Sunday, July 6, 2014

Chapter Three: At The Cuckoo's Nest in Costa Mesa, California... 1981

by Hanson Meyer
It was the summer of 1981 in Big Bear and there was nothing for a 17 year old punk rock kid with divorced parents to do, so I did what any other kid in my situation would do… I got into trouble. The previous year, my father had moved out of the mountains down to Orange County with my sister and I stayed behind and lived with my mother who was now working, going to school and dating. For a teenager I was fairly responsible and I didn’t drink or do drugs… I just liked punk rock and wanted to do my thing without people trying to “correct” my attitude and strip away my right of self-expression. My mother was genuinely concerned about my well-being and grilled me on a number of occasions… She accused me of smoking cigarettes and I know she thought I was drinking alcohol and doing drugs. I think that because of this she disciplined me rather harshly for minor offences such as getting home five minutes late, etc… The more she accused me and punished me, the more rebellious I became.

After getting into some trouble late in the summer, my mother decided that I should go live with my dad down the mountain, and by July 1981, I found myself living at the beach and preparing to start my senior year at a new high school. My dad decided to relocate from the house where he was living in Mission Viejo into a small apartment above a two car garage on Diamond Avenue on Balboa Island, Newport Beach. With me, my dad and my younger sister living there too, it was a little cramped for all of us but we made do and I welcomed the change. In the first two weeks of living there, I explored the area and met a few other kids who were into the same music that I was. They were a bit younger than me but they knew quite a bit about the local punk scene. Some of my new friends were John Q Humphreys, Hayden Thais, Scott Murdock and Chris Salsbury.

It was at this time that my friend, Mike Curtiss, came down to visit and stay with his brother, Don, in Costa Mesa before having to start the new school year back in Big Bear. We wanted to go to a punk show while he was there, but since I was so new, I had no idea where to go. I no longer had my ’69 Buick Skylark for transportation as several months previously, Scott Boyd decided to go for a joy ride in my car while I was away for a weekend trip and he crashed my car into a house totaling it… Without my car, and being new to the area and not having any new friends who had cars, getting back up to Hollywood to see punk shows was nearly impossible. Then my new, local punk friends reminded me about the Cuckoo’s Nest, and amazingly, it was just around the corner from the house where Mike’s brother Don lived. 

It turned out that we were in luck as we heard that Black Flag was playing two shows at there at the Cuckoo’s Nest that Friday on August 21st… one matinee show with Circle One and Wasted Youth, and then another show later that night with Overkill and Saccharine Trust. Neither of us could make the first show so we planned on going to the later show.

Mike and I were excited about the show that night. Mike convinced an old friend named Rob Keuhne and one of his friends to go with us as they both lived in Costa Mesa… in addition, Rob had a car to drive to Balboa Island and pick me up. Rob’s friend was a jock but he was curious to check out the show and see what this punk rock stuff was all about. He had short hair, so we figured he would be okay. 

Once we were all in the car, we drove to Don’s house which was one house from the far end of the street on Shalimar Drive in Costa Mesa. We parked the car there at his house and went inside for a few minutes to say hello. It had been years since I had seen Don and it was good to see him again even though he and his friends had long hair and represented everything we were against. He was older than us and had a stocked bar. I didn’t drink alcohol, but Mike and the others did some shots out of a bottle to loosen up before the show. We walked out the front door and then Mike decided he needed to add one more thing to his punk rock ensemble. He pulled a safety pin out of his pocket and in true English punk tradition, he pinched the skin on the back of his hand and pushed the safety pin through clasping it shut after it made it through the other side. We had just left Don’s house and were walking up the street when Mike remembered that he forgot a small bottle of alcohol that he wanted to finish on our way to the Nest which was only a couple of blocks away. He ran back and raced in the house to grab it. He was just crossing the threshold on his way back out of the house when Don grabbed him by the arm and stopped him in his tracks. Don sternly asked him what he had. Mike told him it was only a small fifth of alcohol and then Don said he didn’t care about the booze, but pointed at the back of Mike’s hand. He told Mike that either Mike, himself, could take it out of his own hand, or that he would rip it out without opening it first. Mike gently took the safety pin out of the back of his hand and walked outside. Once the door closed, Mike shoved it back through the same holes and we were again on our way to the Cuckoo’s Nest.

