I grew up in the suburbs of Cleveland, but was born too late to experience the first wave of hardcore music that came from Northeast Ohio. I was aware of the proto-punk that Cleveland produced, but it wasn't until much later that I learned how important the youth crew and hardcore bands from Cleveland were to the larger movement. Cleveland hardcore scene participant John Piche and I polled some of the people that we knew from back then about their memories of that time. Cathy Bennett was also present back then (with a camera!) and was kind enough to allow me to use some of her wonderful photos of that era.
Finding hardcore in Cleveland in the 1980s
Kevin Orr: I got into hardcore in '86 or '87. I was fully into punk rock and skateboarding by then, but the Berea Roll & Bowl really started it for me. I saw False Hope, Infectious Waste, bands like that at the Roll & Bowl. They seemed punk/metal to me. Then I saw Confront and Diehard, they sounded similar but just looked different. I didn't even know what straight edge was at the time, but I though it was cool because they looked like regular kids from the neighborhood.
Bill McKinney: Getting into hardcore was a process, nothing happened overnight. I was already into heavier rock, some punk and thrash metal. I am not great with years but I’m gonna say the summer of 1984. For the summer I worked in my mom’s office filing stuff and shredding documents, I think I was 14. My friend Dana gave me a mix tape. The first song was by the Bad Brains, I think "Sailing On." It was the greatest song I had ever heard. I was definitely sold on this stuff. I went to the local punk record store and looked for a whole record by them, picked it up all big and yellow and turned it over and saw four black men. I had no idea they were black. I am black. I loved hardcore.
- John Piche
- John Piche, Aaron Melnick, Pete Russ, 1986
Cathy Bennett: I was living in California, and I had some skater friends who used to listen to Black Flag, T.S.O.L, J.F.A., D.I., etc. Every once in a while they would tell me to sneak out from my house to go to a show, usually at Fender’s Ballroom. Then back in mid-1985, we moved to Cleveland because my stepbrothers were killed in a plane crash, and my step dad is from Cleveland. We moved to South Euclid and I met a few New Wave kids at Brush High School and they told me about Coventry. So I used to hang out there and I met up with a lot of people. Dave Evey, also known as Spike back in those days, Dave Araca, Anya, and Aaron Melnick. Then I met Scott Silverman and Bob Ries. Tom Brose and Mike Watson, Chris Smith aka Scum. So many people were always there, and we all meshed together. Some were goths, punks, skaters, arty-fartys, yet we all hung out there. It was tight and we just chewed the fat, got stoned or drank and did what most teenaged angst kids did in those days.
Denise Kaveliski: I was at Strongsville High. I got some tapes from my friend Jeff, along with a recommendation for late-night radio on WCSB.
Aaron Melnick: The first time I heard hardcore was from local college radio. Cleveland has some great college stations like WCSB and WRUW.
John Piche: I used to listen to Blows Against the Empire and Crazy Lady Blue on college radio when I was in grade school. A friend of mine named Caleb was a skater and loved all that skate rock. Aaron and Anya Melnick lived in England for 1982 and came back all Tears for Fears and punky. I got into hardcore because Dave Araca gave Aaron and I tapes of his band and other bands. I remember him driving by one day and pulling over to make me listen to some new demo he got in the mail by a band called RKL. We used to tape entire radio shows and then go to Wax Stacks on Lee Road to buy the albums they played.
Joshua Friedman: I went to school with Dave Araca (RIP) and Dave Earll, they were the catalysts in sharing their new found music with the accepting few. I think the year was 1983.
Cleveland East Side VS. Cleveland West Side
John Piche: West siders liked the Ramones and bands like Midnight Oil. East siders were more into hardcore, at least that is what I thought. But Chris' Warped Records was on the west side and that was the best punk music store in Cleveland. The old time punk rockers, like Death of Samantha and the New Salem Witch Hunters, were all Lakewood kids. Bad thrift store fashion and Virgin Mary night lights in their bathrooms. East side was hip-hop and Slayer and white guy dreads. It was all silly until the GGs came along. Then it got disgusting and covered in poop. Dwid and Mean Steve were always provoking the west side punk kids, like when Dwid hit that guy who ran the Artichoke because Dwid thought that Starvation Army were Nazis or something. Dumb stuff.
Bill McKinney: I didn't remember much of a rivalry 'til I was in my twenties. As a teen in the 80s with no car, no Internet, no cell phone, the west side was just a distant land and the unknown. When I was in my early 20s, I felt that strain more. The east side was so dominated by straight edge kids and the west side by hesher-like kids.
Kevin Orr: I never thought the rivalry was a big deal at all. We would go the east side to hang out and record shop, skate etc. But almost all the shows were on the west side. To me it seemed more like hardcore kids verses the rest of the world. Not east versus west.
Denise Kaveliski: I didn’t even know there was a rivalry; I just thought there was a general east side/west side thing between all Clevelanders.
Cathy Bennett: To be totally honest, I just remembered certain bands like Joe Gizmo and the Spud Monsters, New Salem Witch Hunters, and Death Of Samantha. The east side was more in yer face type of hardcore.
Joshua Friedman: I recall the west side kids were far more metal than they were hardcore. It seemed to me that the east side kids were more into punk and hardcore. We had Coventry!
Aaron Melnick: The rivalry was not that big of a deal to me personally, a little bit of strutting and a couple fights. It seems like the east side and west side punk/HC kids made friends pretty quick. I live on the west side now. Coventry on the east side has changed into a strip mall and there ain't much else happening on the east side except for some nice man made lakes.
Bill McKinney: There are different generations from the East side, the older generations, say 3-4 years older than me where all stoners and drunks and were a real bridge from punk in many ways. They also brought the metal and in my opinion created the crossover music that later sets have gotten credit for. My set was a mix of stoners and sober people. I was a druggie who got sober and am still sober 25 years on. The next set was more straight edge. It also matters if you are talking about near east side versus far east side, totally different worlds.
Kevin Orr: The east side had more straight edge and fashion. Nikes, Champion gear, and varsity jackets.
Aaron Melnick: The east side was pretty much all over the map, except maybe we were all kinds of fringe characters. There were straight edgers, partiers, burnouts, metal guys, emo guys, fake rappers, skins and tough guys. That's kind of what was cool in the late 80s, things were pretty open even if there were a lot of dumb tough guys. But that's part of being a young adult.
John Piche: I remember everyone loved False Hope. There was a tight knit group of people always hanging out. Their overriding philosophy was cracking on each other. Ruthless teasing. Most of it was good-natured until it wasn't. Chubbie Fresh and Charlie Garriga of Outface were the master crackers. They could hold court insulting each other for hours. Everyone would be in tears. They did a whole insult battle once to the tune of various old sitcoms. Barney Miller and Sandford and Son were the two major leitmotifs. After a few winters though, when people started getting muscles, the whole scene turned to only talking about fights. Usually, hypothetical situations wherein who had who's back and which boy was your boy, was the only thing anyone talked about. While flexing their pecs and pulling punches at each other’s arms. It got so bad one summer that Jay Front and me would run up the street and yell, "FIGHT," pointing down Coventry. The whole mall area emptied out and we were sitting up there alone, laughing at all the dummies who ran down the street looking for a fight we just made up.
- John Piche
- False Hope's Dave Araca setting up drums.
To be continued.