In our unstable economic climate, even rockstars have to think about their financial future.
Keith Morris, lead singer of Circle Jerks, has been quoted as saying that this is his “paying for retirement” tour.
“Punk rockers don’t have a 401K,” says Morris.
That may be the reason that the Jerks are out on tour again, although to talk with him, it really doesn’t sound like he’s ready to hang anything up just yet.
Admittedly, I was late to the game when it came to seeing the Circle Jerks live. The sometimes volatile band helped me get into punk rock, and one of the first punk records I ever heard was the Decline of Western Civilization soundtrack which featured the Circle Jerks, Black Flag (Morris’ first band), X, Fear, Catholic Discipline, and the Bags.
In 1986, I finally got to one of their gigs. They played The Mason Jar (now The Rebel Lounge), and seeing them play live was, for me, like finding the most comfortable pair of socks ever, putting them on, and never wanting to take them off.
Flash-forward 35 years, and I’m beyond stoked that the Circle Jerks are making their way back to Phoenix after a prolonged absence (they play The Van Buren on Saturday, October 30). It’s been over 15 years since they’ve done a major tour and frankly, it’s about fucking time.
It’s not like I haven’t gotten my fill of the Jerks (as they are often referred to by fans and foes alike) over the last decade or so. The lineup this time around features lead singer Keith Morris, guitarist Greg Hetson, bassist Zander Schloss, and drummer Joey Castillo. Morris and I, at least in my mind, go way back to what was probably my fifth or sixth time seeing them at the box-like west-side venue, Rockers, in 1988.
The bouncers promptly threw me out after I decided to do a stage dive. Bummed because I knew they'd be playing for a good while longer, I was wandering around the parking lot a little drunk and dejected when the bouncer who tossed me approached me. I thought I was about to get my ass kicked but instead, he offered me an apology and said there was someone who wanted to talk to me. He led me back into the club and up onstage, where Morris said, “Is this the guy?” before the band kicked into “Killing For Jesus” off their totally underrated Wonderful record.
Turns out, Morris was ranting about the bouncers being dicks and my buddy who I had gone with started yelling, “What about Tom?” The band insisted they let me back in.
It's just one reason why I’m stoked they're back in action.
If you ever get the chance to talk to Morris, do it. He can talk about just about anything, and with a slightly nasal eloquence (he was fighting a cold when we talked) he told me about how he got the cold from Castillo while practicing for their Riot Fest gig in September.
“[Castillo] said, ‘maybe you might not want to come to rehearsal. I've got a cold.’ ... But we were going to rehearse, and it was going to be what it was going to be. Of course, I picked up the cold from Joey. I’m a diabetic and if somebody's sick because I have a compromised immune system, chances are I'm on that train,” Morris says.
He's healthy now, thankfully, for a tour that, thanks to the pandemic, has been put on ice for a while. When it was initially announced back toward the end of 2019, Circle Jerks were going to play Punk Rock Bowling 2020 and a select few other dates. Then Covid-19 came and I had to wonder if the band would implode again before shows started happening again, which they have done from time to time over the years.
Initially, this tour was supposed to feature drummer Kevin Fitzgerald, who played with the band during the early 2000s. Over the summer, though, Fitzgerald was hit with two major strokes and couldn't join the group. According to Morris, though, Fitzgerald is doing much better these days.
“He's actually got his stuff back. When I say he's got his stuff back, that doesn't mean that he's sitting down behind a drum kit. He had two strokes, which is usually enough to kick your ass into the ground, but he’s a guy that could get run over by a car, no five cars, and then get up and say, ‘Is that all you got?’” says Morris.
While Fitzgerald is clearly missed, video from some of the festival shows from the last few months show that Castillo is more than up for the task. Many will know him from his main band, The Bronx, but he’s also played with Queens of the Stone Age, Danzig, and Wasted Youth. Considering that Hetson plays with Bad Religion, Punk Rock Karaoke, and did time in Redd Kross, and Schloss, who originally joined the band in 1984, plays with the Weirdos and once played with the late, great Joe Strummer, you could consider the Circle Jerks to be something of a punk rock supergroup.
Unfortunately, having all those connections does not often, if ever, equate to much of a plan for the financial future, which is why we're lucky enough to have the Jerks out on tour again and coming to Phoenix this week.
Things may have been different, Morris says, if they hadn't sold their publishing rights back in the '80s for a paltry sum, but you live and learn.
“It seemed like a zillion dollars at the time,” he says.