Old Punks With Spunk

This could be the last go-round for the Circle Jerks—really

Some bands never really go away. Sure, they may disappear for a few years at a time, but—like Bill Murray in What About Bob?—they're always poised to return to the fray. Take LA punk band the Circle Jerks. For nearly two decades, they've flirted with bouts of full-time status, only to go their separate ways for years at a time. They've been on a steady kick since 2000, but lead singer Keith Morris says his off-and-on band could be checking out for good, sooner rather than later.

"I'm 52," Morris says, "too old to be doing this. We're close to the end. How much longer can I jump around, turning red in the face, yelling and screaming, being upset, hating things?"

The Circle Jerks formed in Hermosa Beach in 1979 after Morris' departure from Black Flag and guitarist Greg Hetson's removal from Red Cross (a.k.a. Redd Kross). Their first two discs—1980's Group Sex and 1982's Wild in the Streets—are hailed as hardcore classics marked by spitfire drumming and biting social commentary on issues such as rock journalism and the Moral Majority. The duo has shared an interesting ride on one of punk's most loop-filled roller coasters due to stints on numerous indie labels, a fling with Mercury Records during punk's '90s resurgence, and more lineups than a downtown jail. Add other members' outside projects—Hetson has played in Bad Religion for more than two decades, bassist Zander Schloss plays in the Weirdos and is starting a new group, and drummer Kevin Fitzgerald moonlights in 400 Blows—and it's easy to see why the singer says his band is not atop his to-do list.

"Live fast, die young?" Luckily, Circle Jerks ignored that second part
David Miyamoto
"Live fast, die young?" Luckily, Circle Jerks ignored that second part

"I'm not quivering with anticipation," Morris says. "I'm not the guy jumping up and down, skipping down the street, getting excited over all of this. To me, it's whatever it is. It's a part-time band."

Also contentious for Morris and company is the issue of new material. The quartet recorded a new song called "I'm Gonna Live" that gets played on Sirius Satellite Radio and the Circle Jerks' MySpace page. Other than that, though, there's nothing on the horizon, thanks to Morris' staunch stance on quality control. "I'm in a really great position because I hold veto power," Morris says. "The band seems to think we're part of a democracy. I have no problem with that, but if your creativity sucks, I can raise my hand and say so."

Morris describes his band's dynamic as a working relationship that isn't always pleasant. The singer says Schloss is "nonchalant" and once arrived at a rehearsal without equipment because his large amplifier was missing a wheel. Considering the Circle Jerks rehearse as a full band "once or twice" before tours, it's easy to understand the frustration of the aforementioned situation. Morris cuts Schloss some slack in the ordeal, but he believes there was a better remedy than showing up empty-handed. "We will call this the 'broken-wheel syndrome,'" Morris says. "Without that second wheel, it takes an American Gladiator. Let's just say Zander Schloss is not the Hulk Hogan of punk rock."

Getting old sucks, especially for a 52-year-old punk front man famous for singing "Live Fast, Die Young." Touring is increasingly difficult for Morris, whose schedule revolves around a strict eating regimen. The singer was diagnosed as diabetic eight years ago and injects insulin twice daily to keep his body regular, but, he says, life on the road gets difficult with the lack of healthy meal choices and long drives. Eating before show time is part of Morris' new routine, but even that isn't always 100 percent foolproof, as the singer writhed in pain during a performance for the premiere of the punk-rock documentary American Hardcore.

"It's so unpredictable," Morris says of his malady. "About halfway through our set, I was starting to feel it. I doubled up in pain and just dealt with it. Adrenalin is enough to keep me going. I'm the main personality in the band, so I can use hypoglycemia as an excuse to throw tantrums and mood shifts."


The Circle Jerks perform with Hit Me Back, Last of the Believers and the God Awfuls at the Glass House, 200 W. Second St., Pomona, (909) 629-0377; www.theglasshouse.us. Fri., 7:30 p.m. $15. All ages.

 
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