A punk rock tornado ripped through a Denny’s in Long Beach, CA last December causing two thousand dollars in damage. Because the Algorithm knows me so well, a video appeared on my social media feed. I was supposed to be working but I clicked. It begins with a baby boomer in a cowboy hat pacing in front of the way-over-capacity crowd of teen punks. He hollers, “I came for the senior citizen special… What the hell is going on in here? They tell me that the special tonight is Wacko. Lets fuck it up baby!” a punishing drum roll leads into riotous power violence on the floor of the diner’s private dining room; it continues for twenty minutes and ends with someone screaming, “Party at the generator under the bridge three miles that way!”
I stood up from my desk chair feeling triumphant, invigorated, jealous, I may have laughed out a single “ha”— I immediately texted a YouTube video of a drummer playing Metallica’s Enter Sandman using dildos as drumsticks to the drummer of my teen punk band, The Seafood Rebellion (1997-1999). I guess it was a small way to reconnect with the heedless attitude of those years.
The school bell rang (I work as a middle school social worker) and I got back to work, but I was thinking about the Denny’s video all day. It captures the energy of a punk scene that I passed through twenty years ago: groups of kids cramming into dank spaces and releasing jittering spastic frustration through half hour sets. It’s not the scene you know. Lesser-known bands like Spazz, Los Crudos and Dropdead raised the meter after earlier and more famous bands like Bad Brains and Black Flag slowed down, playing so aggressively and chaotically that they repelled all but the purest and most crusty punks. Wacko descends from them. Their sonic dynamite explodes the bedrock of social, cultural and sexual convention creating space for kids who feel or think differently to be or become themselves. Were it not so likely to get hit by a swinging fist or pendant light you might have onlookers gazing, head tilted, arms crossed, feigning understanding the way they might look at a banana taped to a wall at a fine art gallery.
I tracked down Zaine Drayton, the lead singer of Wacko and left him a message that night. He called me back as I was doing the dishes and my wife Zoraida was upstairs putting our son to sleep. I stood there pouring all of my thoughts over him. I paused and considered for a moment that he might be a minor sitting in a bedroom at his mom’s, but fortunately he is 27. I told him I had no idea this scene still existed, exactly as I remember it. He told me, “You have to keep your eyes on the scene. It never dies, it’s always just fourteen or fifteen-year-old kids pushing it forward and you lose touch as you get older. Wacko has brought out all of these kids that I didn’t know existed either.” He reminded me, “Denny’s was tight but we do this type of thing all the time. I’m headed to Santa Ana right now to do it again!”
He was right, I can remember weekly shows around Albany, NY at venues like a Masonic Temple, a Methodist Church, an empty storefront, and a fifteen-year-old’s basement, all packed with people from all over the northeast.
According to Drayton, the Denny’s show wasn’t even the most exciting one to happen that night: “While the show was going on inside about a hundred kids were moshing in the parking lot. After, all those kids met up with like five hundred others under this bridge with a generator and we played another show there with the band EDB. People were there from Reno and LA; fireworks were shooting everywhere; this girl brought a case of spray paint and dropped it on the ground; people were painting ‘Denny’s’ and ‘Wacko’ all over; somebody let off rounds of mortar and caused an explosion.”
Fuck yeah? I also caused my share of property destruction as a kid—which I paid for through probation and community service. The music and the scene scratch a destructive itch that some kids—and their more repressed adult counterparts—have. As a social worker I consider the possible clinical reasons for that: alienation because of a cultural, social or sexual identity, biological hyperactivity, trauma history, or political dissent.
All I knew at fourteen was that my friends and I liked to, “raise a ruckus”—as we used to say ironically before running around the street breaking shit. Over the course of a few months my mom had to pick me up from the police station once for vandalism and another time for stealing the big rotating case of cigars off of the counter of a Mobil gas station. My band was starting to get gigs around town. The last of the five or six shows that made up our career was at a place called Mother Earth’s Café. The police came to shut it down—our former guitarist owns a chef-driven burger joint in that space now. By this point my mom’s anxiety had peaked. One night around that time, I had been out late, and I walked in the house and saw her at the table, hair in her hands, she told me I was going to live with my dad in Mexico. At sixteen, I left, never to punk rock again.
By Drayton’s age, I was hastily tucking my shirt in every day on my way to work. I wondered how he stayed so punk rock. He said, “This kind of music just seems like the best way we can all express ourselves and make people go crazy.” “Who is the hype man in the cowboy hat?” I asked. “That’s [the bass player] Luke’s dad. He’s 72. Luke was basically a street urchin when I met him. His dad was depressed in Texas but now he is doing great. He used his social security money to buy us a van and he tours around with us, kind of reliving his time as a hippy in the sixties.”
I sat there after the call lusting—I mean Luke’s dad is still doing it, but it would be pretty awkward for me to go to shows. So I just thrash alone in my Toyota SUV during my work commute.
A few years back I saw Henry Rollins doing live spoken word. My introduction to punk was a dubbed Memorex tape, one of those early 90’s translucent, multi-colored neon ones. Dead Kennedy’s were on one side, Black Flag on the other. I brought the tape to the show and showed it to Rollins after. I told him how old it was and how his music first got me into the scene. He was polite but he didn’t care. He just shrugged and said, “As long as it still works.”
Moons Over My Hammy
These kids from Wacko drew my attention to the fact that Denny’s and hardcore shows have always had a relationship although not quite so direct. It’s one of the few late night places underage kids can go after a show. We used to hit the one on Western Ave in Albany occasionally after shows. I’d always order the Moon’s Over My Hammy.
Thick Slices of Sourdough Bread
Stack of 2-3 Thin Slices of Deli Ham
2 Slices of Swiss Cheese
2 slices of American Cheese
2 Eggs mixed
- Butter one side of each sourdough slice and grill them in a cast iron pan.
- In another pan, brown a stack of deli ham slices without separating the ham and remove.
- Add butter to that pan and cook scrambled eggs.
- Remove the pan with the grilled bread from the heat but leave the slices in there as they finish crisping.
- Add swiss cheese to the unbuttered side.
- Stack the browned ham slices on top of the cheese
- Pile the eggs on top of that
- place the American cheese on top of the eggs
- Top with the other slice of bread and make sure it is adequately grilled on both sides.
- Slice diagonally
- Serve with fries or hash browns