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Bored with Apathy

Houston's old-school punks reunite to aid a stricken legend

Looking around at the plenitude of punk in and around the city today, it's hard to believe that a mere 25 years ago, the music and the lifestyle were deep underground and viewed with the utmost fear and loathing by parents and police alike. Today, moms and dads think nothing of willingly driving their teenagers to alcohol-free suburban punk venues like Javajazz, where often the bands -- punk fashions or no -- are as Christian as cherry-cheeked, blow-dried youth pastors. Back in 1981, though, the clubs were always in tough parts of town, the kids in attendance and the bands were always as drunk or high as their minimal means would allow, and both bands and fans were often runaways and other such guttersnipes. Or, at the very least, total pariahs.

"Back then, it wasn't cool to have a Mohawk," says KPFT DJ, punk scene veteran and man-about-town Rad Rich. "It wasn't a fashion statement. It marked you as an outcast."

Andy Schuman, the guitarist in old-school Houston punk band Allied Aggression and later Verbal Abuse, was one of those outcasts. "Especially now in my old age, I would say that a lot of us were lost kids," he remembers. "We were looking for something to do, and there was no one really guiding us, and everybody was drifting for awhile, and people heard songs like our old Allied Aggression song 'No Future,' and they all kind of agreed with that. I know that's not real original, but people really did believe there was only now, and that we were all gonna be fuck-ups, or we already were. But the cool thing was we were like a little family, and we took care each other. Sure, we screwed each other over, but we also cared for each other like brothers and sisters."

"You went to punk shows in those days because that was the only place you were accepted, the only place you could find a bond," says Rad Rich.

That sense of mutuality is coming into play again. Spike Cassidy, a founding member of pioneering Houston thrash-punk/metal band D.R.I., is undergoing treatment for colon cancer and needs help. To help pay for his chemo and radiation therapy, his old punk buddies are coming out of the woodwork all over Texas for a string of benefits, including the Spikefest/Houston Punk Reunion at Fitzgerald's on December 29, with Gang Green, Allied Aggression, Los de Verdad, Hellstown Rebels, the Drunks, Contortion Session, U.Y.U.S., Poor Dumb Bastards, the Brownstars, the Dickins and Bark Hard. (Other bands are hopping on the bill all the time -- check out www.myspace.com/houstonpunkreunion for the latest lineup.)

The show hopes not just to raise some much-needed scratch for Cassidy but also to reunite old bands and friends and show today's crop of punks a thing or two about the way the original punks rolled. Schuman's tales today have the ring of legend: "We were going to [early Houston venues] the Island and the Omni and we were seeing the Dead Kennedys, Minor Threat and old Black Flag before Henry Rollins was even in the band. And these shows were dirt cheap -- like two dollars. If they were four dollars, people would complain. Plus everybody was sneaking in anyway."

One way they would sneak in, Schuman recalls, is by serving as roadies of a sort. "We saw the earliest, earliest shows of the Butthole Surfers," he recalls. "We used to get in their shows free by waiting for them to pull up and then carrying in their stuff. Sometimes they would hand me a cymbal and I'd be in the show. Sometimes these shows would have literally 25 people in them, but we'd be going crazy. As time went by, there would be 100, 150 people. But we considered all those people posers, because we were the originals. A lot of them had been new wave, but they transferred their look over to punk."

Schuman can't make it to this show as he already had a commitment in San Francisco when the gig was announced, but he thinks the bill is pretty solid, save for one omission. "I don't even know if they would do it, but it's too bad that Really Red isn't on this bill," he says. "They really were the most popular band in Houston. Around '83, they were really big. All the punk kids really respected them and would be at the shows. They had songs that were really anthemic, and when they broke up, all the kids that were at all their shows went and started bands. They really spurred it all on. They were a big influence on me and a lot of other people, just the way they showed me how fun and easy it all is."

The same could be said for most of the rest of the bands on the bill. Bark Hard, a.k.a. "The National Band of Texas," had a local profile that approached Really Red's, even if the influence of their beery skate-punk did not. And Cassidy's band, Dirty Rotten Imbeciles, or D.R.I., as they have long been known, was one of the bands that picked up Really Red's mantle, and they became the first Houston punk band to win a lasting national following. (In time-honored H-Town fashion, they hit it big after moving away, in their case to San Francisco.)

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