Rev. Hank "Straight Edge" Peirce became known to many of us as the Slapshot roadie with a great nickname, and the only person to appear as a character in an actual Slapshot lyric ("Wake up Hank we're off the line" - Step On It). After seeing his part in the American Hardcore movie, I thought it would be cool to get in touch with him and pick his brain on old Boston. This is part one, get ready for much, much more talk about the Rippinest Town...
When, where, why and with whom did you find your way into the punk/hardcore scene of Boston? Like many scene of the early 80s, Boston especially has a place in history as no-nonsense, aggressive, and unwelcoming... did it appear so on your way in to the scene?
It is so hard to describe what it was like 27 years ago, not that I have forgotten but that our culture has changed so dramatically. Today people and society celebrate difference, or at least they give lip service to it and are much more willing to not make a "____" that someone is gay, or Hispanic or a little crazy. But in the early 80s conformity was not just a word, it was a law that was enforced by everyone fromthe other kids at school, to teachers, to cops, and old folks on the subway.
Let me also say that I have no idea what it is like to be a teenager today, there is no underground anymore, as soon as anything is deemed cool it is picked up by a web-site and within two weeks a version of it is being sold at the mall. What did Tom Frank call it...the "commodification of cool." But if anyone wants to experience what it was like to be hardcore in the early 80s, just wear a t-shirt with a photo of Osama bin Laden on it and walk down any street. It was really that bad.
Of course we did all revel in it a little bit, what was the title of that Iron Cross single, "Hated and Proud"? A few years ago I heard someone on NPR say that he got into punk because as a young gay man it made other folks at his school fear him. He called it 'the squid affect,' dressing like a punk made people fear him regardless of the fact that he was a sissy (his words not mine), much the same way that fish are confused and frightened by the ink that squids produce.
OK so how did I get into the Boston scene? Well I grew up about 60 miles south of Boston, and for some reason I became an outcast. Well I guess I was always different than the kids I grew up with, and wanted to be part of something that I could call my own. I was tired of hearing my friend's older brothers say that all the best music had already been played, all the best parties had already happened, and that nothing I could do could was as meaningful as the 60s. It was infuriating and at the same time freeing in that I didn't have to measure myself to some old hippy shit, but what to do, with whom and where.
Although I lived closer to Providence and went to plenty of shows there, Boston was where you could go and be a part of a scene. There was something so primal about walking into some shitty little club and seeing all these other freaky kids, "my tribe" I remember thinking. And although the Boston scene had the reputation as a hard city, the shows were filled with every kind of kid from all over New England: abused kids, the super smart, the mentally retarded, gay and lesbian kids, bored kids, you name it they were there. The thing about Boston is that we have this Napoleon complex with New York, you know always number two regardless of how great you are and how shitty they are. It goes deeper than just Red Sox vs. Yankees, historically thinking about the political importance of Boston vs. NY, there are so many examples, but let me just say that we all grew up with that in our DNA.
So Boston always wants to show that it is as important if not better than NY, and that was the attitude that the scene had, that bands had, whether or not we even were consciously thinking about NYC. But much like the idea of the squid affect being able to come off as tough was something that most of us had never experienced and it was attractive, even though it would turn you into the same type of creep that you got into hardcore to avoid.
Who was the original "Boston Crew?" Where were you in this mix? Were there different phases or eras? Was straight edge a pre-requisite of sorts? What bands epitomized The Crew?
Well the thing to remember with the 'crew' is that it was about individuals, not bands, although SSD, DYS and Negative FX were clearly Boston Crew bands, it was because Al, Choke, Jamie, and Smalley belonged to those bands rather than the other way about. I wasn't a part of the crew, which had to do with the fact that I didn't know those guys at that time as I lived well outside of the city and couldn't get into Boston as often. Though now it sounds like a club that I didn't have membership in. But the crew were the folks that Al Barile was friends with, and who wanted to do something new and were willing to wear sleeve hats. (You know, when you ripped the sleeve off of a t-shirt and wear it like a head band).
But the crew were a short lived little thing, that got a lot of press over the years. And maybe they were all Straight Edge at the time, but it wasn't a pre-requisite. Plenty of Boston bands prospered even though they weren't part of the crew, like the FUs, the Freeze, Jerry's Kids and Gang Green. Who was in the crew? Al, Jamie, Choke, Dave Smalley, Jon Anastis, Drew Stone, Punky Paul, Pat Raftery and a few others. I think it was a small group but a little fuzzy around the edges as to who was and who wasn't. But there are stories of those guys coming up with their punk names, which is just hilarious, like Leth-Al.
Of course this whole thing going on right now with Al and Springa is sad. Al has such integrity and is very set in his ways and Springa is just driving him nuts. Of course what Al and any artist needs to remember is that you create with other people and that no one can own it. Now I'm not saying that Springa is right in trying to sell his Springa Show as SSD, but Springa was as important to SSD as the rest of the band. He created a balance to all of the heaviness of the band with his chaotic absurdity that made it punk.
When did you become Hank Straight Edge and not just Hank? Were you straight edge the second you heard of the concept? Who gave you the name, and did it easily stick? Do you still commonly refer to yourself by that name? Do others? Are you still proudly straight edge? (ED. Note: I know, I know, to ask someone if they are straight edge is a boring, typical question - but I had to ask here).
To be honest I never call myself that, and no one in Boston called me that. It was kids in NY who called me that, I'm trying to remember what band, it was like Raw Deal or somebody like that who called me that but I thought of it as a joke. Because there weren't a bunch of Hanks who needed to be differentiated from each other, "oh there goes drunk Hank, and oh over there is tall Hank." Unlike today, Henry and Hank were names only grandfathers had.
You are right on with the description of how I became Straight Edge, as soon as I heard the concept I was sold. I already wasn't doing drugs or drinking and was so psyched that there was a name for it and bands who were singing about it. My sister and I both hated where we grew up and wanted to get away, she took the "I'm a rebel and will do drugs and drink to express my dissatisfaction" route. But for me I just looked at how all of the idealism of the 60s shit the bed once drugs were introduced. Fuck, the kids getting high and drunk in town were the ones who I was getting into fights with every day, so why the fuck would I want to be like them in any way?
Am I still Straight Edge? Hell yeah! I don't even allow alcohol at any church events, of course like at most churches there are lots of recovering drunks and they don't need to be confronted with it at some bean supper. I just think that alcohol and drugs are something that we as a society can do without. Sure, most of my friends weren't Straight Edge, but being with Slappy on the road was the best, nothing could keep us down...well usually.
It is amazing the impact that SE has made in the larger culture, and to be honest I wish no one did drugs or drank. However, just having kids in their teens not drinking or getting high is great, even if after college they start to drink. I hate to add that last part but it is true, let these folks get some experience under their belts so that they hopefully make better choices. It is also interesting to see how SE has evolved in these 25 or so years, the vegetarian thing is understandable, and I have to admit so does the Earth First stuff. Not that I'm a vegetarian or burn down McMansions, but if I lived in Utah I bet I would want to blow stuff up too.
It really is good to see the personal politics of SE interface with radical politics of justice. What did Mark Anderson say, "How radical is 'rock-n-roll all night and party everyday' in a world of starving children?"