By Sarah Bennett
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Photo by Brad Robarge/Skate Scene MediaYou're 18, you get a guitar, and you write about what your hormones tell you to write about. It's where everyone starts, whether it's inflamed political passions or just regular old, inflamed, lock-the-bathroom-door passions. Not-quite-LA, not-quite-OC punk band Channel 3 started there, too. Except—like more than a few bands here in the land that trends forgot—they're climbing back onstage again. But those girls they used to chase? They married them. And all those wild weekend parties? That's primo daddy-daughter quality time now—and maybe a scrapbook buried in the back of a closet. So we ask Channel 3 singer/guitarist Mike Magrann what your punk band writes about when your kids are closer to 18 than you'll ever be again?
"Oh, you know," he says. "Trying to get to child care before they close, the rising cost of health insurance—no, man, it's just stuff that interests me! We've got a couple of songs about writers—there's a bunch of Bukowski references—and one song about Larry Walters. He's the guy who strapped weather balloons to his lawn chair because he decided he wanted to fly. And he went way up in the jet stream, way the hell up there. It's a great subject for a song."
And it's not a bad metaphor for this garage band from Cerritos, either. You know, because they decided to attach the weather balloons of teenage ambition to their own lawn chair of poppy punk rock songwriting to soar into the stratosphere of show-biz success—well, actually, that's the kind of metaphor they taser college freshmen for using in their Intro to Fiction classes. But the same sky-high impulse is there: before Channel 3 played their first non-hey-my-parents-are-out-of-town-this-weekend show back in 1981, they already had an EP on SoCal überlabel Posh Boy (their song "I Gotta Gun" would later chart in the U.K.). And there's that same calamitous descent, too: like TSOL, Channel 3 spiraled into hairsprayed-and-spandexed indignity after the punk years were over, languishing in what Magrann calls "demo-writing hell" with a bunch of sharky label guys in mauve suits and Ray-Bans.
"We had all these songs," he says, "but no one knew where to go. So why not go back to before we knew how to do anything?"
So they did their new CD (out now on Dr. Strange Records) in a few days, says Magrann, and he reports that everyone thinks it's the only worthwhile thing the band has done in 20 years. And isn't it nice when a band gets mature enough to say something like that?
"We know now there's never going to be any money in this," says Magrann. "Just to be able to play at a place with a working bathroom is a bonus for us. But this time around, there seems to be a real audience for it. All the kids who are 14 years old want to know what it was like back in the Cuckoo's Nest days. And it's easy to sound like a historian: 'Oh, man, it was something special.' But really, back then, we just wanted to drink beer in the parking lot."
But it was at least a little special—Channel 3 had the enviable anthropological opportunity to tour where no punks had gone before, playing Cabeza de Vaca to Black Flag's Columbus, and Magrann remembers it as a blur of booze, band fights and a comprehensive sampling of every weirdo subculture across the country.
"Lincoln, Nebraska, on a Tuesday night?" he says. "It was three kids from the college that were punk rockers, having a showdown in the basement. It was always a lot of fun—we'd usually play for a plate of spaghetti and a place to sleep in the garage. And we'd play for lots of punk rockers with mullets—or maybe they'd made a mohawk for the night, but you knew they really had long hair."
Of course, Magrann is the guy without the for-real-we-mean-it mohawk now—sometimes he sees kids wearing his band's shirt at the mall, and he has to kind of hide because he's wearing his "Saturday go-to-the-mall" clothes and he looks less old school than, um, old man (his words, not ours!). And when he tries to give advice to the baby punk bands ("Maybe you should show up on time?"), he says, they say exactly what he would have said back when he was 18, and actually, he seems kind of glad that things haven't changed: "'Yeah, yeah, old man,' they'll say," Magrann says and laughs. "'Shut up!' Ah, punk rock!"Channel 3 performs with the Orphans and Street Trash at Alex's Bar, 2913 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach, (562) 434-8292. Fri. Call for time and cover. 21+.