Top 40. And, more importantly, The Go-Go’s were the first all-female band to top the charts who wrote their own music and played their own instruments. Their debut album, Beauty and the Beat, held the number one spot on the Billboard chart for six consecutive weeks and went triple platinum, selling over 3 million copies.

The Go-Go’s have inspired generations of female musicians to take up instruments, write songs and perform, as well as being muses to all genders with their DIY spirit and utter coolness. Additionally, the band supports numerous charities. Guitarist Jane Wiedlin, a licensed clergyperson, officiates same sex marriages and loudly supports the LGBT community, as well as supporting Bowling for Boobies, a breast cancer support charity.

Friends and fans got the beat.

Hundreds of fans, surprised and happy tourists, long time punk stalwarts, and friends of the band turned out, including Abby Travis (bassist for Beck, Elastica, Spinal Tap, KMFDM, and The Bangles, and a singer/songwriter on her own who was motivated as a teen by the Go-Go’s); Jeff McDonald (Redd Kross); Jennifer Schwartz (Desperate Teenage Love Dolls); author/actress and world renown bellydancer Pleasant Gehman aka Princess Farhana, who co-starred in the 2009 film Stuck! with Wiedlin; filmmaker/artist John Roecker; music industry faces Gary Stewart, Cary Baker and Jay Boberg; Blondie Drummer Clem Burke who delivered the band’s introduction speech; and Los Angeles councilman Tom LaBonge who read a proclamation declaring August 8, 2011 as Go-Go’s Day in Los Angeles. Hollywood isn’t La Bonge’s district–it belongs to Eric Garcetti, the deputy mayor, who kinda has his hands full. LA is a mess.

But it’s easy to forget our city’s woes on a day like today, with a blue sky, palm trees blowing in the breeze, the Go-Go’s hits wafting through the sound system, and friends celebrating the success of a band that came from our town, helped define the 1980s, and broke the mold.

After the Go-Go's got their star, they went to the Masque where they first played, and Jane and Belinda added a little something to the walls.

Photos: 1: Lisa Derrick; 2: John Roecker; ceremony video: Kim White