After disbanding more than two years ago, the Penetrators, San Diego's pioneering troupe of punk rockers, will get together Saturday night for a one-shot reunion performance at the Spirit nightclub in Bay Park.
And a fellow by the name of Jay Bogart is getting the best birthday present he could wish for.
"Jay has always been our biggest fan," said Penetrators keyboardist Jim Call. "Every time I ran into him after the split, the first thing he said was always, 'When are you guys going to get back together?'
"So now, we're finally going to do it--mostly for Jay, but also for our other fans, and for ourselves. If nothing else, it promises to be a really good party, just like all our gigs were in the six years that the band was together."
Jay Bogart's birthday present is sure to bring back some fond memories for San Diego's punk rock community.
The resounding wave of punk rock that swept the nation in the middle 1970s finally crashed to shore in San Diego in late 1977, Call said.
"Before that, the original music scene here was going through a dry period," Call said. "In fact, it didn't exist. The only live music you could find consisted of a handful of bar bands that played the Top 40, but there was nothing original, nothing new."
A new breed of local bands, led by the Penetrators, changed all that. They thumbed their noses on copy tunes and stubbornly insisted on playing only their own music.
Like such international punk leaders as the Sex Pistols and the Clash, they were rebels. Energy and decibels replaced virtuosity; their simple, raw sound was a slap in the face to the musically complex progressive rock that was heard on the radio.
And their lyrics expressed everything from teen-age angst to revulsion at the world's political climate and social mores.
As it did in cities all over the world, Call said, the punk rock movement took San Diego by the throat. New bands sprang up weekly until public demand prompted leery club owners to at last relent and give original music a chance.
"Everything just sort of exploded," Call said. "For the first time in years, you could go out at night and hear music that was different from what was played on the radio."
By 1981, the original music explosion that had been sparked by punk rock was firmly in control of local night life. Clubs like the Spirit and downtown's Zebra Club drew standing-room-only crowds seven nights a week by offering a mix of local and national talent.
Music industry bigwigs like producer Kim Fowley and Stiff Records president Bruce Kirkland were regularly scouting out new talent in San Diego.
And the Penetrators, who had started the whole thing, were at an all-time high in popularity. They had pretty much outgrown the nightclub circuit and instead were pulling in thousands of people to such larger concert facilities as Golden Hall downtown and Bing Crosby Hall in Del Mar.
Four self-produced records made the best-seller lists in record stores all over town. They toured the country and made the national rock press.
Several times, the Penetrators were rumored to be on the verge of signing a six-figure deal with a major international record company.
But gradually, the original music scene began to wind down. The arrival of MTV brought the latest new wave sounds into everyone's living room, so club attendance declined. Live rock clubs were replaced by high-tech discos where the focus was on dancing, not listening.
More and more bands left town, broke up, or went back to playing the ever-popular Top 40. The Penetrators hung around until November, 1984.
"The last year we were together, the only thing that saved us were the teen nightclubs," Call said. "But when the teen nightclubs, too, began to close their doors, our revenue was severely reduced, and when that happens, it's hard to keep going on."
What killed the Penetrators?
"Basically, it was the fact that people became less interested in hearing original music in general and punk rock in particular," Call said.
"But there was also the discouragement of almost making it for so long, without ever realizing the ultimate goal of getting a recording contract.
"For some reason, the Penetrators were never able to sound as good on vinyl as we did live. I don't think it had to be that way, but still, that's how it was--and it hurt us."
After the Penetrators split, each member went his own way. Drummer Dan McLain changed his name to "Country" Dick Montana and formed the Beat Farmers. Guitarist Chris Davies rejoined the TBirds, the teen dance band he had played with previously.
Bassist Chris Sullivan wound up playing with ex-Beat Farmer Buddy Blue in the Jacks. Singer Gary Heffern moved to Seattle and began writing poetry. And Call went back to experimenting with the avant-garde in a new band, the Love Monsters.
This Saturday, however, they are all stepping back in time--but only for a single night.
"We've all gone into different directions, so it would be hard for us to put any real effort into resurrecting the Penetrators full time," Call said.
"Each one of us has changed a lot over the years. Look at me--the band I'm in now is so experimental that we don't even use notes.
"Still, it is not outside the realm of possibility that we would get back together again for a special occasion."
Like Jay Bogart's birthday?
"Yeah," Call added, laughing. "Something like that."