Suburban Struggle is a history of Orange County punk as it developed in and around the infamous Costa Mesa music venue the Cuckoo’s Nest from 1979-1981. In another sense, this zine is a history of the Cuckoo’s Nest in relation to Orange County punk, or even the Cuckoo’s Nest as a part of Orange County punk. More specifically, Suburban Struggle is the story of a concerted and protracted campaign to suppress Orange County punk through a legal attack on the Cuckoo’s Nest’s ability to hold “live entertainment,” which really meant punk shows. This campaign was carried out by a variety of governmental and private actors: local business owners and concerned citizens; the police; the City bureaucracy; and the City Council. When this story is considered in the larger context of late 70s-early 80s punk in Southern California, Suburban Struggle only pieces together one episode of a broader state-private effort to police, regulate out of existence, and terminate punk, which first gained its foothold in Hollywood and then quickly spread to local suburban areas, including Orange County. The story told in Suburban Struggle is thus part of a larger story of repression and reaction that includes the 1979 Elks Lodge Massacre in Los Angeles, the Huntington Beach police’s surveillance-dragnet of punks, the regular use of riot police to shut down punk shows, local governments’ forcible shuttering of punk friendly venues, and local citizens’ movements against the presence of punk in their swaths of suburbia.
This history is almost completely constructed from contemporaneous documents, i.e., those that were created during the period of study (1979-1981) by those who directly lived the events at issue. To narrow the focus even more, the documents featured in this zine are all public records created or maintained by the City of Costa Mesa as part of the campaign to shut down punk shows at the Cuckoo’s Nest. Quite literally, the primary sources in this zine come directly from the files the City of Costa Mesa maintained on the Cuckoo’s Nest. The purpose of this approach is to eliminate the distortion—or even clarity—of hindsight; Suburban Struggle wants to capture the representations of Orange County punk during a very specific period of time, before punk became whatever it has become and without providing the characters in this story the opportunity to reconcile the past with the present. Suburban Struggle, then, is a patchwork of contemporaneous first-hand accounts, a collection of primary source documents that have as their subject the Cuckoo’s Nest and its patrons. Collectively, these individual narratives sketch a portrait of early Orange County punk, or at least the anxieties of various authority figures. Or so it is hoped.
Suburban Struggle does not feature the voice of a single punk, or even a person sympathetic to punk. Instead, this zine gives the pulpit to the enemies of the incipient punk phenomenon in Orange County—the City bureaucrats, from the City Manager to the City Attorney; the Mayor and the City Council; the cops; and upstanding business owners and citizens of suburbia.
It may seem unfair or reactionary to compile a punk history without letting the punks themselves speak. But, how do you understand Orange County punk without exploring OC punk’s avowed enemies’ understandings of punk and also their attack on punk, when the Orange County punks defined themselves in large part by their antagonism to society at large and Orange County and all that it represented in particular? The 1984 documentary Urban Struggle: The Battle for the Cuckoo’s Nest, which was shot by a film student during the final months of the Cuckoo’s Nest’s existence, records the punks’ and the Cuckoo’s Nest’s owner Jerry Roach’s perspective on punk and the Cuckoo’s Nest. And the 2010 documentary Clockwork Orange County (also known as We Were Feared)—when it is not borrowing footage from Urban Struggle—is mostly a collection of retrospective narratives from prominent Orange County punks and Jerry Roach. While these films undoubtedly are valuable contributions to the history of Orange County punk, both fail to offer any analysis of the forces aligned against the Cuckoo’s Nest and Orange County punk and committed to their destruction. In short, Urban Struggle and Clockwork Orange County don’t tell half of the story of the Cuckoo’s Nest and neglect a critical aspect of Orange County punk history
Orange County punk was as much the creation of the punks as it was those who sought to destroy it, or at least purge it from Orange County. Suburban Struggle thus strives to advance the understanding of early Orange County punk by documenting the perspective of its adversaries. The writings, reports, images, and recordings left behind by the anti-punk crusaders are a window—however distorted—into the early Orange County punk scene at the Cuckoo’s Nest and also a testament to how the authorities imagined punk. Most importantly, these documents establish that the City, the police, and the local business community truly perceived punk as a serious, immanent threat to the maintenance of social order, such that the application of state violence on a large scale was justified and such that the City had to take legal action to prevent the Cuckoo’s Nest from hosting punk shows.