Christian Kidd, who has played with the Houston-based punk band “The Hates” for over 40 years, poses for a portrait near downtown, Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2018, in Houston. In 2017, Kidd was diagnosed with a cancerous growth on his tongue. After a year of treatment he is healthy and planning to return to the stage. ( Jon Shapley / Houston Chronicle )
As Christian Kidd walks around the area east of downtown where he and his band The Hates used to rehearse, his murmured voice is drowned time and again by the honks of car horns. Each time he turns his head, capped by a bright-red mohawk, the punk rocker smiles and waves.
“One time we were crossing a street in San Francisco,” says his wife, Alexis Kidd. “Even there, somebody honked their horn and yelled, ‘Christian! The Hates!’ ”
In the four-plus decades since punk rock first sneered irreverent verse through a curled upper lip, the once underground genre has been swept into the cultural mainstream as commodified rebellion. Ripped shirts held together by clothes pins are sold in fashion stores. Rebellion-loving bands that previously toured the nation in rusty vans now sell out arenas.
Kidd and The Hates haven’t enjoyed the successes of other similar bands. But for 40 years the band has wielded its own permutation of punk, which is an accomplishment in itself. If Kidd lacks the ubiquity of a million-album-selling punk rocker who has reached his august years, well, he nevertheless remains a highly identifiable part of Houston’s music scene, where he’s been hashing out his songs for as long as anybody can remember.
“I always tell people, when I started doing this, I figured it would last about two years,” he says.
On Saturday, Kidd and The Hates will perform at Rudyard’s. Once was the time a Hates show was a regular occurrence. This show is special, though, the first in over a year. The first since a shoulder surgery revealed a health concern far more serious.
A year ago, Christian Kidd was repeatedly awakened by sharp pain in his shoulder. An MRI revealed torn ligaments, a piece of tendon that had been damaged and was dangling from the joint, bone spurs and a tear in the rotator cuff. These are the injuries of a punk rocker without a road crew, who hoisted and dragged amplifiers from gig to gig, night after night, year after year for decades.
The Kidds planned to live off credit cards during his three-month recovery. But post-op, Christian’s throat swelled. Antibiotics did nothing. An ear, nose and throat doctor referred him to an oncologist, who did a biopsy on a mass at the base of his tongue and discovered a tumor – stage 3 squamous cell carcinoma.
Without the surgery, it likely would’ve continued to grow undetected.
So began Christian’s cancer year, full of radiation treatment and chemo and days where he didn’t feel well enough to leave his house.
“I’ve always had obstacles to get over and around,” he says. “But this was the hardest. Laying in bed at night not able to get up, feeling dizzy, month to month without feeling better.”
While Christian was undergoing treatment, a larger community rushed to support his family, from bandmates and friends to people who simply knew him as one of the most identifiable figures in Montrose: the guy with the mohawk smiling on the Vespa.
But also fans, because a band that sticks around 40 years – even without bottling lightning and scoring a hit – will connect to music fans in a community.
The Hates are such a band.
The story of the city’s most beloved punk band begins nearly 3,000 miles away in Panama City, Panama, where Christian Valentine Arnheiter III was born. His father was military, and his Panamanian mother was attending junior college when he was born. She’d visit the PX and came home with what he calls “my musical education” – records by Fats Domino and Elvis Presley.
His parents moved to the states, and then split up. Christian’s mother relocated with him to Houston in 1968, when he was in junior high. By then, Christian had his first guitar and took lessons at H&H Music Company downtown, playing jazz standards like “On a Clear Day” and “The Girl From Ipanema.”
His mother would let him slip out at night to see bands at the Sam Houston Coliseum. He started with what would become quintessential classic rock: bands like Deep Purple, later falling in with prog rock and glam.
“Then punk came along,” he says. “People said everything had been done. But I felt like punk was this opportunity to do something that hadn’t been done before.
“I started looking for people to play with in punk bands. I wasn’t going to be out there doing covers.”
He played in a few bands: Guyana Youth Choir and Christian Oppression before starting Zyklon B. The groups took gigs where he could find them: gay bars and country and western bars. They once played a private function, opening for zydeco king Clifton Chenier.
They were rarely picky. Rarely. “One bar gave us the gig, but they asked if we could play a set of the Eagles,” he says. “No way.”
Around 1978, he went a different direction with a name iconic in its combative efficiency: The Hates.
The band was part of a storied punk-rock scene that began to take shape, sharing bills with the likes of Really Red and Mydolls.
The Hates’ sound was wiry and frenetic, befitting their chosen style. Some songs, like “Big Brother” and “Dirty Politics,” had heavy subjects on the mind. Others were simpler, like “Gonna Get Pissed Tonight.”
David Ensminger, who has drummed with The Hates for about six years, calls them “a people’s band. People don’t realize The Hates are the longest continuous punk band in Houston. They didn’t just make the soundtrack for one generation, but multiple generations. It’s a singalong band, anthemic and catchy and all about audience participation.”
There were peaks and valleys of interest over the years. Christian refers to the ’80s as “a dark period,” but while music danced around from phase to phase, The Hates remained a constant.
The band’s most pronounced impression was made in Houston, but fans of ’70s punk reveled in the regional variety the form offered.
