San Francisco wasn't known as a punk town during the style's heyday. We're acknowledged more for homos and hippies than for any punk neighborhoods (like New York's East Village) or major bands (like NYC's Ramones or L.A.'s X). S.F.'s scene was tiny at best, with just a few clubs, movie theaters, and apartments. So what finally made us a punk town? Some really cool bands. Some passionate fans who produced damn fine media on the rising subculture. And a lot of history that's gone mostly unremembered, unrecorded, and unacknowledged.
Until now. The Punk Rock History Bike Tour takes off Saturday for a 10-mile, two-hour jaunt around town that memorializes the spots the punks went to during the movement's infancy, from 1976 to '79.
Tour creator Brandon Baunach, who at 30 is too young to remember punk's NorCal zenith, wants to give city folk an alternative history.
Admission is free
"There are things everyone knows about, like the earthquakes, but then there are hidden niche subcultures," says Baunach, who investigated tour stops with RE/Search's S.F.-centered book Punk77 and collections of seminal local zine Search and Destroy. "When you show people something that happened in a particular place, it gives them that much more appreciation for and interest in the history of their city."
The tour drops by the site of the old Aquarius Records, the only place in town that sold punk 45s imported from England, and the former home of the Winterland Ballroom, where the Sex Pistols played one last show before a disgusted Johnny Rotten walked out and broke up the band.
Riders also visit the local hub of early punk, the former Mabuhay Gardens on Broadway. The Mabuhay was a Filipino supper club near S.F.'s Manilatown, the 10-block area in today's Financial District that housed tens of thousands of Philippine immigrants from the 1920s to the '60s. When business declined in the '70s, employee Dirk Dirksen convinced the club's owner to start booking punk shows. They proved so popular that soon the Mabuhay was hosting celebrated bands like the Damned and Devo as well as giving home-grown acts like Dead Kennedys, the Avengers, Dils, and Crime their first shot. V. Vale, S.F. native and founder of RE/Search Publications and Search and Destroy, gives a short talk about early punk in front of the Mab's old digs.
"We had some really amazing, underrated bands," says Vale. "If we'd had New York's media during the 1970s, a lot of them would be more famous. There was only one commercial club [the Mabuhay] that would have us at first. Later on, a couple of places started having random shows, like the Deaf Club, which held shows in a society for the deaf on Valencia Street that tolerated the music because they couldn't hear it. The press at the time portrayed punks as spitting, fighting delinquents, but we were actually an emerging artistic and creative counterculture."