Book Review: Life as a Circle Jerks Bassist and Beyond: “The Prodigal Rogerson”

By Andy Nystrom. This post first appeared in There’s Something Hard in There

prodigalrogersoncov_lgAt the age of 14, I first encountered the Circle Jerks at the Starwood in Los Angeles. It was a night I’ll never forget.

As we entered the club in April of 1981, I was both elated and petrified. It was my first punk gig and I didn’t quite know what was going to transpire inside those hallowed walls. TSOL tore it up in the opening slot and then the CJ’s — my favorite band of the moment — took charge and further etched their way into my being, this time in the crucial live setting.

They surged forth with a blistering and chaotic set. And no one was more enthralled with the on-stage activity than wild-eyed, bass-swinging and pogo-stick-like performer Roger Rogerson.

That night, Rogerson was equal parts energy and unpredictability — and that’s what made the CJ’s so stellar. It was hardcore to the hilt.

While every member of this intense all-star team of punks was mesmerizing, it was Rogerson whom you eyeballed the most, because you didn’t know if he would leap into the crowd, gouge his bass into the stage or crash into his amp or Lucky Lehrer’s drumkit.

And now, 35 years later, Rogerson and the CJ’s jumped back into my head with the arrival of “The Prodigal Rogerson,” a 96-page, well-researched and -written gem from J. Hunter Bennett via Microcosm Publishing. It’s set for a May 9, 2017 release, and readers can pre-order the 5×7-inch book from Microcosm Publishing.

I powered through this book on Thanksgiving morning and after polishing it off in a store coffee shop, slipped it into my jacket pocket while my wife and I hit the aisles to select our goods for the day. I kept patting my pocket to make sure it was still there. If it did tumble from my jacket and someone snagged it, they’d have a hell of a reading journey ahead of them.

On the cover, there’s Rogerson, bass strapped on and tossing a menacing look stage left with a message underneath him: “The Tragic, Hilarious, and Possibly Apocryphal Story of Circle Jerks Bassist Roger Rogerson in the Golden Age of LA Punk, 1979-1996.”

The door to the Starwood opened in my mind again and I was itching to see what was going on inside this book.

I remember when Bennett informed the crew that this book was in the works and it got me thinking about how much I didn’t know about Rogerson, except that he died at age 41 from a drug overdose in August of 1996, and from Jeff Turner’s writing in his book “Cockney Reject” about Rogerson wielding his drugs, booze, gun and mayhem when the Rejects played in Los Angeles in 1985.

What you’ll find in the book is that “facts” and viewpoints from the 17 interviewees frequently vary when each subject comes up. Rogerson was a mysterious man and therefore, you’ve got to just go with the flow while reading and try and piece his story together for yourself — if you can.

It’s an entertaining, heartbreaking and maddening read. You’ll learn about how the Circle Jerks formed, ruled the day and then crashed and burned (with Rogerson stealing the band’s van), along with Rogerson’s tumultuous journey from military man, to musician, to family man and beyond while battling drug and alcohol abuse and mental issues along the way.

According to sources — including CJ’s members, friends, a twice ex-wife and stepson — Rogerson experienced reams of highs and lows and was both caring and troublesome at different times in his life.

Part of Rogerson reached for success, but substance abuse constantly veered him on the path to destruction. He couldn’t put the pieces of his fractured life together. He perhaps wanted more than he was able to handle in the music realm, where not everybody can fit into the rock-star mold filled with drugs and bedlam.

“The guy was sometimes an obnoxious pain in the ass. A lot of uncool stuff that he did,” said Lehrer in the book.

“I loved his zest for life. Roger taught me so much about living. I had a pretty dull existence. He just opened up all kinds of new doors for me,” said ex-wife Susan Robards.

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