Reagan Youth brings punk to Obama era

July 22, 2011
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By Benjamin Colb, Special to the Gazette

 

Reagan Youth, one of the pioneering hardcore punk bands of the East Coast in the 1980s, will be playing a show at the Midway Café on July 24.

Lead guitarist Paul Bakija, aka Paul Cripple, regrouped the band in 2006 after a 17-year hiatus. He spoke to the Gazette this week.

The line-up consists of the original lead guitarist Paul Bakija, aka Paul Cripple, as well as lead vocalist Kenny Young, drummer Mike Sabatino and bassist Dave Manzullo. Reagan Youth regrouped under Bakija in 2006 after a 17-year hiatus.

While their music is often described as anarcho-punk, Bakija says he wishes he were a real anarchist.

“Today, for most people, anarchist means not having a job,” Bakija says. “For me, though, anarchist means having a girlfriend and not a wife.”

In discussing late co-bandleader Dave Rubinstein’s (aka Dave Insurgent) politics, Bakija mentions that his bandmate “never went to a protest meeting, never went to live on a commune. He never did anything like that.” When Reagan Youth disbanded, drugs became “the most important thing in his life.” He wonders if his life might have taken a turn for the better had he been politically active.

Still, the band was politically minded, its name a potshot at Republican President Ronald Reagan and a satire of the Nazi organization Hitler Youth.

“We had already disbanded when we recorded ‘Volume 2,’” said Bakija of the group’s 1990 album. “We decided to after Reagan left office.”

Bakija and Rubinstein had been friends since third grade before emerging on the New York City punk scene. Their music, an angry response to the conservative political climate of the U.S. during the Reagan era, was characterized by left-wing political messages. The message is especially notable on such tracks as “Jesus Was a Communist” and “U.S.A.” (“I want total liberty, I want peace and anarchy”).

Bakija recalls how politics at the time affected him directly. “I remember my sister, just three years older than me, when it was her turn to go to college, she could,” he said. “When I finished high school, that financial aid…wasn’t there anymore.”

“It’s part of this ‘screw the poor’ mentality, or ‘kill the poor,’ as Jello Biafra [of fellow punk band Dead Kennedys] put it,” he said.

Such a mentality continues to harm the country, he says. “These Republicans, who were refusing to do anything about health care, I mean, come on…This country shouldn’t be run by and for a few rich white men.”

After Reagan Youth disbanded, Rubinstein descended into heroin addiction. After a vicious beating by a baseball-bat-wielding drug dealer and the death of his girlfriend at the hands of a serial killer, Rubinstein committed suicide in 1993.

Originally intended as a one-shot concert, the band’s 2006 revival grew into a “Resurrection Tour” with a new line-up. Soon, Bakija expressed desire to record a new concept album revolving around the life and death of Rubinstein.

Current vocalist Kenny Young is enthusiastic about the concept album, according to Bakija: “He was telling me, ‘Yeah, it’s gotta be about NYC punk in the ’80s, Reaganomics, drug use,’ and so forth”. The band’s latest track, “Lucky 7,” alludes strongly to the lifestyle Rubinstein pursued during his later years.

For more information on the show, see “Happenings” or midwaycafe.com.

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