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Faces of O.C.'s Punk Scene : Youths Looked at Their Suburbia; They Didn't Like What They Saw, and They Told the World

Second of Two Parts

July 30, 1989|MIKE BOEHM

Emory and Roche carried on with a new lineup that featured Joe Wood, a leathery-voiced singer who brought more of a blues edge to the band. Emory quit T.S.O.L. early last year. In his eyes, the band had grown too far from its punk roots and was too intent on emulating the metallic rock--and big bucks success--of Guns N' Roses. Emory says he also was troubled by a Guns N' Roses-style penchant for hard drugs within the band, and by a new emphasis on making music and cutting an image that would position T.S.O.L. for a major label record deal (Roche says that after a close-but-no-cigar courtship with one of the major companies, T.S.O.L. wound up signing again with Enigma Records, the large independent label that has released its past three studio albums).

Roche doesn't deny that band members have grappled with drug abuse--the group's newest crop of material includes some cautionary songs on the subject--but he says that T.S.O.L. continues to uphold punk's ideal of reflecting social and personal realities.

"We're not into the classic metal 'boy-girl' thing," Roche said. "It's still strong subject matter. It means something to us. We've got all the sensibilities of where we came from."

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Monday July 31, 1989 Orange County Edition Calendar Part 6 Page 9 Column 1 Entertainment Desk 1 inches; 31 words Type of Material: Correction
The caption on a photograph of punk rock band T.S.O.L. in Sunday's Calendar incorrectly identified Frank Agnew as a member of that group. Agnew was a member of the Adolescents at the time that both groups were on a tour in 1981.

Disillusioned after leaving T.S.O.L., Emory, who stills considers Roche to be "like family to me," had no plans to continue with music. Then he heard from Tim Swenson, who as a young punk rocker had opened shows for T.S.O.L. Emory liked the blend of punk and Rolling Stones-style rock that Swenson's band, Lunchbox, was doing, and signed up as lead guitarist. The band recently was signed by Bug Records, a new subsidiary of Capitol.

As for Grisham, he continues as a charismatic hard-rocker, fronting Tender Fury. The band released a catchy, hard-hitting album last year, but without much commercial success (Grisham's unwillingness to tour didn't help). After a period of discouragement and drug abuse last year, Grisham says he has straightened up and is optimistic as Tender Fury works on its second album.

"I'm looking to feel good again, to play shows and have the reckless abandon I felt (in his early days with T.S.O.L.). Right now, I can feel proud of (having been in punk rock), and I never did before. Here I am, 28, and I don't have a career, but look what I've done. Not everybody gets to do shows and make records. I've got a high school 10th-year reunion coming up. I was thinking, 'What am I supposed to do, go back and tell these guys I'm a bum?' But now I don't look at it like that."

VANDALS

The Vandals cast themselves as the court jesters of the Orange County punk scene, a satiric band that wasn't beyond poking fun at punk's pretentions.

Guitarist Jan Ackermann started the Huntington Beach band in 1980, after buying his first electric guitar from a member of the Crowd.

The band's comical character took shape when Ackermann enlisted Steve (Stevo) Jensen as singer. A love for surfing had prompted Jensen to move from Buena Park to Huntington Beach. He became a protege of T.S.O.L. founders Mike Roche and Ron Emory, a couple of surfers who had veered into punk.

"I admired the way Mike Roche and Ron and Bob Emory (Ron's older brother) dressed and acted, and I followed in their footsteps," Jensen recalled. But before long, he developed his own outrageous take on punk that was far from T.S.O.L.'s glowering style.

"I said, 'We're going to have a good time with it. We're going to make fun of everybody and we're going to have fun doing it,' " Jensen said. "That's what I wanted--fun."

On their first EP, "Peace Through Vandalism," the Vandals created instant folklore by chronicling the battles between the punks who frequented the Cuckoo's Nest and their antagonists: the Costa Mesa police and the clientele of Zubie's, the neighboring restaurant that attracted the urban cowboys.

"The Legend of Pat Brown" immortalized an incident in which punk fan Pat Brown's car hit a patrolman as Brown tried to speed away from a police stop outside the Cuckoo's Nest. Brown and his friends emerged unhurt after police gunfire sent three bullets into their car. "Pat Brown tried to run the cops down/Pat Brown run 'em into the ground," the Vandals sang. "Urban Struggle" used spaghetti-Western musical themes to mock the "the cowboy scene down at Zubie's."

With "Anarchy Burger (Hold The Government)," the Vandals also made absurdist fun of punk's own inclination toward knee-jerk rebellion and political self-righteousness.

"We thought they were overdoing it, and it was kind of stupid," Jensen, 25, said of punk's reflexive anti-authoritarian streak. "Right away, we were taken to task for being unserious, for taking away from the movement. What I enjoyed was making people forget their problems for the time we played. They were laughing at us the whole time, and that's what I liked."

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