Lost & Found: Separating the Punks From the Poseurs
It’s funny to think back on how MTV used to be so segregated. Even back in the good old days of the network, metal, alternative and rap were all out of regular rotation -- exiled to the weekends with their own specialized shows (‘Headbanger’s Ball,’ ‘120 Minutes’ and ‘Yo! MTV Raps,’ respectively).
Punk? Forget it. It was still too extreme for mainstream acceptance, and you didn’t see much of it on the network until the happy, friendly sounds of bands like Green Day. Yet, ironically, it was MTV, the enemy of all music, that helped open up so many ears and minds to punk with the long-lost special ‘Punks and Poseurs,’ which aired back in 1985.
‘Punks and Poseurs’ has no narration, and cuts between a live gig in L.A. and interviews with denizens of the SoCal scene. While the punk chicks in the beginning are very annoying, you also get interviews with Gary Tovar, who founded the Los Angeles concert promoters Goldenvoice, and conservative nut Wally George, who speaks out against the music.
George was essentially a local Rush Limbaugh, although some will tell you his ultra-right-wing shtick was more of an act than anything else. (As George points out on the special, a lot of punks were fans of his show, and he was indeed a hoot to watch on the weekends.)
But all this is icing on the cake to the music, and MTV captured a great gig at the Olympic Auditorium in downtown L.A. with Charged GBH, Raw Power, the Dickies and Plain Wrap. The Olympic was a huge wrestling arena where most of the major punk gigs in L.A. were held until the crowds got too out of hand. (The music was then exiled out to Fender’s Ballroom, a club in Long Beach that was so out of control violent it was often nicknamed Fender’s Brawlroom.)
The music portion of the special begins with the Dickies, who always had a very healthy sense of humor, and here their set is both frenzied and hilarious. Then comes Plain Wrap, who were named after the generic supermarket brand of the '80s. Then there’s Raw Power, a hardcore band from Italy, and finally the headliners, Charged GBH from England, who usually came over to L.A. once a year.
It’s a trip to see punk bands actually playing an arena before it became a more normal thing, and on ‘Punks and Posers,’ the pits are huge, with the fans slamming hard to the music. Here you can really get a sense of the energy and the vibe of the scene back then, and how the music really made everyone go nuts.
‘Punks and Poseurs’ captures an interesting moment in time for the punk scene. It wasn’t long before punk bands stopped playing venues as big as the Olympic, and the realization sunk in that the music was too extreme for mainstream success at the time.
This was also the year that the metal/punk crossover happened, which angered the L.A. punks because they resented the metalheads infiltrating their scene. The L.A. scene continued to be violent and out of control for several more years before things finally calmed down. But at this point in time, the punks were pretty nihilistic, and did a good job of destroying themselves before they found a better way.
Punk has certainly come a long way since this special, and not necessarily for the better, so it’s definitely a trip to watch ‘Punks and Poseurs’ today, with the fans and the music speaking for itself.