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