Saturday, May 4, 2013

Punk-rock time capsule: John Macias and Circle One


Circle One's John Macias. (Alison Braun photo)

By Andy

Scowling. Intimidating. Raging.

These are the three best words I can conjure up when thinking about Circle One's former lead singer, John Macias.

And, oh yeah, stomping -- as in pounding his way across the stage (left, right, left), combat boots in full force threatening to smash the innocent wooden structure to bits.

The other day, I was blasting a mix tape in the car and some Circle One tunes leapt out of the speakers and got my blood pumping. "F.O," "G.I. Combat," "Destroy Exxon" and "High School Society." Oh, yes, I remember them well.

The sky-high standing Macias and Circle One targeted cops, politicians, racism and more in their lyrics, but they also ventured into religious territory and stressed the importance of unity within the Los Angeles scene, where they first came onto my radar. Not everyone was a fan of Macias' sermonizing and certainly not his violent behavior (addressed below).

I first noticed the bald-headed Macias in '81, standing quietly outside of the Cuckoos Nest wearing a trench coat and combat boots. Later that evening, he was on stage with Circle One, rocking the fuck out with Rollins-like ferocity. He slammed a microphone stand into the stage and the bottom half flew off and nearly plugged me in the front row. An eye-opening performance, for sure.

A few years later, I had some important information that Macias needed at a gig. Earlier in the day, my friends and I spoke with Whipping Boy's Eugene Robinson by phone while he was in Palo Alto and was scheduled to play in LA that evening with Circle One and others. Whipping Boy couldn't make the gig, but I overheard Macias outside the gig saying that they were awaiting Whipping Boy's arrival. So I summoned my courage and went up to Macias -- who towered over me like a giant -- and informed him of the situation. He nodded and thanked me. It doesn't seem like a big deal now, but for a shy kid back then, I felt accomplished by stepping up.

In his final performance in 1991 on the Santa Monica Pier, Macias' preaching style was too rambunctious for a security guard, who intervened and Macias tossed him off the structure, according to a  Los Angeles Times report dated May 31. The cops were called and shot Macias dead at 29 years of age.

I've always been curious about Macias, so to find out more about the man, I contacted former drummer Jody Hill. Here are his candid recollections:

What stands out the most about John today is a lot of people, in books, in documentaries and many other forms of media talk about him and they are talking about someone who was not the John I knew. Was he a bad ass? Yes, he could be. Would he stand up against cops, bullies, concert promoters? Yes. Was he violent at times? Yes, again. Did he get shot and killed by the cops three days after our last performance with him? Sadly, yes. He didn't get killed because of all the things I just mentioned. He died because of mental illness. It seems that a lot of people who were there 30 years later are believing the legend and myth more than reality. 

(Guitarist) Mike Vallejo and I lost a friend, not a singer, not the leader of the FAMILY, not the guy who started P.U.N.X., but a really cool person who had a lot going on at the time that we didn't understand. I can tell you lots of funny stories about (being) on the road with him, taking acid and partying, but there are a lot of other things that stand out. A lot of people say he was violent and did some fucked-up shit, and that is true to some degree. I remember things like him taking a baton away from a cop and beating him with it. He did that because the cop was hitting a 15-year-old kid at the Olympic (Auditorium). I remember him taking the bus from Pico to Arcadia with me at midnight when I was 16 to make sure I got home from practice. I remember him crying and screaming when he kicked the shit out of one of his best friends at the Wig Factory because the guy gave heroin to one of the runaway kids living there. John really cared about people and the scene he was involved in. 

He believed in God, but a lot of his actions in that area were caused by his mental illness. We were not a Christian punk band. John sang about what was going on in his head. Later on, we found out there was a lot going on in his head that he didn't have control over, and by the time we knew he had problems, he was dead. Like I said at the beginning, I have read that John was black, a gang leader, a born again, etc., but all these statements are always written by people who didn't know him. He still makes an impact in my life 22 years later. The new band I am in with Mike Vallejo (Manwray) has two songs that in some ways are about John. He is the first person I think about when we play them. So when you talk to people, remember, a lot of people you talk to only knew him for a short time and some, if not most, really didn't know him at all.


Macias and guitarist Mike Vallejo. (Fer Youz photo)



20 comments:

  1. That's a nice piece about John Macias from his friends. Personally I think all gangsters and bullies have mental issues. Anybody that demands respect by implementing fear is sick in the head. It's sad when they become role models to the youth.

