Sunday, April 5, 2015

Craig Ibarra, Author of 'A Wailing of a Town' / LA Beat Interview

Photo by Victor Sedillo

By Elise Thompson of the LA Beat

Originally posted on April 4

Craig Ibarra's 416-page softcover book, “A Wailing of a Town: An Oral History of Early San Pedro Punk and More," was released on April 1, D. Boon’s birthday.

This first-hand account, which spans the years from 1977 to 1985, includes interviews with the musicians, locals, and the fans who lived it. Contributors and interview subjects include Gary Jacobelly, Joe Nolte, Jack Brewer and Joe Baiza, Richard Bonney, Mike Watt, Carla Bozulich, Joe Carducci, Chuck Dukowski, Linda Kite, Earl Liberty, and a slew of other key players.

Bands profiled include Saccharine Trust, Slivers, Peer Group, Mood of Defiance, Hari-Kari, The Wigs! and Jimmy Smack. Local venues, record labels, and influential events are covered as well. There are 36 pages of photos, including fliers, candids, and live band shots.

The book is anchored by the story of the Minutemen, probably the quintessential San Pedro band. Individual chapters are dedicated to Mike Watt, George Hurley, and the irreplaceable D. Boon, ending with the story of his passing on a lonely stretch of the Arizona desert. “The tragic death of D. Boon stole the wind from the scene and was the catalyst to send the artists, friends and fans on their separate paths into or out of the flickering L.A. harbor lights.”

* How would you define the Pedro Sound?

I don’t think there was a Pedro sound. In the book, Jeffrey McLellan (the Wigs!) says: “There was not a defined (San Pedro) sound, and rather than that being a plus, it’s almost like people took it as if it were a negative.” I think the fact that Pedro did not have a defined sound, like some other places like Orange County, may have been one of the reasons why Pedro didn’t stand out so much. Diversity is good, right? Some of the early Pedro punk bands were a little more experimental — some might even say, “artsy.” I think the early Pedro bands were a bit alienated by the prevailing hardcore scene at that time. A lot of the kids were closed minded to anything that wasn’t hardcore.

Joe Baiza had this to say: “The San Pedro scene — it seemed like all the people involved in that scene challenged themselves to be different. So, instead of sounding like the band that was the most popular — “Let’s sound like those guys, everyone likes them!” It was a challenge to be different than the next band. That was what was so interesting about the early Pedro punk scene. The Pedro scene was always these awkward little groups. Everyone was trying something new. If you were gonna start a band, you better not try and sound like one of the other groups. Everyone had different instrumentations and combinations. “Oh, I’m starting a band with a guy on clarinet, a drummer and guitar, only!” “OK, no one’s done that yet in Pedro.” And then someone else would have another type of group, just trying to be adventurous. It was that type of feeling in the air. Everyone had to do something different. The Minutemen were really original, so they led the way for everyone.”

* Would you differentiate it from other areas of the South Bay?

Totally. Bands like Slivers, Peer Group, Plebs and even Jimmy Smack were doing some ballsy experimental stuff at a time when most bands were doing the fast hardcore thing, which made it hard for these Pedro bands to get gigs, I imagine. No one else was doing this sort of stuff in the South Bay, that I know of. Not to say that any of the other South Bay bands were not original, but no one sounded like the Minutemen or Saccharine Trust, they were both very unique. The Minutemen blazed a path of creativity that was definitely influential on all the other Pedro bands that formed after them.

* Do you think Pedro’s history as a Navy town, and a fishing port populated with longshoremen and blue collar workers affected the music?

Sure. Minutemen had songs about working things — in their words and their art. That was part of their identity. Even D. Boon’s fanzine was called “The Prole,” which is short for Proletariat. The Minutemen couldn’t go on the big Black Flag tours in the beginning, ’cause of their domestic situations — they had to work. Gary Jacobelly has a spiel on the back of the book that ends with, “Pedro punk was workingman’s noise.”

* Does the inception of Pedro punk go back to the apartment Joe Baiza and D. Boon lived in?

