We Got Power began life as a fanzine started by Dave Markey and Jordan Schwartz in the early '80s as the hardcore punk scene was taking off in Southern California. The book features essays by many of the pioneers from that time who we now recognize as members of Black Flag, Circle Jerks, Red Kross, and many other bands. Henry Rollins, Keith Morris, and Dez Cadena are just some of the many contributors who provide personal narratives to accompany the photographs of that era. The book contains first-generation L.A. hardcore images, many of which you can see in person starting this Friday at Modified Arts.
We talked to both founders about what it was like to be at the shows that they documented using the 35mm camera they were given for Christmas, and how their passion for the music scene led them to pen the first issue.
Up on the Sun: The photographs in the book are so emotive and capture the energy of that era--whether its an audience in thrall to a band, a singer connecting with the crowd, or teenagers on couches at parties. What was it like when you were first looking back at these original photographs from the '80s that ended up in the book? Dave Markey: The minute we put the negatives in after scanning them, we were just completely blown away by what we were seeing. I mean, it was our lives at the time.
The filter of time definitely did something to them. It was like a bottling of little moments, and something about having them tucked away for so long and then going back to them was kind of startling. It was a good starting point for us in the project.
Jordan Schwartz: The photos had been filed away for like 20 years and it was over a Christmas break that we started rescanning the images. We immediately thought, "Whoa, these pictures are heavy." I had forgotten about most of them.
The times were pretty intense. The music was intense and the whole scene was a very, very intense scene. I think people were having a lot of fun, but it was also pretty aggressive and violent. As soon as we saw those pictures, it immediately spoke to us. We were like, "We gotta put these pictures together with some people's stories and get this book out."
The last issue of We Got Power came out in 1983, so what led to it eventually becoming a book? Dave: Yeah, the last issue was in '83. We are looking at 30 years forward, and the magazine was kind of a starting point for us. It started with us, Jordan's sister Jennifer, and our friend Alan Gilbert really getting into the L.A. scene at the time. Prior to that, I had been making films since I was a little kid. I did a neighborhood newspaper as a kid, so I was doing that at 12 and 13.
All this sort of later became known as DIY; I was involved with that even before we discovered this music, but then once we discovered the music, it sort of went to a whole new level.
Jordan: Yes, we realized, "Oh, other people are doing this," and we can do the stuff that we're doing and show it to these other people.
Dave: Before that, the zine was just speaking very locally, speaking to kids on the street and in our neighborhood. A few years later, after warming up in our own little way, we were able to take it and have a template: a starting point to do the fanzine.
Jordan: The problem was that as cool as the L.A. hardcore punk rock scene was, by about 83-84, it really started to burn out. It lost its flair. So we went on to do other stuff. Making films about somewhat related things, and always cracking jokes about hardcore punk rock. A lot of We Got Power stuff just got shelved away, and then in 2004 we were opening up the vault, the time capsule, and [were] just blown away.
The other thing is, Dave had documented this film, 1991, The Year Punk Broke. Hardcore died, but then hardcore and punk as an art form started coming back around the early '90s, thanks to Nirvana and other bands. So now that we are looking at 2013, like, Art or Punk is this formal art form and hardcore punk rock is this little variant of that. People are kind of interested in all the stuff that went on there and we have great photos, recordings and writings that we can share with people--starting at the Modified this Friday.
Dave: We were always really good at archiving. It would just come as second nature. It wasn't like early on, we weren't even taking cues from anybody in particular.
It was just this desire to do stuff as a kid and then we really kept that energy pretty consistent through the fanzine. It's a nice recording of those times, and of course, at the time, you're not thinking about it as an art form. We felt at the time it seemed important to capture this.
Jordan: To tell the story. We didn't think as many people would care about it. Back then we were telling the story to another hundred kids in the U.S.
Dave: We had a run of a 1000, 1500 and then a couple thousand. It was a little more than a couple hundred; it was small and insular. It was its own little world.
How did Bazillion Points end up as the publisher for the book? Dave: I approached Ian Christie at Bazillion Points after reading the Touch and Go book he had put out. Touch and Go was a fanzine out of the Midwest. It became a record label later, but first it was a fanzine. It was run by Tesco Vee; we used to trade issues back and forth in the mail. That's what you did at the time in the pre-internet days.
