Speaking with comedian Gregg Turkington about Phoenix's storied 80's punk scene, yielded plenty of yarns about seeing legendary bands in their prime. However, he also painted a vividly grotesque portrait of Arizona during the Reagan '80s and his own teenage experience in trying to navigate reactionary politics, fried food, and screaming rock stars.
We ended up with more images and stories than we could fit in print -- so enjoy this look and oral history-style read from Gregg Turkington (who performs tonight at Crescent Ballroom as Neil Hamburger).
Junior High Sucked Just As Much in the '80s:
The town was filled with assholes and the kids at school were just mean, jock-types. I was always getting in trouble for things you shouldn't really get in trouble for. In 1980, the Libertarian Presidential candidate Ed Clark was in Tempe. Somehow, I got to interview him with a friend of mine. I was in eighth grade. I went and told my social studies teacher about it, thinking it might be interesting to do a report. Not only did he say no, but he took me aside and said, "I've had students like you, and they often end up like this...," and he made a little limp-wristed, gay motion thing. It felt like a really intolerant place.
Have you seen The Apple Dumpling Gang? It's this horrible Disney movie starring Don Knotts. They showed it one year at my junior high as a reward for doing well. I was a good student but I hated the movie, it was for little kids.
The next year, they were giving us another reward at the end of the year and they were showing The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again, the sequel. I was a year older and I didn't want to watch it. I went to my teacher and asked if I could go to the library to read.
She said no, and I said it seemed more like a punishment, not a reward. She told me I needed a letter from my parents. So I got that from my mom and handed it in, and the teacher was like, "Ugh, I'm so sick of your attitude."
I went to the library and was reading a book, and the librarian approached me and said, "Sometimes it's better to play along with what everyone else is doing." You're the librarian! It was a very redneck sort of scene: even the kids were right-wingers.
When Mill Avenue Was Cool:
Roads to Moscow Records was this tiny specialty record shop on Mill. There was this guy Brad that worked there, a really nice skinhead guy who would recommend punk records. At that point, you could buy any punk record and it would be good.
If it was on SST, Alternative Tentacles, you'd know it would be good. I remember buying the first Redd Kross record, the Germs, all these records he'd turn me onto. Changing Hands Books was across from that, Zia Records was around the corner. There was a Tower Records over where those high-rises are now. It was really different down there.
Pete's Fish and Chips had a location nearby, and I would go there all the time during lunch break from Tempe High. It was the most disgusting little hellhole that was a hangout for low-lifes. There was a Greyhound bus station over there, so a lot of weirdos would hang out there. It was the most disgusting food, but I just loved the atmosphere. I actually gave myself an ulcer, as a child, from eating at this fucking place.
Sun City Girls played in front of the post office there, though it's a completely new building now. I remember at some point in the 80s, Charley [Gocher] was working at ASU in the cafeteria. He was telling me how much he hated the students, what little pricks they were. He'd put a glob of mayonnaise in a vanilla pudding he'd serve to somebody.
The Only Band As Good As Black Flag:
I went to see The Who at Sun Devil Stadium, it was a tour for one of their shitty records from the 80s. I go to the show and the opening acts are Loverboy and John Cougar Mellencamp, although at that time he was just John Cougar. He came out and started doing "Jack and Diane," his big hit.
Somebody threw a bottle at him and hit him in the head. It just exploded, shattered right on his head, and blood was pouring everywhere. It was insane. Somebody comes and drags him off the stage, the band leaves, and there was an announcement over the PA: "Coming up next is Loverboy, John Cougar will not be returning."
Five minutes later, he comes back onstage with a hardhat on and his head bandaged up like a fucking mummy.
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He grabs the microphone and says, "You fucking pussy cocksucker asshole! I'll kick your motherfucking ass!" Just this insane profanity-laden tirade that went on and on and on. Then they played "Hurts So Good." My jaw was on the floor. That was as good as Black Flag.
Neil Hamburger and Tim Heidecker are scheduled to perform tonight at Crescent Ballroom.