Photo by James BunoanOrange County must really be into kids shooting speed into their penises in locked Wendy's restrooms. Or having threesomes in their parents' master bedrooms during latchkey home-alone time. Or applying the basic lessons of Grand Theft Auto: Vice City and Jackass to backyard hooker-wrestling matches. Because boredom corrupts, and absolute boredom—the kind that put Orange County on the map—corrupts absolutely. And this we guarantee: since 2002 saw the options for live, all ages, under-21 entertainment dwindle to a few pinpoints, the kids in OC are absolutely bored.
"How can I put this?" Michelle Kim, who runs Anaheim's AAA Electra 99 all-ages gallery-cum-performance space with Richard Johnson, told us back in February, shortly after flagship all-ages venue Koo's Art Caf went on indefinite hiatus. "We don't have much culture in Orange County—people don't come to Orange County to be artists. So we're starving for culture, and encouraging people to form bands is part of culture. Not necessarily the shiny-palm-tree culture OC loves, but it's important. And without it, the county will definitely lose something."
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All-ages shows really do pull a few hundred kids out of the public restrooms and backyard hooker-wrestling rings where they get up to injurious monkeyshines, putting them in a safe, supervised environment where the worst that'll happen is they buy a bunch of crappy hardcore records. But more important, an all-ages venue that abandons the condescending top-down attitudes that made you walk out of summer school—a place that serves as a flashpoint for real community, instead of just one more commercial operation—offers opportunity and means to switch from passivity to activity. It's impetus for kids to flip off the TV set and the computer monitor and do something for—and by—themselves. Simply put, a good all-ages venue grants kids a little bit of power. Maybe that's why they keep getting shut down.
The Koo's volunteers—many of them younger and slighter than the patrons they had to police—won more than their unfair share of disdain for forcing people to pour their 40s into the street or to quit soliciting transsexual prostitutes in the alleys. But those volunteers also played in bands, produced and directed films, organized small businesses, even spearheaded outreach programs such as SoapBoXX sessions; their counterparts at such lost local venues as the PCH and the Huntington Beach Library spun up corresponding whole miniature galaxies of musicians, art and creativity—or did before they had to stop doing shows. There's a self-reliance and independence inherent in the all-ages co-op that should have Republicans swooning, but somehow the connections never get made—and instead of an outlet for all that wild teenage energy, we just get the usual Friday night full of nothing.
There's nowhere for an entire nation of second-tier independent artists—too unknown or too weird to play at Chain Reaction or more laughably the Galaxy—to stop by on tour; there's nowhere for the local bands that aren't commercial, cuddly or—let's just say it—competent enough to break into the booze-club circuit to practice their live shtick. This will hurt more in a few years: all the kids who would have been playing in your favorite bands circa 2004 will have quit in frustration way before they realized their potential, denying fans the fun stuff they crave and the moneybags the chance to market the next homegrown big thing. And it will hurt even worse a few years after that when independent non-commercial do-it-yourself culture goes totally extinct in OC, thanks to the generation gap between the kids who aged up enough to get into bars (and out of any obligations to take care of their youngers) and the junior high wet noses who'll grow up with no culture of their own beyond what they're charging to their parents' credit cards at the Block.
But right now, it's just sort of a dull ache—one of those things you keep putting off, even though you know it's getting worse. OC used to have one of the most reliable, enthusiastic strings of all-ages spaces on the West Coast, filling in the long drive between San Diego's Che Caf and LA's Smell (or Jabberjaw), with good clean sweaty fun from Santa Ana to Wilmington. And now? AAA Electra's not a bad place to see a show (if you're not a whiny puss-baby), the Hub soldiers valiantly on, and Chain Reaction? Well, Chain Reaction is booking the drummer of Stryper's new band alongside their steady diet of clean-cut hardcore and pop-punk. And while there's at least a half-dozen little knots of kids and not-quite-kids-anymore kids making hopeful noises about opening all-ages spaces of their own, all that talk has yet to turn into action. Instead, it's just turning into sadder and sadder talk: "I talked so much shit on Koo's when they were around," sighed one rootless loser at Chain Reaction the other night, explaining the impossibility of getting his messy garage punk band a show anywhere in the county. "And now I miss them more than anything."