California's mistaken mystique, a rich, iconic punk history

California hardcore: debunking international misconceptions Photo: Pennywise/ Wikimedia Commons

CURITIBA, Brazil, November 10, 2013 — Punk rock may not have been born in California, but it certainly reached its snotty adolescence there. Much has been made of the golden state’s punk origins, as well as its more recent melodic halcyon days. Fans around the world, many of whom have never visited California, carry a curious, fantastical image of the place, based mostly on their interpretation of bands’ styles and lyrics. For those of us who grew up here, the true story is very different, and much darker.

When punk first began happening in Los Angeles and Hollywood, it grew out of the art scene. Drugs were everywhere, as was a nascent, almost casual disregard for adulthood. Live fast, die young was not only a cool-sounding catch phrase, it was raison d’être for an entire subculture. As punk creeped south, finally exploding out of the South Bay and Orange County, it had metastasized into a vibrantly hostile storm of restless angst and violence. 

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In Northern California’s San Francisco Bay Area, a similar scene was forming around bands like the Avengers, the Dils, the Nuns, Crime and the Dead Kennedys. The music was antiestablishment in every sense, shows were violently unpredictable and nobody was getting rich playing punk rock. Young people latched onto the scene because it resonated with their general antipathy, not because it was particularly fun or recreational.

Internationally, the picture of California’s melodic punk wave of the 1990s is one of an idyllic beachside setting, with bands surfing, skateboarding, and partying. This care free image belies the unsettled pathology just beneath the surface of so much of the music. Similar to a decade earlier, the subculture came with the drugs, and with those came the attendant crime and antisocial behavior. Ask any California natives in their 40s or 50s who grew up in the punk scene, and they will tell you about friends in prison, friends living on the streets and about attending far too many funerals. 

So it was not all sun and beaches, but it was also a vibrant and magical thing to witness and be a part of. So many incredible bands managed to make some crucially important music, influencing countless people around the world in the process. California’s rich, iconic punk history has created a unique sound and attitude, and has made landfall on every continent. The torch continues to be passed to newer generations of bands and fans and, while the lifestyle can still take a deathly toll, we can at least catch a few waves while we are at it.


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Russ Rankin writes about hockey, music & politics. You can find him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter. He also sings for Good Riddance and Only Crime. Find out what he’s up to by checking out his website.

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Russ Rankin

Raised in the decidedly non-traditional hockey region of Santa Cruz, California, Russ Rankin fell in love with the game as a kid while watching the "Miracle On Ice" 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team. He began playing recreationally as an adult when the Sharks joined the NHL in nearby San Jose and regularly attends Sharks home games. His favorite NHL team is the New Jersey Devils, which he has been following since the 1987-88 season. In 2007, with more and more U.S. born players (particularly from California) making an impact in the WHL, Rankin pursued his passion and knowledge of the game into a job scouting California for WHL clubs. He can be seen at rinks all over the state searching for the next great crop of players.

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