It’s the socks that don’t make sense.

Reverend Hank Peirce of Medford’s Unitarian Universalist Church is wearing little black socks with red and yellow flames on them. They’re the kind of flames you’d find airbrushed across a Lincoln hotrod. Yes, his arms are inked like a roadie; and sure, his ears are pierced up like any quality Pit rat in Harvard Square; but both of those things happened a while back. This morning, however, he made a specific wardrobe choice. And he chose the mildly profane fire socks.

“These socks I wore at my wedding,” says Peirce.

The reverend’s footwear hints at a complexity that exceeds his predecessors’. This Unitarian Universalist Church has a history of radical pastors—openly gay and lesbian ministers, peaceniks and abolitionists—but none of them roadied for the FUs , slam-danced to Husker Dü at the Rat or worked the Slapshot merch table the night GWAR made its local debut.

“Oh, that night,” says Peirce, laughing. “Someone told us GWAR was sort of theatrical. I thought he meant they wore bandanas. I was selling T-shirts out front when a friend ran in screaming, ‘Leave the T-shirts! Leave the money! You gotta see this!’ There was fake blood everywhere, and they were cutting a fake dog in half. The image has been burned into my mind.”

Shit like that is what sets Peirce apart from his pastor peers. Well, that and being featured in the new documentary American Hardcore: The History of American Punk Rock 1980-1985.

Writer Steven Blush interviewed Peirce a decade ago for the book version of American Hardcore, and came calling again when he started working on the documentary. Blush and director Paul Rachman brought their cameras right into Peirce’s church for Sunday services, but the snippets of Peirce that made it into the film only glimpse the man drafted into the army that kept the hardcore movement going.

Peirce was always a churchy guy—Unitarian parents, Quaker youth groups—but punk hooked him the same way it hooked all its converts: It was just way fucking cooler than the non-punk world. Case in point: Growing up in rural Fairhaven, Peirce’s 1984 prom theme was “Stairway to Heaven.”

“I mean, what decade did they think it was?” he asks. “Argggh! What were they thinking?”

As often as he could, he hitched to shows in Boston and Providence, or hung out at a kinda hip, kinda dorky new wave club called Graffiti’s one town over. “I used to walk there when I was 14 and tell them I was 18, and see these bands no one has heard of since,” he says, name-checking The Glue-Ons and Holy Cow and the Calves. “But I eventually moved up to Boston in 1984 with a bunch of church-camp friends. We had this total punk-rock crash house in Jamaica Plain. It was the type of place where kids would just toss M-80s through the front door for fun.”

The whole thing blew Peirce’s mind. Loft parties at North Station. Bowling under the Middle East. Barroom brawls at Jumbos in Davis Square. Rented halls in Malden and Everett, Arlington and Watertown. And, of course, Kenmore.

“The Last Rights’ first single went, ‘We all go to Kenmore Square / All our friends are waiting there / Trouble was brewing whenever we’re around,’” chants Peirce. “That was the place to be. Even if there wasn’t a show you wanted to see at the Rat, you’d just go and hang around.”

As good as those days were, Peirce missed out on the sex and drugs. Being a religious kid, he joined the straight-edge contingent.

“He wasn’t preachy about it, he didn’t look down on you,” says friend and fellow scenester Mike Boudo. “Now it makes sense, but at the time, I sure didn’t think he’d turn out to be a reverend. I mean, he had tattoos in some weird places. I was in a sauna with him once and went, ‘Whoa, so what I heard was right.’”

Boudo won’t elaborate. Which is fine. The point is made. But besides a few indiscreet tats, the Rev. was always a bit of a hardcore den mother. For almost a decade, he roadied for half a dozen Boston bands, eventually graduating to Slapshot roadie supreme.

“He’s what made Slapshot fun,” says old friend Angie Sciarappa, who is married to former SSD and Slapshot bassist Jamie Sciarappa. “His sense of humor, his energy—he made everything work … And sure, I could see he’d become a reverend, what with all those Quaker meetings and everything.”

After a 1991 trip to Europe with the band, Peirce came home to find the scene dead: Friends had moved, bands had broken up, and the long, slow sanitation of Kenmore Square had begun. “I knew being a 35-year-old roadie was the most embarrassing thing in the world,” he says. “I’d see old, fat guys in black satin Ramones jackets and knew that was so uncool.”

Peirce went back to college and eventually became an ordained minister in 1998. He says he couldn’t be happier now. He’s got a congregation, a wife and a kid, and he (mostly) doesn’t miss the old days. He actually considers his present life an extension of his former life. His main goals—fostering community and living outside homogenized corporate culture—remain. He even runs an unofficial straight-edge church—he just put the kibosh on a church wine-tasting fundraiser because “church should be the one place where people don’t have to feel a pressure to drink.”

“There are a lot of people who consider those years the best of their lives,” he says, leaning back in an office chair. “Everything else for them has been a downhill slide.”

One theme that runs through both Peirce’s recollections and American Hardcore is this notion of the hardcore scene being life’s peak. Given that much of it entailed spending a lot of time malnourished, living in vans, sleeping on filthy couches and getting beer bottles thrown at you, it’s the type of thing that if you don’t get it, you don’t get it.

“When the general population sees this movie, they’re still not going to see what the hell we saw in the music,” says Sciarappa. “But everyone who was part of the music had their lives shaped permanently by those years.”

Peirce’s friends from the scene have diverged. Some grew bitter about having to become productive members of mainstream society, but many used hardcore’s DIY ethic to springboard into adulthood. As Peirce scrolls through his PDA, looking at old names, he notices a lot of people who’ve done good things—who’ve become social workers, union organizers, journalists and teachers (Jamie Sciarappa is an English teacher at Revere High with SSD founder Al Barile’s wife).

Still, Mike Boudo can relate to the bitterness nostalgia breeds. A few years ago, the Channel 7 political producer began filming his own documentary about the kids in the North Shore punk scene (the resulting If You Want You Can is actually showing opposite American Hardcore at the Leeds International Film Festival in November).

“When I first started researching this project, I went to halls where 15-, 16-year-old kids were putting on shows, and I was struck with a wave of nostalgia,” Boudo says. “I wanted more than anything to be a part of it again, but I know it’s impossible. I’m a family man now. I can’t really get into the pit and come into work the next day with a broken arm.”

While Boudo still feels connected to punk rock—if only peripherally—Peirce is God’s roadie now. When asked about the last show he went to, he takes a long time to answer. He looks around his office, scratches his chin and then recalls taking his niece to the Dropkick Murphys in 2002 or 2003. Even though a friend (Roger Miret of Agnostic Front) was opening the show, the whole event made him feel, well, like a 40-year-old reverend at a punk show.

But what would Reverend Hank need punk rock for now, anyway? He sings with honest passion in church and wears subversive socks, and isn’t that punk rock? The answer is no. Punk is still in the pit with teenagers, if it still exists at all. But it’s nice to know that Reverend Hank and his cronies are still out there, riding the scene’s ripples.


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