So, I sat down on the edge of the building and waited for the show. Bill started crawling on his belly military-style, until he got to the edge of the building, once there he started beaming oranges at any car that drove by. Now Bill came from a relatively upscale neighborhood in Encino, so the cars he was nailing were BMW’s and Mercedes. Fifteen minutes of this— sirens came blaring. Which made Bill extremely excited (he was possibly ADD or ADHD which is ADD in HD) and he tells me not to worry he has this planned out. He just yelled to follow him and we went down a drainpipe, through a school gymnasium, over some other fence and finally into his backyard.
Once we got into his house I asked him what was that all about? He said he was hoping to “hang out with somebody who was down for some real punk rock stuff.” I just shook my head and asked “how was that punk rock?” And Bill says “Punk rock is about going ape-shit!” I told him “Bill, I’m not an authority, but tossing oranges at your neighbor’s cars isn’t exactly punk rock.” -Michael Essington, Last One to Die
In a time when olde school punk nostalgia has reached the proportional magnitude of the late Poison Idea guitarist Pig Champion’s beltline, there comes a point when 40 and over hardcore kids such as myself thirst for something beyond the literary pale of yet another unearthed 86 tour diary from another subcultural legend…or another “oral history” told by aging proto scenesters about how much dope everybody used to shoot and why their particular locale invented everything cool for everywhere back in the day. I mean, that stuff is all certainly righteous enough and great to read…but too, it’s like you start to think and really it’s just as true that in punk-perhaps more than in any other musical or cultural underground movement of the past thirty odd years-it was, and is, “Tha Punxes” who are all legendary in their own right. You can’t even say it was “the fans” who made it what it is as a lasting sub and quasi-counterculture. Because, going all the way back to Joey Ramone singing “Gabba Gabba We accept you as one of us” and through the hardcore call to arms anthem of anthems delivered by a DC ice cream store manager turned frontman for his favorite band, Black Flag, when he forcibly declared “We are tired, of your abuse, try to stop us, it’s no use-RISE ABOVE WE’RE GONNA RISE ABOVE”…all throughout the history of punk, especially in it’s early and more D.I.Y. Manifestations, there’s that inclusiveness. That destruction of the barrier between performer and audience. There’s that thing that tells us all of us are making this happen, that we’re all inhabitants of a certain piece of cultural real estate that engenders a whole other state of mind.
But let’s face it. In the 1980′s it was a dangerous piece of real estate to call home. Thus, you know, it’s just so perfect to read a collection of stories from just one of the punks who lived through that time, and who still maintains an outlook shaped by being in the thick of it all. And even better is it’s not some guy pontificating on the impact his garage housed record label 25 years ago has had on a musical landscape still overrun to this day with crappy pop (even worse crappy pop than thirty years ago mind you), or stories about how horrible it was to sleep in a van while touring Europe in 87. No, this is more the real deal. This is workingman’s punk literature-or would be if a phrase like workingman’s punk weren’t rather oxymoronic. Well, I guess it’s not. I mean, a lot of us have to have jobs to be able to afford those Terveet Kadet 7”’s off of eBay these days.
But really, I sat down to read Last One to Die and I was kind of expecting one of those kinds of punk books-you know, a memoiresque tour de force of just plain fucked up shit and crazy situations that would read like a Jim Carroll poem set to a soundtrack by Fear and D.I. Not that I wouldn’t have loved it if it was like that-and Last One to Die certainly doesn’t lack in the retelling of crazy, intense situations department…but it was just more. It actually revealed as much of the person behind the words as it did the stories themselves. And it revealed that Michael is in no way trying to cultivate any type of phony “Old Time Punk Guy” persona. It’s obvious from the get go, dude was and is, punk as fuck. However, you get a look into what made him tick as a person back then. As well, you get to see through stories ranging from everyday encounters on city buses, to time spent involuntarily barbering for the California Department of Corrections, to writing about his children, what has continued to make him tick over the years.
And because of that Last One to Die is way more than just a punk book. It’s a look at a life and values shaped by the early California punk/hardcore scene, but it’s also a book that touches on themes of redemption and even justice and retribution without ever presenting the matters in anything like a heavy handed approach.
And yeah, Michael was in a punk band too back in the day but he doesn’t make a big deal of it in the book. And he went to some fucking amazing shows, a few of which are wonderfully documented inside. He also got to interview some way fucking cool people. All that stuff is in there. But more important, he’s in there. One of us, the punxes, and more generally, perhaps more importantly, another human being who’s got some great stories to tell. So definitely, check out Last One to Die. I don’t care if you’re most treasured record is a sealed copy of Soc. D.’s Mommy’s Little Monster or if you’re rocking Deadmau5 on an iPod. It’s a worthwhile read.
But for fucks sake, if you’re 40 or over while still into punk/hardcore music-here’s to ya! And especially here’s to you Michael, thanks for hammering out a killer book.
David Gurz lives, works his real job, and writes from a small Northeast Penna. Borough nowadays while enjoying life with his wife and two children. He was a member of a few dreadful sounding hardcore punk bands during the mid 80′s through the 90′s that maybe a hundred and fifty people ever heard of. Bass player in the Greensburg State Correctional Institution prisoners band in the early to mid aughts; he also edited a ‘zine, Usual Suspect, during his captivity and his writing has appeared in Profane Existence, Mishap and Words Break Bars. He is the author of the widely unread Subterranean Emerald City Blues, a proof of concept shot at doing the whole eBook thing. Dave is working at another book to be self published in 2013. You can read his blog and purchase his latest book too if you feel like it.