A WAILING OF A TOWN: AN ORAL HISTORY OF EARLY SAN PEDRO PUNK 1977-1985
Craig Ibarra: I tried using nothing but unpublished photos for the book, mostly by local photographers that were part of the Pedro punk community. I would say 99.9% of the photos have never been published—most of the flyers too. I have an abundance of ephemera that I scanned from various collections of individuals that I interviewed, but wasn’t able to include everything. I’ve been showing a slideshow of all the stuff that I’ve scanned at various book events that I’ve been doing. Maybe someday I’ll figure out a way to share this stuff. That’s correct that a lot of these people in the book have never been interviewed, but everyone had something unique to add to the story. Something that stood out to me was the fact that most people believed that the Minutemen were always a touring band in their six-year existence. Mike Watt went out of his way to clear this up, which I felt was very honest of him. The Minutemen didn’t do their first tour until their fourth year as a band in 1983. They only did three tours on their own. Watt clears this up and talks about how some of the early punk pioneers’ history gets exaggerated in a lot of cases. Another thing that comes to mind is the fact that Watt wasn’t happy with the last two Minutemen records, Project: Mersh and Three-Way Tie (For Last) and they were gearing up to get back to the Double Nickels formula, which I think we were all waiting and hoping for. Also, the story of the tragic accident that ended D. Boon’s life is finally told, which clears up a lot of rumors and accusations that have been floating around for years. I also learned in-depth histories of various Pedro bands, hangouts, clubs, bars … there is so much that I learned. It would take forever to talk about it. I felt like I already knew a lot going in from reading numerous Watt interviews and hearing stories throughout the years, but I was enlightened on so many levels.
The Minutemen (and Reactionaries) of course loom large in this book. Their story pulls us through the whole history—from Pedro’s first punk band to going from a Pedro band to a U.S. band and finally those last agonizing days before D. Boon’s death. What kind of echoes of the Minutemen—and Watt, Boon and Hurley themselves—do you see going through this history of Pedro punk? What ideas did they transmit, lessons did they teach (or learn) and examples did they set? This history of Pedro punk is very tightly intertwined with the history of the Minutemen—what made that the right way to write it?
Craig Ibarra: For our town, the Reactionaries and Minutemen were definitely punk rock pioneers. They made it safe to write your own songs and not to be scared to get out there and play them. They gave people confidence to take chances and do things themselves. They were very original, encouraging and inspiring. They are the focal point of the book. Michael Quercio [of Salvation Army/the Three O’Clock] says in the book, ‘The Minutemen were the band of the scene. They were like the sun, and all the other bands were the planets that rotated around them.’ Dennes, Mike and George were sort of like the ambassadors of the Pedro scene, so it’s only fitting that they are intertwined throughout the book.
How did you finally draw the lines of what would be in the book and what just couldn’t fit? To me, this book seems extremely comprehensive—it’s as much an encyclopedia and even an atlas as an oral history. But as an editor, you had to stop somewhere. What had to happen for you to be able to call this a faithful document of San Pedro punk?
Craig Ibarra: I went over this book hundreds of times—I’m an over thinker. I had a few people do read-throughs, and got some feedback. Some of the readers included Michael T. Fournier, who did the 33 1/3 book on Double Nickels, along with some close friends that I hold in high regard—Victor Gastelum, Christian Moreno, Todd Congelliere, Richard Bonney, KRK Dominguez and Laurie Steelink. John Tottenham, the guy I had do the final proof, gave me a good tip. He told me I should think about trimming the fat. The book was over 500 pages when I gave it to him the first time. I went back and trimmed it down to 400 pages or so. I started going overboard on the editing at that point. I was over thinking it way too much and it started wearing me down. The more I read it, the more I kept finding things I wanted to change. I felt like it would never end and I finally had to put my foot down. In my heart I knew it was complete, but it took a lot to convince myself of that. The New Alliance and Minutemen chapters were probably the toughest—I did expansive research. I wanted to make sure I didn’t leave anything out. ‘Thinking too much can ruin a good time.’—this Mike Watt lyric is so true.
I also admire your own position as editor—you seem to have made conscious efforts to not be one of those guys who’s like, ‘Oh yeah, I wrote the BOOK, man—I know it all!’ Instead, it’s deeply and humbly focused on people who were there and what they had to say. When I was reading, I was struck by a quote from Watt about why the Minutemen decided to start doing interviews: ‘At first we thought it was bourgeois and mersh. And then we figure, actually it’s more bourgeois and mersh not to do pictures or interviews. So we said, ‘fuck that!’ People should know what they’re getting. People should hear us talk. If they see us and hear us talk, they’ll know we’re not rock stars.’ Is anything like your own idea for the book as a whole? As I read this book, I feel like I’m hearing the people talk.
Craig Ibarra: Thanks for acknowledging that. Yeah, I feel kind of weird doing interviews, actually. I want the book to speak for itself, but at the same time, I understand the importance of getting the word out there and that there might be some questions that people might wanna know about how this book all came together. I just don’t wanna come off as trying to be the spokesman of early Pedro punk. I wasn’t hanging around during these early years—I was too young. But yeah, it was important to me to have people speaking for themselves. It helps broaden the whole picture and that’s why I like the oral history format so much.
What extremes of labor went into the project? How many hours of interviews did you do? Who was hardest to track down, and why did you persist in getting them? Who do you wish you could have talked to and why? How close did you get to your original ideal idea for this book, and was there anything you had to leave undone … or maybe just undone til the next printing?
