This essay analyzes the political and cultural significance of confrontations between country music fans and punk rockers in the suburban community of Costa Mesa, California, in the early 1980s. During this time, Orange County was defined by paradox. On one hand, the region proved historically influential to leading conservative politics and the rise of Ronald Reagan, and bore a legacy of a country music and cowboy culture that well complemented such conservatism. And yet, the area also served as the breeding ground where right-wing politics and suburbanism’s sonic resistance, hardcore punk rock, took root. More than a simple culture clash, the conflict between country music fans and punk rockers represented a moment when two uniquely suburban and Southern California sounds collided at a significant point of transition in American politics and culture, and at heart revealed a conflict over the merits of suburban life. This struggle over space was one in which country music fans emerged victorious, as their efforts to violently quash the local punk scene worked in conjunction with city leaders who forcibly closed the region’s leading punk venue, the Cuckoo’s Nest, in 1981 and revealed a solidarity between country music fans, local police, and local politicians.
Suburban Cowboy: Country Music, Punk, and the Struggle over Space in Orange County, 1978–1981
Amanda Marie Martinez is a PhD candidate in history at the University of California, Los Angeles, where she is completing a dissertation on race, politics, and the marketing practices of the country music industry from the 1970s through the 1990s. Her writing has also appeared in the Journal of Popular Music Studies. She is coeditor with Erika Lee of a forthcoming special issue of the Journal of American History on the centenaries of the passage of the Emergency Quota Act of 1921 and the Immigration Act of 1924.
Amanda Marie Martinez; Suburban Cowboy: Country Music, Punk, and the Struggle over Space in Orange County, 1978–1981. California History 1 February 2021; 98 (1): 83–97. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/ch.2021.98.1.83
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