Punk and Protest: Laws, Counterculture, Action! Part II

Now then, here’s part deux. So I promised I’d show how there were links between Direct Action and the underground punk scene in Vancouver. Well actually, the links even extended through the overall punk network in North America, but before we go into that wider story I have to tell you this: Gerald Hannah, member of Direct Action and was also known as Gerry Useless, and he was a founding member of the Vancouver band the Subhumans. Not to be, of course, confused with the Subhumans.

The Subhumans formed in the spring of 1978 and consisted of Ken “Dimwit” Montgomery, Brian “Wimpy Roy” Goble, Hannah, and Mike Graham (no nick-name apparently). They had risen out of the ashes of a band called the Skulls, which had been made up of Montgomery, Goble, Simon Werner and Joey “Shithead” Keithley. The Skulls had been active in Vancouver playing gigs at the Smiling Buddha, a venue that fostered the early punk scene in the region. Before joining in the Skulls, Keighley and Montgomery had played in Stone Crazy, forming the band in 1976 with Burnaby North High School classmates Hannah and Brad “Kunt” Kent. They played the Ramones and Led Zeppelin covers in redneck bars until early 1977 when they were blacklisted for fighting with their audience. The Skulls had an adventure out east (that Hannah had tagged along for) and afterwards the Skulls broke up,  which led to the formation of Keithley’s band D.O.A., and also the Subhumans  (American Hardcore, 256-257).

A lot of the tunes the Subhumans wrote were extremely political. For example, “Death to the Sickoids” was written about the power of the mainstream press in dictating how people thought. “Inquisition Day” was written about the potential danger of an authoritarian regime seizing power…even in a democratic country like Canada. “Firing Squad” was written in 1980 and about the extremism in the Iranian revolution the previous year. “Slave to My Dick,” penned by Hannah, dealt with misogyny and the sudden realization of a “player” that he’s just a “slave.” The much covered song “Fuck You,” also by Hannah, was an anthem in the punk tradition of standing up to the face of authority and yelling, well, “fuck you” (www.subhumans.ca).

It would seem that much of their material was intended to get others thinking, and engage people on subjects they might not otherwise pay attention to. The Subhumans were reacting to contemporary events and issues, and did not pull any punches when showing how they felt about what was going on in the world around them.

They also actively participated in political benefit concerts. Their first gig was at a 1 July, anarchist sponsored, “anti-Canada day” event. They played anti-nuclear rallies, numerous “Rock against” protest concerts (including “Rock against Racism, Rock against Reagan, and Rock against Prisons), and even a show aimed at raising funds for El Salvadoran guerrillas (The Philosophy of Punk, 112).

It is apparent (to me anyways) that underground music acted as a platform of political engagement. Even if it was simply exposing people to issues the mainstream press avoided, or showing things from a different perspective, it is unlikely someone could have walked into a Subhumans show and left without at least thinking about what they were saying. While you could completely disagree with their message, it is pretty obvious what songs like “Slave to My Dick” are arguing.  It would be hard for the point to be lost even on an audience member that fit the bill of the “slave” (if they were even somewhat self-aware), and that means that at the very least there was a discourse enabled not simply for staunch environmentalists, anti-war protesters, and supporters of women’s rights – but for anyone that walked in the door of a punk rock gig.

And Gerald Hannah, he decided to act on the messages that he and the rest of the band had been pushing to their audience. In 1981 he left the Subhumans and headed out to live in the mountains with his girlfriend Julie Belmas. Upon their return to Vancouver they joined up with members of Direct Action, and carried out attacks targeting property (as discussed in the award winning Part I).

Here ends Part II. Part III will explore the connections between the Subhumans and the wider punk network in North America, and how other bands responded to Direct Action’s arrest and subsequent trial. Part IV will be a discussion on the direct effects of  Direct Action’s actions and what this shows about society in the 1980s…and also what it can tell us about what’s happening today.


–  “Death to the Sickoids” (1978)
They’re trying to frame the Red Brigades
Tell us all we’re threatened by the terrorist plague
They’re hanging a noose around our necks
By gluing our minds to the front page

–  “Inquisition Day” (1979)
Don’t be surprised if they kick down your door
And shoot your life apart
It’s nothing new it’s happened before
And nothing’s gonna stop it when it starts

“Firing Squad” (1980)
I had a firing squad dream, I saw it all clearly
I heard the headless people scream, I saw it all clearly
I saw the holy man
Blood on his holy hands
I saw the justice of god

“Slave to my Dick” (1979)
I lie to myself and to my friends too
And if I want your girl I’ll lie to you too
I’ll play stupid games, do whatever it takes
Cause I’ve gotta have a ball and the time’s getting late
I’m just a slave to my dick

–  “Fuck You” (1979)
You tell your friends that we’re really sick
Just short-haired fags on a commie trip
And you should know cause you’re so cool
Number one, nobody’s fool
We don’t care what you say
Fuck you

Thanks to http://www.subhumans.ca and MaximumRocknRoll for the pictures!

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2 Comments on “Punk and Protest: Laws, Counterculture, Action! Part II”

  1. Turns out the song “Fuck You” had been recorded by the Stiffs in 1978, a band Hannah had played with before joining the Subhumans. Thanks to the wonders of youtube, here’s the tune:

  2. […] Music Scene « Shameless Promotion for Edmonton’s Common Ground Arts Society Punk and Protest: Laws, Counterculture, Terrorism, Action! Part II […]

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