Here’s a very quick breather from all my Manhattan-centric blather.
Back in the mid-90’s, my friend Rob D. de-camped from the East Coast and started house-sitting at his step-mother’s well-appointed bungalow in Costa Mesa, CA….located in the heart of Orange County (or “behind the Orange Curtain,” as we used to say). By this point, I’d never been to California before, but had myriad preconceptions about what Los Angeles and its environs were like, largely based on the movies and TV, but also from my rapturous appreciation of California’s rich lineage of punk bands, from X to the Germs to Fear and Black Flag and The Minutemen and beyond. So, as soon as Rob was settled there, I leapt at the chance to go visit, which I did at least three or four times for a couple of weeks a throw.
Nestled on a Costa Mesa corner (don’t ask me which, I’ll never remember), Rob’s step-mother’s place was actually quite nice, equipped with a lovely, sunlit, ivy-covered back garden that we basically never went into. The surrounding area, though, still exuded the same vibe — or at least to my misguided, starry-eyed mind — as seen in suitably punky films like Penelope Spheeris’ “Suburbia.” The local deli looked exactly like the one Otto frequents in “Repo Man,” so much so that we grew to refer to it as “the Repo Deli.”
Across the street from same was a decrepit bar with a hackneyed nautical theme called The Helm, an establishment wherein many beverages were zealously consumed and many ridiculously feverish debates were staged. I gather, sadly, that The Helm has since closed.
Given my preoccupations, there was one locale I wanted to pinpoint, but being that this was largely prior to the era of Internet ubiquity (isn’t that weird?), I didn’t have the means on hand to do the proper research. I was also aware, by this point, that the locale in question no longer existed in the form I was seeking. That place, as rhapsodized in song by The Vandals and detailed in the rumination of West Coast punk lore, was The Cuckoo’s Nest.
Comparable to, say, NYC’s own A7, The Cuckoo’s Nest was a fabled live music venue that catered to O.C.’s community of troubled punk teens. The picture up top (possibly taken, though I’m not positive, by Glen E. Friedman) shows the Misfits performing there. This, mind you, was well prior to the era of Hot Topic and the like, when the very word “punk” still packed something of a punch. I know that seems positively quaint now.
In any case, we never found it. Everything that seemed cool about that scene was basically long gone by a good decade by that point anyway. But that didn’t stop me from grinning like the damn tourist I was when we were driving around the area.
Here’s Wikipedia’s much more thorough history of the place:
The Cuckoo's Nest was a punk rock nightclub that was located at 1714 Placentia Avenue in Costa Mesa, California. There were often confrontations with the punks from the Cuckoo's Nest and the cowboys from Zubie's, which shared a parking lot. The police were constantly harassing the punks. Club owner Jerry Roach fought a number of court cases in an effort to keep the club alive, and in his 1981 film on the subject Urban Struggle he suggested that perhaps this was the first time that the authorities would stamp out a fad.  The club was a hub of the punk rock in California. The club is notable as being home to the first slam pit. Bands such as 999, The Ramones, XTC, The Damned, the New York Dolls, Black Flag, T.S.O.L., Circle Jerks, Bill Madden and The Redeemers, D.I., the Vandals, Symbol Six, Agent Orange, JFA, Blondie Chaplin, Squeeze, the Adolescents, X, the Go-Go's, Bad Brains, the Cramps, Iggy Pop, Dead Kennedys, the Dickies, Violent Femmes, Ultravox, the Motels, the Bangles, the Fabulous Thunderbirds, John Cale, Suicidal Tendencies, Los Lobos, Fear, Wall of Voodoo, the Misfits, the Knack, the Crowd, Social Distortion, and Jericho Shaxe all played gigs there. The club was memorialized in the Vandals song "Pat Brown," a song about a club goer who actually tried to run the cops into the ground.
The film "Urban Struggle" documents early slam dancing at the Cuckoo's Nest, and includes performances by Black Flag, T.S.O.L., and the Circle Jerks. The film also goes into the legal battles that surrounded the nightclub and Jerry Roach's defiant effort to "shove punk rock right up their asses." Recently, Jessee Roach designed a series of Cuckoo's Nest tee-shirts.
When demolition crews were preparing to tear down the Cuckoo's Nest building, Roach, who owned the Cuckoo's Nest and turned city efforts to close it into a First Amendment cause, said that as long as the building stood, it would be a reminder of his and the punk-rockers' defeat at the hands of city authorities and the club's outraged neighbors.
"I don't have fond memories of losing, of unfairly having my means of making money taken away from me," said Roach, who in recent years has traded concert clubs for real-estate and restaurant ventures. "I still think I was railroaded, but that's the breaks. I don't have any nostalgia for it. I'm kind of glad it's getting torn down. I'd rather have it not be there than be a pizza place.”
Some veteran O.C. punk-rockers had similarly unsentimental reactions to the news that their long-ago playpen would be razed.
Jim Kaa, guitarist of the Crowd, who performed often at the club, said: "[A] couple of things stick in mind. [The scene at the Cuckoo's Nest] was crazy; it was young, and the police didn't know what the crazy punks were about. There was a lot of fighting, not just [against] the people at Zubie's but punks against punks. 'The Legend of Pat Brown' epitomizes the entire craziness of that whole era."
Jack Grisham, whose band, T.S.O.L., was one of the top-drawing acts of the Cuckoo's Nest era, has fond memories of the old days but no nostalgia for the building. "It's already wrecked as far as I'm concerned," Grisham said. "It was wrecked the day Zubie's got it.”
Grisham has plenty of war stories to tell.
"They'd come out of [Zubie's] drunk, and there'd be fights every night. There's a videotape of me beating up these two cowboy guys, and I was wearing a dress at the time. I was trying to [tick] my dad off for a while, and [wearing a dress] was working good."
Although the Cuckoo's Nest was closed and eventually torn down only to be replaced by a plumbing supply shop, the legend continues to live on through the music and now a theatrical feature film has been scheduled for production through Endurance Pictures, and will be directed by York Shackleton, the critically acclaimed writer and director of such films as Kush and Street. "This story captures the mood and intensity of the punk ritual...and sheds some light on the much maligned and misunderstood punk phenomenon." Randy Lewis - L.A. Times
A new documentary about the Cuckoo's Nest, directed by Jonathan W.C. Mills and executive produced by York Shackleton is currently in the works. The first excerpt from this film was released on YouTube on October 31, 2008.
Here, meanwhile, is that film…
And, just for good measure...