SONGS OF INNOCENCE AND EXPERIENCE feat. U2 & MURPHY’S LAW SAN DIEGO 1987
I’ve been a serious and dedicated fan, producer, and observer of music, art, and culture now for about 35 years. That’s long enough to have seen some stuff. I’ve watched trends, styles, fads and fashions come and go the same way anyone who pays attention to this sort of thing long enough would see.
I’ve also seen great styles, art, and music stick around, mutate, and grow in meaning and historical importance both on a personal experiential level and in the broader culture more generally. Sometimes I agree with the prevailing tastes and fascinations, more often than not I don’t. Just like anyone else might.
It occurred to me the other day that in a lifetime of working as a creative-type and of closely observing the creative output of others, one naturally moves as I have myself (to borrow a phrase from my all-time hero, William Blake) between singing Songs of Innocence and Experience.
I’ll explain what I mean by this.
In an earlier post I talked about the profound impact the murder of John Lennon had on me and how that tragic event paved the way for my immersion in the punk scene of the early 80’s. Well, by 1987 I had been thoroughly immersed.
I’d moved from the Pacific Northwest to Southern California, I’d seen every punk show I could along the way, I had toured the entire country as the roadie for one of the top punk/hardcore/indy groups of the time the great 7 SECONDS. I’d done a fanzine, put on shows, and was playing guitar myself by this point. If I’d been any more immersed in the scene I would have drowned.
I’d collected flyers, records, zines and a lot of really good friends but more than anything I’d gathered my first real body of experience. I was no longer the wide-eyed kid hanging out on University Avenue in Seattle trying to look cool. I was now the “older, wiser” kid in my late teens.
I’ve never been closed minded about anything really but as far as my musical taste went the first half of the 80’s was pretty much all about the punk. I liked the good bands, I liked the mediocre bands and I liked the sh-tty bands. My friends and I would think nothing of driving 2-5 hours to see shows in far flung, unglamorous corners of LA county, places like Pomona, SunValley, or Oxnard. We’d drive to San Francisco and back on a weekend to see some bands we didn’t even particularly like just so we could hang out and meet up with people.
By 1987 Fender’s Ballroom in Long Beach was the most dependable and frequent L.A. show locale. Conveniently located in South L.A., it was a relatively short hop up I-5 from San Diego so getting up there was no big deal. The shows were usually 4-7 bands to a bill so there was never a reason not to go and go we did.
The scene at Fender’s was not a pretty one. The place itself was ugly, the sound was at best not so great, the crowds were a swollen collection of spiky Brit-style L.A. fashion punks, hardcore kids, nazi skinheads from O.C., Samoan Crips, tough guys, thrash metallers, late-comers, curious high school kids, and my friends and me (of course we defied categorization). For some reason there weren’t a lot of girls…surprising huh?.
I saw some great bands, a lot more crappy bands and I witnessed and narrowly avoided getting caught up in countless fights and acts of average to extreme violence there. Just to give this part of the story some color: I once saw a dude get carried out of the pit after a huge fight, knocked out, covered in blood, with his eyeball popped out of its socket. Gulp. Gulp. Hurl. Hurl.
If I listed all the bands I saw at Fender’s this post would be twice as long as it is so I’ll spare you the roll call and instead tell you about the last night I went to Fender’s.
Back in the pre-internet punk days you learned about shows two ways: by word of mouth and by flyers. Like a chain, you’d go to a show one weekend and you’d see flyers for next weekend’s shows. If you missed a weekend your friends would let you know what was happening. It was a simple, elegant system.
One weekend at Fender’s I learned that Murphy’s Law from N.Y.C. would be playing a rare Sunday night show at the venue as an add-on date after their show the night before opening for The Beastie Boys at some big rock place. A rumor was circulating that the Beasties would also be stopping by that night to do an unannounced set.
This was not to be missed. The Beasties were HUGE and anyhow I’d dug them since their first hardcore 7” and their current mega-hit L.P. Licensed to Ill was as great as anything that’d come before from them. Plus it’d just be cool to be in on such a thing. I was there.
To make a long story short, we went up the next weekend. The Beasties didn’t show. The place was half-full, there were tons of fights, tons of nazi skinheads, the bands sucked, the place sucked, and we had to be at school the next morning.
On the way back down the coast as my friends and I talked about the ugliness and stupidity we’d witnessed that night and how it wasn’t any different from so many other shows we’d seen before, just a little dumber and more brutal than usual was all, a realization so obvious, yet stunningly new occurred to me and I thought to myself:
I don’t ever have to go to another punk show again if I don’t want to!
The ticket stub pictured above is from a U2 concert I went to at the San Diego Sports Arena in 1987 sometime after the ill-fated Murphy’s Law show. I don’t know exactly how long after. I do know this however: I loved this concert!
On the surface it was everything I and punk stood against: big arena rock (my first arena rock show in fact), expensive tickets ($16.50!?), a super-popular band everyone liked, rockstars on stage, assigned seats, etc. etc.
None of these disqualifiers however changed the fact that the crowd was elated, the songs were expansive and positive sounding, there was emotion present, there was passion, there were GIRLS in the audience! Lots and lots of girls and women and parents and kids and everyone including me was having a great time.
It wasn’t until a few years later when I encountered Riot Grrl, Grunge, and the Pop Underground that the word “punk” left anything but a sour taste in my mouth. Though to be sure, there were always underground bands making great, original, soulful music before, during, and after my love affair with the hardcore scene tanked. One band above all in that period held my and many other people’s interest like no other: a little group from Washington D.C. called Fugazi.
More about them later.
U2 ticket stub from my personal archive.