Suddenly In Vogue

The Middle Class may have been the most influential band youve never heard of

Among those who got his head cracked was Jeff, who required stitches across his noggin after what became known as the St. Paddy's Day Massacre or the Night the Cops Rioted.

"That marked the loss of innocence for the LA scene," Mike says.

It got even worse when bands like Black Flag and Suicidal Tendencies seemed to openly encourage crowds to riot. Because they played fast, the Middle Class were guilty by associated mayhem. Being from Orange County suddenly mattered.

"We enjoyed watching kids pushing and shoving in front of the stage," Mike says, "but when it became full-on Nazi-skinhead violence, we'd say, 'Let's see how slow we can possibly play to get this to stop.'"

Having been tagged a hardcore Orange County band, they could no longer afford to whip crowds into frenzies.

"Back then, if you had a show and a place got destroyed, you'd have no place to play," Jeff says.

Which brings us to what Patton has called "our Echo and the Bunnymen period."

Give the Middle Class' 1980 single Blueprint for Joy a spin, and it's like you're hearing a totally different band than the one that recorded Out of Vogue.

"They just changed the ropes," says O'Connor of Vinyl Solutions. "They pulled off a better change than Jack Grisham did" when TSOL shifted from hardcore to post-punk à la the Damned.

"Obviously, they were listening to the Magazine side of the fence, instead of the Buzzcocks," O'Connor says. "I hear a lot of Gang of Four, the Fall, even Roxy Music and Bowie. It's the feminine side of the pre-punk."

Mike Atta confirms that he and his band mates were listening to a lot of Gang of Four and the Fall at the time, but he swears they did not consciously change their sound. Middle Class members ranged in age from 15 to 18 when they started, and the more they aged and played, the more serious they became about their instruments and the music coming out of them.

But five years is a lifetime for a band. The Middle Class called it quits in early 1982.

"It just felt like we were beating our heads against a wall," Jeff says. "We went to play in New York. That was neat. Then we came back, and it seemed like we'd have to do that Black Flag thing where you play 365 days a year, eating beans every night. There was not a lot of opportunity. X was signed, and that was it."

The band's rise and fall was indicative of the entire LA punk scene. In We Got the Neutron Bomb, Patton says the ultraviolent "Huntington Beach scene killed off the original open interpretation of punk concept . . . no rules, no dogma, no stereotyping, no stars, anybody just do it."

"The whole thing kind of fell apart," Mike Atta says now. "The roots of punk just splintered off. Frankly, I think it was time for it to take a nap anyway."

Patton went into music production. Bruce Atta is now a philosophy professor at Cal State Los Angeles. Mike Atta always wanted to open a store, so along came Out of Vogue five years ago. Jeff is right next door.

A 1995 reissue by the Middle Class sparked talk of a reunion show, but Jeff generally declines such invitations. The one time he consented—for a "Class of '77" show in LA—Bruce quashed it because he was only given two weeks to get his drumming back up to Middle Class hyperspeed. Impossible.

"Maybe we'll do a 35-year reunion show," Jeff jokes.

Brother Mike seems happy to keep the Middle Class in his memories.

"It was an awfully great time if you think back," he says. "When you look back 20 years, we were selling out the Whisky—and we were just four guys out of high school."

Of course, since those days, there have been various punk rebirths, and Jeff recalls Mullen once telling him, "You guys should be getting residuals from the Offspring." But the Atta boys say they aren't owed anything, and they seem to appreciate hearing everyone—from young OC spuds to fans in Israel—tell them how great they once were.

Besides, other than successful touring bands like X and Social Distortion, Mike doesn't understand why anyone his age would still be punking it up.

"What do those guys have to be pissed-off about anymore?" he says. "None of that juvenile sloganeering means anything anymore. If you're singing those songs that only meant something 20 years ago, I guess it's just entertainment at this point. I don't see the relevance."

"It's easy to say that when no one is offering us 10 grand to play," adds Jeff, ever the sardonic Lennon to Mike's upbeat McCartney.

But Mike can have his moments, too.

"Most kids who come in here are supernice," he says. "But every so often, there will be some young kid with a really rude, punk rock attitude. And I think to myself, 'I've forgotten more than you'll ever know.'"

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