Hardcore anarcho-punk rockers Reagan Youth were first active in the years when Ronald Reagan was President, and it’s fair to say that their politics didn’t align with those of “The Gipper”. But even leaving politics aside, there’s no denying that their music was full of raw power, thanks to singer Dave Rubinstein, aka David Insurgent, and guitarist Paul Bakija, aka Paul Cripple.
Their first EP, Youth Anthems for the New Order (later re-released as Volume 1) came out in 1984, and featured fuzzy distortion and anti-fascist commentary on the socio-political scene. Their next recordings, Volume 2 released in 1990, continued the punk rock attitude but with a more ambitious sound.
Sadly, Rubinstein became consumed by a drug habit, and ended up committing suicide in 1993 after the murder of his girlfriend by serial killer Joel Rifkin. But Reagan Youth lives on, with Bakija leading the charge.
This interview with Paul Bakija was done by email, with answers received on 2/16/16. It was for a preview article for the band’s performance at GiGi’s Cocktail’s in Ventura on Tuesday, February 23.
Jeff Moehlis: What can people look forward to at the upcoming concert?
Paul Bakija: All the songs, and the best drummer [Rick Contreras] I ever had. Seriously, like a heart attack. Love my bass player Tibbie [X] and I have a new singer [Jeff Penalty] – drugs got ahold of the last guy. Unfortunately people do think getting an adddiction is important. I know it’s sounding tight and on musically, and inspiring in that “I Hate Hate” kind of way.
PB: First, in junior high school Dave Insurgent and these other kids, along with me, did a punk band called PUS. Then when the presidential campaigns starting happening so did Dave’s idea of renaming the band Reagan Youth and making the songs socially relevant, not just silly punk songs.
JM: Any stories you’re willing to share from the band’s early tours?
PB: We came out to California twice, in 84 and 87, but based ourselves in San Francisco and stayed two months at a time (July and August). It was different, the band was young – nothing but love of the state of California. Actually the whole West Coast is beautiful. A specific story – you ain’t gonna get one from me, just that I always loved California since I experienced it.
JM: The two Reagan Youth albums – Volume 1 and Volume 2 – have such different musical styles. Where were your minds at when you recorded each of those albums?
PB: The first record – we recorded it over the course of a year, even more. It was recorded from Spring of 83 to Spring of 84. So with all that time you can work on the guitar tone and the sound of the snare over much weed smoke.
The second album was done over the course of two weeks. The mix was done by a engineer who left everything in so Dave could decide what should stay or go. Instead Dave just sang one night and was forever changed after going through the wringer with heroin.
Main difference. First album: weed. Second album: heroin. As clear as that!
JM: The band used a lot of provocative imagery. Was the irony ever lost on people?
JM: Can you tell me about the Dave Rubinstein that you knew?
PB: Growing up with the guy, he had the best sense of humor. Very intelligent and would challenge me not to just be the kid with the stupid grades, but to use my brain. And without a doubt, the man’s love of music. He knew his stuff, back in the 70s, when it was, like, really important to know all the different bands out. Both of us loved music before punk rock came to our hood, but when it did we took to it.
JM: What made it the right time to revive Reagan Youth?
PB: When I moved back into the Lower East Side. Funny enough, the punk rock kid that pushed me to revive it, I just saw him today. But I’m not blind to the way the political process of America has become some sort of joke. A bad one at that, so it seems that the band’s imagery and message or whatnot still has a “raison d’etre”.
JM: What advice would you give to an aspiring musician?
PB: Do not play music for money. You want to make money, then open a pizzeria. If you want to live as free as you can, like a millionaire but without the money, meet girls (or boys) and actually have something you have worth saying, then do it with a song. Before there was sex, drugs, and rock and roll, it was wine, women, and song. You have to enjoy hanging out at a rock club because that music has your soul in grip, not because you need your face to be shown. And just as important, it’s not if you “made it”, it’s “how much fun have you had trying to make it”?
JM: What are your plans, musical or otherwise, for the near future?
PB: The original drummer, Charlie Tripper – one bandmate from back then that isn’t bitter, crazy or dead. He, and Tibbie on bass, one last album about the life and times of Dave Insurgent. And because I love Europe soooo much, make a European record, and call it Reagan Youth – The German Record, and have these guys I’m playing with and Tibbie record a slammin’ record, just fast, badass tunes that I’m sure the people of Europe will embrace because of their tastes. And here in the States, when I play new songs, when they’re done right, they fit in with the rest of the songs in the set. But basically, I love playing in a band, especially with a guy like Rick on drums, and Tibbie on bass, and travelling about with great people – I feel blessed.
JM: One might argue that Ronald Reagan was rather moderate compared with some of today’s politicians. What are your thoughts on the current crop of candidates for President?
PB: I’m a bit perplexed at how “New York” both parties have ended up with. Donald Trump is a New Yorker, let’s be real, Hillary is basing herself out of Brooklyn, which is where Bernie Sanders is from. A Jew from Brooklyn as the president of the United States?. I just don’t see it really making a significant change except annihilate the middle class some more. But that’s just my uninformed opinion.
JM: Do you want to set the record straight on anything about Reagan Youth?
PB: “Reagan Youth” can never, ever be taken over by neo-Nazi ultra conservative groups. The name belongs to the band, it must, with apologies to Nancy Reagan (nod nod wink wink).