Off San Pedro Harbor, California
Photo by Mike Watt
Frank Navetta and The Descendents
by Joe Carducci
In 1980 I wasn’t aware of the first 45 by The Descendents, “Ride the Wild/It’s a Hectic World” (Orca 001). It was recorded by Spot at Media Art in Hermosa Beach in September 1979 with help from Dave and Joe Nolte of The Last. The 45 was released in early 1980, though undistributed anywhere but stores in Hermosa Beach, Redondo Beach, and at Zed in Long Beach. The first Descendents I heard was the track, “Global Probing” on the second New Alliance compilation, Chunks. SST had turned Mike Watt onto Systematic Record Distribution, where I was, which was easy enough since he and D. Boon were working for Greg’s SST Electronics company, assembling his tuners. Later in 1981 The Descendents Fat e.p. came out on New Alliance and I ordered it immediately for distribution around the country. It was one more idiosyncratic masterpiece of what was coming to be known as L.A. hardcore.
But on that first single the band was a trio: Frank Navetta on guitar, Tony Lombardo on bass, and Bill Stevenson on drums. I saw Frank and Tony again in 2006 at Bill’s studio in Fort Collins, Colorado. Frank told me that The Descendents started with he and Dave Nolte woodshedding some tunes on acoustic guitars in the Noltes’ garage in 1977. Dave was the youngest of the Nolte brothers and not yet in The Last. Bill knew the Noltes and loved their band. He lived in Hermosa Beach just around the corner from the Ginns but was barely aware of Black Flag, then called Panic. Nolte introduced Bill to Frank and he joined The Descendents in late 1978. Frank was 16; Bill was 15; Tony’s age was and remains classified.
Frank and Bill had fishing in common and Bill’s friend Pat McCuistion was, like Dave, a close associate of the band and co-wrote or inspired songs including “Weinerschnitzel” and “All”. Bill told me that he’d go out fishing with Pat and on bad days when they hated everybody they’d troll small islands and rockpiles off the coast and shoot seals. Bill writes in the “Hallraker” album liner notes, “Pat insisted that we quit writing ‘stupid girl songs’, and start writing about things that really matter -- like food and fishing.”
They practiced by LAX and then down in Long Beach. Tony was in Long Beach and his band shared a nearby space with Rhino 39, and The Cheifs’ guitarist. Tony heard the racket Frank and Bill were making and went over and sure enough they needed a bassist. “Ride the Wild”, written by Frank shows the influence of The Last. It has a relaxed sixties pop guitar and vocal approach (all three sang together, plus maybe Dave). “It’s a Hectic World”, written by Tony points to their own sound with its speed and foursquare urgency.
Frank’s dad prevented them from playing gigs until finally he managed to escape and play a party in Long Beach. Bill’s mom prevented them from playing what would’ve been their first O.C. gig. Their second gig was the San Pedro Teen Post with The Plugz, The Alley Cats, Black Flag, and The Reactionaries on February 17, 1979. Good gig. It was Black Flag’s second gig too, and The Reactionaries first -- they soon morphed into The Minutemen. Dave still sang for these first gigs but the Descendents continued as a trio looking for a lead singer. They played one show with a girl named Gwynne singing on Nov. 9, 1979. It’s hard to believe they even knew a girl back then. One can’t exaggerate the extent to which the Descendents were uncool at school and put upon at home. Frank, Bill, and Pat found solace on the ocean; they didn’t fish like I thought of fishing on lakes in Wisconsin… they pulled heavy, commercially desirable fish out of the Pacific Ocean and sold them for cash, the kind that if their classmates possessed was simply given to them by rich, styler parents.
The band added Milo Aukerman on vocals in late 1980. Milo was an unhip brainy kid. I remember Bill telling me that an old friend of theirs had drawn the cartoon of Milo for the first album (when I was drawing the second cover after his original style), but I see on the Descendents website that this was hardly true. Roger Deuerlein was actually a high school nemesis who’d fixed on Milo to torment via cartoons and posters. Some friend. (And some balls for Bill and Milo then to make Roger reprise his caricature and thereby force it cool by his own hand on the cover of their classic album! --btw, Frank’s brother Mike drew the three-piece Descendents on the cover of “Ride the Wild”) The new four-piece Descendents recorded the Fat e.p. the following March with Spot at Music Lab in Silverlake. Spot writes, “It was definitely the ‘bonus cup’ era so the vibe in the room was pretty manic.”
