Back From the Black Hole

If it wasnt for the Adolescents, your scene wouldnt be alive

* * *

One day about six or seven years ago, Frank's son Frank Jr. came home from school. It was time for the talk.

Dad, what was the name of your band? he asked.

Frank told him.

The next day Frank Jr. came home and said, "Dad, was your band kind of . . . famous?"

Well, you know, locally we were well-known, said Frank. Okay, said Frank Jr: "Because the kids at school didn't believe me."

"And then he got into it," says Frank. "I never pushed him—he got into it on his own, and it's great—playing with him now is a pleasure. Similar to a suburban dad with a mustache playing catch, in a way, except a lot more fun."

He's on his way to the Weekly photo shoot at Leisure World ("Don't do anything to suggest they're too old or that they need to retire!" said the PR guy; Steve just laughs and says, "We'd sit in wheelchairs if we had to!"), barely back from the final out-of-state date on a tour to support the July release of O.C. Confidential on Irvine independent Finger Records.

How was the tour? You know: some things never change.

"Up in Portland, pretty much every kid in the club got up onstage, and it got more and more crowded—they were barely nodding their heads because it was all they could do," says drummer Derek. "We couldn't even see each other—just the kids in front of us. And we'd be looking at them like, 'Yeah, this is cool!'"

In some ways, O.C. Confidential is a record no one expected, especially after a post-blue-album career politely described as checkered. After the 1981 breakup—and the subsequent fragmentation into at least four bands that would weave together over the next 25 years, and then the 1986 reunion at Fender's in Long Beach, and the subsequent struggles to release the Brats in Battalions album, and then the 1989 breakup, and the subsequent fragmentation into—well, there was a lot to work through. And after the 1989 breakup, the Adolescents as the Adolescents didn't play out again until 2001, where a birthday reunion at the Doll Hut (where Steve once worked the door) for Tony's wife went nostalgically out of control.

The back-together blue-album lineup made it through a few years of occasional shows—a Flipside zine benefit under a respectful Bad Religion in LA, a wild headlining slot at the Galaxy—but always as a revival act. Except that's not quite the right word, since the sound the Adolescents had helped invent survived mostly unaltered in a hundred other bands: the Offspring may have earned a lawsuit for stealing Agent Orange guitar lines, but they borrowed their entire sound in chunks from the punk chords and pop harmonies on the blue album, and Derek—who joined the band after Casey left (the second time), and who'd record O.C. Confidential himself—laughs now at the jokes NOFX told him they'd make during their own recording sessions: "Okay, you do the Frank Agnew part, and I'll do the Rikk Agnew part!"

"I had people like No Doubt, John Frusciante, Flea and Anthony, even Slash—'I used to listen to you!'" says Tony. "Makes me feel like . . . wow, we had more impact than I ever imagined."

So in 2002, says Frank, Tony suggested getting together and maybe breaking out the tape deck.

* * *

"When we were in Soto's apartment, it reminded me a lot of when we very first got together," says Frank. "The three of us—the three original members who were putting songs together in Tony's garage—it almost had the same nostalgic vibe, sitting around and throwing out ideas."

"I almost don't recognize places where I used to go as a kid," says Tony, who now lives in Pasadena. "It's kind of funny: I'll look at places and go, 'This is where a carload of guys beat up my brother and ripped part of his earlobe off when they tore out his earring.' I still see it in terms of 25 years ago—I'm kind of haunted by it."

So O.C. Confidential isn't the blue album, first off—but it's the way that it's not the blue album that makes O.C. Confidential what it is. If anything, Tony's lyrics are more vicious: any subtlety pounded out ("This is a pointless teenage anthem/About how great things used to be") through cadence-call delivery and A-A-B-B rhyme schemes that make a harsh match to Steve and Frank's tendency to sometimes Beatles-esque (or Cheap Trick?) harmony. The Agnew family genetics are all over Confidential, which on songs like "Lockdown America" and "California Son" almost sounds more like Rikk and little brother Alfie's post-1981 band D.I. than the usual Adolescents, especially since Rikk left halfway through the recording (and is now playing with 45 Grave). And the recording process was anything but the blitzkrieg blue album: O'Brien says the two-plus years of work here were more like "building from fragments," band members reconciling 20 years of their own troublesome identities (except for Frank) with 20 years of the legend their band built up without them. "This is the best since the blue album!" Frank is saying now, driving back from the Seizure World (his term, not ours) photo shoot. "When we put it together, there was a lot of the original good feeling! The stars were right—"

Suddenly he cuts into a vicious coughing fit, part of the tour flu half the band has contracted. His cell phone fuzzes out as its circuits overload, and he sighs as he clears his throat: "Like I was saying, sonny . . ."



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