All photos courtesy of Victor Ryan Guy
All photos courtesy of Victor Ryan Guy
Without the availability of an environment more conducive to conducting an interview, we planted our asses on the concrete in front of a closed pizza joint (amidst the bustling traffic of mouse-eared tourists and cross-dressing punk clones) in downtown Orlando. From this vantage point we watched unnoticed as traffic passed us by. Seemingly the perfect place to chain smoke a pack of Camel Wides and have a chat about the origins of American punk rock and the strains of addiction.
We look like a couple of bums on skid row waiting to score a fix.
I haven't done drugs in 2 years.
No shit, you've been dry for 2 years?
Not dry, I'm in recovery. Dry is a totally different thing. Dry is when you abstain from drugs and alcohol altogether. You don't practice in following a program of recovery; which is one of the only cures there is, like Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous. I happen to have a problem with heroin addiction, so I mainly attend Narcotics Anonymous. But it's a 12 step program, I'm sure you're aware of what it consists of.
I'll admit, (probably by definition) I'm a binge drinker maybe even a functional alcoholic, but I haven't made it to AA yet.
Well, it entails going to meetings. You know I went to detox with just the clothes on my back. Basically, I crashed a couple of cars, lost my job at the music conservatory, lost my job as a music writer, not to mention I burned down my place. I kind of reached the end of my rope. I didn't have any money. I didn't have a place to go. My fiancé at the time was also a heroin addict. She was trying to get straight and I was trying to get straight, but I couldn't and she could. So I went into detox and rehab for 30 days. Then I went to live in a halfway house for another 60 days with other drug addicts, ex-convicts and people who'd been otherwise institutionalized. Then I moved in with another recovery addict. Now I go to meetings and work the steps. You know, I have a sponsor and I have people I sponsor. This is like the 3rd or 4th time I tried to get some time away from it. The first time, I quit doing drugs I wasn't dry. I kept drinking, smoking pot and taking pills and stuff like that. I just stayed away from my drug of choice. It only took a suggestion from somebody when I was at a low point to go out and score some heroin and I was back on it. But now I've got two years of being clean and sober.
Cool. I've got some good friends that went down that road. Luckily I've only been hit with that morning after blank shame and the occasional 2 day hangover associated with alcohol. Every so often someone will make a comment regarding alcohol abuse and granted I don't have a valid defense. Hell tonight at the show I'll probably deteriorate into a slurring degenerate.
Well do it until you're done with it, you know. You don't necessarily have to lose everything like I did. But when you find it's time, I'm here to tell you, you can most definitely find a spiritual high. The alcohol and the heroin are symptoms of a habit. It's a disease of perception. It's the way you perceive the world. It's the way you perceive yourself; low self-esteem, thinking you're a victim, believing the world is a difficult place to navigate (which I still do from time to time). I have to accept the world and that everything around me is exactly the way it's supposed to be. The only thing I have power over is changing my perception of the world. The drugs are a solution to me. It takes away the apathy that I feel. Without it I'm raw and exposed to the elements. You know I get irritated at times, but the only thing I can do is change my perception and say "I have to accept things the way they are"
So what have you filled your time with rather than heroin?
I've been mostly concentrating on recovering from drugs and alcohol. I work a humble job. I go to meetings. You know I had to put that in front on any kind of relationship that I've had. Which might sound selfish, but if I'm no good, I'm not good for anybody around me. I was told if I put that first, everything else will fall into place. My relationships will start to get healthier as I get healthier.
Let's kick it over to a lighter note. You've been a part of the So Cal music scene forever and a day (whether it is with the Circle Jerks or the Weirdoes or other projects). What do you remember of the scene so many hold as the heyday of punk?
I wasn't with the Weirdoes in the late 70's and early 80's. I joined shortly after they came out with their first full length LP Condor. That was long after Weirdo Mania, long after those guys were super popular. Not to mention they were the 1st punk band in Los Angeles. I joined them in '87 or something like that. I've been with them off and on for the last 19 years. I've been with the Circle Jerks since 1984.
So you being a guy from that era and area, me being a guy from Bradenton, FL first getting into punk in the late 80's early 90's, you lived in a scene widely respected where as I've only read about.
