September 5, 1986
I went to the Developmental Research School, aka Florida High School from 7th
through 12th grade. Florida High was technically part of Florida State University
(FSU), not the regular public school system. There was a waiting list to get in. The
school sat on the university campus in the shadow of FSU’s massive football stadium.
There was a designated smoking area for kids on the edge of the school dubbed Freak
Corner. Our school mascot was the Demon.
In 1983, my younger brother Jimmy and I were Junior Seminoles. That meant we got a cheap ticket and McDonald's Happy Meal for each of the FSU home football games. We also got away from our parents for a few hours, more often to make mischief than to actually go watch football.
One day in the summer of 1983 my friend James, who lived nearby and was a fellow Junior Seminole, had returned from his vacation in Southern California, so Jimmy and I paid him a visit. I was thirteen years old. James brought a cassette into the back yard and slapped it into his boom box. “Check out this music,” he said. I asked what it was and he answered “Dead Kennedys”. How could I not want to hear that?
The pace and intensity of what came next was unlike anything I’d ever heard. But the
vocals and lyrics – about Nazis, hyperactive kids and vaguely familiar names like Jesse
Helms – were every bit as compelling as the music. I wanted to hear more Dead
Kennedys and find out more about this music called hardcore punk.
Before long, I’d scraped together enough money to buy albums by Dead Kennedys,
Sex Pistols, Circle Jerks and Black Flag. I also picked up the We Can’t Help It If
We’re From Florida compilation (from Vinyl Fever, of course) after hearing about it
from Lee, who also happened to be a fellow Demon and Junior Seminole. Like many,
the first time I ever heard bona fide Tallahassee hardcore punk was listening to the
mighty Sector 4 and Hated Youth on that record.
Being a student at Florida High, I was able to attend one of my earliest and most
memorable punk gigs by skipping class and walking a few hundred yards to see Sector
4 play on a weekday afternoon at the FSU Union Green.
I had been drawn to the drums from a young age and was a drummer in the school
band starting in 6th grade. But once I heard punk rock, I became determined to learn
how to play a drum kit. My mom hooked me up with private lessons from a highly
credentialed local drum teacher with a jazz background. The lessons were at his house
in Indian Head Acres. I don’t remember his name.
At my first lesson, he encouraged me to transcribe the drum part to any song I liked and
bring it back for him to critique. I went home and transcribed Black Coffee off Black
Flag’s new album Slip It In, then showed up for our next lesson with the record and it’s
iconic, highly suggestive album cover.
It was about then I noticed prominent religious wall hangings and displays in this dude’s
house. Things became a little uncomfortable as he examined the record and placed it
on his turntable. “It’s the SECOND song!” I insisted, not wanting to subject him to the
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September 5, 1986. It’s my senior year and I’m about to perform at CA Chapel, the
premier venue and nerve center for Tallahassee punk at the time, as the drummer for
Gothic Playground. One of my band-mates is Damien, who had also been both a
Demon and a Junior Seminole. He was the one who introduced me to
Maximum RockNRoll, a milestone moment for any punk back then.
The night of September 5, 1986, though, was momentous because Gothic
Playground was warming up for Maggot Sandwich and Stevie Stiletto and the
Switchblades, two of my favorite bands who also happened to hail from North Florida.
The wild show that night inspired Maggot Sandwich lead singer Vik Kaos to write the
title track for the band’s debut LP, Get Off The Stage, released in 1987. You should
check it out.
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A few years after I graduated from Florida High I heard that Freak Corner had been
abolished, and the school nickname changed from Demons to Baby Seminoles. From
what I was told, a devoutly religious principal had taken over the school and couldn’t
handle having a Demon represent the school as its mascot.
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During the Reagan years it was a big deal when well known touring
bands like Bad Brains or Black Flag played our town. But looking back now, what
stands out most from those years were the gigs like September 5, 1986. The touring
bands played all over, but where else could you see North Florida punk legends like
Stevie Stiletto, Maggot Sandwich, Sector 4 and Tallahassee’s godfathers of punk
rock, the Slut Boys?
As I sit here in Southern California 35 years later, Freak Corner, the Slut Boys and
CA Chapel are just echoes from the past but the impact of growing up punk rock in
Tallahassee, Florida is still reverberating loudly for me.
Trouble Dolls (1985-86)
Gothic Playground (1986-87)
Panhandle Punk Productions (est. 2018)