Henry - (photo courtesy of Alison Braun)
The movie Urban Cowboy with John Travolta had just been released the previous year, and so the bar known as “Zubies” that shared the parking lot with the Cuckoo’s Nest was always full of “wanna be cowboys”. The center of the parking lot was a sort of “no man’s land” with the cowboys sticking to their side and the punks more or less staying on the Cuckoo’s Nest side. I remember when we arrived, there were a lot of punks hanging out front talking shit about the cowboys. We paid our admission of $6.00 and made our way inside. The club was small and had a stage in the corner with a backdrop of blue sky and clouds on the walls. By the time we actually made it inside, we had missed the opening bands and Black Flag was just setting up. Although the club was fairly full, we were surprised that it wasn’t packed since it was a Friday night.

Black Flag finally took the stage. They came out of the gates with a tremendous amount of energy and although the place wasn’t packed, the venue had a whole lot more people there than the Palm Springs show I went to earlier in the year. Everyone in the crowd showed their enthusiasm by slamming full speed in the pit in front of the stage. 

After the band finished their set, much of the crowd made their way toward the exit and left the building. Mike and I lingered near the front of the stage while others were talking to the band. We waited for an
opportunity to talk to Dez or one of the other members of the band that we had met previously and talked to in Palm Springs. I finally had an opening and approached the sweaty singer and said, “Hey Dez… It’s me, Hanson from the Palm Springs show at the Rumors Club”. He looked at me and said, “I’m not Dez. That’s Dez over there wearing the hat putting his guitar away. I’m the new singer, Henry.” So I started asking him all kinds of questions
Henry - Mike Curtiss behind guy with PIL shirt
about being in the band. He told me that this was officially his first day as the new lead singer of the band and that the matinee show earlier in the day was his actual first full gig. The one we witnessed was his second show with the band. And then he added that
although he was hopeful, he wasn’t sure how long it was going to last and it really depended on the rest of the band. He did say that Dez didn’t want to sing anymore and that he only wanted to play guitar. Henry went on to tell us that he might be back in Washington D.C. before too long and that if we ever got back there, we should look him up. At this point, he grabbed one of their set lists that was taped to the floor in front of us and wrote his phone number in Washington D.C. on it. On the other side of the set list was their flyer from the matinee show. It was the infamous Petibon flyer with Mickey Mouse hugging a skeleton. I noticed that there was a small stack of residual flyers at
the back of the stage that they were using for set lists and I asked him if I could have a couple more. He grabbed about six of them and gave them to me. I still have one of them, but sadly, I later lent the one with the set list and Henry’s number on it to one of my new friends at high school to make copies of and I never got it back.
The Flyer Henry Gave Me After the Show
We did talk to Dez and asked him if he remembered us and the “Big Bear Punks”. He smirked and said, “So you’re the Big Bear Punks?... You’re the reason we didn’t get paid that night!” He then told me that they were pretty bummed because they really needed the money then, but not to worry… it was cool.

