The Ballad of the Circle Jerks Love Child
By Jeremy Kitchen
I grew up in the west suburbs of Detroit, pre-Internet. My friends and I would collect cassettes and 7” records and order them from zines like Flipside. I started collecting in 1985. The ones that I listened to until they broke were Samhain’s “Initium,” Circle Jerks’ “Golden Shower of Hits,” and Discharge’s “Hear Nothing See Nothing Say Nothing”. The Jerks were a big part of my adolescence, as I was a skate punk and they were a nearly perfect band to skate to. I remember my Dad, an IBEW member and all around working class dude, absolutely freaking the fuck out because I had a Circle Jerks shirt with a nun on it. We weren’t Catholic, he just knew what a circle jerk was.
From Green’s Dictionary of Slang:
circle jerk n.
also ring jerk[SE circle + jerk off v. (1)]
1. [1940s+] (orig. US) joint masturbation, often in competition, by a group of boys, poss. sitting in a circle.
2. attrib. use of sense 1.
3. [1970s+] (US) in fig. use, chaos, a mess.
4. [1990s+] (Can.) in fig. use of sense 1, men who harass prostitutes and their customers for fun.
5. [1970s+] (orig. US) in fig. use of sense 1, a pointless or inconclusive discussion by a number of people.
This was not the Detroit of the Shinola Watch Company, Nike Running stores, the White Stripes, and “put a bird on it” hipsters. There was no Midtown; it was Cass Corridor, was gnarly, and it was where kids like me came of age.
It was the Detroit of places like the Graystone, Blondies, Traxx, City Club, Bookies, and of course, St. Andrews Hall. Bookies was off of Woodward on McNichols (aka Six Mile Road). It was a dark two story bar that hosted all the 70s punk bands: the Stooges, Dead Boys, Plasmatics, Sillies, and many more. By the mid 80s it was an anything goes kind of place. I had a fake ID that claimed I was twenty-eight (I looked twelve in high school), and I heard a guy had gotten stomped to death in the parking lot. The area around there was pure blight, as was near Blondies. Blondies was on Seven Mile and had non-functioning toilets. GG Allin played there once and it smelled of poo for weeks. I once had to fish my keys out of the women’s toilet and it was one of the most disgusting moments of my life.
I saw my first large-scale punk show at St. Andrews. It featured The Exploited, Skraps (made up of members of a pseudo rich kid gang called the Sids), and ALD (right wing desert storm enthusiasts, but to my knowledge none of them served). The “scene” back then was a mix of left and right wing skinheads and punks, and the shows were often very violent. I remember being at a house show in Brightmoor and a fight broke out that involved at least a dozen people. Brightmoor was ravaged during the crack boom and rents were almost free. I had seen skinheads walking to their cars with baseball bats over their shoulders like the yuppies did with briefcases a few miles west in the burbs. There were also lots of girls and lots of drugs. I was never involved in any politics, but I sure saw a lot of fights. This is not a story about my punk rock credentials, it is a story about freedom and growing up.
Drop a bored and angry kid and his friends into that environment and you get something like the little directionless brothers in River’s Edge--glue sniffing nunchuck enthusiasts then involved in any political or moral “scene.” We just liked to get fucked up and go wild at shows. People tend to make punk rock out to have been this big spiritual experience when they were growing up, but we were just dead-end, crazy-ass kids, and this is how we blew off steam. Every generation of punks thinks they were the first--first druggie, first black, first gay, first Latino, first PC, first straightedge, first hardcore, or whatever--the truth is, these “scenes” have been going on for more than forty years, and I promise you it was done before. Before G.L.O.S.S there was Jane County, before Limp Wrist there was Pansy Division and the Dicks, before Jesus Piece there was Son of Sam. Lacy from Son of Sam was one of the only black dudes in the Detroit hardcore scene back then, and there were tons of boneheads (neo-Nazis) back then. He still makes music to this day. I think he has been banging around in bands since 1977, and definitely had to navigate a very racist underbelly with no safe space in sight!
Around high school graduation my cousin Dave was coming to visit from Saginaw. He and his family were Assembly of God practitioners and his mother was a minister. They believed in sensible things like God healing the sick, humans speaking in tongues, and the reality of Satan, and they could not do a lot of fun things like dance, play cards, go to the movies, or drink alcohol. They also could not drink forties of Old English, slam dance, or get laid. Would I like to entertain him while he was here?
Would Jesus care if my cousin fucked a plus size girl after a night of malt liquor and punk rock bonding? We would soon find out.
So we drove downtown one night in his parents’ ginormous Buick.
