Features Interviews Ramparts

Interviews: Ramparts

Scene Point Blank: Based on your zines and the All Bets Off artwork, it is pretty clear you have a connection to the graffiti scene. When did you become interested in it and what is the extent of your involvement?

Sammy Winston: I caught my first tag on Halloween night when I was in the fourth grade. Growing up in this city, this mecca of graffiti, it becomes a part of you. You can't get away from it. The paint seeps into your bones. Being raised in San Francisco at the time that I was made me fortunate enough to actually live among the movement that was later consolidated by Aaron Rose under the term "beautiful losers." I saw Twists' first tags. Aeros. Giant. Tie. Felon. REM's horses. ROT. Psycho City. 3F. The area behind the Coronet. UB40. The invention and introduction of Krink. The pits. Judah tunnel. The L.A. invasion. KUK. Bushopping. All that rich history of vandalism in San Francisco, I experienced firsthand. Those were my heroes, my reference points. The first non-grandparent death I knew of was hearing about Midas killing himself. I mean, this is where I learned about life. Midas killed himself, big news to little kids with markers. A few years later, when I was thirteen, I had to deal with my cousin killing himself. It all comes together That's this city, that's graffiti in San Francisco. Life lessons and ruined NorthFace jackets. It's as much a part of my essence as punk rock, heartbreak, violence, and books. It's something that you can't help but be passionate about, even if you aren't out there bombing. I remember when, in the late 80s I think, Twist did a series of his old eggheads in the tunnel, and the story was that he was trying to get them to animate themselves to the passengers of the train passing by them, like a flipbook. I mean, fuck, how can you not hold something like that dear?

Scene Point Blank: Both the Bets and Ramparts have awesome flyers. And if I'm not mistaken, you put out an All Bets Off flyers book. In an era where Myspace bulletins seem de rigueur, what role do you see flyers having?

Sammy Winston: Well, a good flyer is a good flyer whether it's taped to a streetlight or posted on a computer messageboard. The act of flyering may be less significant these days, but not the art of flyers.

Scene Point Blank: Speaking of flyers, you seem to incorporate Aria Giovanni into a handful of them. Is there a story to that?

Sammy Winston: She's my muse. My lady, Kristafawn, doesn't want me using her face on flyers, so I use the second prettiest girl I know.

Scene Point Blank: Your label, Spiderghost, has had some awesome releases and artwork. What are your goals for the label? Will zines and written projects continue to play a part in Spiderghost? What can we look forward to in terms of upcoming releases?

Sammy Winston: Spiderghost will never be a record label. That is why I've never called it Spiderghost Records. Spiderghost is intended to facilitate whatever project strikes my fancy at the time, whether it's a record or a zine or booking a show or whatever. It needs to be multi-faceted, otherwise it'll be boring. Or, at least, I'll be bored.

Scene Point Blank: It is clear from both your lyrics and written projects that you have a love for literature. What are some of your favorite authors/works and what are you currently reading?

Sammy Winston: There are authors I truly enjoy to read, like John Irving and Don Delillo and Vollman and Hubert Selby Jr. and Hunter S. Thompson. And then there are writers that, while I enjoy their work, I read as a challenge to myself, to sharpen my knives, like Goethe or Genet or Faulkner or Joyce or Salinger. And I have a terrible weakness for music biographies. They are the best books to take on the road. I don't even have to like the band to enjoy the book.

Want a wonderful literary anecdote? And watch your toes, because I'm dropping names like bricks. My favorite book of all time is Among The Dead by Michael Tolkin. Wonderful, dark, funny book. It was out of print for years. Suddenly, it was back in print, in paperback. I bought the one copy the store had and I gave it to Davey Havok for his birthday or Christmas or some other bullshit. I gave it to him, so happy to share my favorite book with someone that I knew would appreciate it. A few months later, I was at his house and saw the book sitting on a pile of books. I asked if he had read it, and he began to stammer. My birthday was a few days away and he asked if I wouldn't mind an early present. Long story short, the copy on the pile wasn't the copy I had given him. It was another copy, which he had had signed by Michael Tolkin for me, with an inscription that read: For Sammy, who has already read this book, in deep gratitude for his appreciation, Michael Tolkin. I mean, fuck, you know. How do you even wrap your head around that kind of consideration? He was only outdone by Anthony, who got S.E. Hinton to sign a copy of The Outsiders to me with an All Bets Off lyric as part of the inscription. If for only that reason, although there are many, Anthony owns a part of my soul forever.

Scene Point Blank: How do your literary interests influence your music projects and life in general?

