Remembering Cobra Skulls: USA

December 2013: A timeline of my relationship with the now-disbanded Cobra Skulls, and a sporadic look back at some Californian nature and art

I’d first heard of the existence of Cobra Skulls in 2008 via Against Me! I initially filed them under “Related Artists” for AM! without knowing how much impact their music would bring to my life. The first song of theirs that I’ve heard on Youtube was Charming The Cobra. One can’t help but be curious about what else a band has got to say with lines that go Nobody’s hungry / everyone is well to do / and we lack motivation. / If the truth can set you free / then how can we keep dying for you?

evin Peralta of Cobra Skulls at the now-closed Metaphor Cafe.

The band playing at the now-closed Metaphor Cafe in November 2011.

A year later in 2009, Cobra Skulls released American Rubicon: a great reflection of the times that perfectly encapsulates the movement of a democratic republic towards an authoritarian empire. It’s safe to say the record is still on my rotation and I listen to the best tracks of American Rubicon fairly often.

In 2010, I started working in Singapore and was badly struggling with the overcrowded public transportation. When you think about it, people relocate to Singapore to work and seek out gainful opportunities. But most of the time in my numbing exhaustion, all I could think of was a much-needed population control. Enter Overpopulated: The factory farm don’t make it easy to sustain. / People with a narrow scope / market a supply of disposable hope. / And the masses will demand it every day. But before that, I was dealing with the pains of not hearing back from hundreds of places I applied to and worrying about having my temporary visa run out. Enter One Day I’ll Never: I never asked to be put on this Earth / but I’d like to be able to prove my own worth… /And I know that I’m a cynical bastard, / and I’d run away from myself if I could.

In February of 2011, the band released an EP called Bringing The War Home. A month after that, I immigrated to the US by way of San Diego, California and saw firsthand what Devin Peralta was talking about in his songs when it comes to rich Southern Californians and their moral convictions being mostly founded on a disconnect with harsh world realities that most ordinary people have to suffer through. I watched and fought back tears after handing out leftovers to old Mexicans waiting under the harsh glare of the sun outside of Home Depot, hoping for a temporary job helping owners build or improve their immobile sanctuaries. These guys are there most days waiting to provide extra sets of hands to those who never have to worry about their next meal, or loved ones who are miles away from where they are. Enter ICE in the Night on my car stereo which, according to Devin Peralta, is “a true story about my friend and co-worker who was abducted from his home near Fresno, California, by an American terrorist organization called U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).” Read a track-by-track of the EP here.

Manuel could never do another man harm
I know him well from working on the family farm
Most of his life and all of my life

But don’t bother telling the I.C.E. “Tiene Tarjeta”
But a green card don’t mean a thing
Next to brown skin and a Spanish accent

Later that year, Agitations came out which couldn’t have been better timing as I was struggling with trying to keep up with loved ones over the internet. It came to a point where I didn’t even wanna have my own phone, I wanted mostly nothing to do with technology as I went through days of grueling physical labor with no real reward in sight. Enter Iron Lung: Modern marvels at fingertips / keeping me replete. / They fuel me with indifference / to the earth beneath my feet. / Still I don’t need / your iron lung.

In November of 2011, we went up to Escondido to catch them and Nothington (another really really amazing band from San Francisco) at The Metaphor Cafe. That night I got to meet Devin Peralta. But rather than showering him with words of gratitude, all I could manage to get out was a “You’re really tall” comment as I posed for a photo next to him. It didn’t help that he seemed just as socially awkward as I was. (Aside: Yelp is telling me now that The Metaphor Cafe has closed. This constant quashing of great underground culture is why I get sad when I think of San Diego.)

Wearing a Cobra Skulls bandanna as I hiked through the steep trails of El Capitan in San Diego county.

Me wearing a Cobra Skulls bandanna as I hiked through the steep trails of El Capitan in San Diego county.

