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)
CA: The Birth, Life, and Death of a Post Modern Social/Aesthetic Experiment in Tallahassee, Florida (ca. 1983-1988)
What was it like to be CA? (introduction)
Before this blog/book appeared, I had done internet and other research
searches for CA Labs, International (our legal non-profit title) Tallahassee, Florida
ca. 1983-1988 and may have missed something but came up with absolutely no
information on the subject, which is both exciting and a bit depressing. This tells me
that anything you may find in this blog, book or however you come across the
following ramblings could be very well completely confused and inconsequential
bullshit; in other words lies… Lies that have been vetted by the editors. Where
are the references, citations to support any of the allegations published in this
compendium? Is this assemblage simply musings of the sick, wanting to formulate
writings in order to subdue and seduce the reading populous? In this way and
regardless of what information pertaining to CA I was hoping to come across, I was
eager to find a number of badly written, mis-informed posts from people who barley
if at all knew us. I was wanting to find comments from people who rarely if ever
attended our events yet claim to have been present for the social chaos we provided;
to find a of CA history from people who did not know us in any way yet claimed to
be insiders. My investigation showed that there was nothing; I found naught/zero
information on the organization as if, we had never existed. This seemed like a clear
negation of a community’s collective history yet, why would anyone write about an
incomprehensible social/aesthetic experiment that occurred in geographic
obscurity way too many years ago? In the course of constructing this blog/book, I
was hoping to find someone else’s memory long forgotten memory regarding CA
and hopefully, a conflicting reconstruction of what I report in my articles.
Of the core group there were originally four of us: one dead, one dis-owned,
one who now couldn’t care less and one who cares too much. Decades after the
organization finally passed away, I kept getting asked by a few who did care, “What
was it like to be CA?”
When invited to put together this blog/book with Leslie Baker, I was
flattered but actually don’t know how interesting any of this will be to anyone but
‘us’. CA (the band) and CA Labs International were both postmodern experiments
in Communism and Idealism; we believed that we could come together as a
collective, creating an experimental workshop that the local aesthetic community
would respond to in a supportive manor. To an extent, we did achieve this and at
the same time, we failed horribly simply because our community failed us and in
addition, one might say that the core members of CA failed each other. I know that
this statement contradicts itself however; the contents of this writing will clarify any
In the putting together of this charge, Leslie Baker and myself have contacted
many of the key players of the Tallahassee Fl. alternative culture scene from the
early to later-1980’s, in order to get their perspective not only on
punk/post modern culture movements in this isolated southern American town but
most specifically, how CA Labs International fit into this puzzle. Contributors to
this blog/book include Mark Henson, an important journalist who aggressively
supported Tallahassee’s alternative culture and Donny Crenshaw, the original
drummer for The Slut Boys, an early Tallahassee punk-neo garage band who
inspired and supported our fledgling alternative community. Donny was also
responsible for bringing major alternative acts such as Iggy Pop, The Psychedelic
Furs, Joan Jett and others to perform at a small club in a tiny southern town where
these young gods would have otherwise, never considered appearing. These shows
happened at Tommy’s Club, the same venue that CA Laboratories International as
a production organization had its birth. Other contributing writers are artist
Paul Suhor, the drummer for a seminal Florida punk band Sector 4. Paul was also
the first bass player for CA (the band). In addition, Gary Strickland from Hated
Youth and record/website producer of Panhandle Punk Jon Bleyer, a remarkable
curator of the North Florida punk history (also drummer for Gothic Playground),
provide in-depth insight to underground/alternative culture of this time.
Leslie Baker who was just a “wee punk rock lass” during this time and I provide our
insight to CA’s history and our personal experience during this controlled chaotic
period. As we move forward, others will provide their account and observations
regarding the development of postmodern aesthetics and Tallahassee counter-
culture during this period. These afore mentioned contributors will help reconstruct
my forgotten memories and perhaps as mentioned, hopefully contradict what I
claim to be true.
There will be a few who have their own story, perception, and insight into
not only north Florida punk but also more specifically, CA that were asked to
provide their story and couldn’t be bothered to or on the other hand, others not
asked for whatever reason to contribute to this blog/book. We apologize if we
missed your account, well, too bad for you and better luck next time. As time goes
marching on, perhaps even you might have a say in what we publish. If you feel like
you have something to report regarding this period of time, place and the culture
contained, let us know.