    Here is my story about John Macias. I was 16 years old, I was thin and weak, I was not a fighter, I was a lover, I loved all the ideals of punk rock. The unity talk by John Macias is what drew me to his band. Unfortunately for me, I had a rude awakening when I got my face kicked in really hard by the combat boots you're talking about, I still have the scars to prove it. I was sitting on the floor at a show with two girls from my school, and he came from nowhere with a mob of guys behind him (in case the weak ass kid would fight back) and he kicked my face. To this day I don't know why he kicked me, all I know is that I was hospitalized and have had many complications because of it since then. I used to be a happy person before that incident, but after that, I developed a mental illness, I don't feel comfortable being around people I don't know, and I also have trust issues. If you really think about it, it was that type of behavior that ruined punk rock in the L.A. area. In order to go to shows you had to take weapons in case a nut or nuts would want to kick your ass for fun. I'm an older man now, I have kids of my own, they are into punk and metal. I tell them about how dangerous the punk scene used to be, mostly because it became the breeding grounds for bullies, gangsters, and sickos. Bands would be singing about unity and tolerance while someone would be getting jumped, and in some cases even killed. I'm an advocate against bullies, as I know first hand what it's like to be bullied by the bigger guys. The one good thing that came out of that for me is that I became a martial arts instructor and I teach kids to defend themselves against people like John Macias. Bullies always operate in a place where they can't be challenged, where they can take advantage of the weak. If anyone knows of a case where John Macias fought toe to toe with anyone, especially another guy his size (he was a big dude), I would like to know, so at least I can have a 1% respect for his memory. I recently found out that the surviving members are playing shows again. I read in the L.A. Weekly that recently someone got killed, and another person was stabbed, at one of their shows in Torrance http://blogs.laweekly.com/informer/2013/01/alpine_village_shooting_stabbing_punk_rock_concert_torrance.php
    Personally, I can't believe that band is back to poison the minds of the new generation of punks. I hope the kids of today realize that these old guys will take their violent legacy wherever they go. Times are changing and we need to stop the bully philosophy wherever it may be. Karma is a bitch! These old dudes in Circle One looked the other way when people like me where being jumped by their band leader.

    Personally, I think most christians (and other radical fundamentalists) suffer from mental illness, as they like to push their views onto others, and John Macias' case is the epitome of this. Please read the L.A. Times report where you can read the details of what this good christian did while preaching the gospel.
    http://articles.latimes.com/1991-05-31/local/me-2755_1_los-angeles-police-officer-shot

    The band claims "We were not a Christian punk band". But if your singer is representing Jesus and is throwing people off a pier because they don't care to hear his preaching, then I don't know what to say about that.

    PUNK ROCK AND RELIGION WERE NOT MEANT TO MIX!!!!!!

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    1. This is such a sad, sad story. What a big shot to kick a young kid in the face for absolutely no reason at all To ruin his trust in the world and his quality of life, completely disgusting. Look, with all his friends singing his praises, it does not take an ounce away from the fact that this man was a horrible human being, a sociopath at heart and went out the way he lived. I am sorry that happened to you. Mental illness excuses nothing. He was the exact opposite of what a Christian is supposed to be and he was a hypocrite.

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    2. Hardcore isnt a musical style to be taken lightly, ive had my ass kicked, but did I have fun? ??fuck yeah...and I kept skating. ..Jonhs dead can you let it be ? No one is innocent we all live hard isnt that enough ? Being a skate punk is tough you only live once

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  2. Hey Fred. Who didn't get their ass kicked back then by somebody, you sound like you were naive as fuck!
    I got jumped by Cholos at school, Jock's at school, construction workers after school, knocked out by a Hessian with a mean sucker punch so life's a bitch homie. It taught me to hit the weight bench and practice the speed bag at the gym, that and some boxing coaching got me where I needed to be, after all that I was the one fucking fools up if I needed to. Being a Punk or Skin in the early 80's was no cup of tea, it was a struggle against many and I wouldn't trade those days for anything . I met friends for life and memories few others will ever know. The Punk scene or metal scene now is weak compared to what it was back then. I thank God bands like Circle One are still able to play ! Anyways I think you need to work on forgiveness and chalk past experiences up to "shit happens". At least you are still alive and breathing.
    T. F. C1!

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    1. What doesn't kill you is supposed to make you stronger and this is a perfect example of that! The strong survive and while Todd here looks like he might make it through the apocalypse? Fred on the otherhand I'm afraid wouldn't survive a match of women's roller derby! Madd ~3FS~

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  3. Good read, you can hear a lot about Macias and his death from the Rollins goes to London spoken word, second half.

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  4. Sounds like Fred didn't man up from his experiences in the punk scene. Something tells me he needs his ass kicked again.

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    1. Shut the fuck up, keypad warrior wannabe.

