The first show Henry Rollins ever played in the Los Angeles area as a member of Black Flag took place at the Cuckoo’s Nest in Costa Mesa, on Friday, August 21, 1981. It was a 3 p.m. show, as the flier above indicates. Black Flag were the headliners, with Wasted Youth and Circle One, two hardcore bands from the O.C., serving as openers.
Purportedly the location of the first-ever slam pit, the Cuckoo’s Nest was open from 1976 through 1981, and even that run was only possible because owner Jerry Roach was constantly in court trying to keep the joint open. Every L.A. punk band of note played there, as well as a large number of notable acts passing through (The Ramones, Bad Brains, Violent Femmes, et al.).
In 1981 Paul Young released a short documentary about the club called Urban Struggle: The Battle of the Cuckoo’s Nest. Much like the club, the movie has also had its share of turmoil in the legal system. In 2010 Young sued Jonathan W.C. Mills’s documentary We Were Feared, which is also about the Orange County punk scene.
An important aspect of the Cuckoo’s Nest was its hatred-fueled relationship with the bar next door, named Zubie’s, which catered to suburban cowboy-wannabes. The place actually had an electric bull! The intense fights between the Zubie’s shitkicker crowd and the punks at the Cuckoo’s Nest became the stuff of legend. The Vandals immortalized that conflict in a song called—not coincidentally—”Urban Struggle.”
According to Stevie Chick’s Spray Paint the Walls: The Story of Black Flag, Dave Markey filmed the show when Rollins made his SoCal debut and took some footage with his 8mm camera: “Everyone was like, ‘Black Flag’s coming, they got a new singer, some kid from D.C.’ Henry had gotten the Black Flag bar tattoos done the day of that show, and when you looked at his arm, you could see how fresh the ink was.” Unsurprisingly, the great photographer Glen E. Friedman was also at the show—any sweet b/w pics you find of Black Flag at the Cuckoo’s Nest come directly from him.
Urban Struggle: The Battle of the Cuckoo’s Nest is a terrific document of one of the country’s most important punk scenes. It features killer footage of Black Flag playing “Six Pack” (you can even see Henry’s new tattoo) as well as performances by Circle Jerks and T.S.O.L.
Previously on Dangerous Minds:
Where slamming in the pit began: Southern California’s notorious Cuckoo’s Nest