I left Systematic and Berkeley for SST in September of 1981 when its offices were near the Tropicana in West Hollywood. That’s where I first met Bill Stevenson – he did an emergency tour with Black Flag in December when Robo wasn’t let back into the country after UK dates. I didn’t really get to know him and his bandmates until we moved SST down to Redondo Beach in spring of 1982. In June 1982 Spot recorded the album, Milo Goes to College, at Total Access in Redondo. While Black Flag was out touring for the Damaged album (Emil drumming now), I went to every Descendents gig with them and got to know them well. The Descendents were just getting to where they had a gig every weekend somewhere in the greater Los Angeles area. All the gigs seemed to be at small bars with foot-tall stages, and as they weren't a hardcore attraction yet they were easy to listen to from the best sounding spot on the floor -- just drums and vocals thru the little house PAs. They drew twenty to thirty people back then. When Bill told me The Descendents pre-history and gave me a copy of the first 45, I hooked him up with Joe Pope who took over at Systematic when I left (Joe was in the band Angst, too). That first single then got out around the country.
Bill stopped by SST in Redondo Beach often. He worked at Jerry’s Tackle on Aviation Blvd – Jerry was Keith Morris’s dad. Rob Holzman, first drummer for Saccharine Trust and later Slovenly, went to Mira Costa High School and remembers Bill and Frank in the hallway before class just in from pre-dawn fishing off Catalina Island, their smelly clothes covered in fish slime. Bill was pointing out classmates as they walked past, noting, “I hate you… I hate you… I hate you…”
Milo Goes to College seemed like it was going to be a farewell album. But Milo could maintain his involvement while he went to college; he was probably the best punk-era singer there was. Who was any better? H.R.? Johnny Rotten? Henry Rollins? Gary Floyd? Maybe, maybe not. The Descendents were never better than in the years 1982-83. They played in East L.A. at the new Vex with The Nig-Heist and Suicidal Tendencies (July 8, 1983). Even though we expected it to be a dangerous neighborhood, for some reason we all got there early and had to sit around out front just waiting to be knifed. I sat in the Descendents van with them. If it had been Black Flag’s van someone might be getting a blowjob in the back while the rest mind-fucked about music or bio-anthropology. If it had been the Meat Puppets’ van there’d be a pipe passing back and forth while they tripped out over the latest misunderstanding between them and the punk community. In the Descendents’ van they mostly just drank coffee and vibrated with bitter resentment at their place beneath the lowest rung of the social world. They were rungless! Mugger was still 17 and standing out front of Vex’s with his arm around Gina, who seemed like his first real non-driveby girlfriend. This was a bit much for Frank, Bill, Tony, and Milo to have to watch. It was a real Descendents moment I was privileged to witness, though it was undoubtedly tempered by the fact that they knew I worked with Mugger at SST. I also went up with them when they first played San Francisco at the Mabuhay (Jan. 1, 1982) with The Effigies. Good gig. It was the farthest they had been to play and I remember that their impression of San Francisco was that it was like one giant urinal.
Thanksgiving, 1982. Frank invited me over to his family’s house for turkey dinner. We never turned down a meal at SST and Black Flag, Mugger and Spot were out on tour. I think Frank wanted to show me off to his dad, but how can I put this… his dad sucked. He was a great provider, a type-A achiever and the family – Mom, Dad, 3 sons, 3 daughters -- lived in a nice house in Manhattan Beach, but Mr. Navetta was severely disappointed in son Frank. I don’t remember how many of the other kids were there but I remember one of Frank’s sisters desperately trying to keep things light and positive in that house every time father insulted son, the founder of one of the most important bands in rock and roll history. Frank’s sister Marie wrote me recently, “If anybody was trying to make peace it was either Barbie or myself. To tell you the truth, it used to break my heart to see the way Frank was treated by my dad. All of us suffered, my dad really did suck!” I got an eyeful and an earful, but I did get to eat, and I got to see where Frank pulled his great, no-bs songs -- classic Descendents bursts like "My Dad Sucks", and "I'm Not a Loser", songs that still reach kids in a direct, honest, funny way as that first album of theirs is the best-selling record of that scene and era – it is a young kid’s right of passage. Frank also drew excellent artwork for their flyers and the Fat cover. Bill once marveled to me at Frank’s guilelessness -- he’d left the Fat e.p. artwork lying around the house and his dad picked it up and saw that the band had a song called, “My Dad Sucks”, triggering yet another round of abuse.
