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HC40: Digging the Hidden History of Hardcore

Cliff Varnell

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Hardcore 40 – March 2, 2020 to February 13/14, 2021.  Marking the 40th anniversary of Hardcore Punk Rock


HC40: Digging the Hidden History of Hardcore


“This is the West, sir. When legend becomes fact – print the legend.” Line from the John Ford film, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.

"In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.”   Line commonly attributed to George Orwell, but someone may have lied about that.


From the desk of Cliff Varnell -- co-founder of the Original 7 Seconds, Section 8 (both Reno) and DMR Productions (Berkeley).

This is the Reno bit, as close to objective fact as I can make possible.  Pardon the hyphenated c-u-s-s words.



September 1, 1977.  I moved into a pad across Hearst St. from the University of California Berkeley and across Euclid from Rather Ripped Records.  Set up my stereo then headed over to Rather Ripped and bought an import copy of THE CLASH – my first punk rock record -- hadn’t heard punk rock before!

Then I went up Euclid a few doors to the newsstand/paperback book store and bought THE YANKEE AND THE COWBOY WAR, by Carl Oglesby.

Politically active in 1971, I missed fully participating in the 60’s Counter-Culture Revolution.  On the day I turned 18 the last American ground forces left Vietnam.  March 31st, 1973.  My draft priority number was way low -- 336 out of 365.  In the midst of the political lull I vowed to get involved with any cool “beatnik” style youth protest movement that might come along next…Within the first few seconds of The Clash’s “Janie Jones”—“He’s in love with a rocknroll world” -- I went – “Now it’s our turn!

Opened up the Oglesby book and read:

This book proposes to show that Dallas and Watergate are intrinsically linked conspiracies in a hidden drama of coup and countercoup which represents the life of an inner oligarchic power sphere, an “invisible government,”capable of any act in the pursuit of its objectives, that sets itself above the law and beyond the moral rule: a  clandestine American state, perhaps an embryonic police state.

I spent days listening to the Clash and reading the Oglesby book twice.

 “I’m So Bored With the USA”!!

Learned about the bi-polar nature of the American ruling class, the machinations of the Yankee Eastern Liberal Establishment (with an affinity for Europe) versus the Cowboy oil/arms men (with an affinity for Asia.)  Learned about the roots of the assassination of John F. Kennedy and Watergate, the backstories of which were intended to be kept hidden by the Yankee/Cowboy perps. 

“White Riot! I wanna riot! White Riot! A riot of my own!”

Hidden histories & punk rock 4 evah!… In a couple of years I set out to make punk rock hidden history of my own.

January 14, 1978:  The last I heard the Sex Pistols’ show at the California Hall was sold out.  KSAN scheduled to broadcast it live.  Not that any of that mattered as I sat  across the desk of my book boss, bare bones broke.  He laid 20 bucks down and said – “You have a fundamental life decision.  If you pick up that 20 dollars you’re going out in the field, you’re going to knock on doors, and you’re going to sell some books.” Or words to that effect. “If you wanna go home to listen to this silly ass Sex Pistols crap -- don’t come back.”

I made it down to Fremont on the BART trying to visualize myself knocking on someone’s door and selling them encyclopedias -- something I wasn’t all that good at during the best of times.  I caved.  Went over to the other side of the tracks for the BART back to Berkeley.  Quit my job to listen to punk rock. Lovely.

Turned on the radio a couple of hours before the Pistols went on and fell asleep.  I woke up with the radio lights in a dark room and heard – “I’m a lazy sod!!” –then went right back to sleep!

Didn’t find out ‘til later that the show had been moved to Winterland -- I coulda gone!

My book boss hired me back but by the end of February I was on my way to Reno to work in a casino.

THE ONLY TOWN THAT MATTERS – The Birth of Hardcore:

According to Wikipedia:


Hardcore punk (often abbreviated to hardcore) is a punk rock music genre and subculture that originated in the late 1970s. It is generally faster, harder, and more aggressive than other forms of punk rock.[10] Its roots can be traced to earlier punk scenes in San Francisco and Southern California which arose as a reaction against the still predominant hippie cultural climate of the time. It was also inspired by New York punk rock and early proto-punk. </q>

Callin' major BULLS-H-I-T!

The Origin History of the term "Hardcore Punk Rock" -- a timeline '79 to '81.

