By Mike Faloon
Several years ago Craig Ibarra co-produced a compilation album of San Pedro punk rock (The Reactionaries 1979). On the back of the LP’s jacket, tucked in the corner, was a note about a forthcoming book, A Wailing of a Town – Ignored History of Early San Pedro Punk.
The book is now out, but with a new subtitle, An Oral History. I think the revised subtitle is more apt but the defiance implied by Ignored History fits really well--There was so much going in San Pedro; we’re going to be heard.
The easy route for this book would be to focus on the Minutemen, the town’s best-known export, and seek out music biz luminaries to serve as talking heads, sharing stories of when they first heard the band and how they were inspired by them. The Minutemen are legendary and they crossed paths with plenty of well-known bands.
But No Wailing is much more than a band history. It’s really about the ethos developed and practiced by the town’s bands and writers and artists, friends and followers: everyone should be involved, and there was a particular emphasis on developing a unique sound/voice/perspective. Whether hosting a show, publishing a zine, or offering to drive a band home after a draining night, there was no need to just watch from a distance. No Wailing is about the Minutemen on the surface, but it’s really about a group of working class kids and the art projects they churned out.
So it makes sense that Ibarra would steer clear of celebrities and talk with the rank and file, the people who were in closer proximity. In that sense this is the punk rock book that Howard Zinn would have written. That’s certainly noble in theory but such an approach presents a different set of risks. What if you didn’t see the Dialtones at a backyard barbeque or read The Prole or get you haircut at Ivica’s New Wave Salon? Might that slam the door in a reader’s face? Leave us on the outside looking in? In lesser hands, perhaps, but Ibarra’s up to the task—he’s gathered a lot of clay, sculpted it well, and invited anyone who’s willing in for a closer look. Ibarra is a San Pedro native and a longtime pro-Pedro activist. He knows the landscape well. His scope and sequence are rock solid and easy-to-follow, and he knows when to let things run long and when to cut them short.
I admit that whenever non-Pedro bands were mentioned (Go-Gos, Meat Puppets, Sonic Youth), I expected the next quote to come from a member of one of those bands. It’s a set-up/delivery structure absorbed from other oral histories and documentaries. But those bands remain on the sidelines, referenced but not heard from. They weren’t from San Pedro. Instead Ibarra focuses on local musicians, friends, and family members. He introduces and elevates a wide range of different voices. I’d never heard of Gary Jacobelly but his insights and phrasing had me looking online for his books. (None to date.) All I used to know about Linda Kite was that she was driving the night that D. Boon died. But hearing her side of the story, I was struck by the courage it took to revisit the days before and after that tragic event, grappling with what happened.
In the end, Ibarra is not an outsider reporting on the past. He’s an insider welcoming us in, which makes A Wailing of a Town a page-turning, Let’s-do-it-too read.