That summer when I was alone at SST Bill would often burst in after Descendents practice and vent his frustration with his bandmates. My favorite was the time he came in making wretching noises, “Ugh… Achh…! UGH!!! Milo thinks he can sing!” But when Frank told his bandmates that he would leave the band I didn’t hear anything about it. First Ray Cooper was added as a second guitar and they played for most of 1983 as a five-piece (see clip above; Mi Casita, Torrance, Cal. January 14, 1983). Frank must have seen that things would be fine with the band and only then did he leave in November 1983. He left L.A. too for the south coast of Oregon where he fished and painted and got married. Pat, who Bill refers to as the fifth member of the band, was lost at sea in a 1987 storm. Bill wrote, “He had 15,000 pounds of fish onboard, so I guess you could say he died in heated pursuit of All.”
I left L.A. in mid-1986, spent about ten years in Chicago which by then The Descendents were reaching on tour regularly. Then I moved to Laramie where I got back in more regular touch with Bill Stevenson because he had moved his All-Descendents-Blasting Room-O&O operations just down the street to Fort Collins. Tony was no longer in The Descendents either; Stephen Egerton and Karl Alvarez were now in the band and Chad Price made them the band All when Milo was too busy pursuing his academic career on the east coast. The Descendents were friends, and at first they were each other’s only friends. Bill was good to Frank and kept him paid up on all royalties due from his old songs that were now selling so well (Milo Goes to College sold about five thousand copies in its first five years of release, and over a hundred thousand copies in its second five years.) Frank was living in Bill’s garage in Fort Collins one summer and having occasional trouble with still undiagnosed schizophrenia and bi-polar disorder according to Frank and Marie. I saw him then and he seemed himself, same hoarse high-pitched voice, a little fatter, a little hairier; he told me he was doing a lot of fishing back in Oregon.
In 2002 I drove out to L.A. to peddle screenplays and stopped by the Ginns. I read the papers over huevos rancheros at Calimex and later walked around the last few streets of old-style beachside houses. Walking back up Pier Ave. I thought I saw Frank, but it couldn’t be -- I had just seen him in Colorado. But it was him. He looked like a mountain man with long hair and now a beard too; he said he’d just walked up from San Diego. He looked it. I was afraid to ask if he was going to his parents’ house. I thought Raymond might like to see Frank but didn’t feel I could invite him to the Ginns because I didn’t really know what shape he was in. When I got back to Wyoming and next saw Bill and told him I’d run into Frank on Pier, he was surprised but then not so surprised and told me that he’d had to ask Frank to leave after he had some kind of fit that disrupted work at the recording studio.
I’m glad I got to see the Descendents often while Frank was in his band. In that era of they played only a handful of gigs outside of L.A. The rest of the country never saw Frank play. It’s hard to explain today that there was a desperation to play back then that accounts for the power those songs and recordings and bands have. Times changed fast and one thing I meant to mention last week in my piece on Repulse Kava is that by the end of the eighties a band could be that good but not try very hard to keep it together because they just didn’t need it in the same way the bands I knew at SST did. The Descendents kept going as Frank wanted them to but I don’t believe they ever really could replace him, and that desperate energy of his. That he did start his band and follow through on it despite being just about the last human being that the existing music audiences wanted to see up on stage, may have made it so much easier for kids later that maybe they simply can’t be as good.
