The new Diatribe? Left to right: Cherry Pits, Vinnie Fono, Diana Death and Mar.
If Vinnie Fono has his way, his old band, Diatribe, will take the stage at Radio Room on Friday night to play a set of anarcho-punk songs that haven't been performed in nearly 25 years. But you won't find Diatribe's name anywhere on the bill.
Never heard of them? Diatribe was a San Diego hardcore band that formed in late 1984 and broke up a few years later. They modeled their sound after English bands like Discharge and combined ferocious metal guitar riffs with anarchist lyrics and a punk attitude. Although they toured the U.S. and recorded a demo, they never put out a record. They were a flash in the punk-rock pan, and then they were gone—but not forgotten.
“Lots of times I'd be out on the road with one of my bands, and people would ask me when I was going to get Diatribe back together,” Fono says.
Every scene has scores of bands like Diatribe, and when they break up, they leave behind little more than photocopied flyers and fractured memories. As one local scenester put it, “The only people who remember Diatribe are the guys you used to do speed with, and they're either in prison or dead.”
Earlier this year, Fono decided to get the old band back together.
“It was time to do it,” he says. Fono (real name Udo, 48) was Diatribe's original singer, or at least he was until he got kicked out of the band, which makes it highly unusual that he's the one bringing Diatribe back to life.
Nevertheless, Fono enlisted his friend Mar, 42, to play drums. Adrian Avilez, aka Cherry Pits, also 42, and Diana Death, 32, were recruited to play bass and guitar. Together they have close to 100 years of experience playing in punk-rock bands. But none of the new members ever played for Diatribe before. In fact, new guitarist Diana Death wasn't even born until 11 years after Diatribe broke up.
Enter Julius, Diatribe's original guitar player, who recently sent Fono a cease-and-desist letter in an effort to stop him from using Diatribe's name. As the band member who wrote all the music and lyrics, Julius has strong feelings about the so-called “reunion.” He's contacted the new band members (in some cases multiple times), the owner of Radio Room and the editors of CityBeat, but aside from comments he made to CityBeat via e-mail, in which he characterized himself as “the creative driving force behind the band,” he refused to go on the record for this story.
Still, the dispute between Fono and Julius raises all kinds of interesting questions. How many original members are required to reunite a band? To use an analogy, is The Who still The Who without John Entwistle and Keith Moon? Is The Who's Who-ness predicated on the fact that the surviving members wrote the songs? But what about Pink Floyd, who kicked out Syd Barrett, the so-called genius of the band, who was succeeded as driving force by Roger Waters, who subsequently tried to stop his former bandmates from using the name when he left the band decades later.
It's an all-too-common problem, but Fono's situation is strangely unique. Even by the most forgiving standards, calling Fono and his crew of punk rockers “Diatribe reunited” is a bit of a stretch. Then again, who's ever heard of a tribute band that featured the original singer? Even the band Discharge went through numerous lineup changes as their sound evolved from punk to hardcore to crossover thrash.
For Mar, the issue isn't the least bit confusing. “Vinnie has every right to sing these songs. People around the world identify Vinnie with Diatribe.”
Diana is even less ambivalent. “I just want to rock!”
But we're not talking about a lucrative half-time performance at the Super Bowl. We're talking about a show at a dive bar. We're talking about drink tickets. We're talking about nostalgia.
No one knows why Julius is trying so hard to stop Vinnie from playing as Diatribe, but his impulse is understandable. He doesn't need any more Diatribe memories. He wants to hold on to those he already has. There's something very human about this, except you can't trademark a memory, nor can you infringe on something that has no value.
And that might be the bitterest pill for Julius to swallow. Without any records or videos or merchandise of any kind, Fono's attempts to resuscitate Diatribe aren't damaging the Diatribe name, because there isn't anything to damage. Aside from Fono and Julius and a handful of D-beat diehards, very few people care whether or not Diatribe takes the stage on Friday night.
At least that was the case a few weeks ago, but it may not be anymore. By taking their conflict public, Julius has created interest where there wasn't any. And Julius' attempts to thwart Fono's comeback have made it easier for the vocalist to tap into the anger and aggression that made punk rock feel so vital all those years ago.
“There's gonna be someone out there,” Fono says with a wicked smile, “hoping that we tank.”
In other words, Julius has given Fono exactly what every punk rocker needs, regardless of age: something to rebel against.
Vinnie Fono and his band, whoever they are, will play at Radio Room on Friday, Feb. 26. www.myspace.com/diatribepunk.