Exactly thirty years ago, June 1977, pioneering San Francisco punk band The Avengers, fronted by a very talented and very young songwriter & vocalist named Penelope Houston, emerged onto the then very fledgling US punk scene to play their first show. Over the next two years, this band, which featured Greg Ingraham (guitar), Jimmy Wilsey (bass), and Danny Furious (drums), would go on to blaze a trail of raw, adrenaline-fueled, politically charged punk rock legend, tirelessly playing a hundred-plus shows that included countless gigs at their hometown punk mecca, The Mabuhay Gardens, booked by the late, great SF punk visionary Dirk Dirkson, and sharing bills with the Dead Kennedys, X, the Go-Gos, and even the Sex Pistols for their final show at Winterland in January 1978.
The Avengers are one of those bands of legend that most people didn't catch the first time around but learned of them after they had broken up - thanks mainly to their releases most of which surfaced after the band's demise. In fact during their whirlwind two year existence the Avengers only released one three-song 7" record on Dangerhouse Records. Their second record (the four-song 12" EP on White Noise) didn't drop until after they had disbanded and the record that most people know them by (the self-titled pink album) wasn't released until much later in 1983. But none of this mattered to the legions of fans who later discovered and fell in love with such timeless Avengers songs as "I Believe In Me" "Fuck You" "White Nigger" "Corpus Christi" and "The American In Me" whose lyrics are reprinted below along with a video clip of the Avengers performing the song circa '78 (scroll all the way down to end of this article).
The sounds of my neighborhood, Cypress Park, remind me of Manu Chao; a mixture of cultures clashing about on the streets -- police sirens, the bell ringing from a paletero’s ice cream cart, children playing in the streets, Sonidero blasting out of a big truck, teenage punk bands practicing in garages and loud TV’s trying to drown it all out. It all mixes together, creating its own symphony, much like Manu Chao's music, which is rooted in what bands like The Clash started. It is reggae influenced punk rock mixed with various influences picked up while traveling the world. While The Clash discovered America, Manu Chao found kinship in Latin America. In his music you can hear the Nueva Trova influences from South America. You can hear all the nights hanging out, drinking and playing every record from the Fania, Trojan and Disco Fuentes catalog. You can hear the influence of touring with such great bands like Tijuana No!, Maldita Vecindad and Negu Gorriak while he was in the band Mano Negra.
In all that, you can still hear his voice come through all the influences.
On Saturday, Manu Chao played The Sport Arena, located in the heart of South L.A. on MLK and Figueroa. The Sports Arena is rarely used now that the Staple Center is around a few miles away in the newly gentrified part of downtown Los Angeles. The only other show I've seen at The Sports Arena was Notorious B.I.G. (Biggie Smalls) -- The Wu Tang Clan and Ice Cube opened the show and absolutely rocked the spot. When it was time for Biggie to go on, a massive fight started and LAPD came in riot gear and the show ended early. A year later Biggie was dead and I never got my chance to see him perform.
Call me cynical, but when I first heard about the almost two thousand strong mob of white folks* gathered in Kansas City a couple of days ago (all at their own expense) to play "Smoke On The Water" on their guitars for five minutes and then leave, the first thing that popped into my mind was that recurring line from some of my favorite Jim Jarmusch films. You know, the one uttered in both Dead Man and Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai that goes "stupid fuckin' white people."
Okay, so I admit, I am cynical and you might even accuse me of being self-hating, since I, too, am white. No matter. I still think what I think. And I think that if this same level of commitment and focus were directed at, say, getting Bush out of office right now, that the country might be in a better position to gather en masse to collectively strum 'dah, dah, dah.....dah, dah, dahdah....dah, dah, dah...dah dahdah!'
In case you didn't already hear this story: on Sunday exactly 1683 guitarists all converged at the Community America Ballpark in Kansas City to collectively beat a Guinness Book of World Records record set in Vancouver in 1994 when 1323 similarly minded guitar pickers gathered to be the largest gathering of individuals to simultaneously play on guitar the familiar riff of Deep Purple's "Smoke on the Water" (from their 1972 album Machine Head).
And on Sunday, June 3rd, as part of a stunt organized by local radio station KYYS, the gathering of 1683 guitarists* (acoustic and electric), who traveled to Kansas City from all over the globe and who ranged in age from toddlers to senior citizens, did successfully accomplish what they set out to, collectively play that famous classic-rock riff for five minutes, and consequently made a new Guinness World Record.