I saw them once more – Frank, Tony, Bill – in 2006 at the Blasting Room in Fort Collins, recording basic tracks for an album of new songs by the early line-up. I had arranged for Dave Lightbourne to record the day after the Upland Breakdown and was amazed to see the Descendents going at it in Studio B. I took a couple photos thru the glass but didn’t want to interrupt them. I came back down the next day to ask Frank and Tony a few questions about the beginnings of the band. Glad I did that. Frank died back in Oregon in 2008. According to the obit in the Florence, Oregon paper, he left behind two daughters and a son.
Here's Frank's last song contribution to The Descendents, mk 1, "Rockstar"; it clocks in at 37 seconds on the I Don't Want to Grow Up album which was released in 1985:
Leave me alone
See if you can do two things at once
Go away and leave me alone
Leave me alone
Let's exploit rock and roll
To its fullest potential.
©New Alliance Music (BMI)
He wrote that song, recorded it, and then bailed. Over the years he looked more and more like Jack London’s Sea-wolf. But Frank was much too nice a guy. He was just a sea-dog.
Marie Navetta wrote me, “Frank forgave everybody before he passed away, his parents and everyone who hurt him; he was just full of love. He talked to us about his relationship with God, he was ready and really he couldn’t wait to see the Lord.”
It was Frank who named the band The Descendents in 1977. What do you think he meant by that?
[Illustrations: Frank Navetta/Descendents 1982 by Jordan Schwartz; Gig flyer “Sept 15 & 18, 1981”, art by Frank Navetta, courtesy Brendan Mullen Archive; Fat e.p., art by Frank Navetta; Frank Navetta with fish, Oregon 1987; Frank Navetta, 2008; Descendents mk. 1, Blasting Room studio B, Aug. 26, 2006 by Joe Carducci; Gig flyer “Oct. 4, 1981”, art by Frank Navetta; Frank Navetta with daughter Alicia, Oregon 1987.]
Edited from an essay in the forthcoming book, Party With Me Punker, by Dave Markey and Jordan Schwartz for spring 2011; I’d like to thank Marie Navetta for use of the paintings and family photos. Also thanks to the late Brendan Mullen for the use of the horizontal Descendents flyer.
Frank Navetta Paintings
[l-r: "Charlie Manson" detail, "Wife", "Bush", "Picasso"]
On the recording of “Ride the Wild/It’s a Hectic World” 45, Sept. 1979 (from the Descendentsonline.com FAQ page):
Q: Why is the guitar so damned loud on Ride The Wild?
A: (Joe Nolte, The Last) “David produced & mixed “Ride The Wild”. They recorded and mixed at Media Art, two doors down from the Church. I was drinking beer & walking by while they were mixing on a Sunday afternoon and thought the lead guitar on “Ride The Wild” should be louder so I reached over & bumped it without asking. They kept it. It's all my fault. They knew I did it; they watched me do it.”
Spot by email, just the other day:
Actually, that's a pretty accurate account of the “Ride the Wild” session. I think it was a good example of the blind (or deaf) leading the blind (or deaf). Aside from the band knowing how to play their songs, nobody really knew what they were doing up there and I was hired strictly as engineer on that project. I had very little creative input other than maybe keeping them from making any stupid technical boners. I do remember Joe pushing the faders up and nobody complaining. It was not my place to offer an opinion on it, just keep the basic integrity of it all together. Frank used his white Vox Mark VI guitar; it had non-stock pickups installed.
And Spot on the recording of the Fat e.p., March 1981:
I don't know if I kept any notes on the Fat e.p. but if so it may spark some specific memories. What I do remember is that session happened in Studio B at Music Lab over on Hyperion so it would have been one of the first sessions I did there after Media Art shut down. That room had the same kind of console (Tangent 3216) Media Art had. I'm pretty sure Frank used my old Strat on that recording. Off the top of my head I don't remember if we mixed it there or in a different room. More than likely it was a quick mix at the end of the session. It was definitely the ‘bonus cup’ era so the vibe in the room was pretty manic. I'll look for notes when I get home.
Drawing by James Fotopoulos
From the desk of Joe Carducci…
Christopher Caldwell in the FT on videogames: “Like art, video games can seem better than life. The problem is that, unlike art, video games are increasingly sophisticated and subtle.”
Ben Joravsky in the Reader, “Taking the New Yorker for a Ride”, can’t resist a short critique of the NYer’s paean to Richard M. Daley.
