Cuckoo's Nest film 'We Were Feared' revisits early '80s O.C. punk scene
Longtime followers of the Southern California punk rock scene should well remember the Cuckoo’s Nest, one of the key punk clubs of the late '70s and early '80s and one of the few places a punk band could find a paying gig.
The Cuckoo's Nest and its colorful owner, Jerry Roach, are the focus of a new documentary, "We Were Feared," that's slated for a pair of screenings at the upcoming Newport Beach Film Festival. The club hosted touring acts including the Ramones, Iggy Pop and David Johansen and Southland stalwarts such as Black Flag, Fear, the Circle Jerks, the Vandals and TSOL during its brief three-year life as a punk rock haven. It closed in 1981 following ongoing disputes with neighbors and city officials who objected to leather-jacketed, spiky haired kids with tattoos who frequented the club.
Full disclosure: As a writer assigned to covering pop music in Orange County for The Times starting in 1981, I covered the Cuckoo's Nest regularly and was one of many sources interviewed by the makers of "We Were Feared," although I haven't seen the film yet.
One of my most vivid memories of the wild nights of slam dancing and stage diving I witnessed at the Cuckoo's Nest was at a show headlined by Fear. I was milling around the concrete floor in front of the battle-scarred stage waiting for the band to go on when a firm hand clamped down on my shoulder. An ominous-looking guy with an equally ominous-sounding voice said, "Are you Randy Lewis? Lee Ving wants to see you."
Immediately I started wondering whether something I'd written earlier in the week about the group's upcoming show had angered the group's volatile lead singer. Instead, when I found Ving backstage, he was all smiles and simply wanted to thank me for giving the group some attention in The Times. The sigh of relief I let out is probably still hovering somewhere over Costa Mesa.
"We Were Feared," directed by Jonathan W.C. Mills and produced by Roach and York Shackleton, will screen April 25 and April 29 at Edwards Island Theater at Fashion Island in Newport Beach. Roach also produced a short documentary in 1983 about the punk scene at the Cuckoo's Nest; that one was called "Urban Struggle."
Of the irony of the premiere in tony Newport about the gritty scene three decades ago in an industrial section of Costa Mesa, Roach quips, "They’ll be sorry for inviting me back."
-- Randy Lewis
Photo: The Ramones circa 1978 at the Cuckoo's Nest with club owner Jerry Roach, second from right. Credit: Endurance Pictures.