Mohawks & Politics: Behind The Scenes Of The LB Crust Punk Scene

Dec. 12, 2014 / By

By Jose Medina

When crust punk band leader Jeff Harp walked down the street in Long Beach the 1980s, he often got harassed. Sometimes, the harassment would even turn physical.

“People would yell sh*t at me and [my wife] Mary,” Harp said. “I would get jumped and beat up all the time because of my Mohawk, tattoos and how I dressed.”

Harp, 52, currently lives with his wife Mary and his son, Aaron, in a Long Beach apartment covered with posters, skull figures and records.

Today, Long Beach punks do not necessarily have to worry about getting jumped because of how they dress. But they still worry about government oppression.

“I started my band Final Conflict in ‘83 after Ronald Regan was elected president,” Harp said. “I wanted to point out all the terrible things the government was doing around the world and their hypocrisies.”

Locally, young punks are still being influenced by Final Conflict, decades after they played their first show. The Long Beach hardcore band Mania is comprised of four guys who have toured the U.S. and play at local dive bars, house parties and any other venue that lets them play their music.

Adam Stirewalt, 34, is the lead singer of Mania and he believes that the point of his band, like Final Conflict, is to shine a light on the atrocities of the world.

“When I was a kid I would go to punk shows, and overtime it shaped my politics,” Stirewalt said. “I would hear a song, then read the lyrics and learn about politicians, war, nuclear weapons and all the other B.S. that plagued the world.”

Final Conflict and the Harps after a show in Seattle.

Final Conflict and the Harps after a show in Seattle.

Crust punks are generally not interested in mainstream culture, in fact they loathe pop culture and even revel in offending “normal people.”

“I remember when me and my friends were the only people with Mohawks and tattoos,” Harp said. “We wanted to wear our politics on our sleeves and not care who we offended.”

Some crust punks even reject education, leaving some young “crusties” without a high school diploma. Timothy Chan, 21, who plays bass for Mania, is one of those who dropped out of high school.

“I stopped going to school because it was boring and I wasn’t learning anything. I had bad grades, so I would rather just go drink and hang out with my friends,” said Chan.

Like many young punks, Chan said he associated school with authority, so he stopped going. Years later, he changed his mind.

Chan is currently at Long Beach City College studying to become a pharmacist. Heather Stirewalt, Adam Stirewalt’s wife, has a degree in physics and teaches at Whittier High School.

“When punks are young they do not look ahead 10 years. They live for right now,” Stirewalt said. “They’d rather get a minimum wage job so they can buy beer instead of go to school. It is in their nature to rebel against authority figures like teachers, parents and other adults.”

Heather Stirewalt, 32, lived a fast and hard life in her twenties. Her life was all about going to shows, drinking and doing drugs.

“I was completely out of control. I would go out for days at a time, go home and sleep for a couple days, then start over again,” Stirewalt said, “Unlike a lot of these guys though, I had parents who still cared about me and helped me when I needed them.”

The Stirewalt’s are currently raising two young daughters in Long Beach. The punk rock parents no longer abuse drugs, but they still are crust punks and are very political. Like the Harps in the 80s, the Stirewalts keep up with world news and politics.

“In the 80’s, the bands I liked were against nuclear war and police states because the Cold War was happening,” Adam Stirewalt said. “It’s kind of f*cked up because these things are still happening, so I feel I have to keep talking about these things in our songs.”

These peace punks not only talk about the world’s problems, they try to do their part to fix them. During the Occupy movement, Long Beach punks started rallies and protests. More recently, Long Beach bands Final Conflict, Mania and Dogsbody took a trip to Ferguson, Missouri.

“I felt that I needed to go and support the citizens who were being attacked by their own government. I literally saw cops sic attack dogs at protestors,” Jeff Harp said. “I thought this bullsh*t ended after the Civil Rights Movement, but I guess are government knows what’s best for us.”

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VoiceWaves

VoiceWaves is a Long Beach youth-led journalism and media-training project. The youth, ages 16-24, are learning to report, write, and create digital journalism content. Their reports will raise awareness of community health issues and activate change.