Skinheads ( An American subculture)

Both Perry and I have been involved in the scene since the 80s and watched tons of shit being written about skinheads by people that had no idea what the subculture was about. I review book proposals for a publisher and I saw another series was being written about skinheads so I thought this would be a great chance to write the definitive book about skinheads in America. I was loathe to see another horrible book about skinheads written by people that had no clue what the subculture was about. I asked Perry because he and I had talked about writing a book before and this seemed like the perfect chance and so we wrote a proposal and got accepted.

2. how did you first discover the skinhead culture.

Perry:I first got into punk in 1980 while growing up in Chicago. I had seen a few TV reports on it and was fascinated. Bought the first Clash album and was hooked, the second or third punk album I got was “Tell Us the Truth” by Sham 69. That album had a huge impact on me and I remember reading an article on them in Trouser Press that mentioned the Sham Army and their large skinhead following. I met a kid at my high school that was really into punk as well as two-tone ska and he turned me onto a lot of bands and suggested I listen to a local radio show called the Big Beat. It was on for an hour every friday night and mainly consisted of new wave stuff. However the DJ always played a set or two of punk. I heard so many new bands on that show including the Angelic Upstarts, Cockney Rejects, Blitz, Cock Sparrer, etc. After seeing footage of the Southall Riot on TV and all the coverage of Oi I’d been reading in Sounds I broke down and bought the Strength Thru Oi! comp. Loved It! Even though I was a punk I became more and more interested in skinhead culture over the next few years and finally got up the nerve to shave my head in late 1985. Have never looked back since.

Tiffini: I got into skinhead by way of hardcore and punk. I went to punk shows at Fenders in Long Beach and saw skinheads and discovered oi music by buying British compilations and started hanging out with skinheads and learned more about it and eventually shaved my head about a year after I heard about the subculture. What attracted me to the scene initially was how bad ass skinheads were at the shows. Back then they dominated and people were afraid of them. I also liked the sound of oi and the look.  It was in 1987 so there was nothing in the news about skinheads just the different crews around the LA area. I didn’t shave my head immediately because I knew about right wing skinheads and nazi stuff was alive and well so I wanted to make sure I knew about the subculture before I shaved my head. A guy I was dating before I shaved my head handed me Skrewdriver’s Blood and Honour and said: don’t shave your head THIS is what skinhead is (and yeah he was skinhead). But I knew about the roots of the subculture and so I didn’t listen to him and shaved my head anyways. Later i discovered the original style of skinheads and the early reggae and ska stuff as well.

3. what is/was your involvement.

I grew my fringe out around 1993 but my friends and my lifestyle are still deeply tied with the scene. I still go to shows and travel to the UK to Rebellion festival and still own all my old gear and even my first pair of DMs.

Perry of course is in the Templars so he plays regularly and is active in the scene as well.

4. the book says ‘an american’ subculture, how do you think that wil go down around the world, or is the book aimed purely at an american readership.

I am sooo happy you asked this question. First to clarify the SERIES is called “American Subcultures” so every single title says that regardless of the subculture. Unfortunately for us that makes the books seem as if we are implying skinheads are an American creation which we all know it isn’t.

The first section of the book traces the origins of skinheads in the UK. The rest of the book focuses on the development of the subculture in America from its inception here in the 1980s until the present day. Because the subculture is British, we talk about the similarities and differences between the UK and US versions of the subculture throughout the book.

We hope that this title becomes one of many volumes people buy to find out the history of skinheads in general. The same way I have skinheads by Nick Knight and Spirit of 69, I am hoping it will become just one other title to have to document the history of the subculture. This one just happens to examine the history of skinheads as they occurred in the USA.

5. how important is the skinhead subculture in the usa, next to things which seem traditionally more american . like rap, rock n roll, blues etc

I think a better comparison would be skinhead subculture and punk subculture in the USA. In terms of alternative music, I think it has increased and decreased depending upon the scenes in different cities. The USA is huge geographically so it really depends on what year, region or strain of the subculture you are considering. Ska and Reggae are more popular in some cities while Oi and hardcore are the mainstay of the scene in others. To try to compare it other subcultures in terms of “importance” would be impossible to do.

