“Hey Dad, I’ve seen videos but what was it like really like???”
Something like... ...shit: What it was like to live in some southern shithhole, redneck,
segregationist backwoods town where the local Howard Johnson's hotel hosted Klan meetings when
that idea, that movement, that moment of pivotal personal emphasis, self-motivation was the
antecedent to trigger serious personal change. I remember clearly when it happened to me even
though this transformation, this revolution was long in the works.
It was a serious change... A shift in the collective air of people of varying ages and lifestyles,
who may not have known, might have hated each other but all felt a like alteration in their shared
aesthetic/social/political consciousness. We became religious insiders who all wore the same secret
decoder ring on the fourth finger of our left hand. It was if we were children who suddenly woke up
seeing everything with brand new eyes; the veil of complicity and conformity was abruptly removed
and we, well we were all really pissed at the world around us.
There was a precursor to the real prompt: As a naive, stodgy, formal and conventional music
major who had a full beard to accompany his 1970's feathered hair cut, I wore 3 piece suits to classes
at my ultra-conservative southern music conservatory, regardless of the level of heat and humidity in
this shithole town. At the same time I was listening to proto-punks such as Patti Smith, Television,
New York Dolls, The Dictators and so on. Let’s not forget Iggy Pop. I saw PIL on The Tom Snyder
Show in the late 1970's and thought, "This is something like, shit... This something is new...
important... this matters. This is change, this is inspiration, revolution." My girlfriend at the time was
critical of my counter-culture interests: "This is just noise, why are you wasting your time?"
I remember watching other punks on Tom Snyder, seeing videos of The Sex Pistols on BBC, being
absolutely captivated as the girlfriend droned, "Why are you watching this garbage?"
Before The Reverend Ronald Reagan created an additional populace of homeless on the streets in
need of mental health services by shutting down psychiatric institutions across the United States, the
girlfriend was committed to such a foundation. She ended up dropping out of the music
conservatory and developing a mental illness. Interestingly, this was truly punk rock on her part.
I lost the beard, cut and dyed my hair unnatural hues. I starting wearing fatigues, military
jump suits and vintage suit jackets with ripped up Levis because this is what The Clash did. I saw a
movie about The Sex Pistols and on the way home stopped by the only alternative record store in
this shithole town, picking up my first two punk rock records: Never Mind The Bollocks and PIL’s
First Issue. This was 1978 and I have a question: How could “Punk be dead” when so many in some
southeastern American town were just now be discovering it? I began playing fiddle in a punk band
and in time, Toxic Shock became a minor threat. I soon realized that I am not a Baby Boomer… I’m a
proud member of The Blank Generation.
Always being an outsider, a loner, I quickly become conscious that there were others like me.
We would make eye contact as if we belonged to a secret society, which, I guess that we did. Living in
the state capital considered to be the Haight-Ashbury of the South, we were truly all outsiders and
because of this, drawn together in compassionate solidarity. With our suppressed inner demons now
released and embraced, we gravitated to each other; lifelong unions were made. Our brethren scenes
in LA, New York, London and so on were where an alignment lay, however we weren’t there, we were
segregated to some southern town and inadvertently made due with what we had.
Alliances made, bands were formed, studios acquired and our small but fledgling community
produced punk shows in very unlikely locations like Smitty’s Club, a black-owned blues road house
located in the middle of a southern American swamp and Emmanuel’s, a Cajun eatery that
encouraged our young and growing punk rock kinship. A recording studio Sweetbay, fostered our
shows at their venue as long as we cleaned up the beer bottles at the end of the night. Our controlled
anarchy led bands to set up concerts anywhere at any time; the more unsanctioned, unlicensed,
illegal the event, the greater the impact. We opened an art gallery (CA) that functioned as a social
club, feeding our voracious community the aesthetic nutrition we so desperately starved for.
An empty garage became a venue for our explosive collective expressions. Someone’s house became
a recording studio for a punk band with a case of beer and a three-string guitar. We made abandoned
buildings and empty parking lots our own.
