Sunday, March 1, 2009

One SHARP story

I remember the first time I shaved my head. It was kind of cool out, the end of summer, but not quite the start of fall. It was late in the evening, I laced up my boots, put on my flight jacket, and as I stepped out onto the street for the first time, the cool breeze hitting my freshly cropped hair felt tingly and electric. It was an amazing feeling, one that I have never forgotten, some 15 years later.

This was back in the mid 1990's. The "bad old days" of the skinhead scene. Not only had the boneheads started to pop up everywhere, but they had organized, and many older skinheads from the 80's had decided to hang up their boots, out of disgust at what they saw as an invasion, and a distortion of what they had been for many years. What had made it worse was not only that the popular media was convinced that all skinheads were thick headed, jack booted neo-nazi thugs, but the general public seemed to agree with them. Hate groups like the Heritage Front, and the Northern Hammerskins had taken an amazing and long lived youth culture, and in the span of a few years had all but ruined it.

But there were still hold outs. People who were unwilling to just hand over the keys to the boneheads. The ska scene was going through it's 3rd (or 4th depending on who you ask) wave, and people were starting to remember (again) 2 Tone and first wave ska. Old classic tracks like Symarip's "Moon Hop" had started to see the light of the modern day being issued on "Best Of Ska" style cd comps. George Marshal and STP came out with "The Spirit of 69: a Skinhead Bible". And lets not forget the scooter clubs and football clubs. The Real skinheads were still out there. 

Walking down my street, heading downtown, was amazing. People crossing the street, or walking faster, the thought hitting me that they were afraid of me, just because I was a skinhead was an ego boost. When you are used to people looking at you like some dirty little punk, with eyes rolling in their heads, thinking you are some glue sniffing dolt, the change in how people look at you as a skinhead will stand out in your memory forever. I'm here. I'm a trad. Deal with it. Ahh, the memories of that first night...

Because of the organized racist boneheads, some traditional, non-racist and anti-racist skinheads formed crews like Anti-Racist Action (formerly the Baldies) and Skinheads Against Racial Prejudice (S.H.A.R.P.) in the late 1980's. These groups (or crews) were formed to fight the stereotype of skinheads that was being presented to the general public. This is not to say that skinheads were sweet innocent little tykes out to collect butterflies or anything. Skinheads drank, smoked, swore, danced, shagged and fought just as much, or more than the punks, hippies, goths and jocks. We just strongly opposed people looking us and seeing Hitler Youth. Considering the number of skinheads who were (and are) Catholic, Jewish, black and Asian, it's not hard to see why we objected.

I fell in love with skinhead because of the music mostly. Such great artists like the Maytals, with singer Frederick "Toots" Hibbert singing songs with such raw emotion and power, it was hard to not be blown away. This was fantastic music! This was skinhead music! The people were amazing! The beer was flowing! This is where I wanted to be!

The Heritage Front had their "hateline" phone number openly printed in the phone book. Neo-nazis were trashing Jewish cemeteries. Then there was the firebombings. In the high schools if you were not with the boneheads, they would target you. Fights. Beatings. Swarmings. People got stabbed. People got shot. Enough was enough.

The look was neat. It was clean. It was tough. The girls liked it. A polished pair of boots, jeans held up with braces, and a nice Ben Sherman or Fred Perry. What a look! A look you could take pride in. A look you could take and make your own. Stitch on a few ska or oi badges to your jacket, and you were ready to go. Off to see the Arsenals or Skaface. Off to a party. Off to meet your girl. Good times. The best times.

Anti-Racist Action was the group that I joined to help take a stand against these neo-nazi invaders. We founded a chapter, put on Rock Against Racism concerts. We wrote zines, and printed shirts. We were asked to come into the schools and talk to the students about racism. We fought with boneheads in the streets. We protected each other, and anyone we saw being picked on by them. We made a difference. We won. The Heritage Front became a joke. the Hammerskins were driven out. We could go back to just being skinheads again. 

2006 and groups like the Aryan Guard are popping up, and not just out west. The internet has brought out the hate in some people. It's helped them to form networks. It's spread a message of hate, that has infected new minds. 

It's 2009 now. The fights are starting back up. Bonehead gangs are starting to cause problems again. There are some amazing skinhead reggae bands out there today. The Aggrolites. Westbound Train. This time I'm S.H.A.R.P. Less politics. Pride without prejudice. As Judge Dread said... I'm still a skin.     


SlazengerV600 said...

Nice story, and I like the way you identified the mystique that goes along with being a skinhead, especially during those rough days.


My friends and me started a SHARP group in ´92, in my town... old days!!!
great history!!