August 1979: 
I hadn’t listened to the Sex Pistols since forever so I fired up NEVER MIND THE BOLLOCKS one night and felt the ’77 revolution back in my veins!  With The Pistols ringing in my ears I went down to Recycled Records and struck up a conversation and instant friendship with an avid record collector named Tom.

Nowadays his friends call him “Tommy.” Tommy Borghino.

I couldn’t play punk rock for my casino friends. I barely got away with Dave Edmunds and Graham Parker. The first two records I bought in a Reno store were Edmunds' GET IT and Wire’s PINK FLAG.  Both great albums, but I only played one of them with anyone else around.

Fall of 1979:  Joey S-h-i-t-head (Joe Keithley, current Burnaby BC Councillor and future Canadian Prime Minister if there’s any justice in the world)), lead singer/guitarist for Vancouver BC punk rock band D.O.A., gave an interview to San Francisco fanzine CREEP: "D.O.A. is one of only a half-dozen hardcore punk rock bands in North America," he said.  When asked about it decades later Joey admits he never remembered saying "hardcore punk rock" in that interview.

Also, Joe could have been referring to a lot more than a half-dozen bands who fit the bill in the fall of 1979: Black Flag, Germs, Avengers, Dead Kennedys, Subhumans (Canada), Middle Class, Fear, The Bags, Flesh Eaters, Weirdos, Angry Samoans, UXA, No Alternative, The Teen Idles, Misfits and Bad Brains -- as well as D.O.A. -- were established bands with the hardest sounds.

By then The Dils were already turning country; Negative Trend had broken up into Flipper and The Toiling Midgets; Crime softened their sound; The Controllers broke up; and the Avengers were on the brink of break-up. X, Mutants, Social Distortion, Alley Cats, Offs, Plugz, The Eyes, The Skulls, The Gears, Big Boys, and The Zeros had more straight-ahead punk rock sounds with all the attitude. (& The Lewd, Versus, the VKTMs, Vicious Circle, Vom, Rhino 39, The Klan...oh man!)

Oct. 31::  Tommy and I drove down to Zellerbach Hall on the Cal Berkeley campus for a Halloween punk bash featuring the VKTMS, the Zeros, the Alleycats, the Dils, the Dead Kennedys and the Mutants.  Probably the last show the DKs played without headlining. Tommy introduced me to DK lead singer, Jello Biafra.

"Come play Reno," I said.

"Find us a place to play," Biafra said.

Dec. 1979:  Tommy and I stood alone in front of the stage for Black Flag at the Mabuhay Gardens, opening for Madness and the Dead Kennedys. Black Flag – musically the   most radical band I'd ever seen.

On that trip I picked up a small pile of punk zines, and in one (not sure which) I read a variation of the J.G. Ballard line: "If it wasn't recorded, it didn't happen."

I knew instantly I wanted to "do something that didn't happen.” 

I loved the idea of creating and then revealing a hidden history decades down the road.  I’d turn 65 in 2020 and monetizing a hidden history became my retirement plan.  Bestselling book, movie – the American Dream.  I didn’t know at the time that a hidden history in the entertainment business was a stretch requiring measures of both success and failure – a little heavier on the failures, I found.  There’d have to be enough success to make it significant, but enough failure so that nobody would want to record it.  And even if I didn't monitize my career I had a Plan B -- prank the history books!  Prank those poor  journalists who may earnestly try to get to the bottom of whatever might happen, whatever that was.  Poor bastids wouldn't know what hit 'em!  A Breaker of Legends I'd be!  Just for the hell in it!

At the time I didn’t know what I was gonna do beyond spinning disks in clubs, but whatever I did I had to avoid getting recorded doing it. I planned to use pseudonyms and stay out of photographs.  All I knew was that I felt like a cultural guerrilla and redneck Reno Nevada felt like "the Belly of the Beast."

DJ 80/60 was my first persona.

I planned to keep quiet about my ambition, and the only person I ever shared it with was my sister, Cara.

“You don’t want to make a name for yourself,” she said.

“Not until I retire.”

“That might come back to bite you.”

From a strictly commercial stand point -- dead correct.  Hardcore resists monetizing, I found.

Early January 1980:  Tommy met brothers Kevin and Steve Marvelli at a record store in Sparks. Kevin (his friends call him “Kev”) sang and played guitar and Steve played bass. They had a band concept called “X-Banned” but no drummer.  Instant friendships.

January 13:  The debut of DJ 80/60.  Tommy and Kev helped me spin disks at a New Wave Night in a local disco, the CBS Dancefloor.