There were the senior, more established groups such as The Slut Boys who had an open
studio policy and encouraged our evolving society to hang out during rehearsals at their
tiny garage space. Titled “OK Club”, the Slut Boys studio became another location for major punk
shows. This helped the word spread about our socially intimidating lifestyle.
Embracing our communal individualism, we became a major threat to the southern/shithole
statuesque. The more threatening we became, the more we gravitated towards each other. I was
kicked out of the music conservatory essentially due to my appearance. Basically, “They” did not
want someone who looked like me representing their school. Punk Rock, Uber Alles.
I can’t recall how many times I somehow avoided getting my butt kicked (simply because of
my appearance) by frat boys and gangsters; other punk rockers weren’t so lucky. I do remember
when Neil from Sector 4 got hit in the back of his head; it was split open by a beer bottle thrown at
him by some shithole redneck. Neil suddenly showed up at my house (CA), with his scalp opened up:
“What the fuck, what do I do?” We took Neil to the hospital and had him stitched up. We realized
now that we were in an aesthetic war and these battle scars became a badge of honor for us. Neil
was very proud of his; he was representing our community and not lying down. This is what it was
like and Neil could have been killed that day but he was too punk rock to give in to physical
accostment. Simply our presence was enough to evoke fear and threats from the local rank and file.
“They” just didn’t get it: We weren’t bad kids; we simply wanted to make music, destroy art, break
shit and have a political say about the world surrounding us. One might think that living in the
premier “hippy-town” in the southeastern United States would have allowed for our radical
deviation. Yes, one might have thought so…
This is how it started and like throwing gasoline on a blazing fire, there was a cultural
explosion in our collective makeup that could never be doused. The blaze grew into a raging fury.
We are forever changed and made stronger because of our self-prescribed social conditioning. Being
punk rock focused us into a driving and passionate movement that will always be a dynamic part of
who we are. Remember, “We Can’t Help It If We Are From Florida.”
Punk Rock became a zealous orthodox religion for those who had none. We studied
Dadaism and Sartre. Maximum Rock and Roll, Thrasher and home produced ‘zines became our
Bibles. Do It Yourself was our life style. To many, Anton LaVey was our inspiration and to all, “Fuck
you, Reagan!” our mantra. We began reading Jack Kerouac and Beat Poetry because these writers
were the wise sages of an earlier time that motivated sociological change. William Burroughs
became a god. We drank too much, fucked each other too often exchanging genital crabs, but refused
to indulge in the preceding generation’s “hippy drugs”. We saw these tabs and ingestibles as a way
for the U.S. Government to suppress social revolution and we could not be stopped. Again, we were
the threat to the statuesque; this is where, what and who we wanted to be. We openly wore our
culture with great pride, regardless of the risk. I remember another night when some of our women
were attacked by gangster chicks. Our people came home, we patched them up, we were family.
Again, these battle scars became symbols of pride and unification. It was an emblem of principle and
distinction to be a punk rocker in some shithole town and no one, no cop, gangster, redneck, frat boy
or university fuck-tard could take this away from us. Alternative meanings of the word “punk” are
“inferior”, “poor”, “rotten”, “cheap”, “weak”, “nasty”, “unimpressive”, “second rate” and so-on… We
were the complete antithesis of this. Punk Rock is what brought us together, gave us life, focus and
made us stronger.
Gimmie-Gimmie-Gimmie, Gimmie me some more… We were never satisfied; there was
always something more to devour. What was it like to be punk rock in Northern Florida? Living in
some shithole town, this was the catalyst to the fire that made us who we will always be.
North Florida Punk Rock, Uber Alles.
The original version of this essay first appeared in the liner notes of the LP
Trouble with a Capital T: 1980’s Punk and Underground music from Florida’s Capital City,
(produced by Panhandle Punk Productions, 2018).
CA Productions International
Co-Director, Music Director, Event Programmer