We used to go down beyond Hart Plaza, walk to the banks of the Detroit River and drink before the shows at St. Andrews. There were all kinds of weirdos, junkies and bums that used to hang out down by the river. There was this one Rasta guy who everyone called Blaze because he was high all the time and for a few bucks he would buy liquor. He never took off, always showed up, and would sit and get high with us by the river. I guess some jocks hit him with a brick a few years later and he would not come around after that. Ironically, I hung out at various places all over crack boom era Detroit, and the only time I got hurt bad was by a bunch of football players in my friend’s parents’ very expensive house in the suburbs.
At any rate, Dave came to town and he had his parents' car. Detroit was emptying out back then and you could pretty much drive as crazy as you wished, especially when you got away from downtown. We went flying all over the city in the Buick . Burning the tires, jumping over curbs, the usual shit. I had bought two joints from a kid at school for five bucks, pretty much unsmokable shake. The high was poor, the headache lengthy, but it was nothing a few forty ouncers of OE could not take care of. I learned at a young age that malt liquor did a much better job than beer, and it was cheap, and I drank it right up until I quit drinking in 2004.
Dave and I cracked a few forties and drove around town, dodging squeegee dudes, and blasting the classic rock radio station WRIF because the car had no tape player. We stopped at an abandoned lot on the east side to piss and two Detroit cops pulled up.
“Can I ask you guys a question?”
“Yeah sure,” I responded, thinking about the bag of shake and forties in the car.
“What the fuck are two white boys doing over here?”
“Peeing, Officer, and then heading to St. Andrews.”
“Well get the fuck on then.” And we did.
Back then cops would fuck with us for being white and in the wrong part of town. They do it in Chicago, too. I never thought of it as racial profiling, more like you are not from around here and we can tell. Having worked as a social worker and as a former drug addict, I spent a lot of time in the hood and I got thrown around by the cops a lot.
7 Seconds opened the show. I remember all the straightedge kids freaking out because Kevin Seconds was smoking a joint before the show and had long hair. At the time, I referred to them as faggoty (this was long before political correctness, my worldview was small), with their sing-song vocals and positive lyrics, but the pit was humming and we did some slamming. By the way, slam dancing is what it was called back in the day, mosh did not come into effect until long into the crossover days when thrash and punk blurred. I never even heard the word mosh until the 90s and now the whole idea of moshing in 2018 just seems really stupid. Especially these “crowd killing” dancers doing ballet spins and karate kicks. Pits were fun and huge back then, and now it all seems so contrived. Every time I see a kid rolling on the floor with a shirt of some band that was around two decades before they were born makes me wonder why they cannot invent something new. It really has become so commonplace, I would be more impressed to see them put on a suit and go to a job interview.
There were no job interviews that night, and the Circle Jerks ripped through a forty-five minute set. They were awesome. Sadly, I never got to see them with Lucky Lehrer or Chuck Biscuits, possibly two of the best punk rock drummers of all time, but they did have the dude from Repo Man on bass, and I must have watched that movie a hundred times in high school. My cousin went fucking BANANAS. He was up front the whole time, singing along, pumping his fist, running into the pit, just going fucking apeshit. Then, bang. It was over.
I knew some kids from Downriver, Ecorse to be exact. Downriver is a series of suburbs (not the pleasant kind) that run along the west bank of the Detroit river. It was often the butt of jokes (still is) because of pollution and rednecks. Example: How do you know the toothbrush was invented Downriver? If it was invented it anywhere else it would have been a teeth brush! Zing!
They invited Dave and me to a party and of course we went. We were both perpetually horny and Dave was still a virgin. Dave was fucked up but drove anyway. We were pinballing off cars, took off a few rearview mirrors, but we made it.
We dropped acid and were all lounging around watching A Clockwork Orange when I noticed Dave making out with a corpulent girl in the corner. We were frying and a few of the guys and I went to skate the industrial park down the street. Dave lost his virginity that night and we showed up back at my parents’ house the next afternoon.
I flunked out of college and went into the Army for three years. I got out in 1992. My mom called me one day and asked,
“Did you take Dave ____ to a punker concert a few years ago?”
“The Jerkys or something?" and she added, “He had to take a DNA test.”
“What happened?” She wanted to know what happened that night.
“Mom, how would I know? I was not in the room with him…”
And so on, you all have mothers.
I was over at my brother’s house, drinking beer in his pole barn, not too long after we found out the results. I told him the story told above and he said, “That is the Circle Jerks Love Baby. Yep.” And from that day forward, my second cousin was known as the Circle Jerks Love Baby.
Dave married his newfound friend and had another kid with her. The kid is now grown up and married, too. My aunt became excommunicated because her adult son had a baby out of wedlock. So much for forgiveness. Hanging out with your heathen cousin leads to drug use and pregnancy out of wedlock, apparently.
But if we confess our sins to God, he will keep his promise and do what is right: he will forgive us our sins and purify us from all our wrongdoing. (1 John 1:9)