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vilvodka

Because I Wasn't There

Anti-Snob.com documents Phoenix punk 1976-1980

vilvodka • Wednesday, September 23, 2009 • 3:34 PM

Updated 10/2

T.S.O.L. @ Mad Gardens '83
Featured writer: Vil Vodka
Featured writer: Vil Vodka

I have been obsessed all year long. Obsessed with a history I was never a part of...and one that I am barely qualified to write. It all started after the Super Bowl party in early February. My best gal-pal Denise from The Cosmeticators invited a few of us over to her pad to watch the video she shot during The Lustkillers show at Jamie Monistat's WokStar Bar the night before. The video was part performance/part shenanigans, starring yours truly as a liquored-up volunteered fool being decorated with toilet paper by some of my friends.

After we watched the Lustkillers vid, Denise told us of a DVD that she received a few copies of from an old friend. She gave me one of the copies. It was an early 1983 show at the famous Mad Gardens in Phoenix featuring TSOL, Grant & The Geezers, and JFA. By now, I reckon more people around town have this bootleg.

This is where my obsession began. From that point in early February, Denise and I emailed several bits of information back and forth. Some of which was what she remembered being involved in the Phoenix Punk Scene 1983-86 and some of which I had researched on the web. We discussed bands, people, venues - including the exact location of the Mad Gardens (apparently there were more than one). She gave me names of people she knew from 1983 that she still talks to today. We exchanged stories on how we both got involved with the Phoenix punk rock scene.

See, I was born 1970 in Joliet, Illinois and moved to Mesa, AZ in June of 1988, right after high school graduation. Growing up in rural Illinois (about 50 miles south of Chicago), my exposure to hardcore punk was limited while my interest and curiosity was abundant. Not realizing that I would ever grow to move and live in Arizona, the names of Phoenix's elite really didn't make an impression on me at first. The Meat Puppets were one of those bands I've always read about in the SST catalogs that I would get in the mail but I wasn't sure if they were hardcore-supreme like Black Flag or an experimental art-damaged noise jam band like Gone. As far as I was concerned, JFA were just one of those crazy initial-bands that all the punk kids at school etched into the front cover of their notebooks next to TSOL, MDC, and DI. The Feederz were too soon considered a San Francisco band in the same vein as the Dead Kennedys and Flipper without the faintest hint that they ever had roots in Phoenix. I wouldn't ever say I grew up in, or was part of, an actual scene while living in Illinois. The big Windy City had a punk and underground scene that revolved around two entities: Naked Raygun and Wax Trax Records. The stories surrounding the punk and industrial scenes in Chicago created an element of mystique to 15 year old degenerates like myself whose neighborhoods were surrounded by corn fields and wide green pastures. Chicago might as well had been in Europe let alone 50 miles north. However my friends and I did know that - whatever was going on in Chicago - it was happening within our current lifetime and that it would be a beautiful thing to be a part of. We especially knew this to be true when a few of our older, automobile-equipped friends would come back with stories about the shows that they were attending at the Cabaret Metro, The Exit, and Medusa's. So I didn't know what to expect when I moved to Mesa. However I learned quickly that, while the Chicago scene was at it's peak in 1988, the glory days of the Phoenix scene had passed. Slow to make new friends, I didn't get a taste of the Phoenix punk scene until Spring 1989 when Johnithin Christ (RIP), who I had been trying to start a new band with, took me to Time Out of Mind in south Phoenix (near Sky Harbour) to see ALL with Victory Acres. As a newbie, I always thought the history of Arizona punk rock was not for me. A few years later, I turned my attention to performing and promoting new music coming out of the Phoenix area. I regretfully passed up rare opportunities to see JFA, Mighty Sphincter, Meat Puppets, and the Sun City Girls. I sensed their best days were behind them and I would just be lost among the nostalgia of others. However, as I met more and more people over the past 21 years here in Phoenix, I desired to make a connection to the scene that came years before I moved here - if only a spiritual one through the memoirs of others.

Although many names have disappeared through death or relocation, some marvelous things happened a few years back that has triggered nostalgia for a handful of people here in Phoenix. First, In The Red Records had released the Consumers album All My Friends Are Dead on CD (a vinyl version years earlier sold out). The Consumers album proved that punk rock existed in Phoenix, AZ not in 1984, or 1982...but in 1977! Some knew, some heard the legendary tales, but In The Red gave us absolute proof. Second, The Feederz returned to Phoenix for two shows (Jugheads and Modified) in 2003, marking the first time they had played in the desert since the mid-80s.

