1980s suburban punk band Life Sentence reissues beloved debut album

Life Sentence, a hard-core punk band that emerged from the Northwest suburbs in the mid-1980s, dealt with all the usual problems facing underground bands of that era — a grueling touring schedule, small (and occasionally hostile) crowds and income that barely kept their car running.

On top of all that, the band often faced one additional challenge: getting the bass player back to the suburbs before the first bell rang at Barrington High School.

“There was at least one time when I remember being dropped off directly at school after coming back from a show,” laughed Joe Losurdo, who joined Life Sentence as its bassist and vocalist in 1985, when he was just 16. “I think we had played with Suicidal Tendencies in Detroit, and when they dropped me at school I was wearing the same clothes I'd worn on stage. But the teachers there were great about it. Some of them even let me catch up on some sleep.”

Losurdo was part of the “classic” Life Sentence lineup, which also featured Palatine native Tom O'Connor on drums and Itasca native Eric Brockman on guitar. The lineup was short-lived, falling apart in 1987. But it existed long enough to record the band's self-titled debut record, considered a key release from Chicago's lively but relatively unknown 1980s punk scene.

More than 30 years later, the long out-of-print album has been reissued by the band on vinyl, CD and digital formats. The album can be purchased at

Losurdo said he's both surprised and grateful for the interest people still have in the album and the band.

“We didn't know what the reaction would be ... we just wanted the record to be available because it hadn't been for so long,” he said. “It's weird: We've gotten a ton of orders from places like Japan, and I wasn't even aware we had fans there. But it's been great. To do something that was noticed and people still care about 30 years later, that's really cool.”

While some local bands in the 1980s focused on playing in Chicago venues to build a following, Life Sentence built its reputation through regular touring. Losurdo estimates that the band performed at more than 150 shows during a two-year period, hitting clubs all over the country.

“There were times when it was awful,” he said. “We took so many long drives to places where no one knew who we were. Sometimes the show would be canceled without us knowing, which meant we'd get all the way there and then have no money for food. I remember one time we got stuck in Atlanta with no money and had to do some day-labor work just so we could drive back home.”

Those experiences, while not fun at the time, made Life Sentence stand out, said O'Connor, the band's drummer.

“People saw that we could play and that we were committed to this, because we'd play literally anywhere,” O'Connor said. “I remember one show where we played in the middle of the night outdoors in Las Vegas somewhere, and people had to turn on their car headlights to see us. It was nuts, but it made an impression on people, which is why I think the reissue has generated as much interest as it has.”

The album is a collection of blistering and concise hard-core songs, many of them accented by a metal-like guitar sound. (It's no surprise that members of Metallica were seen wearing Life Sentence T-shirts back in the day.) Roughly half the tracks feature vocals by original singer Ray Morris, who left the band shortly thereafter, while the others feature vocals by Losurdo.

“Listening to it now, we hear things we wish we could've done differently, but honestly, I think the songs hold up,” Losurdo said. “We weren't the most original band in the world, but there are some quirky bits on there, some cool rhythm changes. And we definitely knew how to play, after all that touring we did.”

Brockman, who founded the band, died in 2016. His relationship with Losurdo and O'Connor soured after the classic lineup fell apart, to the point where the two sides fought in court over the Life Sentence name.

“It was really stupid,” Losurdo said, “but we were young and angry. Now, I'm just sad he's gone. This whole reissue project would be better if he were still around to enjoy it. Life Sentence was Eric's band.”

Both Losurdo and O'Connor played separately in other bands after leaving Life Sentence, and they occasionally pick up their instruments today. Losurdo has also gotten into filmmaking and video production — he made a well-received feature-length documentary about the Chicago punk scene — while O'Connor works in the world of venture capital.

As fun as the reissue project has been, they say they have no plans to reunite as Life Sentence.

“We played together a couple of times recently for the first time in almost 30 years, and it actually felt good,” Losurdo said. “We were like, 'Wow, we can still do this!' But we're not becoming punks again. That was in the past. It's music for people who need that catharsis, that escape. Not for two old guys.”

O'Connor said he's glad that the reissue gives his children a chance to connect with the music their dad made way back when.

“They were skeptical at first: 'What kind of music is this?' But when they listen, they say 'Oh, it's not too bad,'” O'Connor said. “It almost makes them think that their dad might actually be kind of cool.”

Life Sentence made a name for itself by touring constantly. Photo by Todd Carls
Life Sentence was part of the lively but relatively unknown Chicago-area punk scene during the 1980s. Photo by Paul Smith
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