Jello Biafra remembers being barely 21 and running for mayor of San Francisco against Dianne Feinstein, whom he calls "a mean, hateful witch who didn't even bother to hide her contempt for the disadvantaged." Billie Joe Armstrong remembers former fans wearing "Kill Green Day" T-shirts after his band signed with a major label: "There was almost a socialist aspect to it." Hundreds more scenesters recount memories of music, mosh pits, and even murder in Gimme Something Better: The Profound, Progressive, and Occasionally Pointless History of Bay Area Punk from Dead Kennedys to Green Day, an oral history compiled by former SF Weekly columnists Jack Boulware and Silke Tudor.
The East Bay figures prominently in this vibrant volume, from Berkeley's Barrington Hall to Green Day's Pinole birthplace to West Oakland squats known as the Ashtray and Maxi Pad. Along with bandmembers and other famous figures such as longtime KPFA DJ Tim Yohannan, we meet lesser yet still-fascinating celebrities such as the "Durant Mob Rules" clan: mean teen girls whose demesne was Berkeley's Silverball Gardens pinball hall: "With skateboards as weapons you don't have to be a strong, tough bitch to knock someone out. You just have to fuckin' swing," remembers one of them, who is now an architectural-design consultant.
Other interviewees are now motivational speakers, parents, professors, and emergency-room nurses. Ex-Crimpshrine member Aaron Cometbus is developing wind-turbine energy in Wyoming. This is a history book. But it's also a gossip column and a where-are-they-now. "It surprised me that so many people who had this punk era in their personal history went on to work in careers where they try to do some public good," Boulware says. "It goes completely against what everyone thinks about punk rockers, that they're all nihilists or begging on the street."
Tracking down interviewees meant "starting with people we knew and then fanning back up the delta for more." The coauthors created a MySpace page to lure interviewees, using early-21st-century DIY to locate pioneers of late-20th-century DIY. The oral-history format — "their words, not ours" — was a must, Boulware asserts: "The only way to write about certain things is to keep your own frickin' voice out of it."
Some of the interviewees, such as Mabuhay Gardens impresario Dirk Dirksen, died before the book went to press. Others suffered from crippling addictions or are ill. Punk was a hard lifestyle, Boulware affirms, "and it does take its toll. You're gonna pick up some scars."
Some who survived will appear with the authors at 924 Gilman (924 Gilman St., Berkeley) on Saturday, Oct. 17. Copresented by Pegasus Books, the event features performances by Social Unrest, Frank Portman, Schlong, Druglords of the Avenues, and Classics of Love with Jesse Michaels. 7:30 p.m., free. PegasusBookstore.com
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