Christopher Johnson, who produced today's interview with black punk legends Fishbone, writes in to share his true, life behind the music story.
Black punk runs deep in my blood. Well, sort of. It definitely runs as far back as my cousin Shaharazad, who I used to roll with as a little, snot-nosed Johnson on the Metro Bus in Washington, DC. We were quite the scene: me, in whatever sad kid gear my mom would dress me in; she, in all things spiked - hair, wrist bands, leather jacket; heels, too, sometimes. Folks from the pioneer DC punk band Fugazi knew her as Cookie, and she was also tight with the godfathers of black hardcore, Bad Brains, four Rastafarians who ripped the Chocolate City's early hard rock scene and set a standard for the punk world - black, white, other.
Bad Brains came from my hometown, and today, as a bona fide DC punk (and a b-boy, and a go-go fan, and so on), I'm proud to have them as part of my cultural heritage. But the first black punks that I can actually remember being exposed to hailed not from my Miss Washington, DC, but from clear across the country. For my 11th or 12th birthday, my big brother bought me my first Walkman cassette player - the kind that came with a shoulder strap and drank big batteries - and he included a mix tape he'd made for me featuring an LA band called Fishbone. At the time, I knew Prince, Culture Club, and 5 Star. But this? I'd heard nothing like it before. Big, super-caffeinated ska rock with green dreadlocks that flipped its finger right up in the world's camera lens as it bounced off the walls. I knew all the words in just a couple days. I was baptized.
It was years later, when I guess I cared a little more about race, that I found out Fishbone was black. By then, I knew about Bad Brains, Swiz, Burn, and a bunch of other rock bands big and small lead by brothers. It mattered a lot because, as a pubescent black punk, sometimes my white peers made me feel like I was stepping into their house and I ought to tread lightly. So to see that folks who looked like me were running things on stage... I was so proud, and I also understood I had a right to this music and this scene.
Anyway, Fishbone was my first, so it was great to meet two of the original members. Two funny brothers who have been in the rock game for a long time. And if I ever thought I was off about race mattering in punk rock, it was all cleared up when we said goodbye. I gave Angelo and Norwood a pound and a hug each, and said thank you (for taking risks, for stepping out of molds, for giving me permission to dress and act and walk and be a punk too). They looked me dead in my eyes, brother to brother, and said their "you're welcome" and I knew they got it.
Do you raise a black-rock freak-flag high? Are there photos of you hidden in a drawer with a spiked Mohawk? Write us and tell us about you first encounter with music black folks aren't supposed to love.
(Also, while you're at it, pay a visit to our pal George Kelly's new blog blipter.info, which tracks all things black and alternative.)