DJ 80/60 lasted about 5 or 6 months during which I first put out a bunch of lame flyers and lame "Alternative Top 10" lists.

During that time I radicalized Tommy and Kev politically while they radicalized me musically, culminating in DJ 80/60's best work -- 9-weeks of Reno Alternative Top Ten listings published on prints of the album cover of the Crass double lp STATIONS OF THE CRASS -- "90 in 80"

January 17: Two non-musicians -- Tommy Borghino and I -- formed a band with Kev and Steve which Kev would christen – 7Seconds.

More background info here: "The Subversive History of the Original 7Seconds"


January 18:  The plan was for Tommy and Kev to come over to the house and we’d all go down to Maytan’s Music to rent a drum kit.  The night before we left it off where Tommy and I were going to form a band with Kevin and Steve but we needed to sort out who’d drum and who’d manage.  The audition for drummer was on!

Kev came over at two.  Our spirits elevated and impatient, we stood out on the front lawn for an hour when Tommy rolled up with the bed of his white Toyota pickup full of drum cases.

He knew he was going to be the drummer so he went down to Maytan himself.  He and I both knew he was going to be the drummer the night before when I suggested we audition for it.

We loaded in down in the basement. Tom set up the kit and killed it.  I sat down and demonstrated my lack of hand-eye coordination.

You’re the drummer, I’m the manager," I said to a grinning Tommy.

The next day Tommy's brother Jimmy ("Dim Menace") joined on lead vocals with "Kevin Seconds," "Steve Youth," and "Tommunist.”

End of January 1980:  I read Joey S-h-i-t-head's interview in CREEP and was struck with the phrase "hardcore punk rock."

Joey used the word “hardcore” as an adjective, as it turned out, but at the time I took it as a noun.

I thought hardcore punk was already a “thing.”

Louder-faster-shorter songs + DIY ethic + a subversive intent sharp and sincere.

I brought it up at the next band practice. "D.O.A. calls themselves 'hardcore punk', cool hunh?"

Kev: "Cool."

Steve: "Cool." 

Dim: “Cool.” 

Tommy: "Nah...I don't like 'hardcore'. I like 'punk rock', just as it is."

Tommy didn't lose many battles in the band as I recall, but this was one of them.
March 2:  7Seconds debuted at the Townhouse, a sorta-rocker-sorta-country bar in Reno. Kev and Steve booked the show during a sit down with the owner while Tommy and I were down in the Bay.

Half hour before the set Tommy said he couldn’t go thru with it.  He’d only been drumming 6 weeks and caught bad stage fright.  I turned to JD Almon, whom Tommy and I had met at Wherehouse Records a few days earlier, if he could sit in on drums. Tommy and JD looked at me like I was crazy.  Tommy sucked it up – he said do it.

Bessie O. (Reno High) and Jone Stebbins, (Sparks High). a couple of Rocky Horror Show regulars, showed up dressed up with a friend or two in tow, and stood in front of the stage cheering loud for 7Seconds.

Jim Diederichsen and his brother Mark stood in the back.  Jim played guitar and Mark played bass for Belvue, Reno's first punk band (formed 1977).  Jim filmed the first 7Seconds show, I found out much later.   A zen koan goes:  "If a tree falls in a forest make and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?" This was a case of --“Is an event recorded if it never gets out of the Super 8 can?”

Hardcore punk scene born.

March 4:  Kev and I put out a joint "NWIN/Spunk #1" -- 2-page xerox sheet -- both of us referring to 7Seconds as "hardcore new wave." We thought "new wave" and "punk rock" were inter-changeable terms.  NWIN --  New Wave In Nevada!

March 9:  The Zeros were the first out of town band I brought up, at the Townhouse with 7Seconds. The Zeros were managed by the former Dils manager and active communist Peter Urban. They told us the term "new wave" was f-u-c-k-ed -- news to us. I immediately changed New Wave In Nevada to New What? In Nevada Enterprises. Before the end of the year I'd trade in that wimpy company name for -- Hard Corp Productions.  Then later in '81 I went to GE Productions – Gray Eminence.

April:  Ray Farrell at Rather Ripped Records suggested I write a Reno report for CREEP magazine.

May 4:  New What? replaced DJ 80/60 and put on a "Dance Party" at the local Pub 'N Sub with me, Tommy, Kev, Steve, and Greg "Bad Otis" Link taking turns spinning disks. Link did the artwork for the flyer.

