Losing His Religion
The first time I saw John Macias, the hulking skinhead pictured here with Greg Graffin of Bad Religion, was at a club called the Starwood, which no longer exists. I remember looking down upon the crowd in the pit and seeing this enormous kid with a strange smile on his face hurling people out of his way. About a year later, I was walking along a darkened side street heading for the Cathay de Grande nightclub. Gathered under a streetlight was Macias and about 15 muscular sidekicks, their faces all painted in camouflage like a scene from The Warriors. When I later asked about it, a friend told me about Circle One.
Circle One was actually the four-piece punk band Macias sang for. The band’s huge and dedicated following, labeled by many as a gang, was called the Family. Guitarist Mike Vallejo started Circle One in the working-class neighborhood of Pico Rivera in 1980. He recruited Macias to sing.
“He had this magnetism that just attracted people,” Vallejo says. “And around that time is when the scene started to get pretty violent. Everyone was trying to see who was the toughest, and it was pretty much John. The Family wasn’t really a gang to us, it was just our following. They were just all my friends and seemed cool, but if you rubbed them the wrong way, or they were mad at you, then there were ?problems.”
Macias sang predominantly about Christianity and even briefly started his own ministry. Vallejo says the other band members were not into it. “That was really John’s whole thing,” he says. “He was into religion and incorporated it into the lyrics. People started wondering if we were Christians, but then thought we couldn’t be because they [the Family] were beating people up at gigs.”?
Then around 1985, Macias just seemed to disappear. Vallejo says the singer traveled to Egypt and then became intensely reclusive. There were rumors of increasingly eccentric behavior.
“Some guys told me they went to see him and he had a long beard and was wearing a potato sack,” Vallejo says. “He never really talked about it, even with me, but John was diagnosed as bipolar and schizophrenic. Most of the time he was on the medication, then sometimes he would stop.”
The band re-formed briefly in 1988 before Macias disappeared again. He reappeared in 1991 and the band played a few times. Their last performance with Macias was out in Riverside. “It was one of our best shows ever,” Vallejo says. “John was real quiet that last show. Before, when we would play, we would go hang out afterward. But later he would just go straight back home He said, ‘I just want to play and sing and just get the message out.’”
A few days later Macias told people he was headed for San Diego. Instead he ended up at the Santa Monica Pier, where he started to preach loudly to passersby. Eventually someone called the police. Vallejo says he only knows what was in the papers: that Macias started running and knocked a security guard off the pier into the sand. When a police officer told Macias to stop, he turned and began walking toward the officer, allegedly with a jacket in his hand. The officer warned him again, then pulled his gun and fired eight times. Macias kept walking, then collapsed and died before the assembled tourists.
“His death shocked me,” Vallejo says. “I didn’t know it was that bad. We used to hang out a lot in the early days, and I never suspected it. But later I started thinking, this guy has this problem with religion and violence and drugs — and all that combined is not good.”