(above: Mike Watt of Minutemen playing Earl Liberty of Circle Jerks' bass guitar. Check out a full gallery of images here.)
When we last spoke with an author from Bazillion Points publishing, we got the inside scoop on the early days of metal pioneers like Metallica and Slayer. Now we catch up with WE GOT POWER! co-author Jordan Schwartz, who grew up making a fanzine of the same name that covered the 1980s L.A. punk and hardcore scene. (Hell—he was even on the cover of Black Flag’s Annihilate This Week EP.)
Along with lifelong friend David Markey, the two put together a stunning and beautiful collection of images from their fanzine and live shots from shows alongside essays from Henry Rollins, Keith Morris, Dez Cadena and a handful of other monumental figures from the scene. AP talked with Schwartz about the project’s history, technology’s effect on music and how the bands from that subculture—Suicidal Tendencies, Bad Religion, Adolescents—are important to a new generation of hardcore.
Interview: Matthew Colwell
How did the idea for this book come about?
It all started over seven years ago over a Christmas vacation. Back in the day at We Got Power magazine, I’d buy 35mm black-and-white film in bulk, shoot it, develop it and make the prints for the magazine all on my own. [Co-author Dave Markey] knew I had a bunch of negatives laying around, so he said, “Hey, dude, bring some of your negatives, come over and let’s scan this stuff.”
My darkroom techniques weren’t very good, but the nice thing about digital technology [is that] even an ordinary scanner can pull nice images from a washed-out negative. So, we put the first couple film strips through it and noticed all of these amazing pictures coming up that we had basically forgotten about. We were like, “Damn. We’ve got to do a book.”
At that point, [Sonic Youth frontman] Thurston Moore owned the Ecstatic Peace book publishing firm, so we immediately sent him some of the photos because he was into all that L.A. hardcore stuff. He was interested, but it took him a few years to get us on track and by the time he was ready to go, Ecstatic Peace was over. We had seen [the Bazillion Points] release of [Touch and Go: The Complete Hardcore Punk Zine '79–'83,] so Dave reached out to [Bazillion Points founder] Ian Christe and boom, we were back on track.
You mention the power of technology helped spark this book’s creation. How do you think technology affects today’s version of fanzine culture?
Oh, it’s completely different. It becomes the issue of having too much data. These days with the right laptop, not only can you make and produce your entire fanzine, you can share it with the entire world in a matter of seconds, all while you record your own band and download every track from every band of the last 50 years as well.
Do you think that 20 years from now, small blogs will be remembered the same way fanzines are?
I guess the question is: do you know how to search? Do you know how to find it? There will be other sites that aggregate all of that, too. They’ll be the shoebox punk website archive.org-type thing where you can find all the cool, funky little punker blogs and what have you. These days it’s not going away; it’s about being able to find it and if people want to search for it.
In the book, you say that the record that got you into hardcore was actually the soundtrack to The Decline Of Western Civilization.
Yeah, up to that point, I was into the whole ska thing going on back then: the Specials, Madness, English Beat and Selector, but those were on major labels. Those were pretty easy to get. [I bought] the Decline record because it was a great deal.
Rhino Records was a short bus ride away and sitting right at the front was The Decline Of Western Civilization, a picture of dark trash lying on the stack, and my friends and I were like, “What the hell is this?” So, we buy that record and spin it. It’s an amazing record as far as it has these little dialogue snippets kind of explaining pieces, and then these really intense live tracks: Black Flag, Circle Jerks—just classic performances.