After the show Tom's other brother Richie introduced me to guitarist Sean Greaves, who drank every beer I bought him while I took notes on his observations of the thriving Reno scene his band the Outpatients (formed 1978) had going with house parties. Acting blase about punk rock in Reno, Greaves said he was working on a new band concept (the soon to be christened Thrusting Squirters), and he glibly made up some other punk band that didn't exist (Johnny Zipper).

I intended to write the CREEP article about 7Seconds but I made it about the whole Reno scene, Johnny Zipper and all.

May 1980:  Finished the article for CREEP #4, entitled -- "Reno Breaking Out" -- under the by-line: N. Wine. Referred to 7Seconds as "hardcore punk rockers, thank you."

I felt confident at the time that I was the first journalist to use the term "hardcore." I figured Joey S-h-i-t-head was the musician who coined it; I figured I was the first journalist/promoter of hardcore punk as a distinct musical sub-genre. This struck me as a perfectly adequate event I could make sure "didn't happen." I consistently avoided any specific references to self-identified activities in Reno, a line of anonymity eventually held for 3 decades with a couple of notable exceptions.

If the management of a "hidden history" -- Anonymity-As-Art-Project -- is ones’ foremost ambition then there is no better tonic for deliberate obscurity than serial incompetance.

June 2:  7Seconds played a biker bar north of Reno, Cindy's. Belvue (Jim & Mark Diederichsen, Jon Bell) played their last show.  They had an alt-pop look and edge years ahead of their time. At the Cindy's show we met the whole Sean Greaves-Lou Chavez-Bix Bigler crew -- the Thrusting Squirters -- a Dictators-style punk band tearing up the rocknroller parties over by the high school.

7Seconds tapped into this house party scene and played them almost weekly going forward.

Summer of 1980:  Cocky punker graffiti-type slogan: RENO. THE ONLY TOWN THAT MATTERS.

7Seconds performs -- "Hardcore Rules" (song #5 below)

Bessie Wrex and Jone Jetson formed The Wrecks with Lynn Lust and Helen Keller, fellow Reno High students.

September 4:  The Battle of China Wagon.

Tom, Dim and I went down to Sacramento to see DOA, Black Flag, and Reagan Youth at the China Wagon, a new club in Sacramento.  Before we went in Dim bought a bottle of Jack Daniels, a gift for Joey.  Dim wrapped the bottle in his jacket and kept it at his feet during DOA’s set.  When the set was over Dim found the bottle missing.  He followed a guy out into the parking lot and yelled accusations. A brawl broke out. Tommy and Dim were ready to fight everyone there.  The fight moved into the club lobby.  Black Flag played before an empty room --everyone was watching the fight in the lobby.

I took a punch in the face in order to stop the fight.

Flash forward 7-8 years later: 

As I kicked back at The Plaza (notorious Vancouver punk rock house) having a few brews with a couple of guys, the subject of the Battle of China Wagon came up. Turns out both these guys were there.  An argument broke out  

 “Cliff was a pussy!”

“No he wasn’t!  He stopped the fight.”

“Cliff was a pussy!”

“No he wasn’t!  He stopped the fight!”

I got the impression my performance at the China Wagon had been debated before.  I felt a bit flattered, overall.

“Hey you guys, I’m sittin’ right here.  C’mon…”

We went back to 3 guys drinking regular, as if the subject hadn’t come up.


Late Summer 1980:  Sean Greaves' friend Tony Toxic open the Rad House in a black neighborhood on the north side of town. The Rad House stayed open until late March   1981, hosting D.O.A. (twice), Black Flag, the Subhumans (Can.), Social Unrest, Impatient Youth, Young Canadians, The Lewd, as well as local bands 7Seconds, Section 8, Thrusting Squirters, the Wrecks, the Outpatients, G.I. Jane, Mike Niemi's Fair Warning, and any number of 'f-u-c-k bands' like the Hotel Apes.

30 years later Bessie Oakley wrote it up in the book The Wrong Side of Reno: Three Decades of Punk and Hardcore in the Biggest Little City:

 “Back then gigs were organized by an older guy named Cliff and were held, for the most part, at a new place called The Rad House…

An older guy? For f-u-c-k sakes Bessie I was 24 when I met you!

Early FallSteve Youth and I agree to start writing scene reports for the top San Francisco punk rock publications -- DAMAGE and CREEP.  Steve picked DAMAGE, I picked CREEP, since I'd already written for them.

DAMAGE was a magazine with commercial aspirations; CREEP was a fanzine without big ambitions..

