Ter­rell’s Tune-Up

Steve Ter­rell re­views the documentary Don’t Be Afraid to Pogo about The Gears

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SHIFT­ING HARD: THE GEARS

Andy Warhol was half-right: In the fu­ture, ev­ery­one will be fa­mous for 15 min­utes. But he left out one im­por­tant part. In the fu­ture, ev­ery­one will star in their own documentary. Seems like ev­ery time you turn around th­ese days, there’s a new movie about some band — some fa­mous, some less so.

The north­east Los An­ge­les “punk sur­fa­billy” band called The Gears got theirs with a fun new rock doc called Don’t Be Afraid to

Pogo, which is play­ing next week at the Jean Cocteau Cin­ema.

I’ve never pre­tended to be an ex­pert on the L.A. punk scene, though I’m a long­time fan of bands like X, The Germs, and An­gry Samoans (even be­fore found­ing mem­ber Gregg Turner moved to Santa Fe). I loved the movie The De­cline of Western Civ­i­liza­tion (1981) as well as Repo Man (1984), which had a sound­track fea­tur­ing Black Flag, The Cir­cle Jerks, and The Plugz.

But I have to con­fess, un­til I re­cently saw Don’t Be Afraid to Pogo, I’d never heard of The Gears. But now I’m a fan. Like any de­cent band documentary, this one, di­rected by Gears man­ager Chris Ash­ford, is crammed full of in­ter­views with band mem­bers past and present, oth­ers from the L. A. punk world, live footage both an­cient and re­cent, photos, and all sorts of Gear lore. Which Gear got kicked out of the band for break­ing a beer bot­tle across a roadie’s face? Why i s singer Axxel G. Reese ob­sessed with pi­rates? What was The Gears’ con­nec­tion with early-’60s rocker Freddy “Boom Boom” Can­non, Chi­cano artist Richard Duardo, and Santa Fe pho­tog­ra­pher Ronn Spencer? You not only get to know the band, but the whole mi­lieu from which the group sprang.

The ori­gin of The Gears goes back to when Reese and drum­mer Dave Drive (real names Terry Davis and Dave Fer­nan­dez) went to el­e­men­tary school to­gether in the largely His­panic Glas­sell Park neigh­bor­hood. They knocked around in var­i­ous bands for years, fi­nally com­ing back to­gether as The Gears in the late ’ 70s.

Cur­rent Gears bassist Mike Man­i­fold (real name Mike Vil­lalo­bos), was just a kid when The Gears started out. But liv­ing near Dave Drive’s house, he was fa­mil­iar with the group. He’d watch the mu­si­cians load and un­load their equip­ment and of­ten smell mar­i­juana smoke waft­ing out of the house as he walked home from school. His grand­mother, he said, warned him to “stay away from those kids.”

Ap­par­ently a se­cret nexus of L.A. punk rock was the Bud­get Rent- a- Car of­fice in Glen­dale. That’s where Kidd Spike ( Jeff Austin) and Brian “Redz” An­der­son met be­fore they joined The Gears. Marc More­land of Wall of Voodoo and Johnny Stingray of The Con­trollers worked there, too. Spike orig­i­nally played with The Con­trollers, but The Gears man­aged to steal him. Spike learned to play guitar from lis­ten­ing to a Ra­mones record. He’s cred­ited for bring­ing the rock­a­billy in­flu­ence to the band.

Miss Mercy of the in­fa­mous GTOs — a col­lec­tive of groupies that Frank Zappa fash­ioned into an a cap­pella singing group — took The Gears un­der her wing, be­com­ing known as their “fash­ion con­sul­tant.” She’d find seer­sucker suits, leop­ard- skin jack­ets, and cow­boy boots for the band and do their hair, which in those days in­volved ex­ag­ger­ated rock­a­billy greaser styles. “They al­ways smelled like Tres Flores [hair po­made],” the singer from Mad So­ci­ety, an­other early L.A. punk group, says.

The documentary tells the sto­ries be­hind some of The Gears’ songs. Their first sin­gle was “Let’s Go to the Beach.” Reese ex­plains that liv­ing in north­east Los An­ge­les, the beach was “a trek for us. We weren’t re­ally beach kids by any stretch of the imag­i­na­tion.” “Hard Rock” was writ­ten by orig­i­nal gui­tarist “Crazy Ruben” Urbina, in­spired, he says, by the death of Elvis Pres­ley. “Trudie Trudie” was an ode to a scen­ester and early Gears fan from South Bay. The real Trudie ap­pears in the documentary.

“Elks Lodge Riot” is about the notorious “St. Pa­trick’s Day Mas­sacre,” which oc­curred on March 17, 1979, at a big punk show (with an all- star bill in­clud­ing X, The Go- Gos, The Plugz and oth­ers) in an ac­tual Elks Lodge near MacArthur Park. That night, Los An­ge­les po­lice in riot gear raided the joint right in the mid­dle of The Plugz’s set. A bunch of kids got beat up, and the rea­son is still pretty hazy.

And of course they talk about the song that be­came the ti­tle for this movie, “Don’t Be Afraid to Pogo.” Crazy Ruben ex­plains that he was self-con­scious about div­ing head-on into punk cul­ture, so the song was ba­si­cally writ­ten as a mes­sage to him­self. Of course, as a dance craze, the pogo was much tamer than the crazy mosh­ing at punk shows that soon fol­lowed. And as the ’ 80s pro­gressed, the L.A. punk scene grew a lot more ag­gres­sive. The vi­o­lence and fury of the hard­core scene was off-putting to mem­bers of The Gears. “There was a tran­si­tion in L. A. punk that I didn’t like,” Spike says. By that point, he was get­ting pretty burned out any­way, he says.

So af­ter Spike split, The Gears broke up in the mid’80s and hived off into var­i­ous other groups. But they’ve re­grouped at least a cou­ple of times through the years. And judg­ing from their more re­cent al­bum, When

Things Get Ugly (2014), as well as the live footage from the movie, they’re still in fine form. So check out this flick, and if the spirit moves you, don’t be afraid to pogo.

Don’t Be Afraid to Pogo is show­ing on one night only, at 9 p.m. on Thurs­day, April 28. Di­rec­tor Chris Ash­ford and some mem­bers of the band will be on hand for the show­ing.

I’ll be do­ing a live in­ter­view with Axxel and Spike from The Gears this week on my ra­dio show, Ter­rell’s

Sound World. The show starts at 10 p.m. on KSFR, 101.1 FM or www.ksfr.org.

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