Excerpt: 'American Hardcore: A Tribal History' by Steven Blush


Photo by Edward Colver


Published in 2001, Steven Blush’s original American Hardcore: A Tribal History offered an exhilarating insight into the subculture of hardcore punk music. The success of that book led to a much lauded documentary and now an updated and expanded second edition. We asked the author why he felt the need for a new edition:

When I started the American Hardcore book in early 1995, there was no information on the subject, and what there was seemed wrong. So aside from my memories, and record and fanzine collections, all I had to go on was my 100-plus sit-down interviews plus the dusty old boxes of archives of those folks and others. The original Hardcore scene was a lost subculture – and similar to archaeology, I had to assemble all these rare artifacts into a historical narrative.

Flash forward a decade – through the book’s success and my American Hardcore doc with director Paul Rachman, as well as through all the information and networking I’ve done on the internet – I’ve both learned much more, and have even reached a few new conclusions. In terms of the latter, I own up to the fact that while I’m correct that the original movement lasted 1980-1986, that conclusion ignores today’s larger picture – it’s like saying Christianity ended with the death of Christ. So the purpose of this Second Edition is to fill in the cracks and set the record straight once and for all.”

The following excerpt concerns Fear, a legendary band (adored by John Belushi) formed in 1977 and still active today:

Fear became the first group to breed a Hardcore-style vibe at their shows. The quartet led by Lee Ving – a nasty fuck who made sure to insult all – blasted rude tunes like “Let’s Have A War” and “I Don’t Care About You.” Their early LA shows suffered previously unseen violence, perpetrated by their aggressive surf jock fanbase. Fear earned infamy for their role in Penelope Spheeris’ cult film The Decline Of Western Civilization, brutal police crackdowns at their early LA gigs, and their notorious Halloween 1981 Saturday Night Live performance. 

DEZ CADENA: Fear were probably a Metal band before they were a Punk band. They really knew how to play their instruments. I think the joke around Fear – and it was all one big joke – was people who took ’em seriously. In its own way, that was true Punk Rock, however twisted.

Critics alleged that Fear dabbled with Right Wing lyrics, symbols and slogans. The fact is that the foul-mouthed Ving was an equal opportunity offender.

LEE VING (Fear): There really never was a point where my life took an extreme right-hand turn or change of direction. It was a gradual onslaught. I liked the idea of there being no rules. Coupled with that, I wanted to find the best players I could. They called us “musos” ’cause we knew how to play.

Fear made 1980 headlines when bassist Derf Scratch spent four days in Canoga Park Hospital with a shattered face – the result of a beating he suffered from a few surf jock fans after he spit in one’s face. That occurred around the premiere of The Decline film that chronicled the violent proto-Hardcore scene. Radio ad spots blurted: “See it in the theatre, where you can’t get hurt!

LEE VING: Derf had some difficulties with some people during the course of the evening, and wound up having some surgery over it. Needless to say, it became very expensive. We had a benefit for him and everything. He got in a fight with one person – but that person had a glint in his eye that should tell most people to find someone else to fight with.

MIKE WATT: We played the Starwood with Flag, Fear, and Circle Jerks. Derf from Fear was a great bass player, and [drummer] Spit could nail a dude at a hundred feet. So this 6’8 jock grabbed him and pounded him. They put a picture of him in Rolling Stone. Remember him, all beat up with the drainage cup on the side of his head? That’s from that fucking gig. You gotta watch out who you’re spittin’ on.

KING KOFFEE (Butthole Surfers): When I saw that Rolling Stone with the picture of Derf with a drainage cup attached to his head, I thought he looked really cool. Rolling Stone tried to act all horrified, but I was wishing I was there!

Published with the kind permission of Feral House