Got no car,
Got no money,
I got nothing,
Nothing, nothing, nothing
Nothing at all
It's a sad irony that Danny Dirtnap hates hipsters like Nathan Williams, the San Diego kid who records under the name Wavves. Though one is a Pitchfork darling who every tight-jeaned kid in the country adores, and the other is a grubby east Mesa greaser willfully alienated from everything currently "cool" in Western civilization, they have a lot in common. Really. Like Williams, Dirtnap has no car, no money, and loves dissonant, recklessly fast rock 'n' roll music. He is a "No Hope Kid," a 23-year-old self-labeled dirtbag who works at a pizza shop and, until this month, lived in his dad's house near Falcon Field.
"Someone at a bar asks, 'Where do you live?' It's the same song every time. 'Oh, I'm out in Mesa. East Mesa actually.' Then usually a look of disgust or pity is shot my way. A lot of people grow up in Mesa and then, at the first opportunity, moved to the downtown Tempe college party town or to the downtown Phoenix art scene. I am not one of those people," Danny once wrote. "Out here in Mesa, we sit on porches and smoke endless amounts of cigarettes. We discuss our existence as humans and our purpose. Then one night we realize there is no 'purpose.' That's the joke. So rather than moving to a more 'hip' or 'happening' part of town, we stay here."
If Danny sounds a little naive, he's not, really. Before he could legally drink, Danny Valdez was married with a kid. Now he's the part-time custodian of a 3-year-old son, along with his ex-wife in Chandler. Yet he makes time for a band and a 'zine. Danny's biggest aspiration is to set something in motion with the Phoenix punk scene, and he's confident it'll happen.
"It's, like, how people have a hard time believing how you could have palm trees, swimming pools, ice cream, the suburbs, and have punk rock in Huntington Beach. How is that possible? Then, years later, you learn about it and it's like, 'Oh, fuck, that's how.' It's the same fucking thing here. I feel it in my fucking bones. I have no doubt about it that, 20 years from now, this is going to be a music scene people are going to be talking about."
That said, Danny professes fatalistic doubts that he'll live long enough to reap the rewards. He's always had a feeling he'll die young, he says. Like Hank Williams.
"Hank Williams is a very, very, very important person to me. I'm not a religious person anymore, but Hank Williams is like a father figure from above, ya know? He speaks to you. As a young man, he speaks to me. That's something I can't get from listening to fucking Minus the Bear."
In the interest of full disclosure, I should mention up-front that Dirtnap, the publisher of a popular local 'zine called Valley of the Scum, and I have some history. In his 'zine (available in local record stores and, soon, Hot Topic) he's had plenty of criticism for me and for New Times: "The magazine has covered local rock 'n' roll/punk music in the past and sometimes quite well. As of late, though, if you don't fit the bill of what's 'hip' with the downtown crowd . . . your band can't get coverage. The head chump/chimp in charge is music editor Martin Cizmar."
It's worth mentioning that, before that was published, I was unimpressed with Danny's music. Here's what I wrote in my review of The First Five Months, the debut by his band, The Video Nasties: "The Nasties are boring, self-indulgent punk rock poseurs from east Mesa without an ounce of originality or the demonstrated ability to play their instruments with the basic competency you'll find at a typical school-sponsored battle of the bands."
While lacking mutual respect, Danny and I do share an appreciation for New Times copy editor Jay Bennett. I like his word-working, Danny loves his garage-rock band, Scorpion vs. Tarantula, who graced his publication's cover ("SET TO EXPLODE!" it proclaimed) a few months ago. So it was that I made Danny's acquaintance, through Jay, at a show a while back. And so it was that I was invited out to east Mesa to spend a Tuesday evening hanging out with Danny and his adoring sidekick Travis, drinking The Champagne of Beers and talking about music in his dad's garage. The thing is, prepping for the long ride out to east Mesa (yes, it's long, though I live in west Mesa), I couldn't stop listening to Wavves. Partly because the recorded output of Dirtnap's own band is essentially unlistenable and partly because the coolest band in the world and a band I think is among the worst locally have so much in common.
Got no god
Got no girlfriend
Yeah, I know, I know, I know, I know
Actually, judging by what we heard in the garage, the Nasties have improved significantly in the past several months. Turns out, learning to play your instruments is, Danny admits, important. Also improved: Danny's personal prospects. As he looks forward to his 24th birthday in August, the skinny, pompadour-wearing kid with a tattoo of Elvis on his forearm is about to move to the comparatively glamorous college town of Tempe. Though he says he'd prefer to stay in Mesa, the pizza shop Danny works at is a two-hour public-transit commute from the quiet-but-dingy neighborhood where he lives in a spare bedroom decorated with a giant Taxi Driver poster and a few remnants from the stash of Elvis memorabilia filling the place.
"I've done everything in this house. Spent my wedding night here. When I left my wife, I came here. My first show, my first band, when I was 16, we played in the backyard," he says. "A lot of history here. It's important to me."
Danny's mom is a now-relaxed Pentecostal, an Anglo from Texarkana, Arkansas. His dad is a traveling electrician, a Mexican immigrant who calls Danny "mi hijo." Danny grew up intensely involved in church ("that documentary Jesus Camp was my childhood," he says) then found punk rock in high school. That's his life now, pretty much.
"I didn't get into music until I was about 16 or 17 years old, and I found out about The Sex Pistols and The Misfits and Minor Threat and a thing called 'straight edge' and, like, all that beginner punk rock stuff — but I was 17 at that point. I was really late in to the game. I got into that straight edge/hardcore thing for awhile," he says. "Then all the gangs started forming . . . and I didn't want to be part of that, and I started hanging out with my east Mesa friends, the kids I went to school with and grew up with and shit."
