Forever Punk

Heatseekers drummer Chuck Loose pounds away at Churchill's on this Saturday night. Lurching into the beat, he threatens to bounce over his kit every time he hits the crash cymbal. Loose's crazed energy washes over his bandmates and into the mishmash of punk kids and jaded scenesters crowding the stage. Singer/guitarist Owen McLean accuses the would-be faithful: You took my punk and my rock and roll/Stole my blues and stole my soul. Loose looks up from his drums, veins popping, as he cranes to the mike to join the prosecution: It's the new old sound/But I don't understand/It's the new old sound/What you're trying to say/It's the new old sound/You made cool look boring, baby!

After the set Loose is a sweaty mess as he juggles accolades from fans with loading his drum kit. At age 31 he's toured the country with two outfits, promoted countless shows, published fanzines, corresponded for Maximum Rock & Roll, founded a performance space, and played with half a dozen local bands. But Loose is no run-of-the-mill local legend who plays rock star by night and fills coffee cups by day. His graphic design company, Snap-E-Chuck, counts Seagram's USA and TracFone among its clients and nets a six-figure profit.

Despite his commercial success and the resulting 60-hour workweeks, Loose sees no reason to cut down on his time with the Heatseekers or his two side projects. "I need to beat on something after sitting in front of a computer all day," he explains.

A look around Loose's office reveals conflicting signals. His desk is littered with Post-It notes, work orders, Diet Pepsi cans, and a mass of CDs that contain both the graphics he creates and punk-rock classics. The walls are covered with concert posters he designed for the likes of the Damned and Iggy Pop. Three Australian wine bottles sit on his desk -- a new Seagram's line for which Loose is designing a label wrap. The phone never stops ringing, but he only answers when completely necessary.

Loose belongs to a new breed: career punks. Unable and unwilling to give up the music of his youth, and equally averse to falling into the "I was there, man" mentality that plagues most aging hipsters, he has managed to remain musically relevant while attaining professional success.

His template -- graduating from post-teenage beer bashes to inspirational bootstrapping -- has been neatly mirrored by Sam Fogarino, who began drumming in the Holy Terrors, SoFla's perennially popular punk outfit. Now Fogarino has ended up -- with impeccably tailored suit, tie, and haircut -- on the cover of international alt-rock glossies as the newest member of Interpol, last year's hype-fueled success story. "When I was living in Victoria Park," Fogarino laughs, "I told my girlfriend that I wouldn't be doing this when I'm 30. Now I'm 34." Also following Loose's lead, in a way, is Rob Coe, former Miami seventh-grade English teacher by day and drunken punk by night, who has recently led famed Los Angeles troublemakers the Enablers to minor-league stardom.

Loose has come a long way since dropping out of New Mexico's Highland University in 1988 to sleep on the Fort Lauderdale beach. "I didn't want to go to school anymore, so my mom gave me enough money to move anywhere I wanted," he reminisces. "I thought, 'Yeah! Fort Lauderdale! That's party central USA!" Unfortunately he missed the legendary Fort Lauderdale spring-break madness by a year: "I got to the beach and couldn't find the wet T-shirt contests. There was nothing going on." With a few weeks spent finding an apartment and getting a job at a Sizzler, Loose began to explore Fort Lauderdale on his skateboard. He discovered the punk-rock scene while sliding down guardrails and hopping curbs. "Half the people I know now, I met within a month of moving here," he says.

He hitched a ride with his new pals to Miami Beach's Cameo Theatre and had his mind blown. "I couldn't believe how many people were there, and how violent it was. In New Mexico all the punks smoked pot and wore dreadlocks and pretty much got along with everyone. The biggest show had maybe 300 people. The Cameo had 1200 people at every show! I'd never seen an ambulance waiting outside before."

In late 1989 the Cameo turned into a disco and South Florida's punk phoenix turned to ashes. With nary a punk show to attend, Loose started the Get Loose fanzine and raked the cold coals, desperately searching for leftover embers. In 1991 he answered a band ad posted in a record store and met Boca Raton miscreant Iggy Scam.

"Boca?" Loose recalls wondering. "They have punks in Boca?"

A week after meeting Scam, Loose was in a Publix checkout line thumbing through the Weekly World News. "I was reading the local news clips and there was a story about a guy who sicced his dog on his stepson -- and there was Iggy's name! I asked what was up, and he said, 'My dad's a real dick!'"

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Tom Bowker