If you feel disoriented at the prospect of enduring four years without a single Photoshopped picture of our national leaders in Gestapo outfits, then a dash of nostalgia might be just the ticket. Reagan Youth are back together!
Reagan Youth hail from the primordial NY hardcore scene of 1980–too late for 70’s CBGB glory, too early for Reagan (the band’s first shows predated the election), and long before NYHC hardened into both the political conservatism and then the more insidious stylistic conservatism that define its marketing power today. Politics aside, the obscurity of the 1980 substrata evokes the mystery of DC’s early sub-Dischord scene (9353, Nuclear Crayons, United Mutations). Last month’s A7 reunion at the Knitting Factory featured the big hitters from this proto-scene, Reagan Youth included; all are remembered more for lasting influence than boots-on-the-ground popularity.
Politics not aside, Reagan Youth’s bonkers radicalism was an oddity in a scene where pinkos routinely got their faces squished. R.Y. were far less provincial than their A7 colleagues, and their first LP–1984’s Youth Anthem For The New Order, their only non-posthumous work – falls squarely in the “unreasonable” San Francisco camp of Dead Kennedys and MDC. Over the years, the band’s Klansmen & storm trooper sarcasm – racist visuals used in the service of anti-racism – has eluded occasional literal-minded music buyers. The first question on their current webpage FAQ, for example, asks, “is Reagan Youth a racist band?”. So it seems fair to assume that some percentage of NY’s general population skinheads accepted the Gipper Brownshirt shtick at face value (if this sounds exaggerated, consider: a friend once sold blatantly mocking “America Pride” demos to an eager CB’s matinee crowd, making off with $30 and no face squishing). At the end of Reagan’s presidency, the group took the rare and honorable step of disbanding on schedule.
ABC No Rio, the Rivington street venue where the reformed band plays on Saturday, sprang from the opposite end of the decade. Its hardcore matinees evolved in 1990 as a reaction to the reactionary hue of the CBGB matinees, essentially playing punk scene to the punk scene itself. After False Prophets, Reagan Youth will be only the second of the 1980 NY bands to play the club (and after Knitting Factory’s departure to Williamsburg, ABC will be the last reputable all ages / no booze venue in Manhattan).
It’s hard to tell where the band fits in the current pantheon of headless reunions. Unlike Misfits and Dead Kennedys (fueled by cash and litigation), Germs (historical reenactment), and the occasional Bad Brains lineup (personality meltdowns), Reagan Youth’s reformation has a touch of the wistful; original singer Dave Insurgent killed himself in 1993 after his girlfriend was murdered by serial killer Joel Rifkin. It would feel a little cynical to dismiss the band’s homage to their late singer.
It’s not so cynical, however, to point out that a little baton-passing is in order. Now that liberal America has its own Great Communicator, it’s time for some Guiliani-loving Madball fans to step up to the plate. Obama Youth, wherever you are, there’s only one more week to tighten up those songs.–Sam McPheeters
Reagan Youth play ABC No Rio on Saturday, January 17 at 3pm. $7, all ages, etc.