Pretty close. The Reactionaries (precursor to the Minutemen) were the first Pedro punk band. They were around from 1978 to 1979. Not long after, in early 1980, the 19th Street duplex was the birthplace of the Minutemen and Saccharine Trust too, to some extent. Gary Jacobelly and Joe Baiza lived on the bottom floor and D. Boon lived above them — a chance meeting. There’s a good chapter on the 19th Street scenario in the book. It’s funny, a few of my friends ended up moving into that same complex in the late ’80s. We had no idea that’s where the Minutemen formed, at the time. I even got HR (with the “It’s About Luv” lineup) to play in the cement yard in 1988, between the front house and the duplex that D., Gary and Joe lived in — they had all moved out by then, of course.

* Would you say Gary Jacobelly is a co-author? What was his contribution?

Not really. Although he played a huge part, and some of his anecdotes are some of my favorites in the book. He did write a couple of nice pieces that I ended up using in the beginning of the book, and I also used an anecdote of his for the back of the book. He’s a great writer, I love his style. Joe Nolte also wrote a great detailed piece on the early South Bay/Hermosa Beach scene, including the Church and all the craziness that went on there. Everyone’s gonna dig it. Those two are the only ones that wrote entire stories that are in the book. The rest is strictly an oral history format.

* Your book stops in 1985. Do you believe Dennes Boon’s death, although not the end of the local music scene, marked the end of an era of idealism, like the end of The Summer of Love?

Yeah, Pedro took a big hit when D. Boon passed away, especially for that generation. The late Lisa Roeland put it like this: “Once D. Boon died, everybody went their separate ways. He was the guy that kept us all together. He changed all of our lives. God knows where they would have been musically if D. was still here. Who knows, they could have taken over the world. It was just beginning. Things were never quite the same with all of us. Some of us lost touch with each other. It seemed to me to never be quite the same.”

* Have you considered an accompanying compilation album? A lot of people have never heard the other Pedro bands you discuss.

Yes, I have. It was actually in the works and then I pulled the plug on it. I actually prefer, at some point, to release full records of some these bands on my record label, Water Under the Bridge Records. So far we’ve done: the Reactionaries, some of the earliest recordings of the Minutemen and Saccharine Trust, Peer Group and we have a Mood of Defiance record coming out in early May — a split release with Recess Records. We will have a limited amount of test pressings for sale of the Mood of Defiance 7-inch which has never been released (recorded and produced by Spot at Media Art in 1981), at the book release party on April 17th.

* Is there anything else you would like to mention about the book?

January of 2007 was when I came up with the idea to do the book. I was inspired by two books: “Please Kill Me” and “We Got the Neutron Bomb: The Untold Story of L.A. Punk” — both oral histories.  The books on L.A. punk that I read would never mention San Pedro, along with countless other small scenes scattered around Los Angeles. These books mostly cover the Hollywood scene and have short sections on the South Bay and Orange County scenes, usually. The Minutemen were lumped in with the South Bay scene with bands like Black Flag (Hermosa Beach), Red Cross (Hawthorne), Descendents (Hermosa Beach), the Alley Cats  (Lomita), the Last (Hermosa Beach), etc. People from Hollywood thought the South Bay was one big town. There are lots of small cities and towns within the South Bay area of Los Angeles: San Pedro, Wilmington, Harbor City, Lomita, Carson, Rancho Palos Verdes, Torrance, Redondo Beach, Hermosa Beach, Gardena, Lawndale, Manhattan Beach, Hawthorne, El Segundo, Inglewood — the South Bay is huge and very balkanized.

I felt it was my calling to do a book on the early punk community from the town that I was born and raised in. I’ve always been interested in the pioneering days of L.A. punk and I wanted to tell our side of the story, which has never been told before. Since I don’t really consider myself a writer, I chose to do an oral history, which involves a lot of interviewing, transcribing and editing to make the story flow correctly. I had gotten some practice doing these things with a zine that I did called “The Rise and the Fall” and thought an oral history was a format that I was capable of pulling off. For the most part, I interviewed everyone I felt was important to help tell the story. I even included anecdotes from various fanzines, in that way, D. Boon is represented which I think is crucial. The book took longer than I thought to finish. I estimated it would take five years, it took about eight. I did go long periods of time without working on it, though, ’cause other things would come up that I had to focus on like the record label and art related stuff. I’m glad it’s done — sorry it took so long.

Order your copy at Water Under the Bridge Records.

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