Friday, July 1, 2016

Hippies vs. Punks: JFA (Jodie Foster's Army)

It’s funny. Back then everybody hated Punks: jocks, preppies, teachers, hippies, heavy metalers, moms, dads, little old ladies, cops, dentists, used car salesmen… They were all out to get you. All you had to do was have messed-up hair or some crazy shirt and they’d yell, “Hey DEVO!” because that’s what they thought was Punk Rock at the time. A flock of hippies would be driving in a Camaro and throw beer bottles at your head for walking down the street. Jocks would mob your ass. If you ran across a cop somewhere, forget about it… Funny thing is that now all of those people are into Punk. Or at least they think they are. Or at least they think what they’re listening to is Punk. Or even if they’re listening to it, they don’t necessarily understand it.
Brian Brannon, Jodie Foster's Army (JFA) vocalist, interviewed by Steve Scanner, December, 2009.

The last Hippies vs. Punks post left off mentioning that the lyrics to Devo's song "I Desire," the second-to-last track on the 1982 album Oh, No! It's Devo, were taken from a John Hinckley, Jr. poem written to Jodie Foster.

This got me thinking about the Hardcore Punk band ubiquitous during my early-'80s youth, Jodie Foster's Army.

I never owned any JFA records nor can I recall any of the band's songs (like I can recall Suicidal Tendencies' "Institutionalized," for instance), but JFA was a vaguely menacing presence in my mind nonetheless. Why? Because frequenting Rasputin Records on Telegraph Avenue in the early 1980s JFA records were everywhere.

(This is something that I have wanted to pursue in these Hippies vs Punks posts from the beginning: bands that exerted an influence without ever having been consciously heard, an excellent example of which for me is Crass. The black-&-white stenciled art that adorned the Anarchist Punks' albums was as much a part of my semiotic universe as Old Glory.)

Jodie Foster's Army were a quartet of Phoenix skateboarders who formed after seeing D.O.A. in 1981. The band's sound as recorded on disks from the early 1980s is quintessential Hardcore Punk.

Piecing together JFA's discography is not easy if you are a collector. The band's seminal records from the 1980s are not available for download. Thank goodness everything is pretty much available on YouTube. A good place to start is at the beginning. JFA's first record is the Blatant Localism (1981) EP. From there you can move to the first album, 1983's Valley of Yakes. A cut, "Great Equalizer" can be found below.

Next is the all-important year for Hardcore, 1984. JFA releases three records, the Mad Garden EP, the Live 1984 Tour album and the eponymous JFA.

For a one-stop intro, your best bet is the Alternative Tentacles compilation, We Know You Suck (2003).

I got misty one evening this week listening to the Live 1984 Tour album. This was my generation. And while I was not a JFA fan, I was a big fan of the MinutemenBlack Flag and the DKs and other practitioners of California Hardcore. You can see what that generation looked like by taking a peek at the video from the CBGBs show that comprises more than half of the tracks on the Live 1984 Tour. That is how we dressed. Simply. Cotton shorts with either a tee shirt or a button-up Arrow short sleeve. Hair was hair. Usually you buzzed it off and then let it grow out for a year.

And what got me misty -- of course this could be a Gen X version of Boomer nostalgia -- was the purity. Certainly it was of a type that was lily white and almost entirely male, but there was a purity there that I am not aware exists today.

So this got me thinking, What was our milieu that created this militant, anti-establishment, anti-Reagan pose? And what I came up with is a sample of events from late fall 1980 to spring 1981. On December 8, 1980 you had the murder of John Lennon by Mark Chapman. Bobby Sands begins his hunger strike on March 1, 1981. John Hinckley, Jr. shoots Reagan on March 30 based on an obsession with Scorsese's Taxi Driver. Bobby Sands dies May 5, 1981 and huge riots follow.

All these events were constantly on the news. Remember Al Haig's breathless "I'm in charge!"? I saw that in real time on television in a classroom in the English Department. And from there I probably ambled over to the library to read about the IRA hunger strikers in Time magazine.

We think our times are violent now. Well, they were violent back then too. And I think the Hardcore thing was that we were willing to fight back. We knew things were bad, and we were willing to step into the mix, even if it amounted to nothing more than a pointless thrashing the shit out of one another in the slam pit. I don't see that now. There is a book about that which is supposed to be good: Steve Fraser's The Age of Acquiescence: The Life and Death of American Resistance to Organized Wealth and Power (2015).

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