Sammy Winston: Literature, both appreciating it and creating it, has always been a big part of my life, thanks to the influence of my mother (a voracious reader who encouraged me to read beyond my age growing up- I believe I was only in the seventh grade when she told me to read The Wretched Of The Earth by Frantz Fanon). The most significant thing it does is force me to live up to a certain standard. If you know great lyricism, and appreciate it, it is shameful to create something of your own that falls short of that influence. Wes Eisolds' greatest accomplishment as far as I am concerned was to challenge hardcore kids to write better lyrics, to care as much about the craft as the message. And I suppose I hope that I am setting that same example in some way. I'm mean, in hardcore, we're all saying "the world is fucked". The important thing now is to find a new and better way to say it.

Scene Point Blank: In the June Gloom zine, you reference Morrissey lyrics at two different pivotal points of the essay. What influence has Morrissey's canon had on your life?

Sammy Winston: I despised Morrissey for the majority of my life. That's how it was when I was growing up, you either loved Morrissey or you hated Morrissey and I was too busy listening to Black Flag to love Morrissey. A few years ago, a friend forced Morrissey on me and I became enchanted by his lyrics. From the lyrics, the music eventually sunk its teeth into me, and from there, I lost myself in the entire mythical, mystical entity that is MOZ. He can speak to all people, at all times, under all circumstances, and do it eloquently. That's a rarity, even among great artists, to be so in tune with the human condition that you can touch every human condition. Why do you think so many hardcore kids and gang members and skinheads and other sordid types love this effete little crooner from England?

Scene Point Blank: Ramparts, along with several of your projects, reference The Outsiders. What is it about this novel/film that is special to you?

Sammy Winston: It spoke to me as a child, the book and the movie. It made sense, and it was one of the first things in my young life that did that, so I've carried it with me ever since. There was a great deal of darkness when I was young, a great deal of turmoil, a great deal of pain and confusion, and the book is essentially about hope, something that I needed to know about as a kid. It made me the sentimental ruffian that I am today.

Scene Point Blank: In a similar vein, San Francisco and the Bay Area seem to be an integral lyrical and aesthetic part of a lot of your projects. What is your relationship with the city? Have you always lived here and do you ever plan on living elsewhere?

Sammy Winston: Everything that is glorious and everything that is grotesque in the world can be found in its finest form here in those seven little miles that make up San Francisco. This is the greatest place on earth. I was raised here, and I've feasted on all of its dark magic. Dead Kennedys. Altamont. The Zodiac killer. Survival Research Laboratories. Kevin Collins. Patty Hearst. Acid. Graffiti. Anchor Steam. Fillmore. Faith No More. Earthquakes. Creedance Clearwater Revival. San Quentin. Crack. Black Panthers. Skateboarding. Hunter S. Thompson. Jazz. Homosexuality. Kerouac. Fog. Hells Angels. The Weather Underground. The Tenderloin. All that good stuff. When Reagan, as governor, began closing the mental institutions, they used San Francisco as a dumping ground for the mentally ill who no longer had institutions to house them. That's Frisco. This is the place, the epicenter of tragedy and triumph. This is the home of all the dreamers and the crime scene of the death of the dream.

Scene Point Blank: On that note, let's talk about the best places to do the following in SF/Bay Area:

  • Eat

    Sammy Winston: My house. If you can't get a reservation there, go to Mythic Pizza for a two-dollar slice of mushroom at two in the morning (and preferably with Ross from Ceremony)
  • Get Tattooed

    Sammy Winston: Blackheart Tattoo is my personal favorite. Everyone there is a master. Grime has a great new shop and my friend Norm MSK is tattooing there. And Heather Bailey's front room, but only I get to do that. In Oakland, I dig Temple.
  • Go Record Shopping

    Sammy Winston: Amoeba, naturally. Everything you need and even more that you don't.
  • Hang out on a Friday night

    Sammy Winston: Gilman, respecting their rules and volunteering to work so as to maintain the communal spirit that has made it such a vital and positive institution in the Bay Area music scene. Or getting your dick sucked through a glory hole at one of the city's many respectable adult arcades while coked to the gills and carrying a loaded firearm.
  • Do something debaucherous

    Sammy Winston: There are many fine churches of all denominations in San Francisco.

Scene Point Blank: You touch on age a little bit in your AMP column when reflecting on Ross' "Young ?Til I Die" tattoo and I'd like to talk about this a little more. It seems like those involved in hardcore manage to look way younger and be more involved in life than someone their same age that just works an office job or something. Is hardcore the fountain of youth?

Sammy Winston: It's funny that you say that old guys in hardcore look younger. I have always had a theory that hardcore keeps us young. If you look at guys like Cris Powerhouse or Joey Second Coming or Eric Ozenne, their faces don't match their age. It seems as if your face recognizes that you are young at heart and tries to play along. Also, a facial moisturizer after each shower does wonders to reduce dry skin and fight the effects of aging. Seriously, the key to being hardcore is ample amounts of moisturizer.

