Still Stickin’ it to The Man
Corbett Redford’s doc chronicles the local punk rock scene.
Photo By Greg Schneider
When Green Day, the Pinole Valley band that graduated from the local punk scene to become major stars, decided to make a documentary about the early days, the band contacted friend and fellow Pinolian Corbett Redford. A musician in his own right with Bobby Joe Ebola and the Children MacNuggits, Redford had been frenetically producing his own band videos. Green Day liked what he was up to, and, of course, his DIY punk spirit. It soon became apparent Green Day’s rise was part of a bigger story: the saga of the East Bay punk scene that sprouted from the now-legendary space in industrial West Berkeley, 924 Gilman, in the mid-1980s. And so the focus of the film became the entire scene. First-time director Redford’s resulting opus, the recently released Turn It Around, The Story of East Bay Punk, includes archival footage, interviews with band members, and music from the era. It is riveting. Saddened I missed out on the scene (I was too busy listening to AM talk radio), I tracked down Redford recently to get educated.
Paul Kilduff: I went to Berkeley High in the last century, and I remember Pinole Valley was the big rival school.
Corbett Redford: Oh, really? I didn’t know that.
PK: The rivalry’s long gone, but back when it was red hot, we used to go out there to watch high school football games between the two schools, and all I could tell you about Pinole was that it had a Jack in the Box.
CR: Oh, yeah; it was really just nothing. In fact, I think Primus sings about nearby El Sobrante in a song. I think the lyric is, “You hang out at Jack in The Box, eat at Taco Bell.”
PK: Is that the way to do it? I guess Taco Bell is healthier, right?
CR: Well, I guess.
PK: And it’s cheaper.
CR: Absolutely. They’re right next to each other on San Pablo Dam Road, and it’s just like what else do you do? And if you find friends and you can play music together, then all the better.
PK: Green Day is not necessarily considered by some to be punk. You disagree, but where does that perception come from?
CR: I don’t know; maybe their success. Maybe the pop nature of some of their music. I saw an interview with lead singer Billy Joe Armstrong recently for this Spotify series that I was involved with, and he basically said, “I never really wanted to be a poster boy for punk. I wanted to be recognized for Green Day, for being the band that it was, and that it continues to be.” But when you know Green Day, and you know their history, you know the backyards that they played, you know the benefits for the Slingshot Collective, you know that there was complete and total immersion by them in the most punk aspects of our area. When you have lived that, you don’t ever lose that. And you look at early Gilman bands like the Blatz—Billy played second guitar in the Blatz for a few shows. Those bands were noted for creating huge messes with rotten cottage cheese after shows.
PK: So they were plastering the audience with rancid cottage cheese?
CR: Actually rocketing it out of a blow-up love doll. Like out of its ass. They would pack it full of rotten cottage cheese. So what I’m saying is, because of those early melees at Gilman, when Green Day played Woodstock ’94 and there was this mud melee, you go, ”Oh yeah, that’s where they’re from.”
PK: 924 Gilman was a direct response to how skinheads had taken over the punk scene, especially in San Francisco, by the early ’80s. Fair?
CR: Yes, so there were a few things going on. Punk was born in ’77. San Francisco was this vibrant scene. But sometime in ’80, ’81, suddenly hardcore is busting out, and Reagan becomes president, and many scenes started being plagued by this nationalist skinhead stuff. The skinheads were into hardcore music. They wanted aggression. It matched their feeling and their attitudes. And they started coming into these shows and brutalizing people.
CR: So Maximum Rocknroll founder Tim Yohannan saw this need. He was at the People’s Park riots. He was an old lefty. I keep calling him a good old American commie, but in fact, he was a socialist. He said, “OK, we’re gonna make a place, and we’re gonna make some rules.” And people ask me why I think 924 Gilman’s there 30 years later, and I say because of the rules of this hard-line lefty. The rules were no violence, no drinking, no drugs, no homophobia, no racism, no sexism. That was what was different. And it was hard because you had a lot of the real punk folks saying, “Ah, that’s square. That’s nerdy. It’s too safe.” And thusly punk became, as Metal Mike of the band the Angry Samoans says in our movie, “safe for little kids and girls, game over.”
PK: Hardly anybody can afford the identified hip towns to live anymore. Does that mean places like Pinole will by osmosis become hipper?
CR: Sadly, the tech boom and all of the boring people that come with it, they’re coming out here. They’re coming out to Pinole and El Sobrante because the commute to San Francisco isn’t so bad.
PK: You live in Pinole?
CR: I live in Pinole. I lived in Oakland for 15 years as a punk in a band and stuff like that, but when I got married I moved back home—the place that I ran screaming from when I was a teenager.
PK: So you’re going to put your kids through the same torture that you went through?
CR: They have the internet now. The world is a much more connected place. I will make sure they have a car as soon as possible. The dream is to move back to El Cerrito or Berkeley or something closer to BART at least. People can’t go to Portland anymore. They can’t go to Brooklyn anymore. They can’t go to Silver Lake anymore. They can’t go to Oakland anymore, or San Francisco. You can come to Pinole. Sports bars and business parks.
For more Kilduff, visit the “Kilduff File Super Fan Page” on Facebook.