There's a basic format for the various funny, frank, drug-filled oral histories of punk rock that have come out in the past ten years. It's a frenetic, easily distracted interpretation of Studs Terkel; a chatty, tightly-edited mash-up of voices piling up to tell a story. Please Kill Me was first, with an overview of punk's genesis in the mid-70s, which was mostly centered in London and New York. The LA scene got its due in We Got the Neutron Bomb. And now the Bay Area takes its much-deserved bow. Gimme Something Better doesn't break any new ground style-wise, but it's a really (really) fun read full of local heroes and anti-heroes.
Authors Jack Boulware and Silke Tudor are both former writers at SF Weekly. Their conversational style of editing makes reading Gimme Something Better feel a little like eavesdropping as friends remember good times, like that time when Crime played San Quentin prison dressed in police uniforms, or when Green Day almost got killed by skinheads in Sacramento, or hey, do you remember the one about the mummy baby? And it happened here, on familiar streets, in buildings nearby, in clubs that no longer exist located on alleys you've walked down. In fact, a chunk of the book takes place just a few blocks from KQED, in an abandoned brewery known by the people who lived, fought, and had band practice there as the Vats.
The book traces the rise, and -- for some, the fall -- of bands and institutions that have had an impact on music and culture around the world. The Dead Kennedys, Operation Ivy, Green Day, Lookout Records, Maximum RocknRoll. But it doesn't skip over the bands and the people who helped shape the Bay Area in their own small or strange ways. Or if not shaped, at least added some humor or drama.
The book is already out, but Gilman, a club whose founding is documented in Gimme Something Better, is having a show to celebrate its release. Like the book, this particular show is not about the current Bay Area scene. Instead it's bringing a few notable characters and bands together for a slightly off-kilter trip down memory lane. Re-formed hardcore band Social Unrest is playing, and so is Dr. Frank, lead singer of the East Bay pop-punk band The Mr. T Experience.
But the bands getting top billing, in an almost, but not quite reunion, are Classics of Love and Schlong, both featuring former members of the seminal punk band Operation Ivy. Classics of Love is a newish band; Operation Ivy lead singer Jesse Michaels is its frontman. And Schlong is another '80s holdover that has played off and on over the past few years. They're incredibly skilled musicians, don't shy away from the weird, or at least, the non-traditional, and have, notably, covered Fleetwood Mac, the Carpenters, and reinterpreted West Side Story as Punk Side Story. I'm not sure if the show will be historical in any way, or if it will do justice to the entire history of Bay Area punk, but surely it will be a good time.
Schlong, Classics of Love, and others are playing October 17, 2009 at 924 Gilman in Berkeley. For information, visit 924gilman.org.