The thing is, it's funny, so many people have memories of punk rock and how being in the scene back then was great. I really don't remember much because I didn't find it that significant at the time. I was just doing what I was doing. I'm sure a lot of other people would say they remember everything and stuff like that. But for me, I was just in a scene that I never would've predicted punk rock would have made the impact that it has. I mean especially commercially like it has now and as far as pop culture goes. You know, there's books being written about the history of punk rock. There's movies being made about it. Everywhere you go there's people fashioning themselves after punk rockers. People I saw in the 80's, I see exact replicas of the same people. I don't know where they got their sources, but they're accurately attired. They act the same. It's just weird that it would take a turn for pop culture because it wasn't popular back then. I think it's ridiculous. Back then I think punk rock was more of a tribe…….. about being part of a tribe and having some individuality. Having to dig under rocks to find the music that you liked. And put your clothes together or whatever. But, I was never that guy. The closest I came is being in the Weirdoes. They wouldn't even say they're punk rock, they'd say they're weirdoes from Hollywood. We put together outfits I guess.
But you couldn't go out to the mall and buy a punk rock uniform.
Dude, I'm a nerdy kid who got a break and did a film in '84….
Right, Repo Man.
And at that time I heard Circle Jerks were holding auditions I was living in a 10x10 office space with no bathroom, no kitchen, and no shower. I was basically squatting when I heard it on the street. I was so desperate counting pennies to buy something to eat. I'd go down to the unemployment office to find jobs. So I was like "fuck it". I did it for the money. I was so broke. I needed money and that sounds odd because punk rock doesn't make any money. That just gives you an idea of how desperate and how close to living on the streets I was. That was a break for me.
Your honesty is refreshing.
I don't mean to paint a dark or an indifferent picture. I have to be honest, my life depends on it. I'm just a human being who got involved with a band and a scene and I had no idea where it would take me. I was just living in the moment you know.
Even if you just fell into it, look at all the things you've contributed to throughout the years.
I'm thankful in the fact that I was able to contribute and have been a part of some innovative stuff. I'm very, very happy for things that I've contributed; with the bands and projects and films and other stuff I've been a part of because they all have a lot of integrity. There's also a curse surrounding things with integrity because you never quite achieve any financial security or feel safe as far as dealing with the elements. Honestly, I'm real happy with what I've done. But I'm more concerned with what I'm doing now and what I'm doing tomorrow.
On the topic of projects other than music, you were in Repo Man, how many other movies have you been in?
Probably half a dozen or more, maybe ten, something like that. Probably the most notable ones being Repo Man, Straight to Hell, I did music for Sid & Nancy (that's where I met Joe Strummer), Walker (which was down in Nicaragua).
Wasn't Walker a Joe Strummer flick?
Yeah, I did the score for that with Joe. I played all the guitars and all the weird string instruments on that. That led me to quit the Circle Jerks in the late 80's and join up with Joe Strummer.
Wait, with the Mescalero's?
No, this was post Clash, pre Mescaleros. He called it his wilderness years. The myth is that Joe was pretty inactive in those days, but we were doing films and he made a solo record, and did quite a bit of touring. After doing all that with Joe he basically said "Hey man, you're such a talented guitar player, you shouldn't be wasting yourself playing bass in a punk rock band. You should play guitar with me." So I took his advice and quit playing with the Circle Jerks to go play in London and be a part of his crew.
After all these years, The Circle Jerks still get the crowd electrified, what are your thoughts on 16 year old kids slam dancing to your music?
Truthfully I don't care what people do. I used to put a lot of stock in that. I'd much prefer to play to a captive audience to tell the truth. You know, people who are actually looking at the band and listening. But, as I get older, I've been thinking that it's kind of cool (at our age) that we can still churn people into a frenzy. I actually kind of like it now. But hey man, I'm a musician. What I do it for is to bring something to the world that will be remembered and to bring people a sort of therapy. Whether it's blowing off some steam or whether it's having a good time or whatever, first and foremost it's for my own therapy. I don't have much of a choice; I was put here to play music. It doesn't matter what kind of music that is or who hears it (or if anybody hears it for that matter). I was put in this world to be a musician and a writer, to be somebody who puts something out there that hopefully touches someone else. Hopefully it'll touch someone else.
I'd say some of your handiwork has touched quite a few people. I think my tattoo of the Circle Jerks logo attests to that.
Well, the Circle Jerks are just a grain of what I am.
But it's a grain that's gotten under a lot of people's skin, figuratively and literally.
Let’s start off with the LA scene of yester year. You’ve lived in LA pretty much your whole life. We’ve all seen Decline of Western Civilization, for us that didn’t come up in that time or place can you paint us a picture of the So Cal scene from back in the day?