Nothing came of it -- neither Steve or I wrote any more scene reports. CREEP only put out 5 issues. 

Several weeks later I got into a conversation with Brad Lapin, the publisher of DAMAGE, at a Target Video after-hours party in San Francisco.

"What's the difference between punk and hardcore punk?" Lapin asked.

"The difference between punk and hardcore punk is the difference between DAMAGE and CREEP."

Cocky.  I was probably a bit of an asshole.  Nevertheless, DAMAGE wrote up the hardcore punk rock phenomenon in the next issue.

Oct. 17:  D.O.A and the Young Canadians played the Rad House, with most of the local bands except Belvue, who had unfortunately broken up by then.  A smashing success.  Everyone had a great time. 

Oct. 24:  7Seconds plays out of town for the first time, at the Western Front Festival at the FAB MAB in San Francisco with D.O.A., the Minutemen, the Feederz, and Tank.  A smashing success.  Everyone had a great time.

Oct. 26ish:  7Seconds were on their way over to practice.  I was going thru my record collection and came across my copy of DOA’s Triumph of the Ignoroids.  Joey S-h-i-thead and Randy Rampage had signed it.  Randy wrote “Reno Rox!”  Joey wrote: “Cliff if it wasn’t for you we wouldn’t have come here.”  I took that as a reference to the Battle of China Wagon when the going got weird and I turned pro and stopped the fight.

That was the inflection point of my life, standing in the living room holding that copy of Triumph Of The Ignoroids looking at Margret Trudeau’s darkened cootch (this was the less infamous second edition) and Joey’s signed acknowledgement.

A moment of truth.  At that instant I’d forgotten about my hidden history plan, and the chances of making that happen approached nil.  Success had gone to my head.  Swelled heads don’t seek anonymity.  I left the record out so everyone could see it.

Kev reacted with dismay at what Joey inscribed.  I didn’t realize it at the time it was Strike One.

Oct. 31:  7Seconds survives a drunken Halloween brawl between Dim, Tom and me.  Started out with me squaring off with Tommy and Dim out in the street.  Tommy just   walked up and jumped on top of me.  We got up and went back into the house.  Dim and I exchanged blows.  When Tommy tried to stop it Dim took offense.  They both went home where Dim ended the fight with an end table up side Tommy’s head.

Nov. 1: Dim leaves the band, Jim Diederichsen joins.  Dim’s wife was 9 months pregnant, looked like he had other things to take care of.

December:  D.O.A. invites 7 Seconds to play a Valentine's weekend festival in Vancouver.  DOA’s manager Ken Lester read about "hardcore" in DAMAGE and pitched Joey with the idea of calling the festival “Hardcore ‘81”.  Joey didn’t find out until I told him in 2013 that he had originally inspired it all.

I booked Bay Area band Impatient Youth to play with 7Seconds one night at the Rad House and one night at CBS Dancefloor.  Tommy told Jim D. and I that he didn’t want to play the disco.  He insisted on standing up for our underground principles -- it was hypocritical for us to play at a place we hated.  When I told Kev of decision not to play the disco he protested that he wasn’t involved in the discussion.  It was his band creatively but I treated him with a high hand.  Strike Two.

Early January ’81:  Up to that point 7Seconds was funded by me and Tommy’s mom, Noni.  Kev and Steve needed new amps.  One night at the Rad House I talked to Kev’s mom Bobbi about going in half-half buying fresh gear.  I didn’t include Kev in the discussion.
  Strike Three.

January 14:  During the Subhumans Unrest/Social show at the Rad House -- Kev fired me, Tom and Jim D. 

If the idea was to practice successful music business, the break-up of the Original 7Seconds was a disaster.  On a personal level, as a human being, it was disastrous.  But if the ambition was to create hidden history, to perpetually live in the down low, what better than to leave the other principals with little inclination to give me credit for anything?  (That last bit didn’t occur to me until 2020.)

My best guess now is that Kev got tired of me acting like I was bigger than the band.

A few days later I called Ken Lester with the bad news.

“Can you send another band?”  Ken was pissed.  “If we’d only booked 7Seconds for one night no big deal – but we booked them for both nights.” 

“I’ll see what we can do.”

Late January:Tommy and I form a band with Dim Menace on vocals, Jim Diederichsen on guitar, Lou Chavez on bass, Tom on drums, me as manager with double duty writing   lyrics. ("USSR Gone Too Far" and "Killer Stuff", co-write with Dim on "Nevada's Had it").

