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Christian Arnheiter has every excuse to sit and sulk. For two decades, his band the Hates has been thrashing away in blissful obscurity, all the while upholding the tattered flag of the punk aesthetic. And now he has to watch as bands such as Green Day, Rancid and the Offspring cash in on the resurgence of a sound that his Houston group had a hand in fashioning in the first place. If he had a mind to, Arnheiter might muster up a few putdowns to go with his been there, done that attitude. But instead of anger, all Arnheiter can come up with is indifference. True punks, Arnheiter will tell you, stow their frustration. They save it for their songs; they use it for inspiration; they take it out on their guitars. And rest assured, Arnheiter is as true as they come, a living, breathing, Mohawked anachronism.
"I'm not really into that newer stuff," Arnheiter says simply, trying his best to be democratic about the whole punk revival thing.
Keep in mind that to Arnheiter, "newer" means anything after 1981, and punk only rarely means anyone -- excepting the Ramones, Richard Hell and a few others -- who wasn't born and raised in England. More than anything, the Hates were avid fans of Brit-punk. And make no mistake: Arnheiter is obsessed. For close to 20 years, punk has been his passion. He's consumed by the music, often sitting for hours spinning vinyl and watching grainy videos from an era that he can't seem to shake from his consciousness -- not that he wants to shake it. For Arnheiter, it's more than merely reliving the glory days. He can't quite articulate it, but you get the feeling that until punk came along, Arnheiter was living only half a life. Punk made him whole. It's his hobby, his emotional and intellectual release and -- perhaps more than anything -- his identity.
And yet Arnheiter's vast catalog of Hates originals details a uniquely personal vision that extends beyond the mimicked moves of a fixated fan. Much of the weightier early Hates material is featured on the group's ninth and latest release, Greatest Hates. It's a career retrospective of sorts on which Arnheiter, bassist Dave Deviant and drummer Screech recreate a number of Hates songs from the '70s and '80s. The CD includes fresh versions of the signature Hates battle cries "New Spartans," "Bored With the Boys," "No Talk in the Eighties," "City on Ice" and "Science's Fiction," along with the band's first "official" demo, "Bother," and select sound bites from local radio interviews. The dated protests and laundry-list-of-ills commentary -- driven home by simple chord changes, menacing vocals and unchecked speed -- may sound like so much dogma nowadays, but the CD's directness, and outright tunefulness in many cases, is exhilarating in measured amounts. There's no slighting Arnheiter's efforts to cast his own unnerving portrait of the city in which he's spent most of his 40 years. The pall of frustration hanging over "Texas Insanity" and "City on Ice" suggests that, at the very least, Arnheiter has succeeded in conveying his distinctly "Tex-o-centric" sentiments in as few words as possible. And, punk revival or no punk revival, in this city, it's still unique.
At first, the Mohawk, black leather, Doc Martens and Sex Pistols T-shirt are intimidating, even when set against the cluttered domesticity of Arnheiter's Montrose apartment. So it's a welcome surprise to find out that Arnheiter's imposing image doesn't carry over into his personality, which is polite, mild-mannered and chipper. A city employee who spends most of his time taking surveys for water-meter projects, Arnheiter says everyone at his workplace has long since gotten over his protruding, hair-sprayed mane. He's been sporting the look since 1982, and over the years, the Mohawk has changed in length and color more times than he can remember. "Some people ask me, 'Don't you think it's time for a change?' But after a while, people don't even notice it anymore," Arnheiter says.
"Change" hasn't been part of Arnheiter's vocabulary for at least the last decade, which may explain why the Hates missed their chance at real success the first time around -- and likely will miss it again. None of that seems to bother Arnheiter much. True punks, he'll tell you, were never in it for the money or the fame (Sex Pistols impresario Malcolm McLaren be damned). But rather than talk income, this December evening Arnheiter would rather talk shop, rummaging through a closet for his crate of rare punk rock 45s. The Lurkers ("the Ramones of England"), the Nipple Erectors (from Ireland), London, the Models: he rattles off intriguing factoids about these and other short-lived bands. Arnheiter fingers through his prized possessions, each lovingly preserved in transparent dust sleeves and many long out of print, with the enthusiasm of a kid showing off his prized baseball card collection.
"A lot of punk bands springboarded people into bigger careers," Arnheiter says, pointing out that the Nipple Erectors' Shane MacGowen found greater fame as the leader of the Pogues. "I bought a lot of these when they came out around '76; at the time, 45s were only 99 cents."
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