And that is where I wanted to take this particular article; the days of The Consumers and the earliest days of The Feederz, as well as a host of other pre-Mad Gardens bands and venues. They way I look at it, there is enough people still alive who were around the Phoenix golden era of punk and hardcore to tell the story correctly. In fact I just discovered a Facebook group called Mad Gardens to Party Gardens which captures that era (1981-1987) through memoirs and photos posted by hundreds of Facebook members.


J.F.A. @ Mad Gardens '83

However 1980 and before is more fragmented when it comes to Phoenix punk rock history. I wanted to piece it all together and create some sort of timeline with a fair amount of continuity. Once I publish my first draft, I would like to email a few people who I hear were around during the early years and invite them to comment, possibly fill in some of the gaps, suggest corrections, etc.

Note: It's important for me to get this right. So important that, at times, ambiguous dates and timelines just won't do. Because so much happened in so little time. Trips to the periodical archives at the ASU library has brought me very little. The few stories on the web often contradict one another and often within the same article from the same source. One would have to believe someone like John Vivier would have had to be in two places at once to accomplish all that he did in 1978. When 1980 comes around, the stories get a little clearer. Then again, it's hard to argue with dates on fliers and the stories told within the grooves of the first wave of vinyl recordings. But even as it concerns to things that happened as late as 1980, a researcher like myself is starving for more details and artifacts. When you consider we are living in a day and age when you can view videos of The Ramones performing in 1974 on YouTube and gig fliers from Suicide made in 1971 on a fan site, it's a shame that more Phoenix punk rock from the 70s wasn't documented. In fact, most of the pictures taken of the Feederz and The Consumers in 1978 were done in San Francisco and Hollywood respectively. It's as if no one in Phoenix had access to new media tools in the late 70s.

The Mighty Sphincter bio written by Sam Atakra (based on transcribed correspondence he had with several people including Mighty Sphincter founders Doug Clark and Joe Albanese) is a mess. Which is too bad because there is so much good information in what Atakra writes. I don't fault Atakra at all, as he was obviously dealing with alot of retired and abused minds when constructing the Mighty Sphincter story. However, there is atleast one notable chronological error; a short paragraph about Doug Clark forming the Skeletones with JFA's Brian Brannon in 1976(?). I am sure that is suppose to be 1986 as Brannon would had only been 10 or 11 in 1976. Besides the Sphincter article, there are several interviews with Phoenix punk pioneers Don Bolles and Frank Discussion transcribed on the web. When reading, you cant help to feel compelled and lost in the nostalgia. However it is important to keep the perspective that men like Bolles and Discussion are older and probably can't remember what they ate for breakfast a few days ago let alone recall if a particular band or incident in Phoenix happened in 1976 or 1977. Add in the insane ramblings of Bart Bull, the thoughtful retrospective of Derrick Bostrom, a few good posthumous articles about the scene from the Phoenix New Times and various interviews with 45 Grave and Feederz from the pages within MRR & Flipside that reference the birth of Phoenix punk, and you can imagine how there can be plenty of date discrepancies; 1976 or 1977? 1977 or 1978? Sometimes December 1977 appears January 1978 when lost in someone's memories and when referencing an event by only the calendar year, the discrepancies can mislead us by a whole year. We all know how quick five calendar years goes by, so maybe you can understand by anal-ness as it pertains to chronological correctness within a small time period; 1976-1980.


J.F.A. @ Mad Gardens '83

Some may ask why I didn't interview key people first. I eventually do want to interview any willing minds from this scene, but was hoping my time and effort to collect and consildate all the info out there can serve as an ice breaker to those I have yet to meet. Plus, I know that people, by nature, are more eager to contribute if they have read discrepancies that they feel the need to correct.

So, now, I attempt to document history... by borrowing it from several; sources, properly credited, and inserting it all in some sort of timeline. I will update this in the future, when more information becomes available and others chime in.

See something missing? If you've got some history you think needs to be added to this local punk timeline, hit up Vil Vodka at vilvodka[at]yahoo.com and let him know!

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