Dim picked the name by randomly opening a dictionary and with eyes closed pointed to an entry – Section 8.

We put together a nine-song set with five originals (the above plus “Fat, Drunk & Stupid,”  “Mental Discharge”), two Belvue songs “Piece of Your Action” and “Horrible Herbie” one 7Seconds tune, “Wartime,” and Rose Tattoo’s “Nice Boys Don’t Play Rock And Roll.”

Feb 13 & 14:  Section 8 played both nights of the "Hardcore '81" Festival.  Close friends JD Almon and Kevin Gray joined the crew.  A smashing success.  Great time had by all.

D.O.A.'s HARDCORE 81 album and tour in the Fall of '81 helped fuel a movement Joey had unknowingly set off 2 years earlier in his CREEP mag interview.

March:  After trying out a rocker drummer for 6 weeks or so, Kev reformed 7Seconds with Steve and Tommy -- the killer three-piece.

March 23:  Dead Kennedys, D.O.A. play the VFW Hall. I was unemployed and broke at the time so I borrowed $300 from my parents to put on the show, about the same amount of money that was in a briefcase stolen out of my car that night. The Santa Cruz kids kept going all Orange County on everyone in the pit. Bessie and G.I Jane got into what appeared to be a hell of a cat fight.  A casino friend wrenched his arm trying to break it up.  Turned out they were only playing (nice to know some people had fun.) . In the middle of the Dead Kennedys set some local rocker jagoff started twisting knobs at the sound board, killing the show.


The next day one of the scene regulars, a 15 year old girl, jumped off the roof of the MGM Grand Casino.  That night Reno cops raided the Rad House on a noise complaint. Disappointed they found no drugs, the cops settled for jacking up the under-age Steve Youth.

Couple of days later the Rad House was ransacked and trashed, reputedly by relatives of the deceased.

April:  I drove 7Seconds down to KPFA radio in Berkeley for an interview with Tim Yohannon on the Maximum Rocknroll radio show on KPFA.  A smashing success.  Everyone had a great time.

On the drive home Tommy said – “I almost said something about this guy Cliff doing stuff in Reno.”

“Yeah, I almost said something, too,” said Kev.

I didn’t respond to that at all.  I just kept driving and let the subject drift.  I was a flattered, but relieved that nothing was said.  That would have blown my deal – my long range plans to operate entirely below the radar, to “not happen.”  A close call!

Spring of 1981Kev, Steve, Bessie and Jone started communicating with Ian MacKaye of Minor Threat and Tesco Vee of the Meatmen.  Perhaps as much as the HARDCORE '81 lp, these communications laid the ground for "Hardcore Punk" to become a national phenomenon in the summer/fall of 1981.

The Reno kids carried a lot of street cred with Lansing and DC.

"Tesco's really into the Reno scene," Steve Youth told me. And not above spreading Reno-scene s-h-i-t--talk in the intro to "Tooling for Anus"??


May 9, 1981:  Black Flag at Alvin Johnson’s garage at the Paiute Reservation at Pyramid Lake.

When Lou Chavez and I drove out to Alvin’s I didn’t have a dime in my pocket.  When I left the show early I didn’t have a dime.  And Black Flag didn’t get paid.  Kev invited Warzone up and they didn’t get paid.  Any explanation I give will sound like excuses.  The only two other people who know what happened are dead.  It was the worst night of my life, an abject failure.  I found out later that some of the local bruisers went all Orange County on everyone in the pit.

Flash-forward to the summer of 2013 – Black Flag at The Metro in Oakland.  Ron Reyes on vocals.  Guitarist Greg Ginn played a theramin as well.  Psychedelic Black Flag!  After the show a bunch of us were hanging out in front and I said to no one in particular – “What a great show!”

A guy I didn’t know raised a hand and waved it a little, like “so-so.” 

“That theramin was killer, man!”  I said.  Behind me some wag mocked, “Killer, man.”

I looked at the “so-so” guy– he couldn’t have been older than his late-30’s and probably too young to have seen Black Flag in the 80s.

 “Ever see ‘em with Keith Morris?” I challenged the dude with the ultimate punk rock rank-pulling.  He then nervously turned his back to me and muttered, “No.”  I sensed someone standing behind me.  It was Greg Ginn.  I passed him the joint I was holding.  He thanked me. 

I said’’ “I owe you an amends.”

Greg took a couple steps back and looked at me like – What the hell?

The wag in the back said – “That silences the crowd!”