Howell Raines in the WP asks, “Why don’t honest journalists take on Roger Ailes and Fox News?” Howell has no idea that Roger didn’t create the Fox phenom, and neither did Murdoch. The New York Times, the Washington Post and the news divisions at CBS, NBC, ABC, and CNN created Fox News, and they did a bang up job.
The AP on the Newseum’s presentation of Elvis Presley’s early clash with what passed for honest journalists back before the day.
Interview with Kapuscinski biographer Artur Domoslawski on the poetic license of the renowned Polish Communist foreign correspondent.
When he was a reporter he wanted to be a writer. He said to one of his friends: You are a writer and I’m just a journalist. Once he was regarded as a writer, his next wish was to be a thinker. Some critics said that he was only innovative when he had physicall contact with reality, when he was tired and dirty; the library Kapuscinski -- they say, was unbalanced.
I don’t read Slate enough to know the players but if James Ledbetter suspects the Parrot photo and headline reffing Monty Python’s Dead Parrot sketch in the WSJ last week, and an earlier use of the phrase “comes a cropper” is a sign that Britishisms by Murdoch’s new employs there are debasing that paper’s mission, then what must he make of NPR or the rest of elite American journalism which gives more and more evidence they’ve switched to the BBC and the Economist. Not to mention the fleet street tabloidization of uh… many former broadsheets. And how about the Mexican-American NPR correspondents who insist on pronouncing their own names in some kind of minstrel solidarity with what, The Reconquista? Is there a Chinese-American correspondent who does that?
Sid Shahid at American Thinker explores official Muslim-American organizations in denial on domestic Islamism whilst also blaming “(it)” -- heretofore non-existent, now suddenly real -- on American foreign policy.
And then here is another nightmare as good old female trouble links up with Islam’s self-abnegation and seeks to go out like a bang, and over cartoons! Perfect.
But here comes The Answer. Mark Oppenheimer in NYT's “Beliefs” column parses a disagreement among Christian evangelists on how to approach Muslims with their own good Book.
The failed, once believed answer. Robert Louis Wilkin on two new books on the Crusades in the WSJ:
The recorded past and the remembered past are seldom the same. Nowhere is this more evident than with the Crusades. The Crusades were a belated counter-offensive of Western Christians to come to the aid of Christians of the East in defending their lands against the further expansion of Islam and to free the holy city of Jerusalem from Muslim rule. In the year 600 most of the Middle East, from present-day Turkey to Iraq, including Egypt and the southern Mediterranean coast, was Christian, and its principal cities— including Alexandria, Antioch, Damascus and Jerusalem—were vibrant centers of Christian life and culture. Within a century the entire region came under Muslim rule.
From the South Asia Intelligence Review, “Lahore: Terror Devours its Creators” by Tushar Ranjan Mohanty:
Pakistan, and increasingly its Punjabi heartland, is paying a price for the country’s duplicity on terrorism. The country’s leadership continues to actively support terrorist groups operating against India and Afghanistan, even as it seeks to suppress groupings operating within Pakistan. The dividing lines between these diverse groups have, however, become increasingly blurred. The terror is returning, increasingly, to devour its own creators. And yet, few lessons have been learned by the military masterminds behind the monstrous Islamist terrorism that Pakistan’s State agencies have unleashed across South Asia.
Here’s the NYT in its “Let’s get some people killed” mode -- top right front page, all done with cold nebbish-like fretting about green-eye shade discrepancies that hang on such flimsy judgments as “It is generally considered illegal for the military to hire contractors to act as covert spies” made by Dexter Filkins, or Mark Mazzetti, or Bill Keller, or hell maybe it goes all the way to the top; they may have actually disturbed Arthur Jr’s sleep with this one! In the olden days the CIA was the OSS, all Ivy League men on holiday and the Times ancien régime was horrified if the Col. McCormick blunderbuss Tribune even looked askance at their expense accounts. They want the dots connected and leadership, until they get them. Then these apple-polishers just seem to want a Pulitzer more.
