It seems like every year or so a new oral history of a local punk scene like American Hardcore, NYHC, Treat Me Like Dirt, or We Got The Neutron Bomb becomes a valued addition to my rock library. That said, I approached Craig Ibarra’s book on San Pedro’s punk scene with a healthy dose of trepidation. My issue was a simple one – the best-known San Pedro bands (i.e. the ones that would get the most ink) are The Minutemen and Saccharine Trust, both of whom I respect more than enjoy. Oddly this wasn’t a problem once I dove into the book. Even if we’re talking about bands I don’t like or don’t know (like some of the lesser-known San Pedro bands who get covered), the story of localized punk scenes in the ‘70s and ‘80s is always fascinating. San Pedro is no different in that regard, as author Craig Ibarra (who got involved in the Pedro punk scene at age 13 after hearing Black Flag’s Damaged) presents firsthand accounts from the important local players, from musicians to scenesters, in non-chronological order, but with total cohesion.
While Wailing’s stories of misfit youths, clashes with law enforcement, lack of welcoming venues and labels, bands with almost no musical proficiency…etc. are similar to ones found in other local punk histories, San Pedro wasn’t your typical punk mecca. It’s a port community within Los Angeles, with a large working-class and Latino population, and not the kind of place where people had excess money to spend on punk accoutrements like leather jackets, high-tech equipment, or recording costs. Sure, it was geographically close enough to Hollywood that the Pedro punks would see the Hollywood bands play there, but it was also far enough that to the fashionable Hollywood scene, San Pedro may as well have been Iowa. The fact that they didn’t dress, play or act like standard-issue punk rockers made San Pedro bands like The Minutemen the ultimate outcasts, the kind who are too “out there” to find acceptance among other outcasts. The fact that they didn’t care either way probably made them cooler than anyone else.
The book abruptly ends in 1985, with D. Boon’s death in a car crash bringing the Minutemen to a premature end, just as they were on the verge of making a national impact. It would have been nice if Ibarra covered the years after Boon’s death just to let you know that a local scene still existed (Ibarra himself began playing in local bands in the late-‘80s), but I guess that’s a story for another book. A crucial addition to your punk library.