Dez - (photo courtesy of Alison Braun)
We finally made it out of the club and with a good fun night under our belts we decided get back to Mike’s brother’s house so Rob could take me home. We left the parking lot of the Cuckoo’s Nest and started the short walk back to Don’s house all the while talking and recounting the highlights of the night. Just as we turned to walk down Shalimar Drive, Rob’s friend saw a car driving down Placentia Blvd and waved at the driver thinking that he knew him. We continued down the street until we reached the next residential intersection at Wallace Avenue. It was there that we saw the same car that had driven down Placentia Blvd. several minutes previously, but now it was parked just down the side street under a street light. There were the guys we had originally seen in the car but there were also others who had apparently quickly assembled outside of the car, one of whom was standing next to a stop sign banging on the metal pole with a piece of pipe. It was obvious that these guys were from this neighborhood (which was notorious for gang activity) and we were walking through their turf. The driver exited the car and yelled over to us as he started to walk in our direction. Three of his friends from the group followed. They were all dressed similar and as they walked towards us in the dim light it became clear that they were all Hispanic gang members. As he got close he stared directly at Rob and said, “Why’d you flip me off?!?” And before Rob could get two words out, he was punched in the face and stumbled back. I looked over and there were about three teeth sticking through his skin just below his lower lip. The blood started to flow and he was a mess. The rest of us were stunned but faced our attackers ready for whatever was about to come. I looked over at Mike and quickly asked him if he was ready. Just then the other three gang members pulled out weapons. One of them had a knife and another guy had a chain, and the guy I faced pulled a two foot pipe out of his jacket. Just then the other guys started to run towards us from the car. Mike and I looked at each other again and knowing we were out-gunned and outnumbered, we just yelled to the other guys, “RUN!!!” We ran down Shalimar toward Don’s house which was about a half a block away. The gang was gaining on us quickly as Rob was still dazed and bleeding. When we got close, Mike started yelling repeatedly for his brother. We weren’t even in the driveway before Don and a couple of his pot smoking hippie friends came running out of the house with baseball bats and nunchucks. They ran right past us toward the guys who were chasing us. In seeing what was running directly towards them, our attackers quickly stopped in their tracks and then found themselves on the run back to their car. Don and his buddies chased them halfway down the block swinging their bats wildly before eventually returning to the house. Rob had blood all over his chin and shirt and his friend had to drive us back to Rob’s house. We walked Rob into his house and then Mrs. Keuhne quickly took him to the hospital while Rob’s friend took me back home to Balboa Island. It was truly a night I will never forget.

China White played there with the Blades and AKA on Saturday, October 31st… Halloween. We arrived just as AKA started the show off and played a short set. Their song “Tomorrow’s Theme” had come out a little earlier in the year on the compilation album “Who Cares” and was on KROQ at the time… it was the best song that they played in their set that night.

The Blades were good, but at that time, I was not familiar with any of their songs and I was really looking forward to seeing China White. China White lived up to my expectations and played everything from their Dangerzone EP. I was hoping to hear a song that I had heard played on Rodney on the ROQ the year before. I didn’t know the name of the song as one of my friends recorded a tape of KROQ on a Saturday night and then gave me the tape when I lived in Big Bear earlier that year in 1981. After they finished their set that night, I asked Marc Martin, the singer, about the song and hummed a few bars… he laughed and said, “We haven’t played that song in ages”. He told me the name of the song but said that they never put it on a record. Later, the next year in 1982, the song was released on a compilation called “Life Is Ugly, So Why Don’t You Kill Yourself” and the name of the song is “Solid State”… still my favorite China White song!

And then the Friday before Thanksgiving, I saw the Dickies play on November 20th at the Cuckoo’s Nest as well. It was one of their first shows since Chuck Wagon killed himself several months earlier in June. I remember hanging out after the band finished and asked the band where Chuck was… and that’s when I found out that he was dead. I liked the Blades and it was good to see them again and the opening band, the Dischords, were from Huntington Beach but their lead singer was from England. Having seen yet another great show, I wondered what my next night at the Cuckoo's Nest would have in store for me... but it would never happen. This was the last show that I saw at the Cuckoo’s Nest as the club closed down about two weeks later in the first week of December, 1981.

After seeing these shows at the Cuckoo’s Nest and experiencing the energy of bands and crowd, I knew that I wanted to either start or join a band. I had been practicing my guitar on my own for about a year, and even though I wasn’t very good, I started asking my friends if they knew any other musicians who wanted to play punk music. This would be beginning of my time as a musician…



Some of the photos above appear courtesy of their respective copyright holders including:


  1. very cool! do you know anything about the flyer at the top of the page with the woman talking about smoking her first cigarette of the day? I have one that was a mailer postmarked from 1981 but I don't know anything about it....

    1. I know that if you were on Black Flag's mailing list, you got flyers mailed to you before shows... So it sounds as if you have one of those. It appears to be artwork by Raymond Petibon, Greg Ginn's brother. This is one flyer that I don't have for the show... would you be interested in selling it? I would love to add it to my collection of shows that I've been to. Let me know...