Travis, a chubby blond 23-year-old who's starting the process of covering his body in tattoos and jokes about supporting Danny when he's between jobs, is one of those east Mesa friends.
From there, Danny went on happily edging straight until a brutal car accident at age 19. Sitting on the curb after the crash, touching his exposed skull and watching his blood pour out on the pavement, Danny had an epiphany. "Up until that point, when I was a young person, everyone always told me, 'You've got your whole life ahead of you; you've got a long time to live.' And after that happened, I was like, 'Fuck no I don't. I could die any fucking second. What the fuck am I doing?'"
He decided there, while bleeding, to do something — leaving a record of what he does is nearly as important as what he actually does, Danny says — and that something ended up being the quest to build an "important" Phoenix punk scene, starting in east Mesa and, hopefully, worming its way into tighter sectors of the grid.
Maybe I'm just cynical about music in general, I tell Danny, but the thing is, I've grown out of punk. It made sense to me when I was a teenager, but not so much now that I'm 28. Doesn't he kinda feel the same way? I mean, shit, he has a kid.
"Punk is nothing you grow out of. Punk is not a fashion, punk is not a style, punk is not Mohawks, and it's not leather jackets. It's been around since the dawn of time, since the dawn of music, and what it boils down to is rebellion. It's a youth-driven movement."
Yeah, but I grew out of rebelling.
"How can you grow out of being pissed off at the world?"
I'm not pissed off at the world anymore.
"Then you're not alive, man. If you're not pissed about the way the world is now, there's something fucking wrong with you. Then you've fallen into their fucking line of thinking. A song I would suggest you listen to is 'Tired of Life' by T.S.O.L. It says it more perfectly than anything ever could: 'Because of the process, because of the system, because you're still laughing, because you don't listen.'"
Yeah, I guess, maybe that's why I don't get it.
"Because you're not desperate. You're not living on the fucking edge."
No, I'm not.
"That's what does it, for me anyways. I don't know where I'm going to be, two days to the next. I don't know what job I'm going to have, how I'm going to feed myself or my son. I don't know anything. And it's all so uncertain. This is the only thing keeping me fucking sane. It's the only thing making me feel like, if I die tomorrow, I left something behind, ya know?"
Yeah, the fact that I can't relate to that may be why I don't get that music. But do you ever think that you'll grow out of it, Danny?
"No. No, absolutely not. I'll always be angry that homosexuals can't get married."
Yeah, but they're probably going to be able to get married in few years.
"I'll always be angry that racial profiling is still going on in this country.
We have a black president, something unimaginable as recently as five years ago.
"I'll always be angry animals are still being killed in slaughterhouses."
I think animals are delicious.
"That's an archaic way of thinking."
At that point, Danny closes the garage door so he can pack a bowl, out of sight of his elderly neighbor. The neighbor sits on a bench in front of his house, slowly watering his lawn by hand with a green garden hose as Danny smokes and blares The Stooges.
Got no friends,
Got no family,
Just a bunch of people have been put around me.
Danny has a lot of big ideas. Though he's losing the use of his dad's computer in the move and will have to produce the 'zine with a Xerox machine and typewriter, he's improved his distribution exponentially by getting permission to put it in Hot Topic. He's also planning to start two Teddy Boy bands in the fall, then sell the Teddy Boy jackets around town. Sounds pretty promising. Maybe the start of something he can make a career out of?
"To be totally, bluntly honest with you, I dunno. I can't explain it. I wish I didn't feel this way, but I've had this gut feeling since that car wreck when I was 19 that I wasn't going to live, like, that long. I was probably not going to live to be an old man. It's just a feeling I get inside. I hope it's not true. I don't think about getting old or where this is taking me or whatever, because at this point I don't need to think about all that. If I do start to get old, I guess I'll think about that, but until then, I'm going to live like this."
"Like this" means no car, no money . . . nothing, nothing, nothing at all.
The thing is, Danny's not that far from those college-kid hipsters he hates. He's their age. He's mastered their cynical sneer. Wearing Chuck's, tight black jeans, and a snap-button Western shirt, he's halfway to the look — all he'd have to do is take off his bolo tie and wash the pomade out of his hair. In some alternate universe he could be a Wavve, instead of a Video Nastie. Maybe that universe is his new town, Tempe. Probably not, Danny says.
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So he's moving from his velvet Elvis-ed, spiritual homeland of east Mesa. That doesn't mean he has any intention of "growing a beard and playing a child's instrument onstage" (to use phrases from his favorite caricature of hipsterdom).
"Mesa is something I carry within my heart, within myself. It's home. You may leave home, but home never leaves you, as shitty and corny and stupid as it may sound" he says. "I've already thought about this, and it's like, fuck it, I'm leaving here and everything, but it's not like it's gonna change me."
It's not that Danny doesn't have any hope; it's that he doesn't want any — at least not hope for those conventional and totally un-punk measures of success. For Danny, building a scene like Huntington Beach, California, would be pretty fucking awesome. Never mind that, as I say to him, all those bands sucked anyway. Black Flag? The Descendents? The Circle Jerks? The Vandals? The Offspring? Seriously, I tell Danny (although I see he has a Black Flag tattoo on his forearm) even he should be able to concede that Black Flag were one of the shittiest bands that ever existed. Even most of their fans admit they have no musical worth, crediting them instead with contributions to the DIY ethic or their hard work or influence on other acts. I mean, seriously, Black fucking Flag, dude?
"Like I said, Martin: There's people who like rock 'n' roll and get it — and there's people who don't," Danny says.