One such fan is Dan Visconti, a classical composer who recently composed “Legendary Love,” a piece of music inspired by Christian and The Hates that the River Oaks Chamber Orchestra will premiere later this month.
“To me, they’re a seminal American punk band,” Visconti says. “Like many people, I listened to the British groups, and then what was coming out of California. But then I started learning more about these regional scenes.
“As a composer, I’m fascinated by what makes a particular artist different. Christian used his guitar in different ways, and The Hates found a unique quality of sound. They had a particular energy and rawness.”
Ensminger points to Christian’s inclusive and creative guitar playing, which at times would swipe from jazz or metal.
Says Alexis Kidd: “What I love most about his music is it’s not defined by anything other than what they do. That’s the way punk music was supposed to be. Who do they sound like? The Hates.”
‘All about love’
Christian and Alexis Kidd met about a dozen years ago when a friend dragged her to a Hates show at Dan Electro’s Guitar Bar. Alexis didn’t know the band.
During a guitar solo, Christian left the stage and plopped into her lap.
“I’m an introvert, so it was very uncomfortable,” she says. “I was sweating and blushing, and he was just beaming.
“My first Hates show.”
They started dating and have been together since, getting married seven years ago, at which he took her name and became Christian Kidd. Shortly before their union, Alexis was diagnosed with mesothelioma, a form of cancer often affecting the lungs.
She says she’s “officially considered cancer-free, but as mesothelioma has no real cure, we are always on the watch for recurrence.”
Most of the year, the couple can be seen riding around Montrose on their Vespas. But Alexis says treatment has left her more sensitive to the cold. So last fall, Christian bought her a car.
When the River Oaks Chamber Orchestra commissioned Visconti to write about Christian, the composer’s attention was caught by the couple’s connection. He focused on love poems Christian wrote to Alexis that she posted on Facebook.
“I love playing with assumptions,” Visconti says. “And there are plenty of misconceptions about punk rock. Music is all about love – the intensity in the ways we feel about one another and communicate it. It would’ve been easy to write a piece of music about the expressions of rage in punk rock. But he’s already made that music. I wanted to draw from something else.”
Of life and death
Late last year, Christian’s cancer was determined to be in remission. But he still requires scans every six months. Such cancer sometimes reappears in the lungs.
Alexis was worried Christian would come back too soon. He still looks well younger than his 62 years, but his energy was down and she worried the radiation treatment would affect his voice.
“She said, ‘Just practice, don’t worry about shows,’ ” Christian says.
She adds, “Nothing makes him happier than playing. It doesn’t matter how many people show up.”
The day after Thanksgiving, this past November, a sign appeared at the intersection of Farnham and the Southwest Freeway feeder road. In black Sharpie on roughly cut cardboard it read, “Hates @ Rudz Feb. 3.”
“This show is a landmark for his recovery,” Alexis says, “and getting back to his life.”
The show finds The Hates joined by Room 101 from New Orleans, Lizzie Boredom from Dallas and Houston’s $50 Goat.
Adds Ensminger, “We wanted a big, interesting concert. We wanted his comeback to be as public as possible because his sickness was so public on Facebook. A lot of people go off the grid and disappear. He didn’t. And we rehearsed and buzzed right through a set. He’s ready. This is not us going out and looking and sounding feeble. He’s picking up where he left off.”
And then two weeks later, this punk rock survivor will be honored at a classical music performance.
“People think this show is out of left field,” Alexis says of the classical music composition. “But it’s who we are. We like going to the symphony. People think he’s just this punk-rock guy, but he’s a well-rounded music listener.”
She says the River Oaks Chamber Orchestra show – like the fundraisers played by local bands to help the couple pay for food and rent last year, like the garage sales organized by friends from the music community – reminds her “how much love and sensitivity there is in this city.”
Christian’s gear speaks to the whole experience. On a recent Tuesday, his black-and-white leather jacket is designed to look like the skeletal structure of a thorax and arms. His pants bear an interplanetary motif of space and stars and other bright things from the great beyond. Together the ensemble – representing the boundless and the finite, the cosmic and the gristle of human life- speaks to life and death.
And The Hates.
When: 9 p.m. Saturday
Where: Rudyard’s, 2010 Waugh
Details: $8; 713-521-0521, rudyardspub.com
When: 5 p.m. Feb. 10
Where: The Church of St. John the Divine, 2450 River Oaks Blvd.
Details: $15-$35; roco.org
A Hates introduction:
The best way to meet The Hates is the 2008 anthology “30 Years of Hate: 1978-2008,” which offers a 20-song sampling that covers the years mentioned in the title. Here are five personal Hates favorites:
“Gonna Get Pissed Tonight” Zippy tune with a sing-songy titular chorus and the response it creates (“oy oy oy”).
“Panic in the City” Christian’s vocal seems like it won’t keep up with the beat on this one, the band moving like a runaway train.
“City on Ice” An almost grunge-inspired riff drives this tune that speaks to a wheel-spinning inability to move. The song was used prominently in the TV show “Halt & Catch Fire.”
“Big Brother” Simple and relentless condemnation of the title subject, which is “spying on you day and night.” Also “it isn’t right.”
“Armageddon” It moves slower than most Hates songs, Christian’s guitar riding a gurgling bass line, at least at the outset. Then it revs into a speed-punk chant. At over four minutes, it’s epic by Hates’ standards.