Craig Ibarra: I did [over] seventy interviews—not sure how many hours. I’m not the fastest at typing, so transcribing would sometimes take an entire week or more. That was the part I disliked most. I’m not the most social person, so doing interviews was somewhat uncomfortable for me. A lot of these people I never met before. That’s one of many reasons why it took so long to complete. I’d get in ruts where I couldn’t get myself to schedule an interview. It was like pulling teeth. I had to be in the perfect mood just to schedule one. I couldn’t get myself to pick up the phone—it was so frustrating. It was a good learning experience. I was not in my comfort zone, that’s for sure. Everyone I interviewed was super nice. Mostly everyone was easy to track down within eight years of working on this. Not everyone wanted to be interviewed, though. Two people that were monumental in helping me learn the finer points of style and copy-editing were Lauren Errea and Mark Kordich. Mark helped with a quarter of the book and Lauren helped with the rest. I would go back and forth with them and eventually I learned how to do it myself towards the end. I probably wouldn’t have been able to pull this book off without their help. Huge thanks to both of them. Also, I got permissions to use various anecdotes from different zines, which I felt was extremely important—this was a way for me to get some of D. Boon’s thoughts into the book. The two people that I wish I could have interviewed, were Greg ‘Stinky’ Hurley and Gino Pusztai. Greg is George’s middle brother. He was very important to the early scene and was the singer for Kindled Imagination [1980 project with D. Boon] and the Slivers . Greg also came up with the record label name New Alliance. I’ve ran into Greg on a few occasions in the past. Let’s just say he’s a fireball. Gino was the singer of Peer Group [1981-1982] and also played in the Plebs . From what I hear, he was a unique character as well. After initially talking and telling the both of them about my book project over the phone, they wouldn’t return my messages. I guess I didn’t put too much pressure on them—I didn’t wanna harass them or anybody for that matter, even though maybe I should have, for posterity. I’m sure they would have had interesting things to say. The only thing that I left out … I didn’t get a chance to get into the Minutemen’s acoustic performances like I wanted to. After eight years, I felt pretty confident that I covered everything. Also my original plan was to try and get published. I wanted to rid myself of this project in a way. It took so long to complete, I just wanted to step back from it for a while and hand it off to someone else to promote and sell. I felt like I had nothing left in the tank to give to this project. Eventually, I met Stuart Swezey from Amok Books and he gave me some tips on the pros and cons of self-publishing and thought I might be better off putting it out myself. After taking a brief breather, I gave it some thought, and my DIY nature kicked in and I went ahead and self-published the book under END FWY Press. So far it’s working out great. I was able to land distribution from Last Gasp out of San Francisco and hopefully books will start hitting the stores. I’m interested in getting a publisher for the second edition, though. So, if any publishing house out there is interested, feel free to hit me up.
What did you learn from doing this book that you didn’t expect? You’ve been immersed in this history so deeply for so long. Did it change your own ideas about Pedro or punk? Or music or art or life, even? For me, once I’d finished this book, I realized that the things I thought of as the concepts and ethics of punk were really more the concepts and ethics of Pedro punk specifically—things Watt and Boon say about art being for everyone, the idea of doing it yourself because no one else will do it for you, etc. Like the song says: this is Bob Dylan to me. How were you different once you’d finished this?
Craig Ibarra: I agree, the Minutemen were special—that’s a great compliment. Different? That’s a tough question. I don’t wanna pretend and come up with this big affirmation on how doing this book made things different for me. This book has been the biggest challenge for me, as far as projects go. I know it’s cliché, but I learned that anything you set your mind to is attainable, and it’s true—I had my doubts. You just have to work hard. I wouldn’t say doing this book changed my idea about Pedro punk or punk in general. I guess I’ve always known these punk ethos to be true, just from being around some of these pioneers since I was in my late teens working at SST Records. Punk rock definitely changed my life. I absorbed a lot from these cats. I am lucky to be a part of a great DIY community like San Pedro and I’m more than happy to do my part.
SAN PEDRO SHRED: FESTIVAL OF SKATE WITH A WAILING OF A TOWN SIGNING PLUS UNDERGROUND RAILROAD TO CANDYLAND, AUDACITY AND MORE ON SUN., JUNE 7, AT GAFFEY ST. LOOKOUT POINT, SAN PEDRO. 10 AM / FREE / ALL AGES. SANPEDROSHREDFEST.COM. SIGNING PLUS READING, SLIDESHOW AND ACOUSTIC SET BY RANDY STODOLA (ALLEY CATS) ON SUN., JUNE 28, AT STORIES, 1716 W. SUNSET BLVD., ECHO PARK. 5 PM / FREE / ALL AGES. STORIESLA.COM. SIGNING PLUS READING AND SLIDESHOW PLUS BANDS ON SUN., JULY 12, AT CAFÉ NELA, 1906 CYPRESS AVE., CYPRESS PARK. 4 PM / 21+. CAFENELA.NET. A WAILING OF A TOWN: AN ORAL HISTORY OF EARLY SAN PEDRO PUNK AND MORE 1977-1985 IS AVAILABLE NOW FROM END FWY PRESS AT ENDFWY.BIGCARTEL.COM. VISIT CRAIG IBARRA AT WATERUNDERTHEBRIDGERECORDS.COM, THERISEANDTHEFALL.BIGCARTEL.COM, PROCRASTINATIONYOUTH.BANDCAMP.COM AND CRAIGIBARRA.COM.