Anti-Reagan and Stuff Man Yeah
The week that Reagan died, the New York Times ran a photograph of an impromptu memorial for him, taken in California. Featuring a cut-out of the late president's head peeping out from a bouquet of flowers, a cheap, miniature American flag flying suspiciously behind him, I was reminded of one of the single most standout album covers of the Reagan Era.
The recording in question was Let Them Eat Jellybeans, a 1982 compilation album from the soon to be infamous Alternative Tentacles label featuring such groups as Flipper, DOA, Black Flag and the Bad Brains. Sporting a front-panel collage of a smiling Reagan waving his arm superimposed on an American flag background, I couldn't help but see an eerie correspondence between these two images. "My, how things have changed," I thought as I looked at the photograph in the newspaper.
The New York Times photo was one of many of the late president run over the course of the past two weeks. Indeed, Reagan's image has become so ubiquitous since his passing — on the covers of magazines, repeatedly broadcast each night on television news — one would be hard pressed to think that there was ever a moment when a man once cynically dubbed 'Ronnie Raygun' for his warlike tendencies — was ever vilified by any media.
Fortunately, Reagan was. Perhaps so much so that his telegenic projection of right-wing ideology helped shape an entire counter-culture's disposition towards political authority. Specifically that of second generation American punk, as it mutated into a then politically charged subgenre called hardcore. While one could exhaustively catalogue the numerous references to the president and his politics in early eighties HC, perhaps the most iconographic moment of what San Francisco's Pop-O-Pies once dubbed "anti-Reagan and stuff man, yeah" was epitomized by the 1984's Rock Against Reagan concert tour.
Featuring soon to be legendary groups with upsetting names like The Dicks, Millions of Dead Cops, the Butthole Surfers and the Dead Kennedys, for me, Reagan's image will always be indelibly linked to the mask worn by DKs singer Jello Biafra, as the band began its set on the San Francisco leg of the extravaganza.
Standing on an improvised stage in a parking lot of what is now the Yerba Buena Center while the Democratic National Convention convened across the street, Biafra began the set in a Ku Klux Klan outfit and a Ronald Reagan mask. Belting out lyrics to a song I couldn't make out, I stood there staring in disbelief. I'd never seen anything like it. Maybe my age and what I'd been doing that summer had something to do with it. I was seventeen, and had just quit my job at McDonalds that very same afternoon.
This is why whenever I see images like the picture of the Reagan bouquet in the New York Times, I have to laugh. Not everyone sees things that way. Not now, and certainly not when you're a teenager.
Joel Schalit is a member of the Bad Subjects production team.