Yawn Farewell for Old Punk Room
“We’re just a wrecking crew, bored boys with nothing to do,” goes the refrain of a vintage Adolescents song, one of many early-'80s O.C. punk-rock classics that rang out from the stage of the Cuckoo’s Nest, an important cradle of the local punk movement.
Now the building in Costa Mesa that housed the fondly remembered punk dive is awaiting a date with another kind of wrecking crew. A prospective new owner said demolition will probably come in late September or October.
From 1978 to 1981, the Cuckoo’s Nest played host to a parade of touring rock talent and such pioneering punk locals as the Adolescents, T.S.O.L., Agent Orange, the Crowd and Social Distortion.
Run-ins between the punk fans and the older, country music-loving crowd at Zubie’s, a restaurant next door, set the stage for city officials to revoke entertainment permits and put the Cuckoo’s Nest and owner Jerry Roach out of business.
Music resumed for a couple of years when the club reopened in 1982 as the Concert Factory, with a new owner and a menu of heavy-metal and new-wave bands, closing again when attendance lagged. The building eventually became an adjunct to Zubie’s, but the Cuckoo’s Nest lived on in O.C. rock lore, thanks to the enduring musical legacy of bands that emerged there and to “The Legend of Pat Brown” and “Urban Struggle,” two local punk classics by the Vandals.
The songs chronicled the culture clashes between the raucous denizens of the Cuckoo’s Nest and their antagonists at Zubie’s, which at the time had an “Urban Cowboy” motif.
“Pat Brown” immortalized a 1981 incident in which a punk fan allegedly tried to run over two police officers outside the Cuckoo’s Nest, prompting one to fire shots into Brown’s fleeing car.
Another Costa Mesa business, Hank’s Electric Supplies, is acquiring the structures at 1712 and 1714 Placentia Ave., which house Zubie’s and the former Cuckoo’s Nest--now Zubie’s Gilded Cage, a pizza parlor. Plans call for demolishing both and building a new warehouse on the site. The transaction is in escrow, said Betty Willemsen, co-owner of Hank’s Electric; she said it will probably take a month or more after the sale closes before the wrecking crew arrives.
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 stands, it’s 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 will be razed.
“I’m not going to feel a tear welling in my eye when they tear down the Cuckoo’s Nest,” said Jim Kaa, guitarist of the Crowd, who performed often at the club. For Kaa, the Golden Bear in Huntington Beach, which fell to make way for downtown redevelopment in the 1980s, carried more sentimental weight and architectural charm.
“But 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.”
Grisham, still a punk-influenced rocker but no longer a teenage brawler, says he set foot in Zubie’s for the first time a few months ago.
“My wife’s mom likes to go. I kind of felt like a traitor going there and getting a steak.”
He doesn’t expect to go out of his way to watch when the buildings that housed the warring factions at the Cuckoo’s Nest and Zubie’s meet a shared fate at the hands of a demolition team.
“It was a great club, a lot of cool memories, but nobody really cares anymore.”