A Glimpse into Chicago's 1980s Mod Scene


We all know Britain in the 80s was a hotbed of Mod revivalists, but have you ever wondered what it was like for those across the pond? I stumbled upon a brilliant story by Jeff Berka about his memories of 1980's Chicago and he kindly allowed us to share it. Take a look at his story below...
I played in a punk band in DeKalb at NIU in 1984 called Blatant Dissent. It was part Brit Punk, part American Hardcore. We did play Standards by the Jam, but sets were dominated by Sex Pistols covers because we were bored, angry and interested in being naughty.
My Favorite Mod Night Flyer: The West End, Sunday October 7, 1984
We managed to secure some gigs at the Cubby Bear when it was a Punk club by night. We opened for Fang and Tex & the Horseheads on separate nights. If memory serves, I think one of John Manion’s brothers saw a show and identified this mod guy playing bass in a punk band. My heart was gradually moving to mod.
My first hardcore show was Articles of Faith at the West End which I attended with my punk bandmates. I think I saw a mod night flyer there and was interested in checking it out. I dressed in a grey monochromatic, horizontal-striped three-button blazer from Sak’s 5th Avenue for the impending show—I insisted the tailor add the third button. And my Jam shoes arrived from Melanddi’s on Carnaby Street. I was ready for my first mod night (or a debutante ball).
But before Mod night, we had to make some stops in Lincoln Park. We went to Wax Trax and visited the Articles of Faith who were renting a house nearby. I don’t think many bands can afford to do that now in Lincoln Park unless they’re U2. 
Articles of Faith just released Bad Attitude and we really liked it. However, I began eyeing their LP collection that included a double Jam concert bootleg LP with them wearing the same badger shoes that I was. I don’t remember much else about the visit. 
We arrived at the West End and the first band was playing a cover of Joe Jackson’s I’m The Man. There were a few mods there sitting at the bar, but most of the others came in gradually as the set continued. There wasn’t much dancing, so I think the band got exasperated and played My Generation for their closing number. Two mods got up and bounced around, shoving each other a little in jest. Most Mods arrived in time for the Slugs. Their drummer looked very familiar to me. It turns out we met a year before in my dorm room at Douglas Hall.
Backtrack: A female Who fan from the dorms needed a ride to meet her boyfriend at the Who concert at the Rosemont Horizon. Her boyfriend, Mike Halston (future Slugs drummer), walks up outside the Horizon with their tickets. I remember that he paid a visit to NIU and stopped by my room. He came face-to-face with my burgundy Rickenbacker 360 guitar and Vox Buckingham amplifier. I think he began fondling the Rickenbacker and I feared he might start making out with it. We discussed playing together but it never materialized.
The Slugs were so good, I began to feel like there was no way I could ever get a mod band together that was worthy of standing on the same stage. Dag’s guitar control and acumen were second to none; Greg played exactly like John Entwhistle and I considered him way out of my league. Mike Halston could have replaced Kenny Jones and toured with the Who. I never saw a guy bash the shit out of drums like that and keep it all together at the same time. Several years ago, I was watching a Cubs game on TV in Seattle. I saw Dag singing Take Me Out To The Ballgame at Wrigley Field. That, or I mistakenly ate a hash brownie.
After the show, folks were hanging around and socializing. I was too intimidated to introduce myself to anyone. I couldn’t figure out if I was being ignored, or if the other mods felt the same way I did.
Things abruptly changed when I attended the Agent Orange show at the Cubby Bear. I walked in with a Lonsdale sweatshirt, Clarks, and baggy army pants—imagine a cross between Paul Weller and Joe Strummer—the clothing, not me. Several mods saw the Lonsdale and suddenly people just started walking up to me saying that they saw me at the last mod night, and Craig Ziegler discovered I played in a band. At the time, he was looking for bands to play mod nights, venues that would host, and people that had scooters and looked reasonably mod. I think the Lonsdale prompted him to book us at the next mod night.
I sent Craig the demo tape and he listened to a punk band. “This is what Mr. Lonsdale’s band sounds like?? Shit.” However, we did do a punk version of James Brown’s Sex Machine, but I’m not sure how that would have been received at mod night. He rightfully realized that it would not have worked and sent me a letter informing me that the West End banned punk due to fights (they didn’t), and we were punk rock. Canceled. I knew what happened and decided never to give him a hard time about it. Craig worked very hard to start the mod scene. I saw the telephone number list on his fridge in Rogers Park. He tirelessly called everyone and got them out to shows and helped them get scooters. Craig was Mod Facebook before Facebook. The work he did for this movement was nothing short of Herculean. I’m not certain he ever really got the recognition that he deserved. And it seems we all, bands included, gave him shit when things went awry. I shudder to think what he could have achieved with just a few of the tech tools available today. Well done, Craig!
And thank you. The hallowed ground on Armitage and Racine is now West End Dental. You may know one of their clients—Craig Ziegler—the original Ace Face of Mod Chicago. I thought you might appreciate the irony. I wonder if they clean Craig’s teeth in the same spot that Billy Bullion always staked out in front of the stage?
Not long after the Agent Orange show, Blatant Dissent got a gig at the student union at NIU. I wore a sweater with a button-down paisley shirt popping out. I remember this due to the college newspaper photo. After the show, Mark Johnson walked up and introduced himself. I’m sure he was at my first mod show, but I had no idea we went to the same university. Despite having to sit through our bastardization of Sex Machine, Mark asked if I would like to get together and play. At that moment, one could say that I “transitioned” to mod once and for all. Not only did I find a scene, I found a new band soon afterwards.
We were the first two members of I-Spy, and the last two from the original lineup. I never worked with someone that had more natural talent and charisma than Mark. That statement still stands true in 2020. I did not really possess those qualities. Playing the bass never felt natural to me, and I was scared to death at every show we ever played. Sometimes I managed to come up with a catchy bass riff now and then. Our manager made a band rule that I had to drink two Screwdrivers before getting on stage. And unfortunately, I started smoking backstage to battle the nerves as well. Benson & Hedges. Thanks, Mark. I think that flyer started all this shit. That’s why it remains my favorite.
I gave it a few more years playing in a couple of bands after I Spy split, but decided to permanently retire myself from bands, playing music, etc., and get my teaching certification. I mostly taught European history to teenagers for 20 years and took student groups to London every year on spring break. Now I’m retired and have the best wife in the world (Sorry, John Manion). We travel to Europe twice a year and spend way too much money on clothing. I also DJ under the moniker, The Port Townsend Soul Club. I have not stood on a stage with an instrument since 1994. It’s rather nice never having to worry about staying in tune again.
I hope the ramblings of a 55-year-old mod distracted you from Peter Pandemic for a few minutes. Be safe and please vote. Really, please fucking vote. Every time I listen to Agent Orange, I think of him.
Jeff

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