Things were at a fever pitch when Hari Kari took the stage, playing in front of an audience for the first time. They launched into ‘Cyclone Ranger,’ and not even halfway through the song the besotted crowd exploded into a swirl of flying fists and breaking glass. Someone had the presence of mind to call the cops, who got there in record time and proceeded to pull the punks and rockers and rednecks apart and haul them off to the hoosegow…”
by marc covert
“Joey Ramone, Dead at 49;” one of those headlines that just doesn’t do a subject justice. That was big news, for a couple of days, anyway—CNN, MSNBC, Salon, all the local TV stations, and of course the MTV and Rolling Stone websites, they all had Joey Ramone stories, and they all seemed to give him his due, pointing out the obvious: that the Ramones really did change everything when they bumbled onto the rock scene in the mid-Seventies.
Hey, I’ve never needed any prompting to sing the praises of the Ramones; I loved that band, and never missed an opportunity to see them, and felt real pain as I watched them flounder about over the years, victims of rock’s vicious circle: if you change, your hardcore fans accuse you of treason; if you stay the same, the critics dismiss you as a “one-trick pony.” It came as a relief to me when they finally called it quits in 1996. As far as I was concerned they had done all that could be expected of them and more.
But Joey’s death and the accolades he and his band got in the days afterward got me thinking about the local punk rock scene; I was already working on this month’s interview of Greg Sage from the Wipers, who recently released “History of Portland Punk, Vol. 1,” featuring such bands as Lo-Tek, Smegma, the Neo Boys, the Styphnoids, Sado Nation, and more. Those very bands have actually played some shows here in the past months, generating a certain amount of local buzz; the whole idea of a “history” behind Portland punk intrigued me. How did it start? What caused it to burst wide open over 22 years ago?
I really think that the Ramones’ Catch a Rising Star show in 1977 was a seminal event in Portland punk, the one event that, in my opinion, started punk’s rumbling birth in Portland. Incredible as it sounds today, they played the Paramount Theater (now the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall) and tickets were $1.00 each; KGON sponsored those shows, with acts like Sammy Hagar, Blondie, the Fabulous Poodles, the Cars, U.K., the list goes on and on. Up until then the Sex Pistols and the Ramones were just sort of a novelty, at least to the guys I hung around with. There was a classically clueless article in Time magazine about punk rock, which I read, and I wanted no part of it; I was too busy keeping up with Styx and Kansas and Aerosmith and Zeppelin and Black Sabbath and all the rest of the dinosaur set.
But this night it was the Ramones, and my buddies and I decided it would be hilarious to get “punked out” and go to the show. It was all a big joke. I think I settled for a torn-up t-shirt with a few safety pins and rubber boots with swastikas and “kill” drawn on them with a felt pen; pretty knuckleheaded stuff, all right, and not terribly convincing. My friend Otis, however, went all the way: black leather biker jacket, dozens of pins and rings and chains and jangly shit, classic Ramones-style Levis, sneakers, sunglasses—I must say, he was absolutely stunning, a real sight to behold, and he knew it. The reactions he got were amazing once we left the house; he even walked into a dance at the local all-girls Catholic high school on the way to the show, and the dropped jaws and outright screams of horror he caused were priceless. Otis loved attention, and he got it that night.
The show itself was incredible; the Ramones in 1977 were at the top of their game and Portland had never seen the likes of them. I can’t really remember how long they played, but it didn’t take long to make an indelible impression on every single person in that theater. Otis and many others left that theater determined to be a part of what they had just seen and heard.
The next thing I knew, Otis and three of his friends, all guys that I knew, got together and decided to start a band, which they named Hari Kari. They were mostly blessed with indulgent parents who sprang for some great gear—Peavey amps, mikes, a huge drumset, decent guitars, a good P.A.—and after some blistering rehearsal sessions, they decided they would rent a hall and put on their own show. For whatever reason, they settled on the Linnton Community Center, a dumpy little building that still stands to the side of Highway 30, just outside the Portland city limits.
Thus began a show that would go down in Portland punk history. Hari Kari would headline, of course, since it was all on their dime, and they put together a bill with three other bands: one, a standard rock band whose name I have not been able to find, and the Ziploks, and then, an up-and-coming band by the name of The Wipers. They managed to get a bunch of flyers out, and used word-of-mouth otherwise, but at any rate, a good sized crowd showed up, many of them loyal followers of the first band. They did not seem to like the punks much, and a third contingent, namely the rednecks and inbred-Jeds from the surrounding environs, made for a combustible mix. Add to this the voluminous deluge of fermented beverages consumed in the parking lot and countless Camaros (no liquor license here, it was an all-ages show), and you had a roomful of lunatics, all eyeballing each other, all screaming for blood.
The first band played, then the Ziploks made it through their set, and then the Wipers came out and just blasted through a powerhouse set, probably about 40 minutes long, one song right after another, pardon the pun, but Greg Sage just killed them, just wiped the floor with every hapless fucker in that room, including Hari Kari. Without a doubt four of the most cocksure bastards I have ever known, Hari Kari knew they could never top the performance put in by the Wipers. Otis himself told me many times for years after, “What were we thinking? The Wipers blew us away.” They learned a hard lesson that night about who you choose to have opening up for you.
So things were at a fever pitch when Hari Kari took the stage, playing in front of an audience for the first time. They launched into “Cyclone Ranger,” and not even halfway through the song the besotted crowd exploded into a swirl of flying fists and breaking glass. Someone had the presence of mind to call the cops, who got there in record time and proceeded to pull the punks and rockers and rednecks apart and haul them off to the hoosegow. During the pandemonium Hari Kari attempted to keep playing, but after about three songs the fracas spread to the stage, and the frenzied mob started going after the equipment. All of this is on tape, and I hope to God that tape is safely stowed away in an attic somewhere.
To this day anyone who was there will gladly tell you about how they survived the “Linnton Community Center Riot” (sadly I was not; this is the story as retold countless times over countless beers over the ensuing years), and it really set the stage for much of the Portland punk scene that followed: punks and rockers, locked in an eternal game of “let’s kick those fuckers’ asses,” a game that seemed deadly serious at the time but almost quaint now; a game that took its toll of skinned knuckles and missing teeth, maybe the occasional slash wound, but never to my knowledge flying lead. Hari Kari never went far, but members of that band went on to play in Sado Nation, Willard, Texass, and others. And the Wipers? Well, they didn’t open up for many bands after that. But that’s another story, one that played out in a city forever changed by one Joey Ramone and company; a pretty good deal for a buck.