The Circle Jerks

Balding but still full of piss and vinegar


The city of Seattle bore grunge, and in retrospect the dingy, gray chill of the metropolis in the early '90s seems an appropriate birthplace. Looking back even further, the emergence of hard-core punk in Southern California is perplexing; it was quirky and far more unexpected. How could a region blessed with day after beautiful day yield musicians who strayed from the flowery, transcendental mainstream. Why were these musicians so full of piss and vinegar?

Art punk was already a caprice in New York, but Westerners, in their laid-back coastal way, wanted a less elite, more working class sound. People stopped wanting to hear about how to make lovin' fun. They wanted some skank.

They also wanted to get wild in the streets. When Black Flag vocalist Keith Morris left that group, he teamed up with ex-Redd Kross guitarist Greg Hetson and formed the Circle Jerks in the early 1980s.

Something about their music satisfied. They were satirical, tasteless and condescending to the rich and snooty. The name alone, a reference to a group of men and either a cookie or a jug of milk, was enough to conjure snickers. Those sick, goofy jerks. In fact, the name led record companies to drag their feet about initially signing the Jerks, but eventually they saw the light released the first album, Group Sex, in 1981.

America said thanks. We learned that growing up in the suburbs of Los Angeles wasn't as ducky as musicians had otherwise conveyed to the kids who had to wear hand-me-down coats when the snow turned black from exhaust.

"I don't know what I'm gonna do. Maybe I'll have to move from Beverly Hills, Century City. Everything's so nice and pretty. All the people look the same, don't they know they're so damn lame," Morris sang.

That's right, pretty people are lame, and all of a sudden the unpretties had reinforcement. They had a movement, and a place to get out their aggression.

The Circle Jerks even attracted partying surfers and skaters to their shows for slam dancing, which was balls out, overindulgent and antagonistic. And those that wanted to play plugged into the Circle Jerks, who consequently developed a hearty reputation for their live gigs.

They were robust and at the top of their game when they hooked up with Dead Kennedy Jello Biafra for his 1981 compilation Let Them Eat Jellybeans, on which they recorded the popular "World Up My Ass."

But come 1983, the United States' punk movement began to disengage. Styles, trends and sounds shifted. The Jerks later experimented with a more metal sound and with more rhythm. They even employed the voice of one time-pop princess Debbie Gibson for the song "I Wanna Destroy You," but still they remain hard-core icons. They never reached superstardom outside of the genre, kept up the live shows and even released live albums. And, hey, remember that acoustic lounge band in the film Repo Man? Yup, that was them.

Now the Jerks, reunited, are touring with GBH. Boise is one of their destinations for only a handful of shows this year.

Generally, reunion tours, like people who look the same, are pretty lame. Journey (without Steve Perry) comes to mind. As does the recent Tesla get together. However, the Jerks don't look the way they used to. They are all in their 40s, balding and burned out. However, they are still making music, still full of piss and vinegar and still attracting scads of new fans. How can they not? Bands far and wide have credited the Jerks as major influences, from Green Day to Rancid to Foo Fighters to the Beastie Boys. It's just not right for a new generation of angst filled youngsters to miss the chance to see punk icons. See, they're not really jerks after all.

The Circle Jerks with GBH, Wednesday, September 15,doors at 5:30 p.m., show at 6:30 p.m., $16.50 all ages, Big Easy, 416 S. 9th St. Tickets at Ticketweb.