Scene Point Blank: On the flip side, are there times where you're surrounded by younger kids who are at a different place in life and you feel like you can't relate?

Sammy Winston: I can relate, because I make an effort to remember myself at that age. And I can relate because I've done my best to not grow up. It isn't age that disillusions me; it's the mentality of some kids these days. Kids need bands and need shows and need to be a part of something meaningful, but old fucks like me need that too. We're all fucked up people. If we weren't, we wouldn't be here. And age doesn't change that. It just gives you better stories to tell and gray hair.

Scene Point Blank: Do you ever get burnt out on hardcore? Has there been a period of time where you weren't involved with the scene?

Sammy Winston: I don't get burnt out. I get disappointed from time to time, if I see deviousness being rewarded or integrity being overlooked, or if I see an element I find detrimental to the scene seeping in. As far as not being involved, it isn't really a choice. I'm a lifer, for better or worse. This is too huge a part of who I am to ignore it. The scene doesn't burn people out, they let themselves burn out. I hate old guys who won't acknowledge the current manifestations because they aren't a part of it.

Zander Schloss, at the end of American Hardcore saying that hardcore is over? What a joke! You stopped paying attention at some point, Zander. And it was especially funny ?cause that guy was making that statement in that movie while stretching for his set with the Circle Jerks a handful of decades into their career. If it's dead, why are you plugging into your amp and playing for a roomful of kids? Either you're confused or you're a fraud, Zander. Lars once did an interview for some punk documentary where he took those sorts of naysayers to task, basically saying, "If punk's dead, what the fuck am I doing?" That dude still lives it, so I understand his resentment toward the lame fucks who gave up and want to discredit what's going on now. It's still out there, moving, living, they just didn't bother to hold on.

Scene Point Blank: Having been involved with punk and hardcore in an era without the Internet, I'm always interested to get the thoughts of individuals who also experienced the scene prior to the Internet. What are your thoughts on the pros and cons of the Internet era with respect to hardcore?

Sammy Winston: Honestly, it was a lot more exciting before the Internet. It was organic. You made flyers with markers and glue sticks. You scammed copies from Kinkos. You interviewed your friend's band and made an ugly little zine. Scammed copies of that at Kinkos. It was more conducive of an artistic spirit, and a rebelliousness. I'm afraid the Internet, the glossy mags, and the loot, and the status, and the "industry of hardcore music" is robbing the culture of some of its personality, that Tom Sawyer element. And waning personality will put a lot at risk. The morals. The goals. The vibrancy and desperation. The filthy beauty. Somehow, between the mid-seventies and the mid-eighties, heavy rock went from Thin Lizzy and Skynard and Motorhead to, sadly, Poison and Whitesnake and Cinderella. How that'd happen? The death of personality. That's my greatest fear for this culture. The popularity will rob hardcore of its soul and all that will be left is a hollow shell that can be filled with all the wrong influences. And, easy access of the Internet fuels that shit. The Internet is an awesome resource, but as with most awesome resources, it's used more often for bad than good.

Scene Point Blank: Any current or past bands you'd like to encourage people to check out? Anything especially deserving of attention that you think is being/has been overlooked?

Sammy Winston: Maybe I'm just like a proud parent who thinks their clubfooted, myopic, overweight kid is going to be a famous football player, but I think all the bands in Norcal are great. We have a thousand different styles here, a thousand different personalities, a thousand perspectives; but the one thing I see all these bands having in common, which I would say is a defining trait of Norcal hardcore, is that whatever you do, you attack it with earnestness and vigor. But, aside from all that, Never Healed fucking rules. As does Sabertooth Zombie. Sabertooth Zombie is the most quintessential Norcal band, in my opinion. That band seems to draw all Norcal bands into one glorious cacophony. And I must state that Rancid is the greatest band to ever come out of the Bay Area.

Scene Point Blank: What has been on your stereo as of late?

Sammy Winston: The new Trainwreck Riders album. Ceremony Scared People. Skin Like Iron demos. The Tim Armstrong solo album is fantastic and perfect for warm summer days. I've been listening to a lot of Donovan lately. And live MC5 bootlegs. And Dr. Hook and The Medicine show, for some reason.

Scene Point Blank: Whenever I see you at a show you end up tearing it up with the same excitement and energy of the teens at the show just getting into hardcore and punk. So to quote one of my favorite films: "What's the secret," Sammy?

Sammy Winston: "The secret, I don't know... I guess you've just gotta find something you love to do and then... do it for the rest of your life"


Words: Mike B. | Graphics: Matt

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Words by Mike B. on Oct. 16, 2010, 11:05 a.m.

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Posted by Mike B. on Oct. 16, 2010, 11:05 a.m.

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