If you say punk rock concerts are venues for violent, spike-haired loogans to beat the crap out of each other, well… you might be right.
But they shouldn’t be.
At least, not according to Subhumans punk rocker Gerry (Useless) Hannah.
“Punk rockers had already gone through phases when we were made the targets of mindless aggression by outside forces,” he said from his home outside of Vancouver.
“We had problems with the jocks and greaseballs who hated the fact that people had green spiky hair and listened to music they didn’t understand.
“That was bad enough, but then you have people who called themselves punk rockers preying on other punk rockers and destroying venues… basically using punk rock as an outlet for their doofusness.”
This punk rock hooliganism was one of the reasons that Hannah decided to leave the band in 1981.
“In our songs and in interviews and stuff we’ve always been trying to stop that kind of shit, you know? Basically trying to get rid of fighting loogens from our midst.”
“These guys don’t have any idea what punk rock is about.
“They’re losing the original family of misfits and outcasts energy that was happening in the early days.”
In those early days they were just a bunch of kids fooling around, trying to recreate the revolutionary music coming out of England at the time.
Listening to early Clash and the Sex Pistols the childhood friends honed their raucous sound at the home of original drummer Dimwit (Ken Montgomery).
The band played its first show on July 1, 1978, at an “anti-Canada Day” celebration.
Quickly its combination of angry, hilarious lyrics and raw sound led it to the forefront of Vancouver’s punk scene.
Frontman and vocalist Brian Goble, a.k.a Wimpy-Roy, whipped crowds into a frenzy, while his frequent dives into the audience left him battered and bruised.
Hannah’s rumbling bass, Mike Graham’s electrifying guitar and Dimwit’s pounding drums combined to form a lethal rhythm section.
Dimwit left the group after the release of its debut single Death to the Sickoids.
He was replaced with Jim Imagawa who contributed for both the band’s self-titled EP and its legendary LP, Incorrect Thoughts.
In 1981 Hannah and Imagawa decided to leave the band.
“We had just gone on a really grueling North American tour,” recalled Hannah.
“And the punk scene was going through some changes.”
The hooligans had arrived.
During a show in Los Angeles, a full-scale police riot broke out.
Hannah had had enough.
Replacements were found, but the new lineup was short-lived as the band broke up the following year.
Everyone went their separate way.
Brian was lured away to become the bass player for Vancouver punk legends DOA.
Graham became an architect.
Meanwhile, Hannah had moved to Squamish to spend more time in the bush.
His love for the outdoors once earned him the moniker “Nature Punk,” but also led to his involvement with an environmental and political activist group dubbed Direct Action.
“It was a guerilla organization,” Hannah explained.
“We felt that the only way to make political change was to go out and change it yourself.”
The group, also known as the Squamish Five, blew up an environmentally unfriendly Vancouver Island hydroelectric substation.
It also bombed the Litton plant outside of Toronto, which was producing guidance systems for American cruise missiles.
And it firebombed a number of Vancouver video shops that were selling violent pornographic films.
“In retrospect, our actions were pretty reckless, but our hearts were in the right place,” he said.
“We were just fortunate that more people didn’t get hurt.”
Hannah was convicted of conspiracy to commit bombings and served five years in prison.
“On one level it was what you’d expect – an extremely frightening experience.
“I still have nightmares about it, at least once a month.”
“But a lot of things about it made me stronger. I became much more aware of different, non-violent ways of dealing with political issues.”
In 1995 the Subhumans released a best of album entitled, Pissed off… With Good Reason.
Soon after Hannah and Goble decided to reform the band for a western Canada tour.
All the while Hannah and Goble had been writing songs and in 2005 they convinced Graham to rejoin the band to create an album of entirely new material.
Graham wrote his own new songs, Jon Card (formally of SNFU and DOA) was recruited for drums, and September 2006 saw the release of its first album in 25 years, New Dark Age Parade.
The Subhumans have been touring extensively to promote the new album.
Its next stop is Whitehorse.
“I’ve always wanted to get up there,” said Hannah in a strained voice, still recovering from a recent tour to Alberta.
“Nature Punk” has heard of the Yukon wild and hopes to one day do some hiking in Kluane Natural Park.
“Once I get there, I may never leave.”
On Thursday night the Subhumans will be playing at Coasters Bar and grill.
This will be followed by an all ages show at the Indoor Skate Park on Friday.
Tickets are $15 in advance and available at Triple J’s Music Café.