It pays to read the rare stories that describe how two states, neither our own, are relating to one another and the world. Usually the gravitational pull of American power, even when its manifests itself negatively as eternal culpability, overpowers the intellect of the mere journalist and sends his news product down a well-trod, non-new path. The pull of this myopic delusion is abetted by the temptation to surrender to the marketing dept.‘s edict to produce news its presumed provincial readership can use or relate to. Kind of like an old Hollywood movie set in Africa, or Hong Kong, or a new one on the planet Pandora. But here is smart relief in the FT where one can read of India’s concerns over Afghanistan as expressed to Russia. Read and compare to the D.C.-centric Afghanistan coverage that has more to do with… D.C., even as it chides the military over there for the same crime. And here in Yale Global one can read of India’s concern about Australian racism toward Indian students and immigrants. Neither story is warped in this way and these I usually clip for use down the line.
Wolfgang Münchau in the FT:
I was confused when Wolfgang Schuble, German finance minister, proposed a European Monetary Fund. I had not expected this… When I read the whole proposal in detail, the fog lifted -- or maybe my confusion just reached a higher level. I realised that the EMF is just a smokescreen. The real bullet in his proposal is that countries could leave the eurozone without leaving the European Union. This is not about helping countries in trouble. This is about helping them to get out.
Alan Beattie in the FT, “Skirmishes do not herald declaration of world trade war”. I feel better already and look forward to my next trip through the Super Wal-mart.
Ross Douthat on Tragedy in the NYT, which despite itself is sometimes worth two dollars; I root for their success every morning:
The narrative of the Iraq invasion, properly told, resembles a story out of Shakespeare. You had a nation reeling from a terrorist attack and hungry for a response that would be righteous, bold and comprehensive. You had an inexperienced president trying to tackle a problem that his predecessors had left to fester since the first gulf war. You had a cause… that inspired a swath of the liberal intelligentsia to play George Orwell and embrace the case for war…. And you had Saddam Hussein himself, the dictator in his labyrinth, apparently convinced that pretending to have W.M.D. was the best way to keep his grip on power. But this opening act, and all the tragedies that followed, still awaits an artist capable of wrestling with its complexities. In ‘Green Zone,’ everything is much simpler. ‘We’ were lied to. ‘They’ did the lying. The ‘we’ is the audience, Matt Damon’s stoic soldier and the perpetually innocent American public. The ‘they’ is the neoconservatives….
Bubble research by Didier Sornette, director of the Financial Crisis Observatory in Zurich, in the WSJ.
Ben Wallace-Wells on Bertrand Taithe’s book, The Killer Trail: A Colonial Scandal in the Heart of Africa:
The Sahel, in Taithe’s telling, was the border region where ambitious young officers went to make reputations, and the conquest of Ouagadougou had meant that both Voulet and Chanoine were quickly making theirs. The mission they began in 1899 was designed to bridge the French colonies of West Africa with newly acquired land in what is now Chad, uniting France’s African possessions into a single contiguous territory. Ever since the French began advancing inland from Dakar, some forty years before, they had found themselves fighting a series of slave-trading warlords who used Islam to rally disparate tribes against a common enemy. They watched the French approach, they forced conversions, they called for jihad… In this region, the French often found themselves fighting ghosts and metaphors—a witch led one group of tribal warriors, Islamic holy men led others—and Voulet was a veteran of these campaigns. Europeans, he had written, could not win respect from the Africans with their civilization and technological advances alone. They needed to inspire fear.
Norimitsu Onishi in the NYT on the eternal Philippine land question. The plantation model doomed the Confederacy because it couldn’t survive the freeing of the slaves. In the Philippines, Mexico and elsewhere it lingers, under pressure mostly from globalization, foreign direct investment, emigration, and industrialization.
The Stooges representing in the Hall of Fame; Mike Watt representing in The Stooges.
Blurt's feature interview with Don Waller on The Imperial Dogs, 1974.
The Caudillo is a Commie.
Peter Hitchens in the Mail on Sunday, "How I found God and peace with my atheist brother".
From Tuesday's NYT Science section: Lost Taklamakan Desert tribe burial site found.
(thanks to Steve Beeho)
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• Joe Carducci, Chris Collins, James Fotopoulos, Mike Vann Gray, David Lightbourne
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