CA: The birth, life and death of a post modern social/aesthetic experiment in
Tallahassee, Florida (ca. 1983-1988)
What was it like to be CA? (chapter 1)
What was it like? These ideas are so deeply imbedded in my lower brain
stem even though it was a-zillion years and the width of the county between then
and now it still feels like, life. What was it like to be CA? We began as a free form
improvisational noise/industrial band, somewhere around 1983. At this time,
(1983-1986; the dates of the core group), we were the only collective in this
geographic area (South East U.S.) working in the genre of aesthetic dissonance.
Living in some horrible southern American town which had not only two
Universities but is also the state capitol, one might think that the inserted
inteligencia of these institutions of higher learning combined with a few museums,
an “Industrial Art Park” where artists and manufacturing corporations shared the
same zip code, and with the only major civic center in the region… That this might
have sparked a cacophony of cultural deviation. Yes, one would have thought so…
This was Tallahassee Florida, not Oakland, San Francisco, New York, Atlanta, Berlin,
London or, wherever else progressively artistic thinking flourished. At the time, we
didn’t know that like being stranded on a dessert island after the tour ship sinks,
how isolated we were. We felt that we were creating something new, fresh,
inventive. Coming together with compassionate aesthetic aggression we had each
other, at least in the beginning. CA was the only collective, group, ensemble, band,
production organization doing what we did in this region of the country at this time,
creating something unique if not freakish for the community we were wanting to
There was a void in this municipality and we set out to fill in that emptiness.
We looked to other collectives who had in the past or were at this time were doing
something similar, creating postmodern non-sense as a community while providing
a canvas for aesthetic experimentation and deviation.
We simply wanted to do the same yet something different, to create an
environment for creation and research/investigation that did not exist in this
region. We felt like we were creating simply for us (yes, we were a bit selfish) but
more importantly for our community because nothing like CA had materialized
before “us” in this shit-hole town. At the same time, we believed our community
would rise up in a positive response to support us; perhaps this hope was a bit
Connecting like a jigsaw puzzle, the members of CA were individually
imbedded in separate intellectual communities that we brought into our collective
process. These varying backgrounds and disciplines allowed each member to have
an equal and cooperative voice regarding operations and community. We learned
early on in the organization to “agree to disagree”; how to make a disparagement
work for the benefit of the organization and our community.
But first was the band, CA…The CA Band. A term we never used and as a
matter of fact, hated. It pissed us the fuck off when people called us,
“The CA Band”. Perhaps this simply helped some idoit separate the idea of the
music ensemble from the production group but, these people, we, CA were always
one in the same. The most hated “rock band” in Tallahassee was simply CA, and we
on a larger spectrum and later including an expanded core group were
CA Labs International. We saw no difference between the two.
CA: The birth, life and death of a postmodern social/aesthetic experiment in
Tallahassee, Florida (ca. 1983-1988)
What was it like to be CA? (Chapter 2)
The most hated “rock band” in the hippy land of inclusionism
Ca Chapel was cold in the Winter and hot in the Summer. In case you did not know, Tallahassee is in North Florida, a few miles from Georgia. It is the South; a college town with Florida State, Florida A&M University and Tallahassee Community College in its city limits. It’s notoriously liberal. Tallahassee has been compared to Austin, Texas and this, sorta fits. Tallahassee too, is an oasis.
I saw so many good bands there. Sonic Youth stopped by and the band members wrote about it afterward. I remember tuba cases of guitars and walls of noise. The members of Sonic Youth were a little stand-offish, but they sure brought the show.
The Bad Brains were intense. The crowd was peppered with punks, lawyers, artists, students and newspaper-types. What a concert.
The most memorable music show was by Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, who brought his guitar and roadhouse blues with him. It was very warm and there was a large sweaty crowd. As he jumped off the small stage and went into the crowd with his guitar, a young woman with an open can of beer was overcome with excitement. She tossed it and hit the performer in the head.
Gatemouth stopped the show cold.
“Who threw that?” he demanded. “Who threw that?”
It took what seemed like hours before she meekly raised her hand.
The tall man immediately demanded to know why she tossed the beer. He blessed her out, as they say in the South. I have never seen a person try to disappear in a room, but she did. When she apologized, Gatemouth was vindicated. The music kicked up right where it started.
Saw an early version of Bill Snowden’s play “My Father Was A Man” at CA Chapel. You could drive large autos through its pacing but it was a learning experience. Snowden late has great success as playwright at Sag Harbour, N.Y., and in Russia. He would not have able to do that without CA Chapel.
Mark Hinson 2019
Mark Hinson began his career at the student newspaper for Florida State University (the Florida Flambeu) and went on to be the Entertainment Editor at the Tallahassee Democrat.