It was just a huge music scene for all genres back then. You had a big metal scene. You had a pop scene, (they called it power pop). There was all the metal stuff with bands like Motley Crue and Wasp. Then there was the punk rock scene. There was even an alternative country scene. Dwight Yoakam used to play the same clubs we did. The metal clubs were established, then anything that wasn’t metal played at the underground clubs. One night it would be the Blasters, the next night it would e Black Flag……All the bands would hang out together because it was the only place to be heard if you weren’t playing what they thought rock’n’roll should be. It all kind of intertwined, but the biggest thing besides the metal thing was the punk scene back then. The live music scene as a whole was cool back then.
Things changed, what happened? Do you think the labels, or maybe the music industry lost interest in maintaining credibility in lieu of making a quick buck?
To me, what’s a record label job to do? It’s to take bands, get them out there, market them and sell them so they can make some money and the bands can make some money. I don’t know about credibility, it’s a business. There’s people who are credible and there are people who aren’t; in all genres. I don’t really buy into this indie versus major, evil versus cool thing.
What about radio stations and music television? Granted I’ve lived on the east coast my whole life, it may be vastly different on the west coast, but here it’s the same 10 shitty songs every hour with some asshole DJ piping in some mind numbing bullshit in between.
It’s still pretty much programmed and commercialized for the most part. I mean there’s a pretty decent station who under the guise of calling themselves an indie station (it’s owned by Clear Channel) but it’s still totally free form. There’s not really a set list. There’s guest DJ’s every day. Steve Jones from the Sex Pistols has a show, Joe Sib has a punk show. LA does have the best stations I guess. Even California seems to have some good radio stations, I mean compared to the east coast and other places. I spent a lot of time in the northeast New York area and it was just dismal. The radio up there is horrible.
Aside from the radio, it’s undeniable the scene’s taken a nose dive. Here’s one of my (and I think a lot of other people’s) pet peeves, and playing the Warped Tour I’m sure you’ve come into contact with your share, how do you feel about the "emo kids"?
It doesn’t affect me. It doesn’t bother me. I don’t like the haircut. I mean when you get down to it who wore the first "emo" haircut? Adolf Hitler. One more reason to hate the haircut. So that’s what I think about emo, Hitler. *laughter* And you know what? A comb over is a comb over. It’s never fucking cool. You want a comb over?
With my male patterned baldness, I could rock a comb over. We both could. But it looks like we both choose to be bald.
Greg- That’s right, bald is beautiful. So to all you kids out there losing your hair, just fucking shave it. It took me years to come to that realization.
I’ve never seen you with a comb over.
No, but I was bumming. I was bumming when I first started losing my hair.
When did you start losing your hair? My hairline made a full retreat the day I turned 21, like "welcome to adulthood fucker."
Mid to late 20’s I started noticing it.
What pisses me off is I can’t even rock my mohawk anymore.
Shit, I even went and seen about transplants and was like I’m not gonna do that! Cut my scalp open for that?!? And then, you know what I realized? Chicks dig the bald head. I didn’t know that.
Dawn the photographer- Yeah we do! It’s fun to rub on!
If I would have realized that 10 or 15 years ago, I would’ve lost even more hair. I think I got it from my dad. He’s been wearing a hairpiece since I was 21. 2 years ago, when he retired, he finally took the rug off. He sported it until he was 70 or something.
You’re a founding member of the Circle Jerks (who are playing tonight), Red Kross as well as a long time member of Bad Religion, what got you into punk in the first place?
Greg- I guess it was looking for the heaviest guitar oriented music out there. It was kind of a progression. After metal and listening to hard rock (Zeppelin and that kind of stuff), I heard the Ramones and stuff like that and it was just like "Ok, yeah." … saw a couple of local punk bands and it pretty much couldn’t get any more guitar driven than that.
Being the only band you’re not still affiliated with, what made you leave Red Kross and cofound the ’Jerks?
Greg- The guys, the brothers McDonald, at the time they were kind of wishy-washy. They weren’t sure if they wanted to do music full-time or what. I found a drummer and they didn’t like him because they thought he was too new wave and they didn’t want to tell me they didn’t like him. But anyway, I quit the band and then I got Lucky Lehrer, he was going to be the drummer for Red Kross but ended up being the drummer for the Circle Jerks. I think it worked out pretty good.
How did you and Keith meet up?
