Ever get up in the morning, look in the mirror, and ask yourself, "I wonder what Mike Lavella's been doing?" I did. To my surprise, I found out that the San Francisco music enthusiast, Pittsburgh native and founder of '80s punk legends Half Life was, in fact, no longer involved with music. Now he's an author.
Last year, Lavella gave up his stake in Gearhead Records, a label that should be very familiar to Pittsburghers. (31st Street Pub recently hosted Gearhead acts The Turbo A.C.'s, Gito Gito Hustler and The Spunks.) After the garage-punk frenzy a few years back, the label's business died down, and while Lavella's partner Michelle Haunold still had the passion to run the concern, he didn't.
But Lavella wasn't abandoning the Gearhead brand. Rather, he was returning to the original task that he'd neglected for years: putting out Gearhead magazine, which combines the world of underground music with hot-rod car culture, and running a Gearhead clothing line. "I couldn't possibly do all that and effectively run a record label at the same time," he says.
The Gearhead brand maintains pockets of loyalty not just in California car culture, but as far as away as Scandinavia and New Zealand, a degree of staying power Lavella attributes to Gearhead's punk-rock integrity. "I'm coming from an aesthetic like that Ian MacKaye/Tim Kerr school," he says. "With everything I do, there's still a Crass song playing in the back of my head keeping me honest."
Now on its 16th issue, Gearhead has helped Lavella garner a level of respect he's recently been able to parlay into a writing career. "I never thought about who was reading it," he says. "But people noticed -- it directly enabled me to write these books." Once he got out of the record business, Rodder's Journal -- "the gold standard of auto journalism," Lavella notes -- asked him to write for them on car-related pop culture, and Motor Books, the largest publisher of auto books, soon came knocking. Lavella's first book, The Hot Rod World of Robert Williams, is already in stores, and he's working on another.
Another Pittsburgh writer for Motor Books is Pittsburgh Tribune-Review columnist, avid biker and former punk-rocker Mike Seate, slightly ahead of Lavella with four volumes out. Their good fortune is not lost on Lavella. "If you would have seen me and Mike walking around Pittsburgh in 1984, you would have thought we would be stocking the shelves at Barnes & Noble, not writing books that are sold there."