6. when did skinheads first make its way to the usa, and why was it picked up there.

Skinheads started in the early 80s in USA. Definitely due to the popularity of 2Tone and Oi! and Punk music. It was picked up because the look and the sound were unique and different. Probably the same reasons skinheads in England got popular.

7. how has the skinhead subculture been treated by the american media over the years, has it always been seen as a political movement or a music, fashion based subculture.

Initially it was reported in the media as a British youth movement. At first when skinheads began popping up in the USA they were lumped together with punks. It wasn’t till a few years after skinheads was in the USA that they started getting labeled as Nazis by the press. Mostly because of groups that started distributing racist materials and marching for a political cause. Once the talk shows and the media portrayed skinheads in one way, the general population saw the subculture as a bunch of “nazi, thugs”.

Of course people in the scene always identified with the subculture based on the lifestyle and didn’t really pay attention or care what the media said.

8. without me reading the book, how do you start middle and end the book, is it just done as a dated reference to the spread of the skinhead subculture across america, with media stories propping it up, ie the geraldo show.

The book is organized by topics. There is a timeline at the beginning tracing the major events that shaped the subculture in the USA and after that its broken down into the following chapters: Origins of Skinheads, Being a Skinhead (for people that don’t know anything about the lifestyle), Media coverage of the subculture (mainstream media, skinhead publications, movies, television and internet), Music (Oi!, 2Tone, Reggae, Ska, NY Hardcore, American Oi! and Djs) Fashion (clothes, tattoos and hairstyles), and Politics (Rise of White Power and Antiracist groups). It ends with profiles of the major skinhead bands and crews, primary documents (interviews, scene reviews and research written during the 80s-90s) and a glossary of major terms used in the subculture (again for people that don’t know about the subculture).

Because this is a reference book it is written so people that don’t know anything about skinheads will understand how it developed, what shaped the subculture and how it was in the early days in the USA. For that reason we interviewed skinheads all over the USA and did extensive research in both the mainstream and underground media. The perspective of the scene is given from all parts of the subculture and all regions.

We collected so much information that we couldn’t fit into the book we could have literally written a second book just based on the interviews. But the publishers wanted a more general overview of the subculture so we couldn’t include everything.

9. from my own investigation into the american version of the skinhead scene, it seems from an outsiders view point to be very gang related, with ceremonies like, ‘shaving in’ ‘jumped in’, and various other terms, freshcuts, peckerwood etc. is there some form of organised gangs or crews with strict rules, if so where did that come from, and how does a skinhead differentiate from any other ‘gang’

Just like in the UK there were various factions of skins that developed. I think the longstanding existence of gangs in the United States made it much more aligned with traditional gang structure in some cities. For example Chicago and New York and Los Angeles were well known for having crews that resembled street gangs. Even the political groups were derived from gang structures and heavily influenced by pre-existing gangs. Probably due to the size of the US, every region had its own unique aspects which we explore in the book.

As far the “rules” or social structure of the subculture, I can’t speak to every one. But I know in my own experience these were things just passed down or generally “known” by skinheads. For example, girls were expected to cut their fringe really short when I shaved my head and the term “earning your fringe” was something you just knew you did. Who knows it was probably some rule made up by a girl that didn’t’ want anyone having a better cut than her! The same for the lace color rules. Every city was different but you heard about all the different ones. I always thought they were dumb and wore white laces (white power) in my boots because it looked good.

Skinheads in America basically made their own rules because they could. In the early 80s there was no manual, no older skinheads to define the rules so they just did what they wanted and made it their own.

10. do you think that the media version, of the political extremist is the actual reality of skinheads in usa. being a racially devided country, how does the skinheads cross communities. in the uk the scene was very much from the working class, is that the same in the usa?