At this point, I had become deeply curious about the man behind these lyrics and started reading more interviews. I found out the album cover for Agitations was a photograph of a mural at Balmy Alley in San Francisco. A string of luck finally provided me with enough money to catch both Cobra Skulls and Nothington amongst other great acts at the annual punk fest in Gainesville, Florida. That was October of 2012, and that’s where I picked up the band’s Eagle Eyes EP and a pair of Cobra Skulls earrings made of reused bottle caps. You can order yours if you want through the crafty lady’s Tumblr. I bought everything that I could afford from this band because they deserved it. The title track of that EP still sticks with me and hits me in so many ways today.

Now I’m not a stranger to self-loathing
But I’m not impressed by your secondhand clothing
Sold you with hip white lies
What good is heaven, eagle eyes?

Turn down your ego, I cannot arrive everywhere we go
fearing regret
Turn down your ego, I don’t wanna leave everywhere we go
trying to forget

Coming back from that life-changing music festival just made it painstakingly obvious how boring of a huge town San Diego was. Fortunately I had enough money left to visit San Francisco. I’d been so excited to check out The Mission in general and Balmy Alley in particular.

Cobra Skulls playing at The Metaphor Cafe in November 2011.

“Desaparecidos Pero No Olvidados” mural by a Peruvian artist which became the album cover for Cobra Skulls’ Agitations record.
Balmy Alley in San Francisco, CA

I had thought about relocating to SF but subsequently cancelled that plan when I realized how expensive it would be for me to live there. I honestly couldn’t stand the thought of many more years of grinding poverty — at some point it had stopped being a badge of honor and just started feeling more and more like a reminder of my helplessness and inability to help people. But I also couldn’t live in the American suburbs anymore. And so another cross-country trip was decided for December 2012 with NYC as the final destination since I have a few friends who have been living here for a while. Of course I couldn’t leave without making room for some really amazing visual treats on the way.

Humboldt Redwoods State Park

Seeing these really tall trees was a lesson in humility. I will be writing a more detailed post later.

The redwoods of California will always be one of the highlights of my traveling existence. And damn my self-awareness, but seeing those trees made me think of another Cobra Skulls track, Solastalgia.

You bought a hot new shit today, better than the old one in every way
Imagine the envy of all of your friends when your carbon footprints fade
But you don’t believe in anything that won’t suit consumer needs.

As I look into the atmosphere I’m changed with every breath I take
I’m beleaguered by indifference and denial of all the mess we make
At the same time quick to herald that we harness what Gaia will provide.

Since I was following Cobra Skulls on Facebook, I caught wind of their announcement earlier this year of much less frequent shows. I’ve seen enough bands break up to think of that as an unofficial hiatus on account of Devin leaving San Francisco. I know how hard it is to keep going without making enough money to live on not to mention having to overcome the physical distance between the band members now and the not-so-rare encounters with assholes who would break into their cars and steal their cash and valuables.

So I can’t possibly fault the band that’s helped me keep my sanity throughout all my struggles as a jaded human being trying to find my place in the world for bringing this news today. If anything, I’ve been waiting for the axe to fall for some time now. I can’t say I’m not saddened that it finally did, but mostly I’ve been acknowledging defeat as I looked for luck in the flights department earlier tonight. I had thought maybe I could catch them for the last time in Los Angeles, Google’s answer was a resounding monetary NO.

Or maybe I dream too often about seeing this band live. I also remember hoping for another Cobra Skulls show three months ago as I stumbled upon an awesome Las Vegas-inspired rockabilly bar here in New York.

Double Down Saloon

A faithful recreation of a Las Vegas rockabilly dive bar in NYC, Double Down Saloon is pretty much my favorite bar.

Just like that night when I played Life In Vain on the jukebox, I cannot let this news pass me by without saying something. So, this is the only place I know how to say this to the Cobra Skulls: Guys, your music has had a profound effect on me and my life is forever changed by it. Devin, thank you for the most thoughtful lyrics accompanied by thick chugging bass lines. I look forward to what you have up next music-wise.

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