Raybeez, Jimmy Gestapo and Lemmy at the Ritz, 1986
This video of two members of Warzone on The Morning Show with Regis Philbin and Kathie Lee Gifford has been circulating due to the recent death of Todd Youth, whose improbable career connected Agnostic Front and Glen Campbell. When Todd was 16, he and four other members of the scene shared an enormous couch belonging to WABC. He’s sitting next to Natalie Jacobson, the show promoter and writer then attached to Jimmy Gestapo of Murphy’s Law; to his right are a Pratt student named Christine, Todd’s late bandmate Raybeez and fanzine writer Debbie.
Natalie complains about her treatment on a recent episode of Donahue (“I’m sorry Phil, but you really blow”) and the way Peter Blauner portrayed her in a New York Magazine profile of NYHC bands and fans. But what may seem like a friendly reception from Regis and Kathie Lee is really just the inability to listen, see or think that made the hosts favorites of the morning-show audience. Kathie Lee wonders how the HxCx crew is different from the beatniks of her childhood; Regis asks Dr. Joy Browne to explain the hardcore phenomenon from a psychiatrist’s point of view. If you need any more proof of Schopenhauer’s doctrine that perception is an intellectual faculty, just watch Regis and Kathie Lee trying to size up the struggle and the streets.
With this week’s article on “New York hardcore” in The New Yorker of all freaking places, it’s safe to assume enough time has passed that the intelligentsia are willing to reevaluate a culture that was once considered lowbrow, even by punk rock standards. Even if much of the endearing lunkheadedness of the ‘80s New York hardcore scene might be lost on the typical reader of The New Yorker, it’s put in enough of a historical context to not really be threatening anymore. Then again, 30 years on, people get old and soft—for all we know a substantial chunk of New Yorker‘s target demo may have been moshing it up, going fucking wild, at mid-80’s CBGB matinees.
Agnostic Front were the undisputed godfathers of the New York hardcore scene. Their 1983 seven inch “United Blood” EP set the standard for what would be the culture erupting around them. Their sound was solidified with the near-perfect Victim in Pain album. “Near” perfect, save for maybe the unfortunate cover photo choice of a Nazi executing a Jewish prisoner, which didn’t help their case with an increasingly leftist Maximum Rock and Roll magazine-inspired punk scene, who were already wary of the politics of a group of pro-American, east-coast skinheads.
I don’t know. I had found this really cool World War II book. The original picture of Victim in Pain was a completely different cover; it was a picture of me on top of the crowd at CBGB’s. Then I saw that cover picture and said, “Wow, this is really fucking intense. This says it all, a victim in pain. How insane is this guy looking to the camera as he’s about to get shot? What’s the message here?” Well, the message is, if this happened once it can definitely happen again. It was clear.
Despite the band’s numerous claims of being a “unity band,” with song lyrics asking for unity between “blacks and whites,” and “punks and skins,” a crusade by Maximum Rock and Roll‘s Tim Yohanon essentially got the band unfairly branded as “possible fascists.” While their politics may not have always been the most well-reasoned or thought-through, painting them with a scarlet “F” was undeserved.
The fact is, as you’ll see in the following video—which includes absolutely amazing live footage of United Blood and Victim in Pain songs—the band were basically misunderstood meatheads.
Guitarist Vinnie Stigma says it best:
“Agnostic Front comes from the ghetto. We don’t come from the suburbs of California, from a jacuzzi. We come from the ghetto.”
The real reason to watch has nothing to do with the interviews and the politics, it’s the music, which is surprisingly well-recorded for a video of this era, with energetic, aggressive performances.