Punk rock in Hermosa Beach

by Garrison Frost

Fifty years from now when people talk about Hermosa Beach, what will they talk about? It's hard to predict. Perhaps they'll think of the offbeat politics of this tiny beach community. Maybe they'll think of the smattering of important surfers hailed from there. Maybe they'll even remember a dumb TV show about Beverly Hills rich kids that was briefly filmed there.

But just as likely, they'll think of punk rock.

Although your typical Historical Society member knows about as much about punk rock as Sanskrit, the music one of the city's most significant creative exports and a key contribution to the world at large.

Sure, when most people about music in Hermosa Beach, they think about the big jazz scene that took place in and around the Lighthouse in the 50s and 60s. But the city's punk rock scene of the 1970s might have been just as influential on a more recent generation of musicians and young people.

Because punk rock – with its blasting electric guitars and anti-establishment lyrics – was always an underground scene, it's difficult to pin down exactly when things started happening in Hermosa Beach.

Still, a good guess would be that the scene took off when Greg Ginn and a few of his friends formed a band called Black Flag in 1976-77. Black Flag eventually moved into the old Baptist Church on Manhattan Avenue and began issuing albums on their own record label called SST.

On a side note, Ginn's brother, Raymond Pettibon, used to design most of the band's posters and album covers. Pettibon, with his trademark pen-and-ink style, eventually graduated from the punk scene to mainstream art. He is now probably the most successful artist to ever emerge from the South Bay, selling his works out of a gallery in New York. A retrospective tour of his drawings spent several months a few years back at the Museum of Contemporary Art in downtown Los Angeles.

But back to the punkers.

Black Flag was not the kind of band that anyone older than 30 ever understood. Banned from many venues and eyes with suspicion from police, Black Flag nonetheless generated a strong local following and spawned a number of other bands. Among these was the Descendants, several members of which were Mira Costa High School graduates.

Hermosa Beach was also the home of Media Arts, a studio where much of the punk rock music distributed around the country was recorded. One of the biggest punk bands in the country these days is Pennywise, a bunch of local guys who recorded their first record on a small label based in Hermosa Beach in the early 1990s.

Turn on practically any alternative radio station and you'll hear a band that borrows its sound from Hermosa Beach. A lot of people are uncomfortable with punk rock, but locals should understand that it's just as much a part of the city's history as the old Biltmore Hotel and the Vetter Windmill – and probably better known to the world outside our boundaries. Better yet, the music that started in Hermosa Beach still lives on, providing vital inspiration for all new generations of musicians and fans.

(March 13, 2003)

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