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Kids of the Black Hole : The 1970s Were Waning When Orange County's Punk Rock Scene Roared Its Dark, Hostile Message

First of two parts. Next week: a closer look at the bands and the music that came out of Orange County's punk explosion.

July 23, 1989|MIKE BOEHM

When the responsibilities of being a young father and the pressures of college course work begin to weigh on Frank Agnew, he sometimes finds himself taking the long way home.

It leads him to a place from his past--a nondescript, concrete apartment complex in a quiet neighborhood of Fullerton, across a narrow street from a schoolyard. Agnew, 24, will open the metal gate and walk through, satisfied to see that nothing at the place has changed, except for the child-proof fence that now surrounds the swimming pool. Then, standing beside a towering palm tree, Agnew's gaze will move to the right, to a screened door on the ground floor of this two-story horseshoe of apartments. Unit 2.

The Black Hole.

House of the filthy, house not a home

House of destruction where lurkers roamed

House that belonged to all the homeless kids,

Kids of the Black Hole.

It is unlikely that local officialdom will ever approve a plaque for Unit 2, a marker to commemorate what was born there 10 years ago. Punk rock--a distinct Orange County brand of punk rock--sprang from the Black Hole in 1979.

Not only from there, but from back yards, garages, living rooms, warehouses and crash pads elsewhere in Orange County where musicians and fans gathered to share a raw, new kind of music and fashion that was faster, stranger, more overtly hostile and violently antagonistic to authority and established social norms than any previous form of pop-culture rebellion.

For a small, shy, guitar-playing teen-ager such as Agnew, at 15 the youngest of the Black Hole denizens, Unit 2 was a place for fun and comradeship, for listening to records by such punk icons as the Ramones, the Sex Pistols and the Clash, from whom budding suburban punks could draw nourishment and inspiration.

More than that, the Black Hole was a refuge where Agnew could hang out with fellow punkers and be free for a time from the ridicule and abuse that most of Orange County's punks were subjected to in those early punk days of 1979-80. In the high school halls and on the streets, a youthful minority bent on overturning prevailing norms of dress, music and social status often found that there was a price to be paid for being different.

A punk's refuge was a parent's horror--but few, if any, parents cared to take a close look into the tumultuous world chronicled in "Kids of the Black Hole," one of the benchmark songs about that scene.

Sex, drugs and fun is their only thought or care

Another swig of booze, another overnight affair.

The song, written by Agnew's older brother, Rikk, stands as all the commemoration that the Black Hole needs, thanks to an explosive, relentlessly driving recording by the Adolescents, the band that included both Agnew brothers.

The Black Hole days of illicit experimentation and extremist fun ended with the punks' eviction in the spring of 1980; before they left, they wrecked the single-bedroom apartment in a vandalistic frenzy in which cabinets were torn from hinges, sinks were ripped from their moorings, and walls were kicked in and spray-painted with graffiti.

That night of destruction crystallized the dark side of punk: a mindlessness driven by the fury in the music and the youth of its fans and performers. Punk's mindless side gave rise to drug and alcohol abuse that would hamper more than a few of the county's punk rockers, and it fostered fan violence that would mar many shows and stigmatize punk as a musical movement.

But the Orange County punks also founded their musical approach on high ideals. Punk was to be a source of creativity and originality, a forum for individual expression as well as an outlet for fun.

For anyone who could yell lyrics into a microphone, or grind out a few chords on a guitar, punk rock offered a chance to speak one's piece and stand out from the crowd.

But not just any old yelling would do. The best of the local punk rockers were musical diarists, using punk to sort through confusions, voice opinions, tell jokes, and vent angers and fears. After their first spark of rebelliousness flickered, many of those bands proved to have a staying power that carried them through personal and business problems and through the waning of a local punk club scene.

Most of those teen-age punks of a decade ago are in their mid- to late 20s now (Rikk Agnew and Casey Royer, mainstays of the original Adolescents, are punk elders at 30).

In some cases, the Orange County punk rockers have gone from spouting rampant, firebrand rebellion to reflecting maturely on the consequences of past extremism, while drawing upon musical resources that allow them to go far beyond the old punk formula that called for an unrelenting sonic slab of hard, fast, assaultive sound.

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