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Good Old Days:

Cuckoo’s Nest history kept in punk lyrics

January 17, 2009|By Brianna Bailey

The violent clashes between puck rockers, cowboys and police at the Costa Mesa club the Cuckoo’s Nest are immortalized in the songs of the punk band the Vandals.

“Find out who all fights the best. We start fights with them punks at the Cuckoo’s Nest,” go the lyrics to the Vandal’s song “Urban Struggle.”

The punk anthem was inspired by fights between club patron’s and country music fans who hung out at the Zubie’s restaurant next door on Placentia Avenue.

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“It made for nights of oil and water,” said Jim Kaa, guitarist for the early Orange County punk band the Crowd. “Cowboys didn’t mix very well with the punk and new wave scene. There were many nights the cops were there.”

The Cuckoo’s Nest claimed to be the biggest punk club in Orange County in the late ’70s and early ’80s, drawing hundreds of young fans to see bands like the Adolescents and Social Distortion.

“It was the only place around here where we could play. A lot of places wouldn’t let guys like us play there,” Jack Grisham, vocalist for the band TSOL told the Daily Pilot earlier this month.

Another Vandals song, “The Legend of Pat Brown” catalogs the true story of a Cuckoo’s Nest patron who was arrested after he allegedly tried to run over two Costa Mesa police officers in the club parking lot.

One police officer was catapulted over the hood of the car and another was dragged for several feet, according to a Los Angeles Times article dated Feb. 2, 1981.

“Pat Brown, tried to run the cops down, Pat Brown, ran ’em into the ground,” the song goes.

The Costa Mesa City Council revoked the Cuckoo Nest’s live entertainment permit soon after the incident, alleging Cuckoo’s Nest patrons were unruly and violent.

An Orange County Superior Court judge rejected the club’s argument that Costa Mesa’s ordinance on live entertainment interfered with 1st Amendment rights in March 1981, according to articles from the L.A. Times.

A state Supreme Court ruling allowed the club to reopen in April 1981. The decision came just a few hours before Cuckoo’s Nest co-owner Jerry Roach was about to sell the club to investors who planned to turn the place into a cowboy bar, according to a L.A. Times article dated April 29, 1981.

“This is just unbelievable,” Roach told the Times at the time. “I had given up and was going to sell it tonight. This is like a movie script.”

But attendance at the Cuckoo’s Nest, which once drew as many as 300 people a night, had dwindled by December 1981, according to a L.A. Times story from the time.

“It just became a less happening venue at one point and time,” Kaa said. “Punk had become this uniform look. After a while, I want to watch the band, hear the band. I don’t want to go to shows to fight and cause a problem.”

The venue, at 1714 Placentia Ave., later became the home of the pizza parlor Zubie’s Gilded Cage. The building was bulldozed in 1998 to make way for an electrical supply store.


BRIANNA BAILEY may be reached at (714) 966-4625 or at brianna.bailey@latimes.com.

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