"Why did I move to Southern California?" is the question Joe Sib, singer for now-defunct pop-punkers Wax, asked himself on the band's 1995 minor hit "California." It took him 15 years, but he is finally getting around to the answer. In California Calling, the 43-year-old Sib's "broken word" tour (so called to distinguish himself from punk's most famous spoken-word artist, Henry Rollins), he recounts with manic energy his career as a punk-rock lifer, beginning on the day in 1981 when he first encountered the music of Black Flag and the Buzzcocks and ending with his decision to relocate from San Jose to Los Angeles in his early 20s. Along the way, he stalks the Ramones, deals with his parents' divorce and gets several unfortunate haircuts. It's a classic coming-of-age tale, but one that just happens to involve skateboards, mosh pits and mohawks.
"I have a lot of people come up to me after the show," Sib says, "and as much as I talk about the Ramones or Bad Religion or Rancid, the people are gravitating toward the stories about my family."
WW: You've titled your show California Calling. Is yours a distinctly California story?
Joe Sib: People always refer to me as "California Joe." It's not a mystery that every other word out of my mouth is "dude" or "bro." I am very Californian, and the way I talk is very Californian. Instead of hiding from that, I put it out there. But the other day, I had someone come to the show, and he was like, "I didn't know if I'd be able to get my head around your whole vibe and your energy, but as you go through the show, everything you talked about was exactly my upbringing and my life, except I was in New Jersey and you were in San Jose."
How do you keep the show from being a 40-year-old guy nostalgically reminiscing about his youthful glory days?
The director of the show, this woman named Sydney Walsh, is the reason it never went down that way. She said, "I don't want this to be Field of Dreams, I don't want the big happy ending." It's never a show where I'm like, "Y'know, when we were young, we didn't have the Internet. Nowadays, these kids have the Internet, and hell, anyone can be in a band." If you turn into that person, no one is going to listen to you anymore.
Why don't you talk about Wax in the show?
The show is an hour-plus as it is, and I felt like, let's see if people like this, and if they do, maybe next year we'll do a portion on Wax, because that could be its own show. That whole thing was wacky and weird and funny and strange in itself. This guy asked me, "What happened to Wax?" And I said we did exactly what any band does that worships the Replacements: we crashed and burned. Our band was held together by duct tape, safety pins, glue, anything we could find. As soon as we got any real success, we exploded. That's a whole different story of its own.
What is your definition of "punk"?
I think it changes all the time. What it means to be punk in 1982, when I went to my first show, is different from what it means to be punk in 2010. It might be a little stereotypical, but it means being who you want to be and doing what you want to do when the people around you might not be wanting to do that, but you know in your heart of hearts this is meant to be for you. As I've gotten older, that becomes more and more important to me. Doing the show reconnects that initial core of what sparked it with me, and what sparked it with me as a kid was, you hear "Jealous Again" by Black Flag and see a kid with bleached blond hair and a bandana around his head and a leather jacket with an anarchy sign and these engineer boots, and it's like, "Wow, man, that is making a statement right there."
Tell me about the punkest thing you've ever done.
When I was in Wax, we sat down at a Denny's, and the place was packed. Some college girls were sitting across from us and started looking at us, laughing and stuff. There was a general vibe of, "we were lame and they were great." At one point, I stood up, did a complete flip from my table over the pathway the waiters were walking through and landed on their table, on my back, and broke the table onto its legs. They looked at me in complete horror, and I just said, "What's up?"
But the punkest thing I did in 2009 was raise $34,000 was for Wheels for Humanity, for wheelchairs to be distributed outside the United States. For me, that's pretty punk rock, because these guys don't wait for other people to take care of people. They don't care what religion you are, what your politics are—if you need a wheelchair and you're in a country that doesn't provide that kind of service, they get you a wheelchair. So from flipping in a Denny's and breaking a table and ending up with a fork in my back 15 years ago to that—I've grown.
SEE IT: Joe Sib will speak at the Hawthorne Theatre (along with the Foo Fighters' Chris Shiflett, playing a solo set), 1507 SE 39th Ave., 233-7100. 8 pm Friday, April 9. $7 advance, $10 day of show.