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  5. Thank you Andy, Jody and Fred for your first hand accounts.

    As early as 1980, people were petrified of Circle One. I know I was and when I first met John at the skatepark in Venice where the front cover of "Group Sex" was shot I was flabbergasted that he was warm and effusively friendly towards me.

    All I was known for at the time was Beach Blvd and maybe the early Red Cross recordings. That was enough it seemed, for him to want to work with me but we never did. I did not chase him down afterwards or seek out the group. And Circle One left me in peace, for their part.

    11 years later, I was excited to watch Spanky's in Riverside and to spend as much time as possible that evening talking with John. I left convinced that we would now make the record that we didn't make 10 years before. I did my utmost to convince John of that. Just a few days later, he was dead.

    So I don't know why I did not get John's boot in my face nor did he proselytize to me. I can only report that he was one of the most charismatic characters in the L A punk scene and under different circumstances he would be remembered for some great music, which sadly he isn't.

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    1. erratum

      ".. to watch Circle One at Spanky's in Riverside ..."


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  6. Thanks for the comment, Robbie. Nice to hear from someone so vital in the old punk scene. cheers

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  9. So much stuff has been written about John n circle one first of all I got roughed up at every show I went to I can clearly remember limping away from TSOL shows n not being able to walk the next day after really physical shows hell it just happened John was always really cool we all just wanted to be heard it was us against them from my memory I flicked a lit cigarette in Brandon Cruz's face once n he called me up when I got on the stage with him he let me sing no problem the word bully no way never

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  10. Really enlightening article.., Thank You.. !! It seems strange to me.., somebody actually whining a bout the "tragic memories, & the emotional damnage" (no typo), they carry with them from an early hc show.. Man.., isn't that why we went in the first place ??!! Fuck ya, it was dangerous, & unpredictable..., & fucking BEAUTIFUL FOR IT..!!!, Cuz, son, it ain't that way no more.., ("Punkrock Festivals"..?? In which "TARGET".., & "BUDWEISER" are "acceptable sponsors"..??)..., Ohhh Fred.., baby, take the good with the bad.., you dont realize how good you had it.., besides, who the hell was stopping you from jumping back up & bustin his f-ng nose for him..?? Don't live in fear man, cuz you can only "teach what you know & live"

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  11. Check out the youtube video
    Circle One - Vinyl Video Spotlight

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  12. i knew john from back in the day, true he was huge, true he could get a little outta hand, but whats also true was dude had one of the biggest hearts, that i have ever witnessed, i once saw him take his own shirt off and give it to a kid without one, say what you will bout the man but he was a good man.

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  13. the first few times i recall seeing john was at the first vex club in east la and at oki dog...i dont know if the lad thing was up and running yet...but basically, everybody knew him and if you wernt the few people that did know him, you knew of him. To a 16 kid that i was when i started really going out to shows, he was a very intimidating yoked looking guy...now looking hack at these pix, he just looks athletic and not the muscles upon mean muscles that you remeber him by.

    At godzillas I remeber him shouting out a new song called PAU (parents are useless) and later in the set i got into a fistfight with a rival...right at the stage below john...and i was getting the better in that fight and john stops the band and yells down to us 'defend yourself pussy!' and the crowd erupted in laughter...i was no hard guy...this was no more than a playground fight...

    At Devonshire downs i remember seeing him and circle one around (i cant remember if they played) but the show had the chiefs, tsol, black flag, i think the adolescents too...well, this was really a trip...in the back of the big hall that was devonshire sowns i saw john in a fist fight with a hippie looking dude...and they were throwing down...it was like rock em sock em robots...no filler just fists, and the hippie was getting the better on john and he would just start wiffing and hippie would just do a 1-2 and buckle john...then somebody bum rush the hippie and leaped into the air and did a flying downle kick into the hippie's side..and then john got tue upper hand and him and a couple other guys started to walk the hippie down until the hippie hit the wall and couldnt go back any further...and it was crazy...the hippie got really scared and john was going apeshit like some haka dance and the hippie puts his hans up shaking them going 'no..nooo..no' and ive never seem such feat on a persons face...and at that exact time john looked possessed and he was doing an evil smile as he winded up and (im not bullshitting here) he licked his lips right before he headbutted the guy and then took the back of his head and pushed it down as he kneed the hippie in the face...at the hippie just went out and convulsed...i was afraid john was foingntonsoccer kick him in the face while the hippie was out but instead he just walked away...

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  14. such a sad and strange story, John seemed to act as something of a bodyguard to smaller punks, which is good, but his mental illness, made him a bit of a threat to people not involved in the scene.

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