Agent Orange Continues Carpet-Bombing Surf-Punk

David Ensminger
Agent Orange's Mike Palm at Rocbar earlier this year.
Rocks Off recently had the opportunity to speak with Agent Orange's Mike Palm, who founded the Southern California surf-punks in the late '70s and has remained in the trenches ever since. Agent Orange plays Fitzgerald's Sunday evening.

Rocks Off: What brought about the affinity between surf and punk cultures?

Mike Palm: I think you'd have to go all the way back to the 1960s. Actually, you could probably go even further back than that. Original surf culture - those guys were all about forging their own paths. They were kind of outcasts. People thought they were degenerate.

In reality, they were some of the first people to embrace fitness and clean living and actually living the life they way they wanted to, which is beneficial to your health in the long run. Mainstream society thought they were freaks. It's the same thing with punks too. People think, punk rock, what's it all about? Spitting, fighting, bloody noses, and guys barfing on each other.

Someone asked Joe Strummer (The Clash) what he thought the meaning of punk rock was, and he said, "An exemplary attitude towards your fellow man." Something like that. He was the kind of guy at 4 in the morning, when everyone was drunk out of their minds, he was the guy who made sure you had an ash tray, if you needed it.

People think that punk is just this nasty thing, but really, I think it was an intelligent movement that sort of paraded as idiocy, for the fun of it.

Rocks Off: Did you feel like outsiders - melodic instead of raw?

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MP: We had a falling out, Steve Soto (Adolescents) and I, and that split the original line-up, and thank god that happened, honestly. The world got the Adolescents and D.I. and everything else, the splinter offs. Steve is a huge Paul McCartney fan. Actually, I love the Beatles too. More poppy and melodic music has always been something that appeals to me, and I right off the bat saw the potential of combining the furious energy of punk rock with something melodic and thoughtful, something more intelligent.

It's just two schools of thought. You can either strip it down to something primal, strip it all the way down to the frame, basically that's what hardcore is, or you can take it in the other direction and go beyond that to do something more interesting. It's not like we were the only band doing it. Look at the Damned. They did all kinds of very adventurous things musically. Siouxsie and the Banshees right off the bat were expansive.

In the pre-punk days, we were listening to a lot of German electronic music. Kraftwerk and Tangerine Dream are two of my favorites. That was very outside-the-box thinking for its time. We just happened to choose the melodic direction. The hardcore guys, of course, weren't into it, but chicks dig it.

RO: You really liked Germs singer Darby Crash's voice and lyrics?

MP: Sure. There's lots of people who have unique voices, and you go, "Wow, listen to that guy." Darby wasn't really copying anyone. No one did that before him. It's not that he had a great voice, it's that he had a great style of singing. Anybody could have done it, but he was the only guy who thought about it, to do it that way for whatever reason. Lyrically, I think he was really brilliant. To this day, it blows my mind to read those lyrics.

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