A Little Town South of LA: 80’s Underground in San Diego Keith Boyd
I remember the 1980’s in San Diego. It was a period of rapid transition in this town. The city was moving on from its “Navy Town” roots and showing the very first signs of becoming the sprawling monster it is today. While this process had certainly started it wasn’t anywhere near a done deal. San Diego still felt like a true collection of neighborhoods where you could run into the same handful of likeminded folks digging music, art or films. The problem with San Diego was that it lay in the shadow of LA. In the 80’s the I-5 still felt like a wilderness trip from Sorrento Valley to almost Long Beach and in that space SD seemed to languish culturally. The big bands tended to either not play here or play only on off nights (to a certain extent this is still true). Add in the relatively isolated neighborhoods and the transitory nature of military families and you had a situation in which not a lot of home grown bands had truly sprung up. The 80’s saw the first true cracks in this wall. A smallish group of local youth formed bands and played house parties until there were venues (many available thanks to one Tim Mays). Once this ball was rolling things took on a life of their own and San Diego saw the first of several blossomings of great music. Several names come to my mind; the majestic, flute driven, psych-epics of Hair Theatre, the driving hypnosis of Wei Wei T’nango and the feral tribalism of Crash Worship. Amongst the better venues was UCSD’s Che Café. The Che always had the feeling of being for and by the kids and this combined with their left-centric ethos inspired a fierce loyalty amongst patrons. They also brought in some great touring acts from the then burgeoning Post-Punk Underground. I saw an excellent show with Spot 1019 and Camper Van Beethoven there once and it blew my mind! In order to document and reconnect this scene there is a newish website called Che Underground and it’s a great living piece of our local music heritage.
While the site primarily focuses on the specific bands who played (and the scene) at The Che, there has been a natural expansion including other related SD music acts. The forum page is of particular interest as it has been a meeting place for many of the folks involved with the music. They have music and film postings along with a cool collection flyers. Go check it out and post a few memories. Glancing through the site reminded me how much of a hotbed for Mod-Garage Rock San Diego was. Here’s a list of bands I enjoyed during the 80’s. What’s your list?
Hair Theatre, Wei Wei T’nango, Playground Slap, The Gravedigger V, Crash Worship, Zendik Farms Band, Social Spit (I worked with Cliff at Off The Record near SDSU), Infant Addicts, Daddy Longlegs, Carnivorous Lunar Activity (I also worked with Dennis and Steve-RIP-at OTR), Bunkum, Dogboy, The Telltale Hearts, Blueberry Jam and Groove House (okay I was those two bands but hey, we rocked and played the everywhere from The Spirit Club to Rio’s to the Texas Teahouse!).