Lately, people have been calling us old school / but youth is an attitude, fuckers
-10-96, “Isn’t Life Crazy”
Dean Dirt [Dean Lipke] was the frontman for Kenosha punk legends 10-96 (10-96 is a police code, meaning that the officer is dealing with a mentally disturbed subject). From my earliest days as part of the scene, I had people tell me: “You want to know the real Kenocore shit? You have to see 10-96.” I mean, they started in 83, and were still going strong in the mid-90s, and that alone says something good about them. When an underground band keeps going that long, you know they’re doing it because it’s what they love to do. That intensity and drive is worth more to me as a fan than all the record deals and critical acclaim in the world. I only got to see 10-96 once, in early 1998, and they ripped the place apart. Bone-shattering drums, throbbing bass, blistering guitars and songs with that pure hardcore rage, they had it all. Dean, especially, impressed me, because he was pushing 40 and still had so much ferocious energy. He dove into the crowd and put his whole heart into it, screaming: They’ve been trying to put us down / but we’ve got too much heart. Youth is an attitude. Punk rock, don’t stop. That was the only time I got to see 10-96, and I never met Dean – he passed away in November 1998. But Dean and his music have been a huge part of my life. 10-96 are the Kenocore band I listen to more than any of the others. Also, I still run into people who played in bands with Dean, or knew him from being part of the scene. To this day, they tell wild stories about him, and it’s like he’s still around. Though he passed away 17 years ago, he touched enough people’s lives that his presence is still felt. If you spend enough time in Kenosha, you’re bound to hear so many stories about him that it’s like he’s still around.
In early 2009, I was down in Chicago visiting a friend of mine. We’d both recently had our hearts broken (mine by a punk boy from Kenosha!), and decided the best cure for it was to put on our reddest lipstick, get wasted, and slam to some good old-fashioned punk rock. At the club, we drank shots of whiskey and pitchers of beer, and watched the opening band set up. “Wait a second,” I said, “I recognize those guys.” It was Pistofficer, a Kenocore group of drunk punks. I laughed. I would run into guys I’d known since 1998, guys who were friends with the fella I was trying to forget, guys I often saw at the bar, guys I used to do drugs with. A few songs in, they announced: “This song is for a friend of ours who passed away.” I turned to my friend, said: “If it’s someone from Kenosha, it’s gotta be someone I know, too.” Sure enough. “This one’s for Beautiful Bert,” they said, and played “The Bert Song.”
Beautiful Bert [Brian Phillips] fronted many bands over the years, including The Luscious Ones, the BB Slags, and the Crotch Crickets. I heard tales of his onstage antics – heard that the things he did while performing rivaled the likes of Iggy Pop and GG Allin – years before I ever saw him live. The stories did not lie – on stage he was gross, he was in your face, and he was unforgettable (I once saw him shove a microphone in his butt crack. Unpleasant, yes, but definitely unforgettable). Even without those antics, he would’ve been a frontman to watch. He had a demon scream and a guttural growl and a larger-than-life personality that had nothing to do with his large size. Speaking of GG Allin – Bert knew him, and GG sometimes played drums for Bert. I’ve never been a GG fan, but that’s punk history, right there.
He passed away in early 2008, but I did not know about it until that night in 2009. It surprised me that none of my Kenosha friends had thought to tell me, and I found myself mourning a year late. I mourned the punk scene’s loss of yet another phenomenal frontman, and I mourned his presence in my life. We weren’t close friends, but he was one of my favorite acquaintances. Sure, he could be a drunk asshole on occasion, but who among us has not been a drunk asshole on occasion? And he could also be a total sweetheart. He’d walk into the bar, share a crazy story and grace me with his charming missing-toothed smile, and when he’d ask me for a cigarette, I’d give him two, just because. He had passion, and he lived it. After Pistofficer’s set that night, my friend and I stepped outside for a cigarette. I poured the rest of my pitcher of beer onto the cracked pavement, in memory of Beautiful Bert. As Korye wrote in Art is Dead zine: “Bert was basically my punk rock idol. I knew I’d never get to meet Joey Ramone or Johnny Rotten, let alone hang out with them and shoot the shit. I had Bert.”
Sure, he could be a drunk asshole on occasion, but who among us has not been a drunk asshole on occasion?
In the decade between when I first discovered Kenosha punk rock and when Bert passed away, I became a full-fledged part of the scene. I saw 10-96 and The Luscious Ones. I saw Pistofficer, URBN DK, Despite, Human Order, and a hundred other bands that I’ve forgotten. I went to shows in basements in town and in barns out in the county. I went to the Punk Picnic almost every year (back when they held it in a tiny picnic hutch by the lake). I went to shows at The Port, and Hattrix (the CBGB of Kenosha). I did drugs with the boys in the bands, kissed every punk rock boy and girl that fell into my lap. The music got inside me, and then I lived inside it. By 2000, most of the Kenocore people knew me by sight, if not by name. I remember walking to the gas station with my girlfriend, to buy cigarettes, and the clerk recognizing me. I was hard to miss, with my bright-red Chelsea cut hair, and I had a Despite patch safety pinned to my hoodie. “Oi!” he said. “Kenocore!” We accept you! You’re one of us!
Six years later, at a time in my life when I thought I’d given up punk, I was visiting my Kenosha pals. As I sat, sipping my whiskey, an older KHCP dude approached me. He didn’t know my name, but he knew he’d seen me at a lot of shows (and at the bar) over the years. That night, I had on a vintage dress and a clutch of fake pearls – not your usual punk rock girl ensemble – but he never once questioned my right to be part of the scene. In fact, he looked at my tattoos and said: “You’ve got an anarchy tattoo and a Clash tattoo. You’re like, an old school punk and shit.” I smiled, because if this man who was at least a decade older than myself and was in a band with former members of URBN DK thought of me as an old school punk, I guess that meant I was. I smiled, because, despite my vintage dresses and my protests that I was no longer a punk – save your breath, I never was one – I couldn’t shed it that easily. You can give the girl an accordion and some fake pearls, you can have her stop going to as many shows…but you can’t take the Kenocore out of the grrrl.
Jessie Lynn McMains is a writer and zine-maker currently based in southeastern Wisconsin. She writes about nostalgia, desire, identity, music, wild girls, and her misspent youth.