Again, that depended on the geography. There is no denying that in some cities racist skinheads ran shit. Just like in other cities it was the opposite. In even more cities it was a constant war between the two factions. The media only looked at the side that sold the most papers. Even when they reported so called racists attacks they were talking about non-racist skinheads. I am sure you have plenty examples of the UK misrepresenting events that involved skinheads too. So in short I don’t think the media version of skinhead is the reality of the subculture (god help us if it was!).

I also think the assumption of the USA as being “racially divided” is a misleading statement. We are too large a country to make sweeping statements about- some cities and areas are different than others. As far as skinheads go, they basically reflect the populations they live in. For example there are larger Latino skinhead populations in states like Texas and California. In New York there were a lot of Italians, Puerto Ricans and Blacks. Chicago probably had the largest black skinhead population of all in the 80s and 90s.

Because our countries are different we don’t have the same “working class” as you do. We have the middle class as well which a lot of skinheads would probably be categorized as in addition to working class. To skinheads that we interviewed, “working class” meant working for a living and being self-sufficient – not existing on government handouts or other people. If you listen to the lyrics of a lot of American skinhead bands you can hear this same message.
11, which skinhead bands first became known in the usa, did they model themselves on the uk oi bands, 2tone or original Jamaican ska.

First bands that became popular were from the UK (ska and oi). A lot of early American bands emulated those sounds. But just like other areas of the subculture the bands integrated sounds that were popular in their areas with what the UK brought over. The first skinhead band in the USA according to our exhaustive research was Iron Cross from Washington, DC. Other US bands were influenced by the UK oi scene: Youth Brigade from LA, Negative Approach from Detroit and The Effigies from Chicago for example, but none of those bands could really be defined as ‘skinhead’ bands in the UK sense. The bands that really kick-started the skinhead scenes in the US were New York hardcore bands like Agnostic Front and the Cro-Mags. While they listened to British Oi!, they fused it with their own distinctly New York Hardcore sound. They were both dynamic live bands with skinhead members in their ranks and they really spread the skinhead idea through touring in the mid-1980s. Other American Oi! bands like the Anti Heros have a uniquely American sound. Later bands sounded more like traditional Oi! (Templars) and ska/reggae (Hepcat and Aggrolites).
12. how did Hollywood effect the skinhead culture, with films like American history x

Killed it. You had a whole definition of kids that ONLY knew about skinhead from that movie. Before that, the other shows also gave a very plastic view of the subculture. Luckily most of those kids have moved onto another cool subculture. Maybe they are all wearing black like Twilight movies or something.

13, when would you say the height of the skinhead population was.

Probably the late 1980s and the late 1990s. The scene has had its ebbs and flows. It was real small in the early 1980s, grew exponentially and peaked in the late 1980s, fell off in the early 1990s, grew big again in the late 1990s, declined in the early 2000s and now in the last couple years its really picked up again. Hopefully we can sustain the growth this time around!
14, how did the hardcore scene become part of the skinhead culture.

All roads lead to New York. The Lower East Side Crew was formed in NY and included most of the members of all the original NYHC bands (Cromags, Agnostic Front, Warzone). They adopted the skinhead look and sung about skinheads but to hardcore music. NYHC was an entry point for many youths into the subculture especially for the second generation of skinheads in the USA (after 1986). Because they toured they brought it all over the US. Eventually hardcore branched off and became its own subculture.

15 what do you wish to achieve with your book

We hope that anyone that wants to learn about the subculture will read our book instead of the other bullshit titles out there written by people that don’t know shit about it. Every “academic” book written about it is done by cops or scholars and not people that lived it. We are hoping to document our past so any future generations will have a story that isn’t twisted by whatever some dumb fuck makes up on the internet. We want to publish something that accurately portrays the subculture to the best of our ability. I am sure there will be people that say “you didn’t add this or you didn’t cover that” or “why did you put that or why did you quote that” but to them I say this: go ahead and publish your own book. This book took more than two years to put together and we interviewed skinheads from every generation and across the nation to make it as comprehensive as possible. It is impossible to include everything in just one volume but we hope this is a good start to covering the subculture we both love.

One Response to Skinheads ( An American subculture)

  1. Looks great – is this available though Amazon?

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