“Pyramid Lake, 1981.  I booked the show and you didn’t get paid.”          

Greg shrugged and rolled his eyes.  “’81, well that’s a long time…Oh!  Yeah!  Pyramid Lake, I remember!  No, no amends! You don’t owe amends!”

 Greg gave me a big hug and repeated: “No amends!

Felt great to hear that! Now I just have to do an amends with others in the Black Flag crew at Pyramid:  Chuck Dukowski, Robo, Dez Cadena and Spot.

I only did four more shows after the Pyramid Lake debacle – Subhumans/INSEX at Duncan’s Pub early Fall of ’81, DOA/Really Red at the American Legion Hall November ’81, DOA/TSOL at the Paradise Ballroom out in the sticks north of Carson City May of 1982, and lastly I co-produced the Circle Jerks/Panty Shields show at the Townhouse in October of 1982 with Kevin.  I think that was his first Rockers Active show, kind of passing the baton.

The show I’m best known for in this period was one that never happened…

The Legend of Who Screwed You?

If one aspires to the title of Breaker of Legends one needs legends to break.  For me, here are two legends propagated by the two guys with whom I worked on making Hardcore Punk Rock a bona fide Thing – Joey Keithley and Kevin Seconds.

I, S-H-I-T-HEAD, by Joey Keithley,  pg 103:

“…(W)e drove to Reno for a Hardcore 81 show.  My pal Cliff Varnell, one of the Reno Crew, was the promoter.  There was a strong mix of bands on the bill: Toxic Reasons, Section 8 (a new band formed by Dim Borghino, formally lead singer of Seven Seconds), and Who Screwed You?  Ken Lester had told Varnell the name of the last band over the phone, but Varnell had never heard of them, so he spelled their name phonetically.  When Husker Du arrived and saw the poster, they just laughed.” <end quote>

1)      In all the literature of hardcore punk this the only reference to my work in Reno as a promoter until I recorded the events of that time in my 2009 Wikipedia exchange with Kevin.

2)      The Who Screwed You? show never happened.  I couldn’t overcome the red tape required to secure the hall on the Paiute Reservation.  I think Joey was thinking of the Sacramento show.

3)      The only person laughing was Tommy Borghino.  He took the phone call from Lester and misunderstood "Husker Du" as "Who Screwed You?"  When he relayed the info to me I thought, “Who Screwed You?  That’s a helluva band name!”  I didn’t hear the name Husker Du until we went down to the Sacramento show and I found myself the butt of ridicule.  Since I did the poster for the Reservation non-show, I became the author of the mix-up. Tommy thought it was hilarious! He came up with Who Screwed You? and I took the fall.  It was one of those “when the legend becomes the fact go with the legend” moments.  I had to suck it up after initial protestations of innocence.

4)      Dim Menace was the stage name of Tommy’s brother, Jimmy Froines.

5)      Dim didn’t form Section 8 –Tommy and I did.

The Legend of Early 7Seconds

The great JFK assassination-researcher/writer/poet/educator Peter Dale Scott formulated the “Negative Template Theory” which holds that the parts left out of a historical narrative may be more important than what appears in the text.  Let’s apply the Negative Template to Steven Blush’s AMERICAN HARDCORE.  Just for the hell in it!

AMERICAN HARDCORE 1st edition, 2001,pg 266:



If you toured in a van west of Texas or Minneapolis (but east of the Left Coast), you’d play for gas money at best.  In the Far West’s vast expanse, gigs were few and far between.  Historically, the West’s rugged small cities arose as oases for cowboys, prospectors, and other non-cosmopolitans traversing an unforgiving terrain.  That old-time vibe persisted into the HC days.

RENO produced the best HC action in that part of the US. Relative poverty or wealth drove other scenes; Reno’s sprouted from sheer boredom.  Most scenes evolved around a band or individual; in the case of Reno’s, it developed around 7 SECONDS and frontman Kevin Seconds.  There was nothing going on prior to or after Kevin.” <end quote>

When I first read this in 2001 I’ll admit I was pissed.  But it didn’t take long for me to realize – “This is exactly what I wanted!  I asked for this!”  Bummer for Jim Diederichsen, Sean Graves, Chris Reece, Jone Stebbins and Lynn Perko-Truell – to name 5 first class talents associated with the early Reno punk days.

