Off Stockton, Kevin Seconds
Rise Records, February 18, 2014
Track Listing: 1. My Recollection, 2. The Broken & The Bent, 3. All the Killers, 4. Oh, Let Me Try, 5. Run Run Run, 6. Love or Hate, 7. Truth Be Told, 8. The Answer’s No, 9. Courage, 10. If I’m Honest, 11. Strip Your Soul
Growing up as a teenager in Reno, Nevada was like living in a ditch. We had no heroes. No one famous to look up to. We were an empty city. A forgotten city. Our books, our films, our music—all of our culture—was secondhand. Hand-me-down. Our aesthetic life was either just truly shit, or else borrowed from somewhere else. Anything even remotely cool came to us way too late long after it was way over in other cities.
“This is my recollection
Perhaps I got it twisted I don’t know”
-from “My Recollection”
It was January 1981 and I was 19 years old working at Eucalyptus Records on South Virginia Street. We had a huge Nick Lowe poster in the shop window, an old Elvis Costello This Year’s Model cardboard cutout near the door, and a huge Sandinista dumpbin next to the register. It was my first taste of delving deeper. Going further. Searching wider.
A couple of years earlier in high school there were two guys who wore different colored sneakers on each foot. That was the closest our school ever got to anything punk. Most of us in Reno sadly never made it past The Cars, Blondie or The Knack. Most of our time was spent drinking beer and smoking pot up in the desert hills above Reno listening to The Wall or Highway to Hell. There was no Hollywood nearby for corndogs like us to go pogo. No internet to find new things. We could only secretly look in shock at the album covers of The Idiot and Horses, too afraid to open the cellophane and ask the local record store owner to play a sample for us.
But something in our small shit-kicker town was happening. There was a group of kids hanging out in the parking lot of our record store. They were laughing and bragging about the bruises they had got somewhere at some show the night before. They were the oddest but most amazing kids I’d ever seen. They seemed so happy, pushing each other around in some strange and insular dance no one could be a part of. They dressed differently from most of the tobacco-chewing drunken kids I knew.
One guy was in my literature class at college and only wore a white T-shirt, leather jacket and jeans. He seemed to me the coolest thing since peanut butter. He was in the university theater. Theater? But I had no idea what the hell was going on. “If you have to ask then you just don’t get it,” the hugely intelligent, tuned-in girl I worked with said at the register counter as she rang up a zero over-ring to go buy us free dinner.
Yes, something was changing. Hardcore had hit town.
“I represent all the broken and the bent”
-from “The Broken and the Bent”
What most people don’t know, even the most knowledgeable music aficionados and most all of Reno today, is that Kevin Seconds and his band 7 Seconds literally changed the face of music by arguably starting hardcore back in 1981. They, along with other bands such as Black Flag and Minor Threat and D.O.A. moved punk to a faster, more muscled, more intense level. It was Kevin Seconds and a handful of like-minded kids who pleaded with bands on the underground network to pass through Reno and liven things up. Then Kevin started his own band with his brother which went on to become one of the most significant underground bands of the ’80s. He started Positive Force, an alternative youth activist movement and youth crew, a sub-genre of punk. He started his own local record label releasing local artists. 7 Seconds then played in biker bars and black neighborhoods and on Native American reservations in Reno where most people were afraid to go. The “Skeeno” scene, as it was known in the underground, had arrived.
But Kevin Seconds is not originally from Reno. He was born in Sacramento, California. And like many of us at the time, I imagine Kevin Seconds hated every minute of living in Reno. Living in a city that just didn’t get it. The way he dressed. His music. The things he was trying to do. So eventually he moved away and later back to the town where he was born, Sacramento. Off Stockton is about that town.
“And as for me I guess my best days are behind and
I really don’t see a reason to commit’’
-from “The Broken and the Bent”
So how does an intense hardcore icon turn acoustic singer-songwriter? Well it’s all part of the same big beautiful thing. And those who truly live the life—the DIY ethic and free-thinking lifestyle—all understand. It’s about being different in each and every way. To be free to play slow songs or fast songs when one wants to. Not afraid to bare your soul electrically or acoustically. These songs are beautiful, well-crafted gems that, though acoustic, retain all the short under-two-minute strength of any of the hardest punk or hardcore out there. They are self-reflective. Honest. Heartfelt. Melodious and beautiful in the best Americana sense. They are odes to a beautiful sometimes uncaring hometown and to a place and to the people and friends that Kevin Seconds truly loves.
Everything they are not is Reno. But these songs somehow still hold the hope that perhaps one day Kevin Seconds too will come to terms with his time spent in that hopelessly fucked-up town most all of us just wanted to get away from. The saddest thing about living in Reno back in the early ’80s was that you heard about 7 Seconds, heard them namechecked, but no local commercial radio station ever played their music. You only heard about them, once again, secondhand, somewhere else. Appreciated by hearsay but shunned in their own city.
“Well I tried to find a better, stronger courage
Tough one made inside the USA
With a box made of the hardest, toughest steel
Where inside it I might hide my heart away’’
You can see the changes in Reno now. Alternative art galleries, theaters, bars and restaurants at Midtown. Bluegrass nights at an alternative bar at the Riverwalk District. I went into an old haunt Recycled Records recently and asked if they had any 7 Seconds vinyl EPs or singles. The guy said “if we did they’d be on the wall”—that is, next to the expensive Pink Floyd vinyl rarities. The Rolling Stones. The Beatles. The Who. Hanging proudly with the rest of the used vinyl gods on the wall.
“This place, love or hate, good or bad I can wait
You’re always home is where my heart lives’’
-from “Love or Hate”
So does Reno have any heroes? You bet they do. Are they well-known or super famous? No. Are they heroes nonetheless? Yes. This artist and this album are mine. And there are some things that come from your hometown you can surely be proud of.