Common Sense Ain't That Common
Thursday night, 11:30, somewhere on the edge of West Oakland. Someone took it upon himself to push a drum kit out into the middle of the intersection on a trolley. He began to play, to the amusement of the punks gathered in front of a nearby house, where a show was taking place. Like most punk shows, the excitement all took place outside. Not all the punks were into it, some people asked him to stop and were laughed off. Eventually a woman appeared and berated the drummer for waking up half the neighborhood on a work night. "You wouldn't try that in a white part of town!" What the fuck was he thinking? The answer: he wasn't. Maybe he was rushing on the excitement, the freedom that comes from being away from home for the first time, living in a punk house in "the ghetto", being a fucking punk, man, and fuck the rules. Fuck the squares that have to get up for work in the morning. They need to hear these drums, need to be woken up from their materialist stupor! Of course, I'm projecting. He was probably just drunk on Old English and thought it would be funny.
It's glamorous, in a way, to emphasize the shitty nature of your surroundings. A badge of honor, to proclaim that you live in a crime-ridden, violence-prone part of town. I understand the allure of cheap rent, tons of space, a place to have shows. Hell, punks and artists and musicians (and people who just like to dress like punks and artists and musicians) need places to live too. At least make friends with your neighbors, be respectful of them, keep the noise to a minimum on work nights. What is merely slumming it for you is matter of fact for them. Do I sound like your Grandpa talking? It seems like it should be common sense.
By now, for all intents and purposes, the gentrification debate is done and dusted. Everyone knows the cycle: the stormtrooper brigade of low-income artists, musicians, students, etc move into an historically working-class, immigrant, or poor community for the cheap housing and gritty, ghetto-chic appeal, then create a culture there that makes the area attractive to more affluent middle-class types, who then move in, buy up property, and push out both the original inhabitants and the very people who created the culture that made the place attractive to them in the first place. I've seen it happen (or rather, been part of it) in the West End of Glasgow (resulting in the cycle starting all over again on the South Side) and the Mission in San Francisco, but punks and artist types have set up camp in Oakland for years without much in the way of gentrification taking hold. Recently, though, the Oakland art scene (predominantly, but not exclusively, that created by twenty-something white hipsters) along with the city's vibrant culture of underground music venues has started to garner some mainstream attention. Not to mention, the thousands of high-rise 'loft apartments' being built all over the place. To be honest, it would be great to see some positive economic development coming to Oakland, but it looks like it's going to be more of the same: gated communities separating the haves and the have-nots, and the only opportunities for most of the original inhabitants will be minimum-wage service industry jobs catering to the newcomers. You can't fight progress.
I was moved by fellow resident alien Timmy Brooks' review a couple of issues back (along with gutter-minded long-time shitworker Shane White's enthusiastic recommendations) to pick up 'Cockney Reject - My Life of Music, Football, and Blood' by Jeff Turner (better known to fans as Stinky). This won't be a proper review as that would be redundant after Tim's comprehensive appraisal, but I have to say I did find it a rollicking good read. Could hardly put it down as they say. One thing that I thought was particularly funny was that through all the stories of getting thrown out of studios for stealing, getting in fights, brushes with the law, etc, it's always someone else's fault! Stinky Turner must be the unluckiest bloke in the world; he's always in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong guy. Also, while it was entertaining to hear about some of the more spectacular rucks the Rejects and their entourage got involved in, a lot of the violence made me pretty uncomfortable. Basically, if you so much as looked at Stinky or his brother, guitarist Mick Geggus, the wrong way, you were on to a kicking. Turner puts this down to some mythical East End 'code', but I've known people all my life who were on a similar hair trigger. The kind of people it's hard to be around because you know they could snap any minute and you'll have to deal with the repercussions of their actions. It's a quandary – to enjoy the Cockney Rejects' music, do you have to accept the glorification of a violent, football hooligan lifestyle?
Recently, the West Coast was graced by a tour by those redheaded (sorry, bald-headed) stepchildren of the Medway sound, the Armitage Shanks. I managed to catch them in the salubrious, genteel surroundings of John Patrick's, a cinderblock haven of cheap beer sandwiched between car dealerships on the Oakland side of Alameda Island that was previously the location of Maggotfest 2004, when the rumblings of the music shook live maggots (the remnants of years of BBQ leftovers tossed onto the roof) down from the ceiling and into unsuspecting revelers' hair and pints. Luckily there were no maggots this time, only a rousing evening's entertainment, whereby two actual Shanks (ably backed by San Jose's The Runs) plodded through an hours worth of original material and classic covers, including songs by The 101ers, Television Personalities, The Mekons, and more. In fact, I think the Cockney Rejects were one of the few bands left out. After the show I picked up the band's cracking new four-song 7" on Cock Energy, which includes a tasty parody of my new best mate's band, The Fall. Get it at www.cockenergy.com.
(A Google search attributes the title phrase to the folksy Oklahoman cowboy wisdom of Will Rogers.)
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