Jordan: Yeah, in the pre-internet days you traded printed material or little things you drew up. You sent it via snail mail to somebody else and you would have to wait days, if not weeks, for it to get to whoever you were sending it to, and then it would take them days or weeks to send you stuff back. On the internet, you can just throw stuff up and people see it almost immediately and click 'like' buttons and share it on their page.
Dave: Along with the fanzine trading, we were also trading cassette tapes of bands, flyers, and other kinds of ephemera that was from our little corner of the country. That is how we would pick up on other little scenes--through fanzines, because there was no national media coverage of this that wasn't outright negative and derogatory. Everyone knows about the famous punk rock episodes of CHiPS, and the media reports that were really sensationalistic, who were just painting this music in a certain way. We were really reacting against that at the time--making fun of it.
Jordan: To get back to how the book deal came out . . . After Ian Christie at Bazillion Points released the Touch and Go book, we approached him. We had already had this idea of what we wanted to do, which was a collection of pictures, words and then the reprints of our fanzine.
It's a treat that the book includes a full reprint of every issue from the fanzine, but along with that, there's some really great essays written by some of the band members and figures of that era. It gives a glimpse into how many of those bands were formed and the challenges they faced--some of them were living in vans, then joining new bands only to disband later. Dave: Yeah, that was always my idea--to marry the images to personal stories. Many of these people were friends of ours for many years. We thought it would just be a good idea to get some words in there.
Jordan: The funny thing about the people in that scene is that they like to tell those stories. For example, the way I got Mike Watts to write his piece, which was really about San Pedro, was I took a rough draft of the book to his gig and showed him Dez Cadena from Black Flag's piece. He looked at that and said, "Well, hey, I got to write about Pedro." The thing about Mike Watts is that he is all about San Pedro. He saw that and he had to tell his story.
Dave: The thing about Los Angeles is that it's a bunch of different communities that are strung together in their own little worlds. These little scenes were originating out of Southern California with bands like The Middle Class, The Germs, Black Flag, Circle Jerks and so many others. A lot of these bands were able to get on the road, and in the wake of that, it was starting all these scenes in places like Phoenix. I remember Phoenix early on--they had JFA, the Meat Puppets.
We were really into both bands, and of course, some pretty important musicians from Phoenix came out to L.A. at the time. Paul Cutler, who was in a band called The Consumers, came here and started 45 Grave. There's this real L.A.-Phoenix connection.
Each corner of the country had their own flavor, their own kind of style. Bands out of D.C. were very much D.C. bands, and bands out of Boston were very much Boston bands. Bands out of the Midwest were totally their own. They are unmistakably from their regions.
This makes the upcoming show, We Got Power Night of ROCK, at the Trunk Space all the more exciting. The Phoenix component of the exhibition, which was organized by Amy Young [a New Times contributor], will feature a live performance withThe Father Figures, Scorpion VS Tarantula, JJCNV and French Girls. Dave: There's a definite connection, absolutely. I remember going to Phoenix for the first time in 1983 with the band I was in at the time, Sin 34. We were supposed to play a show with Red Kross, but Red Kross cancelled. I remember playing Mad Gardens and the wrestling rink there. I have some pretty stark memories of it.
Phoenix put out a compilation record called, "This Is Phoenix, Not The Circle Jerks." Johnny Victor put it out. A lot of scenes were reacting, like "This Is Boston, Not L.A," because L.A. was the big scene. It became a running inside joke. Funny enough, when we stayed in Phoenix, we stayed at Michael from JFA's place. He did a fanzine called Phoenus, and he is also the bass player in The Father Figures, the band playing at the Trunk Space. So with all this stuff there's a history.
Pat Fear wrote a piece about the difference between having a zine and publishing via the internet. One is more immediate and accessible than the other, but the other is a handmade, tangible object that you can carry with you. It's so easy to create a blog and publish something, whereas to make a zine you have to invest time into cutting and pasting by hand, invest printing costs, and it becomes time consuming to put the issue together. Dave: It took a lot of time for it to get out, and you were lucky if you had some distributors that picked up 20 copies at a time to get it out to places where people could discover it. It required a lot of footwork.
