“I was a skinny, spastic Jewish kid with a gay mom living in one of the Neo-Nazi strongholds of the American midwest“
– Willa, curmudgeon/wise woman, still skinny, spastic and JewishWelcome back to my continuing adventures in conducting brief interviews! Today’s willing participant is a fellow writer that I respect and admire. I have previously posted a piece she worked on, and hope you check out her work in addition to reading her answers here!
Kicking things off as it should be, your name or pseudonym, and how long would you say you have been into hardcore?
Willa, no pseudonym. Mainly because I haven’t been in a band that’s popular enough to warrant one.
I started listening to punk when I was fifteen or sixteen, and I’m 33 now (200 in punk years). So that’s like, 18 years? I don’t know how to math, so I’d suggest getting a calculator and figuring it out for yourself.*
*(Author’s note: I did, she is correct, 17-18 years.)
Do you have a defining memory of what attracted you to punk?
The first hardcore band I ever listened to was TSOL*, and it was the song Cold Blue. It was on a Nitro comp, or something like that. I loved it, mainly because I was fifteen (or sixteen**) and really into drugs. The next song I heard was Dead Kennedy’s Nazi Punks Fuck Off. This was the first hardcore song that actually spoke to me. I was a skinny, spastic Jewish kid with a gay mom living in one of the Neo-Nazi strongholds of the American midwest (Cincinnati, what up!). I had been getting sieg-heiled by redneck trash for years, and beat up for the crime of simply existing.
Living with that kind of daily, terrifying oppression is so isolating. Whether it was true or not, I felt completely alone. Even among my close (goy) friends. So when I heard this manic shithead screaming about how much he hated Nazi’s too, it was easily the most liberating thing I’d had happen to me. It was like someone had reached through my stereo and patted me on the back. I wasn’t alone anymore. As much as I loved Pantera, that was it. Bye bye metal; hello punk.
*(True Sounds Of Liberty, 1978 – Current if I’m not mistaken)
**(95 in punk years)How about the first Punk show you ever attended?
Easy. Krazy Fest III in Louisville, KY, 1999. I saw Brother’s Keeper (who sucked), Dillinger Escape Plan (who ruled), Boysetsfire* (who were mediocre but who I worshipped at the time) Cave In, Time in Malta, Suicide Machine. A bunch of others. I remember two things standing out to me; one was how nice everyone was. People would just strike up conversations with me, would ask how I was, and remember me the next day. The second thing I remember was going to a rally in opposition to a KKK rally that was happening there on the second day. It was the first time I met other anarchists. I had, by that point, read Alan Moores V for Vendetta and had consumed about half the books referenced therein. I was a shitty, uninformed 18 year old Anarcho-dweeb, and meeting other anarchists was a massive boost to my sense of self and taught me how much I still didn’t know or understand. Again, I wasn’t alone anymore.
A funny story from that fest: the third day, I show up wearing a Coors Light work shirt, pack of unfiltered Pall Malls stuck in the breast pocket (I shall repeat: CINCINNATI, WHAT UP?!?). About halfway through the day, I’m standing in the back and I pull my smokes out and go to light one up. As the flame approached the tobacco, I heard a very pronounced throat clearing. I raised my eyes, which were met by a member of Courage Crew (an infamously violent, Ohio based straightedge crew). He was smiling, and then looked behind me. I turned my head and saw five other CC members.
I’m sorry, allow me to re-phrase that; I turned my head and saw five ambulatory mountains with Courage Crew windbreakers on. These fuckers could have turned me into a crazy straw, and they knew it.
They just grinned at me.
I grinned back, put my cigarette back in my pack of smokes, and backed away slowly.
Fuck pride, I couldn’t afford a hospital visit.
*Boysetsfire still rules in my heart.
Why is punk important to you?
Oy. Good question. I don’t have a great answer. It just is. It’s who I am. I often say that I didn’t find punk, it found me. I don’t really have anywhere else where I would be as accepted for all my weird quirks as I am here. Skinny, crippled Kikes with big mouths tend to be dismissed (at best) everywhere else in this society. In punk, people just thought I was funny. They listened when I spoke, and they appreciated my opinion. Also, no one found out I was Jewish and then asked me to loan them money. That was nice.
I guess punk is important to me because I don’t really have a choice in the matter.
What is your favorite memory of either going to a show or listening to punk?
Man, I have a lot of memories. My family has a fetish with heirlooms, but I’m too much of a wanderer to be able to keep the heavy furniture that is the preferred bequeathment. So I have memories to pass on. Picking one is difficult; some are amazing and should be told over and over. Others merely teach the lesson that no matter where you are, how you dress, or what music you listen to, bastards are everywhere and you’re probably friends with a few of them. Maybe I’ll write a book of them some day.
I’ll share one that is (to my mind) hilarious and a perfect example of how punks don’t take shit.
LA, March, 2004. Terror is playing the Whisky a Go Go with The Promise, Internal Affairs and Shattered Realm. Now, this show was by definition populated by dudes with low impulse control, a predilection towards picking up heavy shit and putting it down again, and a flexible ethical code vis-a-vis intense violence. The night progresses neatly enough until Terror takes the stage. An important detail: The Whisky a Go Go had a strict no stage-diving policy. Terror was playing. No stage diving. Terror.
I’ll let you ruminate on the statistical probability that shit was not gonna go down.
I had taken a spot at the front of the balcony level (see: statements regarding my undernourishment, disability). Terror takes the stage, Scott Vogel picks up his mic, and states:
“Fuck no stage dives, we’re Terror and this is LA. I wanna see twenty stage dives!”
Which is when the opening chords of One with the Underdogs begins.
Kids were pouring off the stage like it was Niagara Falls and they had all inherited barrels. That shit was going off in a way I have only seen matched a few times in my life (Trial in Chicago being a the first that comes to mind).
Now, before I go forward let’s be fucking clear: the bouncers were being complete pieces of shit. They were grabbing whoever they could by the throat and literally throwing them out the door. People tried talking to them and they were threatened with violence and ejection themselves.
Second song begins (and I could be fucked if I remember what it was), and that’s when security starts giving members of The Promise shit. See, they were camping out on the side of the stage to avoid getting kicked in the face (which is fair, that shit sucks) and the bouncers were trying to kick them off. There were four or five of the meat-heads gathered around, when a kid gets up on the far side of the stage and begins to book full force towards them.
This absolute hero of a human being jumps feet first into the nearest bouncers face. Like, lands with both feet planted on the dudes fucking gob, slamming it into the floor. The other bouncers immediately start kicking the shit out of this kid, at which point members of the crowd (which may or may not have included members of bands) start beating the shit out of the bouncers. It spills out onto the street and I run downstairs to watch it unfold.
Thing is, whatever bouncers weren’t outside brawling were blocking the front door for some fucking reason. The people like myself who were left didn’t want to fight, we just wanted out. People outside were demanding we be let out (the bouncers had made it back to safety by that point), we were demanding to be let out, shit was starting to get to a boiling point.
Which is when someone-who-shall-not-be-named ran out of fucks to give and straight punched out the $5000 glass front doors of the club.
We were let out after that.
It pretty much fizzled out at that point. Ten minutes later there were five pig rigs, a SWAT van and two helicopters swarming the place so my friends and I split to get pizza.
Seriously though, who fucking lets Terror play and expects people to respect a no stage diving rule? That’s like expecting black metal to not be sketchy.
This interview could not have given me better stories to share with you all. What I have taken so far from Zach, and now Willa’s shared memories is simple. Hardcore is home, we felt like we were alone and now we know we aren’t.
Hardcore is my home.