Despite what you may think, the original first wave of punk rock was not monolithic as a genre, nor did it have a singular identity.
UK punk was about social injustice and being on the dole. New York punk (except for the Ramones) was linked to the art scene. And LA punk was mostly a style based movement.
But in Orange County, California, punk rock was about anger, violence, and danger. The epicenter of that danger was a dingy roadhouse bar in Costa Mesa called “The Cuckoo’s Nest.”
The clip above is from a fascinating film called “We Were Feared” which chronicles the story of the Cuckoo’s Nest and its iconic owner Jerry Roach.
It seems odd that in an upper middle class area like Orange County punk would take such a hard and vicious turn, but you could hear it in the music and feel it in the presence of those that played it.
One of the factors that made the Cuckoo’s Nest such a volatile place though had to do more with what happened outside than inside.
Directly adjacent to the Cuckoo’s Nest was a country western bar called Zubie’s, that catered to the ranks of wannabe cowboys that mushroomed out of the “Urban Cowboy” craze. It created an interesting equation…
Alcohol + Punks + Alcohol + Rednecks = A shit load of fighting.
For those who were there, it almost seemed like going to the “Nest” was as much about fighting as seeing a great band. Usually the punks got the best of the cowboys as Jack Grisham, lead singer of the band TSOL relates;
“They’d come out of [Zubie's] drunk, and there’d be fights every night. There’s a videotape of me beating up these two cowboy guys, and I was wearing a dress at the time. I was trying to [tick] my dad off for a while, and [wearing a dress] was working good.”
But there were actually some great bands that played the Cuckoo’s nest like SoCal favs Black Flag, Circle Jerks, Social Distortion, D.I. The Adolescents, The Crowd, The Vandals, and Fear.
Even bands from the UK like XTC, The Damned, and 999 played there as well as East Coast bands like The Ramones and The New York Dolls.
It was like CBGB’s east, but with the possibility of getting your face smashed in.
Alas, things that burn so strong also burn out fast, and after numerous legal challenges by the city and county, Roach eventually gave up the Cuckoo’s Nest, with a final indignity being that the owners of Zubie’s bought it and opened up a pizza parlor in its place.
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