Jordan: Some of that is coming back now. For example, there's a bookshop that just opened up here in L.A., and all they sell are fanzines--or zines, as they call them. They're not even called fanzines anymore. They just call them zines. Back in the day, we called them fanzines because they were music or punk rock fanzines. At this shop, all they do is sell little zines now. So people are doing more printing now. They may be editing digitally and promoting it from some website, but I think people want once again to have a physical object they can hold on to. That's a reason why people will purchase vinyl records; they don't want CD's, but they will gladly purchase vinyl.
Dave: Yeah, the analog. The hard copy. That's the cool thing about the book and our photographic prints. They are just real things to look at, not staring into some screen. The idea with this book is that we wanted something that was the complete experience, where one would be able to just completely immerse themselves into this world, this time and place.
The 6th issue of We Got Power was never released and it was incomplete, but luckily for us readers it is included in the book. Dave: Some pieces of it were lost too. Unfortunately, I lent out a page from the zine that had the Steve Mcdonald from Red Kross interview that just sort of vanished and we weren't able to reproduce it. We had Jennifer do a present-day interview with Jeff and Steve from Red Kross in light of that page being lost.
Jordan: Having the unreleased 6th issue was a nice little treat. There's some funny stuff that would have been completely forgotten about.
Dave: Yeah, we forgot about it. It was filed away and fortunately, most of it was saved. Some of it was archived, but throughout time, things vanish--that's just the black hole factor.
You both mention in the book that when you were working on that 6th and final issue, it seemed like a natural progression to not finish it because the scene itself was dying down, right?
Dave: It was definitely changing, and our priorities were shifting. I started focusing more on making my film, "Desperate Teenage Lovedolls," at the time. I shifted all my energy towards doing that and that's how I spent 1984.
Jordan: It's a real interesting film. It takes off where the hardcore scene dies. You can see where we went to next, but you definitely got it. You can see that we were kind of burning out on the hardcore punk rock scene.
Dave: The hardcore punk rock thing was burning out in L.A. We had done what we could at the time. It was kind of fortunate that the old interview with Red Kross was lost, because Jennifer's interview with Jeff and Steve from 2012 gives a really interesting perspective on the whole thing.
Some essays in the book serve as tributes to characters that slipped through the cracks of the history of that scene, such as Mike Webber and Kim Pilkington. Dave: A lot of people checked out pretty young that were around the scene. A lot of people had some really hard endings and these people were friends of ours that worked with us--people we were in bands with or worked on projects with and people that we were really close to. So we wanted to pay tribute to our friends.
Jordan: The cool thing is that Henry Rollins did a great job of describing those certain kinds of people, those people who are just characters with a story in themselves. That's the nice thing about having his piece come right up front in the book.
In the pieces that you both authored, you talk about meeting each other because you lived in the same neighborhood. You both shared a passion for this music, and you talk about wanting to extend that to others by documenting and creating something that could help spread that passion. Dave: We were really into promoting the bands and what was going on. We loved this music so much that we thought everyone else should too. That was really the reason we started the zine. We were just doing our own thing at the time and we definitely felt there was really no coverage of this stuff.
We would go to shows and there would be 20, 30 people there. We would see really great shows and think, "Why aren't there more people here?"
Jordan: Everyone was kind of going through similar things--just realizing that you don't fit into the mainstream society and then somehow [coming] across this really intense music. They become a moth and the music is the flame driving them out to some weird warehouse, or some house party in some other city that you would never have gone to before.
You're there and you might be talking with someone--you can always chat about music, this band, that band, The Ramones, Minor Threat, Black Flag. You felt a connection to people because you were into the same music.
WE GOT POWER: A photography exhibition based on the book We Got Power! - Hardcore Punk Scenes from 1980s Southern California by David Markey and Jordan Schwartz- premieres this Friday at 6 PM at Modified Arts.
Phoenix Got Power, Too: An exhibit of local music-oriented photos from 80s & 90s will also premiere this Friday at the Trunk Space at 6 PM.
Filmbar will be screening two of Dave Markey's documentaries on October 5th.