Not knowing anything about this mystery record and band other than what label it was on, I went straight to the source for some information. I asked Robbie Fields, the Posh Boy, what the story was with it and he was quite happy to share the story with me for this feature.

391 was an essential part of the learning curve for the new Posh Boy label.

The background: I had been a huge fan of The Nuns in 1977. In fact, the Nuns were arguably the first “punk” group I saw, headlining the Whiskey with The Dickies in late ’77. This was the Alejandro Escovedo era Nuns that played as a group, with three lead singers. I had hung out with singer Jeff Olener at the Masque after that first Whiskey show and become friendly, albeit in a fan worship kind of way.

Later, I had seen Jeff after they opened for The Sex Pistols at Winterland in San Francisco. The band that I managed, F Word!, were lucky to be the opening act several times for The Nuns at S.F.’s Mabuhay Gardens.

I understand the first past perfect I had been a huge fan it is a flash back, does it work the same way for had seen to indicate I am still continuing the flash back, was it necessary to use past perfect. But "Later, I had seen after they opened..." seems strange

http://www.punkvinyl.com/2005/10/10/selections-from-the-punk-vault-391/ is the reference

  • Although you didn't explicitly highlight it, there's also I had hung out in the middle of your first cited paragraph. Personally I think it's at the very least unnecessary to continue with past perfect once the "past within the past" context has been established by the first usage. And in the cited context, it seems inherently clumsy, since there's no obvious logical principle to explain why the writer didn't use it for many other verbs (the Nuns had been ... I had seen ... this had been .. had become etc.) Jul 29, 2015 at 17:48
  • possible duplicate of When is using the past perfect tense not necessary? Jul 29, 2015 at 17:49
  • @FumbleFingers become is a past perfect. I offer an explanation for the actual pasts below. Jul 29, 2015 at 18:35
  • @StoneyB: Oops! - I was on a different (smaller) screen earlier, and read it as became. I see now that it is past perfect (albeit with an elipted had carried over from had hung out). I understand the point as made in your answer that PP is indeed used "judiciously" (so I must retreat from my earlier "no obvious principle"), but I still think that as a more useful general principle, it's often unnecessary and potentially distracting/clumsy to use PP repeatedly in text spanning multiple paragraphs (by then it practically becomes its own "reference time"). Jul 29, 2015 at 20:00

1 Answer 1


Fields, who is the speaker for everything except the first passage you quote, deploys his past perfects very consistently to refer to states arising out of eventualities which occurred before his "reference time", the time at which 391 became "an essential part of the learning curve". This is identified (with a simple past) in the next paragraph:

So it must have been sometime in 1979 that I was contacted out of the blue by Jeff Olener.

Note that Fields reverts to the past perfect in later passages, where he is once more referring reference-time states arising out of prior eventualities:

. . . nothing had seen the light of day. The first fashion directed wave of punk had been and crashed. Even my Beach Blvd album seemed to have spent itself very quickly over its first summer of 1979.

Jeff Olener had put together a rock band. ... and more

Up to this point, I had had very little studio experience. We had recorded the Beach Blvd. album at Media Art in Hermosa Beach.

In fact, the only place Fields does not employ the past perfect for these anterior eventualities is in the passage FumbleFingers calls out:

In fact, the Nuns were arguably the first “punk” group I saw, headlining the Whiskey with The Dickies in late ’77. This was the Alejandro Escovedo era Nuns that played as a group, with three lead singers.

The unbolded pasts are in subordinate relatives, hence beyond the scope of the perfect; and I take the bolded main-clause pasts to mark a tense-shifted parenthetical.

All in all, I think Fields' story is a model for judicious use of the past perfect in narrative.

  • I think as Fumblefingers think: why so many past perfect, only one in the first paragraph at the beginning may be one in the second also at the beginning.So many past perfect make me believe that the reference time is past perfect not past simple
    – user5577
    Jul 29, 2015 at 21:46
  • @user5577 1) The eventuality expressed in a perfect cannot be at reference time, only the state arising out of that eventuality. 2) There are three perfects in Fields' second paragraph: had seen, had hung, *[had] become. 3) All of these perfects express states obtaining at reference time (narrative time), when Olener contacted Fields. 4) The simple pasts in those passages are either parenthetical commentary or appear in subordinate clauses whose time reference lies in the 'temporal field' of the perfect anterior eventuality, not in that of the reference time. Jul 29, 2015 at 23:26

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