The Casualties and the trouble with punk rock
‘I just wish that more energy were used to protest the real culprits of misogyny and sexism, rather than punk bands,’ one fan wrote, as if the two are mutually exclusive
When I was a teenager, I often went to see a friend’s punk band play shows at an all-ages basement bar in Guelph.
He was a year younger than me, played bass, and had a bright green mohawk that stood about a foot high. The singer was a bit older and went to a different school; he wore his hair in liberty spikes. Most of the kids who went to these shows had the types of hairstyles that required Elmer’s glue to make stand on end, but not me: I had blonde highlights and a bob.
When you’re a teenager, the way you style yourself assigns you membership into a tribe that usually corresponds with what type of music you like, but at the punk shows I went to, this coding didn’t necessarily apply. As soon as I paid my cover and walked downstairs, I belonged. Punk rock is good like that, or at least it’s supposed to be: as long as you categorize yourself as some type of outsider, you’re part of the scene. Punk rock is always there for you. So it’s not hard to declare an unwavering loyalty to the scene, the fans and — most importantly — the people in the bands that comprise it.
On Thursday, Toronto’s Mod Club announced that it would be cancelling an upcoming show by punk group The Casualties due to allegations of rape against the band’s singer, Jorge Herrera. The cancellations are nothing new. A couple months after The Casualties announced a Canadian tour, 13 dates in total have been scrapped.
Allegations about Herrera have circulated for years, most notably in the form of a blog post on the website Put Your Damn Pants On by a woman named Beth who claims she was raped by Herrera when she was 16 years old, and he was about 26. Since then, a number of websites and blogs have been flooded with the comments and responses of those who claim similar experiences with Herrera; one Tumblr page compiled a list of 28 victims.
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The backlash to these allegations has been toxic. The band’s management has used a particularly heinous line of defence, claiming that it’s NOT VERY PUNK ROCK to believe the women accusing Herrera of rape: “Unfortunately, people have been quick to judge and have not taken the time to think that they are not only slandering a singer from a punk band, but also a father, husband and family man,” a statement on the Casualties’ Facebook page read earlier this week.
“The mob has lit the torches and wants to see blood. Not a thought is wasted that it could hurt an innocent,” the band said in a statement in February. “We will not stand by while an innocent man’s life is being ruined. The only thing Jorge can be found guilty of is playing in a punk band.”
The fans are right there with them, maintaining that there’s a difference between being punk and being capable of rape. “Stay strong and stay f–kin’ punk y’all,” wrote one fan, while another assured the group that “The real punx we gonna stay with you guys!” Worst of all: “I just wish that more energy were used to protest the real culprits of misogyny and sexism, rather than punk bands,” a commenter wrote, as if the two are mutually exclusive.
A similar rationale permeates the discussion surrounding Bill Cosby. In her defense of him, Cosby’s former co-star Phylicia Rashad evoked the comedian’s “legacy” as a champion of diversity. Jill Scott did the same (though she distanced herself from her remarks recently), as did rapper Chuck D just a few weeks ago. Surely, hundreds of thousands of people who grew up with Bill Cosby thought the same: that a childhood hero, a moral arbiter, a beloved comedian with a proud legacy as a Black entertainer could not also be a monster, because if he is, what does that say about all of us who loved him?
When a scheduled NXNE concert by rapper Action Bronson was yanked off a public stage in downtown Toronto due to a petition crying foul over his misogynistic lyrics, the outcry was similar, but more simplistic: if you don’t want to hear it, just stay home. “It does seem like you’re trying to placate a bunch of soccer moms instead of your actual target demographic by booking the cleanest rapper you could think of,” a comment under NXNE’s announcement of Shad as Bronson’s replacement during the fest. “What the hell,” another said. “This is Toronto. It’s music. It’s art. If someone is offended well … f–k em. They don’t have to be there.”
The comments aren’t just an attempt to silence those standing up against misogyny and sexism, but a shaming: how dare you call into question something I believe in? How dare you take this away from me?
I don’t really like The Casualties; my experience with punk rock was always a little wimpy. But growing up, I drifted in and out of the punk scene in my hometown because even if I never felt quite like I was part of it there was no sense that I was unwelcome. Everyone I ran into at shows was a little bit of a weirdo like me, and they were there because it was a supportive environment. And I knew a lot of people who liked The Casualties.
But you can be an outcast — and speak for outcasts — and still do garbage things. Punks aren’t just punks; they’re people. And anyway, it’s not like the punk rock community is immune to the pratfalls that pervade every other community.
It can be difficult to reconcile that our heroes, mentors and idols do terrible things, not least of all because of a sense that their wrongdoings are somehow reflective of ourselves. And so the impulse to doubt or lash out against accusations is sometimes born of an impulse to keep ourselves comfortable. It’s an impulse that is, by definition, harmfully closed-minded. And that’s not very punk rock.
The Casualties were formed in 1990, with original members Jorge Herrera (vocals), Hank (guitar), Colin Wolf (vocals), Mark Yoshitomi (bass) and Yureesh Hooker (drums). The members aimed to return to what they viewed as the “golden era” of street punk, embodied by bands such as The Exploited and Charged GBH which they believed had disappeared by 1985. During the early years, the lineup was fluid, with several changes.
In early 1991 Hank left the band, to be replaced by Fred Backus on guitar to record Political Sin in March 1991 for the Benefit for Beer compilation. Soon more changes were in the works, with new guitarist Fred heading off to school. C Squat’s Scott temporarily filled Fred’s shoes until he returned a short time later. During this period, guitarist Hank filled in for a couple of shows, and Steve Distraught also played briefly with the group on second guitar. The Casualties stabilized long enough to record the first demo in the fall of 1991 and the 40 oz Casualty EP in the spring of 1992, and was building up a fan base in their hometown of New York City. At the end of 1992, Mark and Fred left the band and were replaced by Mike Roberts on bass and Jake Kolatis on the guitar, followed by the departure of Yureesh and Colin in 1994, to be replaced on drums by Shawn, while the band went down to a single vocalist.[1994 sees the recording of the 4 song EP, Drinking Is Our Way Of Life, however it would not be released. The songs would later appear on the Casualties “early years 1990-1995” CD in 1999. In 1995, the band’s second release, the 4 track A Fuckin’ Way Of Life E.P. was released on Eyeball Records. After recording A Fuckin’ Way of Life, Shawn left the band, and Marc Eggers (nicknamed Meggers) of the Rivits became the regular drummer. The line-up of Jorge, Jake, Mike and Meggers continued until 1997.
In 1996 the Casualties became the first American band to appear at the “Holidays in the Sun” Festival in London. 1997 saw the release of the band’s debut album, For the Punx is released on Tribal War Records, and the band embarks on its first American tour with The Varukers. Mike (the bassist) left the band in 1998, to be replaced with Johnny Rosado, from The Krays. They released their second LP that year, Underground Army, and begin a world tour.