We used to practice in the same spot, the church in Hermosa Beach. It was like us (as in Red Kross), Black Flag, The Last and a couple other bands… the Descendents were there too. So anyway, I met him through that, we grew up in the same area. He quit Black Flag maybe a month before I quit Red Kross. He literally heard me quit Red Kross in line to go see a gig at the Whiskey and basically (I think his words were exactly) *in an excellent Keith Morris impersonation* "Fuck those guys. Let’s start our own band, man." So we did.
A common bond a lot of punks share is coming from broken homes - does this hold true for yourself?
It was pretty normal. My parents stayed together until I was 17. My family life and childhood didn’t really play a role with me getting into punk. I found out about it through a friend’s older brother who had the Ramones and Dead Boys records. Then I found out there was actually a local scene around the time I was a junior I high school and started to go see bands live.
Here’s a question that’s plagued me in regards to the Circle Jerks since I first heard of you guys damn near 20 years ago. What’s the story behind the name?
We were looking for a name. We played a couple of parties under 3 or 4 different names. Ray Pettibon, the guy who did a lot of the Black Flag artwork (he did a few fliers for us too), we were at his house and he had a copy of the American Slang Dictionary. We just started looking through that and laughing and we seen the term Circle Jerk and we were like "we have to name our band Circle Jerks. This is just ridiculous!" That’s kind of how it happened. Our original bass player, Roger, he wasn’t too happy. He was like "I can’t tell my dad I’m in a band called Circle Jerks".
Granted you guys went your separate ways there for awhile……
A couple of times. We broke up in ’90 and got back together in ’94 and then broke up again around ’95. That was short lived.
….whereas most bands break up for good after a couple years, you’ve been together for 25 plus years. What keeps you guys coming back to the table?
I guess some of the other guys just need some cash here and there. Let’s call a spade a shovel here. (laughter) But we have fun doing it ya know. We like a little spending money out on the road and do what we need to do. But it’s not like we’re trying to pull some kind of scam. We always go out there and try to give it our best. We enjoy it. We’re like one big dysfunctional family.
Do you ever kick back and think "look at all the people I’ve influenced"? I mean with (your early years with) Red Kross, Bad Religion and the Circle Jerks it’s pretty safe to say you’re somewhat of a punk rock legend.
That’s what people keep telling me. I don’t really think "oh my god! I’m this trail blazing artist!" But I definitely feel fortunate and understand there are people who have been inspired by some of the bands I’ve been in. It’s kind of strange. It’s funny too, people will come up and say "oh my god! You inspired me!" or this and that and you always feel uncomfortable. So a couple of years ago on the Warped Tour and the Damned were on there. So I saw Captain Sensible sitting at this picnic table and I thought I gotta go up and tell him. Dude, I gotta be that guy. I’m in Circle Jerks and Bad Religion and people do this all the time, so I got to give him a dose of that. So I told him "I saw you guys when I was like 17 and it was a mind altering experience. You’re so influential to me!" and that sort of shit. So it’s come full circle.
Can you once and for all explain to those who may not be in-the-know (nobody reading this magazine of course) what that little area in front of the stage where people tend to migrate towards and dance is called and what it’s for? I’ve always thought the words mosh pit refer to a place angry ignorant knuckle-dragging, mouth-breathing apes go to intentionally try to injure people whether they be man, woman or child.
I don’t know what a mosh is. I don’t know where that term came from; maybe it was an east coast thing. But I know the term "slam pit"; I guess it originated in LA. Although nobody called it that back then. It ended up in the LA Times somewhere around 1981. They were doing a big expose’ on the music scene, the punk rock thing and the pit and how it was dangerous and this and that. I think some kid was fucking around with the journalist when he asked "What’s the name of your dance?" and he said "We call it the slam, it’s the slam pit." And you’re reading this article, and you know the LA Times is a respectable paper and it was just like "What the fuck is a slam pit?" I don’t know who coined the term mosh. But we just call it the pit. There’s a little history on the words "slam pit", it was a figment of some lame journalist’s imagination.
It’s been 10 years since the Circle Jerks put out a new album (Oddities,…..), tell me the time has come for a new album.
Greg- We’ve been trying to work on some stuff. We got a couple of songs. We’re not quite ready to rip’em live yet. We keep saying we’re gonna do it, but we haven’t yet so….. I can’t make any promises, but we’re trying to get some shit together, maybe next year, maybe not.
I think that’s a good way to end it, with a little hope on a string.
Cool. That was painless.