CRAIG IBARRA – “A Wailing of a Town: An Oral
History of Early San Pedro Punk and More, 1977-1985”

As this new book makes clear, if you know anything
about San Pedro, California and are not already a longshoreman, then there’s a
good chance you got clued into the existence of the town by The Minutemen. Said
band, who lived from 1979 to 1985, are one of the greatest and most inventive
underground rocknroll acts to ever walk the planet, and they made shout-outs to
their hometown one of their many stocks in trade. It’s therefore not surprising
that a book that focuses its target on the San Pedro punk rock scene of ’77-’85
is one that also happens to read like an oral history of The Minutemen. The
scene-defining role played by the band, by its music and by its ethos are truly
a novella within the novel. I’d wondered if the intention was initially to do a
Minutemen-only book, and whether End Frwy press, who put this out, asked for
padding to round the thing into something a little more expansive.

Craig Ibarra, who came of age in this scene in
the early 80s, deftly orchestrates a hefty series of short chapters on how punk
rock came to the small “South Bay” cities south of Los Angeles, all of which
are still within the Los Angeles city limits. Identity is often formed in
opposition, and in the case of San Pedro and its organic punk scene of the late
70s, it was the first-wave Hollywood punk bands that both inspired and
repelled. Despite only being a 40-something minute drive away from Hollywood,
towns like Pedro might as well have been Pluto for all the notice their
homegrown bands got outside of their environs. It took fellow South Bay
stalwarts (Hermosa Beach!) Black Flag, who took The Minutemen and later
Wilmington’s Saccharine Trust under their expanding and very gonzo wings to
help turn the USA onto bands from outside the center of LA proper.

The San Pedro scene, as is made clear here,
really only existed due to the contributions of a handful of motivated
individuals, only some of whom played in bands. All of those still alive are
interviewed in depth, with chapters broken up by band (lesser lights like The
and Mood of Defiance even get their own sections), by club (“Dancing Waters”
sounds like a gross hellhole, and the VFW hall that hardcore punks trashed
sounds even worse) and, later, by different facets of The Minutemen’s
existence: band members, albums and record labels. It’s not artfully done, but
it’s generally done well and very much in the spirit of “econo”.

I continue to be struck by the quasi-police state
that surrounded punk rock in Los Angeles once hardcore hit big in 1980-1981. I
didn’t go to my first punk show down there until 1985, by which time nearly all
the phenomenal bands in LA had broken up and when the cops had already
effectively won the war. But man, the stories of violent head-bashing and of
gigs stopped during the opening band are pervasive and oft-told throughout this
book. Ibarra also makes sure to not leave the punks’ chequered role in all of
this violence unsaid; there was a huge contingent of opportunistic lunkheads
who used punk gigs as their means for nihilistic wars of their own making, as
well as thuggish gang elements both within the punk scene and outside of it
(the repeated stories of “punk hunting” by Latino and white rocknroller gangs
in San Pedro are neither surprising nor sugarcoated).

Through it all, there was a defiantly artistic
and experimental streak to the area’s bands, personified by The Minutemen. That
the band were as personally likable and as influential as they were, and had a
workingman’s ethos that kept them chugging along in the face of many hardships,
makes their place in underground America’s hallowed back pages all the more assured.
They probably do deserve their own
book, just as they’ve already had their own excellent documentary film – but for
now Ibarra’s well-assembled set of stories will do just fine.

Order the book here.