It's a time-honored tradition in rock, from Bob Dylan to Johnny Rotten to X, for fans to cry "sellout!" any time a performer who's well-known in one musical genre tries to reach a wider audience.
So the members of T.S.O.L., who have played every dingy bar and club on the Southern California punk circuit over the last five years, are prepared to encounter some criticism when they move up to ultra-respectable Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre on Saturday to open for the Alarm and the Long Ryders.
But to the four musicians, "selling out" is a matter of approach and attitude--not bookings.
"All a band works for basically is to get your music known," said lead singer Joe Wood during an interview earlier this week at a Long Beach pizza parlor.
"To write music to get known is to sell out. But to have people enjoy the music that you write is a totally different thing," said Wood, who was joined by bassist Mike Roche, guitarist Ron Emory and drummer Mitch Dean.
"Playing in front of a lot of people is not selling out," Dean said, "as long as the integrity of the music is there."
After years of playing local clubs and taking periodic self-financed tours to various parts of the United States, T.S.O.L. (which stands for True Sounds of Liberty) suddenly appears to be riding a wave of career momentum.
The Irvine Meadows show is the latest--and biggest--in a series of important opening slots the Orange County-Long Beach-based quartet has landed this year. Among the others were shows with the Cult at the Santa Monica Civic, with the Damned at UC Irvine and with X at the Universal Amphitheatre.
After the Cult concert, the group was signed by International Creative Management, one of the world's largest talent agencies.
The group's latest album, "Revenge," is scheduled for release June 20 on Enigma Records under a new national distribution arrangement Enigma signed with Capitol Records. The title song is included in the movie "Dangerously Close" and the band members are hopeful that the video, which includes scenes from the film, will find its way to MTV.
The band also signed for new management last year and has so many new business angles to keep track of that Roche has taken to carrying a briefcase. Yet band members are hardly defensive about the direction they're heading.
"I'll tell you one thing right now: I don't feel guilty about trying to better ourselves financially," said Wood, who along with Dean joined T.S.O.L. in 1983. "I know in my heart I'm still starving. I'm going to take what I can get because I still don't have a car or a house or anything. At this point, I'm lucky to have a girlfriend, and she supports me."
After Saturday's performance, T.S.O.L. is scheduled to headline Bogart's in Long Beach on Monday, then take a break for more songwriting and to organize a summer cross-country tour.
"We're starting to get older, and I'd like a motorcycle one of these days--something to show for what I'm doing. I keep telling my mom, 'One of these days,' " Wood said with a smile. "Then 10 years later, 'Mom, I swear this next record is going to do it.' "
The new album may indeed give T.S.O.L. its best shot yet at radio air play. Even more than its predecessor--1984's "Change Today" LP--"Revenge" is a driving, often provocative work that shows the group's musical base extending beyond mere punk thrash.
Although a couple of up-tempo tunes prove that the band can still muster blasts of raw punk power, Emory's blazing guitar work and the raging, Jim Morrison-like intensity of Wood's vocals on "No Time" and "Memories" would fit comfortably alongside hard rock and heavy metal on album rock stations.
But, Wood said, "no matter how much the music changes, our roots are still punk because we never played any instruments before punk."
Not surprisingly, however, T.S.O.L. is disappointed at the conformity that has invaded the punk scene since its genesis.
"When punk first started, with X and the Go-Gos and the Plugz, the whole thing was to play whatever you wanted to play," Wood said. "It didn't have to be fast, it didn't have to be slow. It was a freedom thing, and everybody supported everybody else."
"But after a while," Roche said, "it got to be everything they hated. I picture a punk mom and dad beating up their kid because he wants to have long hair. 'All right, you little . . . , why can't you be a skinhead like me and your mom?' . . . The scene that we toured for and starved for, did tours in the back of hearse vans for, and froze to death for . . . it doesn't exist anymore.
"Any scene that's self-destructive--that's anti even themselves--you can't draw much of an alliance to," Roche said. "But any underground rootsy thing where there's good bands and people trying to do something, we will always feel a strong alliance to."
DON'T TOUCH THAT DIAL: T.S.O.L. is one of the numerous adventuresome bands featured on "Alternative Video," a new cable music show currently carried on Irvine Community Cablevision and Group W Cable in Fullerton.
The producers are John Anthony Reiss, a local musician and artist, and Hilaire Brosio, music director at UC Irvine radio station KUCI-FM. Reiss and Brosio said their idea was to provide exposure for bands that aren't generally seen on MTV or other video shows.
One program takes a humorous approach to the standard rock interview by featuring Legal Weapon lead singer Kat Arthur in a segment called "Homes of Rich and Famous Rock Stars." Another light-hearted interview, "Sushi with the Circle Jerks," will be included with videos of Husker Du, Green on Red, Xymox and Henry Rollins on the segment to be shown Monday and Wednesday on both cable systems.
After completing an initial batch of four programs, Reiss said he plans to distribute the package to other local cable systems.
LIVE ACTION: Jackson Browne will play Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre on Aug. 17. Tickets go on sale Sunday. . . . Tickets go on sale Monday for Stevie Nicks' June 29 show at the Pacific Amphitheatre. . . . Della Reese will perform June 6 at the Dal Rae Restaurant in Fullerton. . . . The Blasters, now including ex-James Harman Band guitarist Hollywood Fats, will play the Coach House in San Juan Capistrano on June 10. . . . Tupelo Chain Sex will be at Safari Sam's in Huntington Beach on June 13.