In the days of the early punk-rock scene in Long Beach, youth who identified with the rebellious movement of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s were often “hated” by police, city officials and the mainstream public but respected by their peers.
It was an era when it was cool to defy the government, authority figures and popular culture while being tolerant of different “subcultures,” explained Jack Grisham, frontman for the Orange County punk band True Sounds of Liberty (T.S.O.L.), who today is a self-proclaimed author, psychologist and family man.
“Being hated means you can move around, basically, in any subculture with no problem,” said the Long Beach native who in 2011 released his book An American Demon: A Memoir. “There was a lot of cross-culture stuff back then … everybody was really like, ‘Well, you’re all messed up, and we’re all messed up, so we’re all messed up together.’ It was actually really cool.”
Grisham shared those thoughts during one of four panel discussions at a daylong conference titled “Long Beach: Work in Progress” at Edison Theatre in downtown Long Beach last Friday, April 26. Topics for other panels included architecture, food and skateboarding.
The event was organized by Imprint Culture Lab, formed in 2004 to “investigate and curate global creative culture,” while bringing together business and creative entities.
Long Beach city officials also took part in the event, with Amy Bodek, director of Long Beach Development Services Department, speaking on the architecture panel and 2nd District Long Beach City Councilmember Suja Lowenthal giving closing remarks.
For the music panel, Grisham sat down with moderator Joe Escalante, bassist for the punk band The Vandals, who are both known for pioneering the post early-punk scene in Southern California and are now entering their 50s.
Though early punk was brought into existence by such bands as The Ramones in New York and The Sex Pistols and The Clash in London, an emerging hardcore contingent held its own in the Los Angeles area with bands such as The Germs and Black Flag.
T.S.O.L. and The Vandals, which were both featured in the ‘80s cult-classic Suburbia, a film about a gang of teenage punk rockers who squat in abandoned houses in a suburban community in the L.A. area, soon followed along with other bands such as Bad Religion and The Adolescents.
Grisham described alcohol-induced antics, violent episodes and ending up in the Long Beach jail, all of which he said were the norm in those formative years.
“Long Beach has a weird thing, because it’s not Orange County and it’s not L.A. really, so it’s kind of like a weird mix,” he said.
At the time, The Pike in downtown Long Beach that once included carnival rides and a massive roller coaster was considered the place to get an “illegal tattoo” or simply seek refuge from authority, remembered Grisham, whose father was a career military man, who served in the Navy.
Escalante, a Signal Hill resident who is now a lawyer, radio talk-show host and owner of Kung Fu Records, added, “That was one of the places where you could hang out… if you’re punk and you’re edgy and you’re underground– go to The Pike,” he said.
More than 30 years after the punk scene peaked, the founding members of the underground bands have settled down with families yet are still recognized for forming a subculture that Grisham said is more accepted today. “It seems strange to be sitting up here because I’ve been detained in this fair country… and this town,” he said.
Grisham also talked about what it’s like now being a father to his 13-year-old daughter, ultimately becoming the authority figure against which he once rebelled.
“I’m a dad now,” he said. “I volunteer at school… and I’m looking at my little daughter… and if she’s out of sight for like five minutes I’m checking it out.”
The music panel discussion also included Chhom Nimol (singer) and Zac Holtzman (guitarist), members of Dengue Fever, a newly formed band that blends Cambodian vocals with psychedelic rock. Before the interview, the two band members gave a live performance.
Holtzman, formerly of the band Dieselhead, discovered Nimol at a club called Dragon House in Cambodia Town in Long Beach where she sang Karaoke. “I think Long Beach is a cool city,” Nimol said. “People of Cambodia, they love to eat, they love to drink, they love to sing, and they love music and love to dance.”
Long Beach has also embraced a skateboarding culture that continues to grow.
Skateboarders have come to revere Long Beach, which has been promoted in magazines as being skate-friendly and known for having “the most skate parks per capita” than any other city in the United States, said Long Beach native and pro skater Chad Tim Tim during the panel on skateboarding.
“The diversity of Long Beach and the embrace of skateboarding has really attracted a lot of people,” he said. “It’s like Skate City.”
Other panelists said skateboarding has created an avenue for youth of different races and socio-economic backgrounds to get involved in something positive rather than drugs, gangs or other criminal activities.
Still, panelists agreed there appears to be a perception gap between decision-makers, who are unfamiliar with skateboarding and see it as just another sport with liabilities, and skateboarders, who see it as an artful form of self-expression.
Paul Kwon, a skate-shoe designer who moved to Long Beach six years ago from Detroit, said the skateboarding community needs to do a better job of communicating that building a skate park isn’t the same as building a “football field.”
“It’s kind of being perceived as this activity, almost like it’s a sport like football or basketball, where they give us these training facilities that really don’t reflect skateboarding as a creative expression and a creative discipline,” he said. “You need a place to be creative that’s visually and aesthetically pleasing that promotes creativity and innovation.”
Other panelists during the conference included: Cara Mullio and Jennifer Volland, co-authors of Long Beach Architecture: The Unexpected Metropolis; Jonathon Gold, a Pulitzer Prize-winning food critic who writes for the LA Times and formerly wrote for the LA Weekly and Gourmet magazine; and Julia Huang, CEO of advertising firm interTREND.