The Island

Punk Politics and Protest Anthems: AK-47 Live at the Island (1981)

“The man who killed Joe Torres / Never went to jail / The sniper who picked off Carl Hampton / Never paid any bail / The killers of Milton Glover / They might be pulling you over tonight / And if you happen to get shot / Well I guess you started the fight.”   — The Badge Means You Suck, AK-47 (1980)

“The Badge Means You Suck” is arguably one of the best protest punk songs against police brutality, and it originated in Houston.

AK-47 were an integral part of the musico-political affront taking place during Houston’s first wave. Formed the same year it debuted at the Rock Against Racism show at Paradise Island in 1979, the band released its polemic debut single The Badge Means You Suck/Kiss My Machine in 1980, which condemned the Houston Police Department (HPD) as racist and trigger-happy in spite of an antithetical department slogan at the time — The Badge Means You Care.

The Badge holds its own among other punk protest anthems such as Black Flag’s “Police Story” and “Hate the Police?” by Austin’s The Dicks. While AK-47 is considered a seminal punk band in late ’70s Houston, a hard driving sound influenced by Hawkwind and the previous era’s prog rock, long hair, and visual art showed some continuity between first wave punk and the psychedelic movement that preceded it. The iconic cover art by Jimmy Bryan is representative of this earlier generation.

The single’s front sleeve lists nine victims slain by HPD around the time, memorializing their names so they would not be lost to time. In the image’s background police wear full riot gear, and the HPD crest is displayed. The flipside cover for “Kiss my Machine” is a collage, which Jimmy coined “Machine Mandala.”

“I was the only hippie in the band,” he told Wild Dog Archives. “The point with my artwork was to inject the same imagery that fed much of the protest during the Sixties.” At several AK-47 performances, Jimmy — the band’s “art director” — would appear on stage wearing his own gas mask. Swaying to the rhythm, he controlled a “light show” of sorts that featured black and white transparencies (which he developed) displaying similar stark images.

“I wanted punks to understand that this movement, this music, was connected to the ’50s/’60s counterculture. Punk was not dissimilar; it was a continuum,” he said.

Whether you consider them hippies or punks, AK-47 had an impact on the early Houston punk scene, and “The Badge Means You Suck” lives on in protest of police brutality.

(Music written by Stew Cannon and lyrics written by Tim “Phlegm,” a journalist covering the Houston crime beat.)

ak-47

(Photo by Chan Ramos; courtesy of Wild Dog Archives.)

Bottle & Chair Throwing Melee (1981)

Two DEAR HENRY WILD DOG letters from the Helen Wheels Band reference a Ritz riot ignited by the John Lydon (aka Johnny Rotten) outfit Public Image Ltd., Texas Punk, Wild Dog, and a mention of Houston’s Island rock club (see bio below from “25 Legendary Houston Music Venues”).

The Island

Known variously as Rock Island, Paradise Island and just plain the Island, this former Mexican restaurant on Main Street was Ground Zero for Houston’s punk rock scene between 1978 and 1983. In addition to providing a stage for local upstarts such as The Hates, Mydolls, Really Red and the Judy’s, the Island also hosted legends from the Dead Kennedys, Black Flag and X to like-minded Texas groups Butthole Surfers, Big Boys and MDC. The atmosphere was rank and the threat of violence and police harassment lingered over many gigs, but the DIY scenester spirit of the place made it fertile ground for no-rules rock experimentalism. — Houston Press

TRANSCRIPT

March 8, 1981

Dear Henry,

I was real glad to get your letter, cause although I get fan mail from all over the USA & some Europe, I’ve NEVER gotten a letter from Texas, & I know Texas is BIG & there must be lotsa real rock n roll & not just boogie music. I think Wild Dog #? (that you sent me) is a great fanzine though I was not familiar with some of the bands (texas?). Was proud to see me on P. 20! ….

If you ever get to NY (or whenever we make it to Texas) I’d like you to be our guest at a show. We hope to have some T-shirt/buttons & most of all a record deal soon, but for the time being we could send you a couple of ravaged guitar picks if you want some HWB memorabilia….

Yours in Rock n Roll,

Helen Wheels

TRANSCRIPT

June 1, 1981

Dear Henry,

Hope things are going well for you in Houston & I thought I’d drop you a few lines to let you know how things are going with us. First off, we were called in especially to headline The “Ritz” on Sat. May 16 after the riot that “Public Image Ltd.” was responsable [sic] for the previous night. It seems that “P.I.L.” refused to come out from behind The Ritz’s video screen and then shouted obscenities at the crowd which caused a bottle & chair throwing melee.

No announcement was made about “P.I.L.’s” cancellation for the 2nd night & all of The Ritz’s stage hands warned us that we were in for the same, however, we got 2 encores at the end of the night! They called us at 5:00 p.m. to do the show that night and it was amazing how quickly we got it together.

I’m writing you from the Secret Sound in N.Y. where we’re recording our new 12″ 6 song E.P. It is being produced by “Blue Oyster Cult’s” Joe Bouchard and engineered by Corky Stasiak who worked with Lou Reed and The Clash so you know it will be “state of the art” work…

Thanks for your info on Texas Radio. I unfortunately misplaced the list, so if you were to be so kind, when next you write, please send out the list again. Also, I’d love to get some info on stores in your area where we could sell the record for CASH UP FRONT ONLY. We will be selling it via mail order, however we are looking for stores that we can sell the record for upfront money. When it comes out, we’ll of course send you a copy for review and place an ad in “Wild Dog” as well as sending a copy to Phil Hix & Richard at the “Rock Island” in Houston…

Sincerely,

Name Unknown [Road Manager for HWB]

P.S. by Helen Wheels

Hi, Henry — You won’t believe this record — It’s gonna be a world-wide hit.