|PHOTO: ATHENA ANGELOS|
Band History written by Patrick
Every local scene has a band or bands that inspired that scene to get off the ground and make something happen. Many times, these bands end up being more important spiritually than musically. More often then not, though, they fall by wayside and are left forgotten or unknown by the people who weren't there to see them. If it weren't for one key member, the Teen Idles would probably be one of those forgotten bands. Along with the Bad Brains, the Teen Idles would be one of the foundations of DC's burgeoning hardcore scene. In retrospect, the Teen Idles might not be considered one of hardcore's musical "elite" but they were sufficiently inspirational to enough kids to get Washington DC's hardcore scene moving. The band would not only launch the career of one of punk's most recognizable characters, Ian MacKaye, but also one of the most important independent labels in the country, Dischord Records.
The roots of the Teen Idles and DC hardcore lie in a group of skaters from Wilson High School in DC. The skaters were also big hard rock fans, listening to bands like Led Zeppelin, Queen, Aerosmith, and Ted Nugent. Nugent's alpha male persona, with his rabid endorsement of hunting, appearances on stage in a loin-cloth, and voracious appetite for groupies, might see like an odd role model for a group of future punk rockers. The Nuge, however, was also fiercely opposed to the consumption of drugs and alcohol. He preferred to get off on the music he played than by using chemicals and made no bones about how stupid he thought drugs and drug addicts were. This was a message that particularly resonated with one of the skaters, a young Ian MacKaye, who disdained drug and alcohol use himself.
In the 10th grade, Ian met Jeff Nelson in German class. Despite Nelson's reputation as a stoner, Ian and Jeff clicked. It wasn't long until punk rock became part of their lives and in 1979 the two decided to form their own band. The duo had very little musical experience (Jeff knew some percussion and Ian had taken piano lessons as a child) but managed to get a hold of some cheap equipment. They recruited two friends, Geordie Grindle (guitar) and Mark Sullivan (vocals), who had had some previous band experience. They called themselves the Slinkees, after Jeff had come across word that meant "to slink" in German class. The Slinkees played mostly covers, but also threw in a few originals. Unfortunately for the band, Mark Sullivan was a year older than everyone else and was set to go to college. The band played one garage show that was both their debut and farewell.
With Sullivan out of the picture, the remaining Slinkees decided to carry on with a new singer. They approached Nathan Strejeck, another Wilson High Student who was a year older than MacKaye and Nelson. Strejeck was one of the first visible punks at Wilson. The new band called themselves the Teen Idles, although they retained many of the Slinkees' originals in their set.
The Teen Idles faced several struggles in their attempts to establish themselves as a credible band. Local venues were reluctant to book them. Like the members themselves, the most of the band's fans were under the legal drinking age and so local bars knew that Teen Idles shows would mean low liquor sales. Places that did book the Idles often would often not invite the band back for similar reasons, although the pogo and, later, slam dancing of the Idles' fans was another deterrent. The Teen Idles also found little sympathy from the existing local punk scene and music press who dubbed the band and their fans "teeny punks".
The Teen Idles and their "teeny punk" fans continued on, despite the obstacles. The Teen Idles also made an important connection with another up and coming local band called the Bad Brains. The two groups were soon sharing a practice space (Nathan Strejeck's parent's basement) and Bad Brains' music was influencing the Teen Idles to move away from their mid-tempo, British-punk style sound and into faster, heavier realms. The Bad Brains were several years older than the Teen Idles and vastly superior musicians, which undoubtedly contributed to their influence. However, the Bad Brains did not look down on the younger group like so many of the more established local bands of the time. Instead, they encouraged the Teen Idles and their friends to keeping practicing and getting better. The Bad Brains' inspiration was an important factor in keeping the young hardcore punk scene focused on persevering and growing.
In the summer of 1980, following Ian and Jeff's high school graduation, the Teen Idles planned a California "tour" which consisted of two dates, one in Los Angeles and the other in San Francisco. They also planned to go to Disneyland and find Darby Crash. However, when they arrived in California, the band, bringing along Mark Sullivan and Ian's close friend Henry Garfield as roadies, discovered that Darby was in London and that Disneyland would not allow them in due to their punked out appearance. Jeff was also arrested after making a rude gesture to a police office that insulted him. The band played on a mismatched bill in LA and the sparsely attended show earned them practically no money. Their show in SF should have gone much better, as they were scheduled to play on a bill with the Dead Kennedys, Circle Jerks, and Flipper. However, the venue bumped them from gig after seeing a group photo and they were instead added to a show with a bunch of new wave bands. The two California shows earned the Teen Idles a total of $31. They were, however, able to attend the Dead Kennedys' show they were supposed to have played. It was there that they encountered a group of punks from the LA suburb of Huntington Beach who followed the Circle Jerks up to the show. The DC kids were impressed by the gang mentality that the Huntington Beach guys displayed at the show, as well as their slam dancing style, known as the "HB Strut". The Teen Idles brought these new influences back home with them.
Back in DC the Teen Idles had twice attempted to record demos at local studio Hit and Run but found the setting less than ideal. Friend Skip Groff, who owned local record store Yesterday and Today Records and ran a record label called Limp, introduced the group to Don Zientara, a DC-area musician who ran a 4-track studio out of his basement that he called Inner Ear. Zientara proved more willing to work with the young band than past engineers. Don's recording of the Teen Idles began a long-lasting relationship with Ian MacKaye that lasts to this day.
The Idles were not destined to last long, though. Geordie had a new girlfriend who was a born-again Christian whose influence left Geordie to wonder if being in the band was really the right thing to do. Also, Ian, who had written many of the band's songs, desired to sing the stuff he wrote. Motivated by this fact as well as Geordie's diminishing interest, Ian and Jeff soon began plotting a new band. And by the fall of 1980 the Idles were finished.
Throughout their existence, the band had saved up all the money they made from every show they played. In the end they had around $600. They decided to use the money to press up a record of the music they had recorded with Don Zientara. The resulting record, called Minor Disturbance, was the first release on Dischord Records, although at the time nobody thought Dischord would put out anything else. It soon became evident that Dischord, however, could serve a useful purpose to the budding DC hardcore scene and for the first year Ian, Jeff, and Nathan worked on the label. Nathan, however, dropped out when it became apparent to him that Ian and Jeff were on the same page with each other, but not with him.
Following the Teen Idles demise Nathan formed the short-lived Youth Brigade (not to be confused with the LA band of the same name) while Ian and Jeff formed Minor Threat. These were just two of a number of bands that formed in DC in the wake of the Teen Idles. Following the demise of Youth Brigade and his disassociation from Dischord, Nathan dropped out of the scene altogether. Geordie, too, disappeared for a number of years, although in the mid-90's he resurfaced in a musical project called Tone who had a few releases appear through Dischord.
Minor Threat's popularity, as well as that of Fugazi, Ian's current band, has resulted in keeping the Teen Idle's name and memory alive. In 1996, in honor of Dischord's 100th release, a new Teen Idles seven inch was released, consisting of material from early Idles' demos. The Idles' first record went out of print fairly early on, but Dischord kept the music in circulation by releasing it on twelve inch compilation of 4 of Dischord's early seven inch releases (the other three being Government Issue's debut and S.O.A.'s and Youth Brigade's only records). In the early 90's, Dischord issued that compilation on a CD entitled Dischord 1981: The Year In Seven Inches (which also added Minor Threat's first two records to the mix), a release which includes Jeff Nelson's condensed version of the Teen Idles' story. The Teen Idles were also covered extensively in the Dance Of Days book by Mark Anderson.
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