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The Punk Site reviews Mike Magrann's MPG

This book is essential reading for anyone who enjoys pondering the deeper meaning of things, the things that deliberately exist beyond the fringes of conformity, revel in spontaneity, seek adventure, and knows the value of family and true friendship. Actually, this book is for anyone who enjoys reading; even my Mom loved it. Mike Magrann, guitarist and vocalist for the long-lived Southern California punk rock band Channel Three has penned a riveting book that is part memoir, part punk rock history, part social commentary, and poignant personal reflection. It is thought provoking, humorous, informative, and always entertaining. The author claims the book is a work of semi-fiction, but I strongly suspect that may be more due to prudent omission of details rather than manufacturing or altering of actual events. Some people are referred to by only a single initial, and the lurid tales fall short of being entirely raunchy. 


It is written from a three point perspective consisting of Mike as the first-person omniscient narrator situated in the present, and Mike as his younger self at two different points in the past. Mike recounts his childhood in the relatively new middle-class suburb of Cerritos California, his adolescence and early adulthood during which time he and his lifelong best friend Kimm Gardnerformed the iconic sonic force that is CH3. The primary point of focus is the band’s first extended national tour in their trusty but filthy and cramped blue Chevy van in 1983 in support of the just-released After the Lights Go Out album. The two past perspectives are told in alternating vignettes that cleverly, and almost imperceptibly become shorter until they meet in time near the end of the book. Mike the narrator is then revealed as the older, wiser, and humbly enlightened man he is today. 

I felt a deep connection with this book because I grew up near Cerritos in the adjacent city of Norwalk  during the same time period as Mike. Most of the geographical references about Cerritos and the vicinity are familiar to me. I worked at Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlour and Restaurant in the Cerritos Mall in 1982, and after a late-night shift, I would often hang out in the mall parking lot with fellow punkers Mike Volz and Bob Hayes listening to CH3 blasting from Bob’s bubble-window Plymouth Barracuda. CH3 was the local darling of the punk rock scene and I watched as the band grew from relative obscurity to becoming an integral part of the punk rock world as the band started getting radio play on Rodney Bingenheimer’s show on KROQ (back when that station was worth listening to) and the crowds at the live shows grew steadily larger. Mike’s descriptions of going to the Whisky a Go Go and other venues as a teenager and being enthralled by the punk rock bands he saw parallel my own experiences in many of the same places. 


I took particular interest at Mike’s bewilderment at his band’s rise to notoriety. We often think of musicians as being strongly confident and sometimes arrogant as they are brave enough to put themselves on the pedestal of the stage to perform their craft for we ordinary people, but they are ordinary people too. Mike reveals that when CH3 first began to share the stage with some of his musical heroes such as X and Adolescents, he felt extremely awkward and shy. He also shares his astonishment when Steve Jones of the Sex Pistols stuck his head into CH3’s dressing room after a gig at the Whisky and said: “That was al’right lads, yeh?” The band had thus been knighted by punk rock royalty. 


I smiled broadly with amusement when I read that Mike and Kimm hated what Robbie Fields, owner of Posh Boy Records, did to the song You Make Me Feel Cheap when he added the female vocal (Rodney Bingenheimer’s then girlfriend Maria Montoya) without their permission or knowledge. When they first heard the finished product: “We looked from the stereo speaker to each other. In perfect unison, as if copied, cut, and spliced in the moment, we asked: ‘The fuck was that?” Robby knew what he was doing though, as this song has become one of the band’s most well-known songs and is always a crowd favourite when played live with the female vocal sung by whoever may happen to be there at the time. Mike concedes: “Sometimes, I learned, the grownups are right.” The song Manzanar hits even harder now that I learned that Mike is biracial and his Japanese grandparents and mother were interred at one of the concentration camps in the US during WWII. As I read the book, the song I Wanna Know Why kept coming to mind because that emerges as one of the primary themes of the work. Throughout the tales of punk rock drunkenness, sexual exploits, stage fright, and fighting with friends, Mike is consistently asking himself, “Why?”Strangely, and I kid you not, as I write this review, that song just now randomly started playing on my YouTube music mix. 


I have only two criticisms of this worthwhile work, and they are not truly criticisms. First, it took me a while to get used to the avalanche of metaphors and similes that rained down like the deluge of a thunderstorm. Once I remembered that Mr. Magrann is a lyricist, ergo a poet, it made perfect sense that he would write in the same fashion. He finds poetry everywhere because poetry is everywhere when someone sees the world that way, so I adjusted my reading accordingly. Second, I would have liked to have certain subjects explored with more depth. Throughout the book, alcohol flows excessively and I often thought: “This sure seems like alcoholism in the making.” Alcohol dependence is mentioned near the end, albeit briefly, yet honestly. Perhaps that is part of the craft of less being more, or the stage artist’s deliberate truncating for the purpose of leaving the audience wanting more.


Miles Per Gallon is a wonderful book that is genuinely worthy of your time and attention. It is a tale of exuberant and reckless youth, the history of the band Channel Three ,and the early punk rock scene of Southern California, astute social commentary, deep personal reflection, and above all, the search for meaning in life. The author seems to have found it. 

*See if you can figure out the significance of the plain Oxford Blue cover with the single white stripe sooner than I did. I did not understand until I finished the book and closed it. One more thing… this is not a coffee table book full of colourful glossy photos. No, this is true literature, so there are no photos. You must use your mind’s eye and that proves to be more evocative. 

Miles Per Gallon is available through DiWulf Publishing House and Mike Magrann will be appearing at this years Rebellion Festival.


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