Back in the mid- to late-’90’s, Anchorage used to have a fairly active skinhead community. I can’t say how they might have compared to similar groups in other cities, but as far as Anchorage went, they were well-known, and fairly “hard core.”
For a long time, I didn’t have a whole lot of contact with them. I’d see them around town every so often, but usually, that was about it.
A few years before, back in high school, a girl I knew was dating one of the leaders of the skinhead scene and I ended up having a couple chances to talk to him, as well as another skinhead a few years later at a party. Those conversations ended up being a lot more interesting than I expected them to be, too, as these guys weren’t your typical skinheads. They’d each gotten into it when they were younger for all the usual reasons that kids are drawn into any sort of gang culture: power, community, a sense of belonging, friends. For people like these guys, the racism aspect of the typical skinhead persona had little to do with why they joined.
In the case of the second guy, who I spent time talking with at a party, he never really developed the racist bent that so many others in the scene did, and instead delved more and more into the roots of the skinhead and nazi movements. Eventually, while he still carried the look and general presence of your typical skinhead, he ended up approaching it not as a reason or excuse to denigrate other races, but simply his way of recognizing the history and background of where he came from. He had pride in his family and his personal history, but he wasn’t racist at all — in fact, his girlfriend was a beautiful asian girl.
I wasn’t entirely sure why he chose to continue to wear the uniform, as there is certainly a very strong (and often not undeserved) stereotype associated with the skinhead look, and for whatever reason, he didn’t run with the SHARPs (Skinheads Against Racial Predjudice), but that was his choice. In any case, it was a very interesting discussion — while the skinhead stereotype generally tends to include double-digit IQs, some of them are amazingly intelligent. It’s how they choose to apply that intelligence that can make all the difference between whether they’re interesting or frightening (for a good example of the latter, see American History X).
Of course, all too often, people like that are the exception, and I ended up having a couple of memorable run-ins with the Anchorage skinhead crowd.
One night, I and a couple of friends were hanging out at VINL (Village Inn, Northern Lights), our general place to go when we didn’t want to be at home, but didn’t have anything better to do. We had a booth along the outside wall of the smoking section, and had been there for around an hour or so.
About five tables away from us were four of the local skins. We didn’t pay much attention to them at first — either letting sleeping dogs lie or wrapping towels around our head, pick your mental image — but after a while, it was obvious that they were paying attention to us. Glances were shot our direction, and the occasional muttered “faggots” would drift our way.
To this day, I have no idea what caught their attention, or why we became the subjects of their ire. The only even semi-reasonable prospect I’ve ever come up with was that I was wearing a shirt for the band Black Happy — but that explanation seems a little far-fetched even for me to count as probable. Whatever it was, though, when they stood up from their table, rather than leaving, they came over to us. Three of them stood at the end of the table, blocking us in, while the leader of the group sat down next to me.
I don’t have a really clear memory of the next few minutes. The goons were standing mute, while the leader spent a good five minutes spouting off, giving us a good long spiel, about how we should be proud of our race, stand up for our fatherland, and so on. The usual jingoistic propaganda that you tend to hear from either skins or Karl Rove.
We just sat and listened, saying as little as possible. In my head, though, I was going off on the guy — and as I’d just spent the previous summer in Germany, I had a whole spiel ready to go in German. Never opened my mouth, of course, as antagonizing the guy didn’t seem like the brightest approach…but it was brilliant stuff, I tell you.
At one point during his diatribe, one of the other three went out to the parking lot, got their car, and drove it around until it was parked directly in front of the window we were sitting by. He then switched over to the passenger seat and got something out of the glove compartment. I don’t know what it was, but he was being very careful to keep it down and out of sight. Draw your own conclusions.
Eventually, things wound down. The guy stood back up, tossed a few last verbal threats our direction, and then they went out to join their friend in the car. They didn’t leave, though. At first, they just sat in the car, talking and watching us. After a little while, they drove off, only to circle the block and come back to park in the parking lot again. This went on for about another half hour, until they finally left.
More than a little shaken, we stayed put for another hour or so until we were pretty sure that they were actually gone, and then went home.
Later in the year, I talked my way into my first public DJing gig. A new all-ages club, City Lights, had opened up in town, catering primarily to the top-40/hip-hop crowd. I started by just dropping by every so often with a couple friends to check things out, and struck up a conversation with the bartender. After a few visits, she got me in touch with the guys running the place, and I managed to convince them that there was a fairly large untapped market in the local alternative community, and eventually they agreed to give us a chance.
Things went well for a couple months, and then one night about an hour after we opened, who should come in but the four skins that had harassed my friends and I — only this time, they were accompanied by the leader of the local skinhead community. I wasn’t terribly sure what to make of this, but they didn’t look like they were out to cause any trouble, and they just walked to an open table against the back wall of the club and sat down to watch.
Ten or fifteen minutes later, the leader walked up, with the guy who had been the primary antagonist at VINL trailing behind him. “Hey — can I talk to you for a minute?”
“Sure,” I said, and cued up a slightly longer song.
“Look — the guys told me what went down a while ago. They want to say they’re sorry,” he said, and gestured over his shoulder at the guy behind him, who was studiously avoiding looking at me, preferring to scan the crowd on the dance floor.
“Oh,” I said, more than a little unsure how to proceed from here. “Um…okay.”
“Eehh, don’t worry about it,” he went on. “They were a little drunk, just blowing off some steam — nothing serious.” I just nodded — I wasn’t entirely sure I bought the explanation, but I wasn’t going to start arguing, either. “Look, we were wondering if you could play a few tracks for us,” and he held out a stack of three CDs.
“Um…well, yeah, sure,” I said, and took the CDs. “Why not?”
They went back to their table, and a few songs later, I tossed in the songs they had marked. All three songs were really high-energy, aggro skinhead punk. The skins moved onto the dancefloor (which cleared out rather quickly), and spent the next few minutes lightly pounding each other in a quick high-speed mini-mosh. The songs ended, and as I put something else on, four of them went back to their table while the leader came back up to the DJ booth to get the CDs.
“Thanks a lot, man,” he said as I handed him the CDs. “No hard feelings, right?”
“Sure, no hard feelings,” and I shook his hand.
“Good. Look, you ever run into any trouble, or need a hand or something — get ahold of us. You’re a good guy.”
“I appreciate that.”
And back he went to the table.
I never had to take him up on his offer, but from then on, anytime I ran into him around town, we’d say hi and chat for a few minutes. He and his boys occasionally showed up at the club, but never had me play anything for them again. They’d just walk in, grab a table, hang out and chat with each other for a while, then leave, never causing any problems. And for a year or two, if I’d needed it, I could have had the skins at my back.
It’s a weird little world I live in sometimes.