In 2010 Feral House put out the 2nd edition of American Hardcore, slightly revised:

Little happened in Reno prior to or after Kevin.” (pg. 309)

Going from “nothing” to “little” is the shadow of the Negative Template, which fits so cleanly into this text from both editions of AH:


KEVIN SECONDSWe practiced with our friend Tom, who never played drums but picked it up quick.  We’d jam whenever we could, our house, his mom’s – six or so hours every day.  It was insane.  I sang with an English accent, trying to mimic Joe Strummer.  Our first gig was March 2, 1980 at a biker bar that did country and Top 40 bands, The Townhouse, to 30 people – and 20 hated us.  Our friend Cliff, who was letting us practice for free in his basement, somehow talked the guy into letting him do a Monday ‘New Wave’ night.  He had to call it ‘New Wave” – at the time you could not call it Hardcore.  The following week he invited us back; we opened up for The Zeros, one of our favorite bands of the time.  That kicked it off hard; after that, we were totally hooked.

[Blush]: 7 Seconds vinyl debut, ‘82’s Skins, Brains & Guts EP, came out on Alternative Tentacles…In late ’82, Kevin began a BYO-style collective to book shows, release records, and promote causes – first called Rockers Active, then United Front, and finally Positive Force.  You’d hear of Positive Force gigs with Social D. or Black Flag in some garage on the Paiute Indian Reservation…

… Kevin fostered a Reno HC scene based upon what he’d seen and read about elsewhere.” </q>

1)      Chronologically, Kevin Second’s account of the early Reno scene jumps from March 2, 1980 to late ’82.  My entire career as the first promoter of hardcore punk rock was entirely left out of the “definitive” book on hardcore punk…Far out! Awesome!  Seriously cool s-h-i-t! I couldn’t have planned it out any better back in late ’79!  Exactly what I'd hoped for!

2)      March 2, 1980 was a Sunday.

3)      I didn’t book the first Townhouse show.  Kevin and Steve booked it with David Yori, the owner of the joint.

4)      7Seconds practiced in my basement from January 18 to Oct 31 1980.  After that they practiced in Noni Borghino’s garage.  Kevin and Steve practiced in their bedroom 6 or so hours some days…As their manager I supplied a place to practice, transportation (shared that with Tommy), and Pepsi.  Good thing they didn’t smoke weed it coulda been expensive…

5)      Kevin and Positive Force had nothing to do with the shows at Alvin Johnson’s house on the Pyramid Lake Res.  I booked the Black Flag show, and Alvin booked Social Distortion.

6)      I’m a bit mystified why Kevin has never taken credit for being one of the Fathers of Hardcore.  When he says it got it from somewhere else he could only be referring to DOA, and Joey and my contributions to CREEP.  I’m beginning to think neither Joe Keithley nor Kevin Seconds realize they are the Fathers of Hardcore.

 I guess no one ever told them.


What I’m proud of:

1)      The impact on the lexicon.  We saved the word “hardcore” from an exclusively pornographic connotation.

2)      Because DOA and 7Seconds never took credit for HC’s paternity, there was no “founding authority” which might tend to enforce group think.  Tim Yohannon filled a political authority role to mixed success.

3)      Tight Plan B! Tiz-ite!  Context: the Negative Template.  The obvious subtext – “First rule of Hidden History is don’t talk about Hidden History” (nod to Chuck Palahniuk's novel FIGHT CLUB).

If we apply the Negative Template to my own narrative, what has been left out of my own account of those old school days?…Other than the drug use?...Other than anecdotes more embarrassing to others than myself?...I left out a sex comedy along the lines of Dr. Detroit Does Venus in Furs.

No way in hell I’m telling the truth about that!




Edited by Cliff Varnell
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Correction: in the earlier versions of this piece I referred to Vincent Salandria as the author of the "Negative Template Theory."

Prof. Peter Dale Scott is the the proper attribution.


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  • 1 month later...


Thesis via J.G. Ballard -- If it wasn't recorded it didn't happen.

Anti-Thesis via Peter Dale Scott  -- The files missing from a historical record are the most significant.

Synthesis: Such significance stays banked until an account surfaces with a ring of truth to cash it out.




Edited by Cliff Varnell
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  • 2 months later...

Got to love a spot of hardcore especially Bad Brains, Minor Threat and Agnostic Front. Although I do like the Dead Kennedy's 'Holiday in Cambodia'.  Some of the more recent bands from the genre are favourites of mine such as Norma Jean, Every Time I die, Converge, Hatebreed and although not as 'hardcore' as others, Bad Religion. Post hardcore is another genre which has produced some awesome bands in my opinion 

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