|Disgraceland, 1980's photo by Bobby McClellan|
For over a decade, I lived in one of Hollywood’s most famous punk flophouses, Disgraceland. It was one quarter of a buff-colored stucco ‘20s-era fourplex, residing in the shadow of Frederick’s of Hollywood, right around the corner from the Masque. By the time I moved in with my pals Kid Congo and Marci Blaustein in 1978, the building- hell the entire neighborhood- had seen better days.
I lived there until 1988, along with various roommates including Go-Go Belinda Carlisle, Ward Dotson of the Gun Club, writer Iris Berry (who was my longest-running roomie), and literally, a changing cast of thousands. Almost everyone involved in the punk scene partied there, touring bands crashed there (sometimes for months!) and for a period of time, Don Bowles, drummer of The Germs, lived in the driveway in a white van with the license plate Unit 666, with extension cords snaking their way across the driveway into electrical sockets in Iris’s room.
Our neighbors were gypsies who did auto body work in their driveway and a guy we called “The Hit Man” because he looked like one. A dapper older gent with silvery hair, he was always wearing a suit and carrying a briefcase, yet living in this horrifying, shabby dump. We were sandwiched between an elementary school and the K-thru-8 Catholic school that belonged to Church of the Blessed Sacrament, located right around the corner from us. Recess, for everyone who lived at Disgraceland, was hell.
My bail bondsman boyfriend, Billy Persons, dubbed it “Disgraceland” because we had a Tijuana plaster bust of Elvis -with Alice Cooper make-up that I added on with Majik Marker- on the mantelpiece, surrounded by empty fifths of booze. Billy was the one who contributed the pink porch swing, obscured sometimes by the six foot tall corn growing incongruously in the front yard. “D.G. Land”, as we called it, was within stumbling distance of lots of major Hollywood nightspots—The Masque, Cathay De Grande, after-hours club The Zero (when it was on Cahuenga and later Wilcox), Club Lingerie, and about five dive bars that all opened at six a.m, including some that are no longer there, like The Firefly and The Sideshow. My brother Chuckles called this Bermuda Triangle-like set-up The Circle Of Death.
Disgraceland was a total pigsty, and that’s being kind. When Belinda was seeing Suggs from the English ska band Madness, they were all so horrified/amazed by the mess they wanted to do a video there. The Split Enz, fresh from New Zealand, once walked into a bash called The Forbidden Food Party, (ten chicks all fucked up, in the middle of piles of garbage, wearing negligees, tiaras, and false eyelashes, eating chocolate cakes, bon-bons, French fries, potato chips, lasagna, cannoli pastries, jellybeans, and burritos) and when we offered them blue and purple rum punch with lollipop stirrers, they loudly proclaimed,
“We love Los Angeles!”
We had “Mr. T” -our ironic idol from The A Team- plastered on the living room wall in stick-on Stay Free Maxi-Pads that had been samples slipped into the neighborhood mail boxes. It was flanked by Xeroxed band flyers, a toilet seat, and Lost Pet posters stolen from the ‘hood. You always had to step over passed out bodies, clothes, amps, guitars, drum set, total strangers fucking, dirty laundry, fast food wrappers, miniature school desks, a Christmas tree stolen from Club Lingerie that we didn’t throw out until the next April (it was adorned with empty Budweiser cans, Marlboro packs, and fishnet stockings), a craps table, piles of petticoats, and millions of empty beer bottles.
Many people had their most memorable sexual experiences in the walk-in closet at the end of the hallway.
Our landlord was Jayne Mansfield’s ex-husband, body builder Mickey Hargitay, and the previous owner, mentalist Criswell of Criswell Predicts built a Cold War-era bomb shelter underground in the front yard. After the cops would come calling, ordering us to “keep it down”, we'd climb down into the shelter and “get bombed.” The building’s manager, Ross Christena, always seemed to be on Valium, which was probably how we got away with hardly ever paying the rent. For years, there was an outstanding balance, and somehow—guess it was the drugs—we’d never get evicted. But the cops were there so often they knew Iris and me on a first-name basis!
I was once at a New Year’s bash at a soundstage on La Brea, and the Riot Squad was busting the party which was packed. There were about seventy-five people standing around drinking outside and I was one of them. When the Riot Squad started marching on the place—helmets on, batons lifted—one of them walked up to me, tilted up his visor, and said in an absolutely friendly, genuine way.
“Hey, I know you! I busted a party at your house last week!”
Yes, indeed, the parties went on for days blending into one another for the decade-long duration. One sunny mid-morning, artist and interior designer Brad Dunning was jogging on the roof of YMCA , about two blocks away from Disgraceland. He said he could hear the Velvet Underground blasting and knew it was coming from my house and that we’d more than likely been up all night.
|Pleasant and Kid Congo at Disgraceland, 1978: photo by Theresa Kereakes|
The late Brendan Mullen of The Masque and Club Lingerie used to offer the floor to touring bands as an alternative to renting to motel room -without our permission- but we never turned anyone away. Bob Forrest of Thelonious Monster used to climb in thought the kitchen window all the time. Even though it was a ground floor apartment, we usually kept the windows open ‘cause we were always so drunk, we’d lose our house keys. Hollywood, believe it or not, was safe enough to do that back then. In fact, when I moved out of there, I found nine garter belts and a few pairs of panties under my bed, all with house keys safety-pinned it them!
The phone never stopped ringing ever…unless, of course, it was shut off. But Iris and I were such telephone abusers that when she got her own line, we actually used to lay in bed and call each other’s bedrooms collect, having half-hour-long conversations even though we were literally fifteen feet down the hallway from each other.
People would show up for a specific party and then stay for weeks, others were always bringing strays over, like this one guy Clam Lunch, whom Iris found sleeping under a bulldozer on Melrose. Clam cleaned the house two or three times and probably bought a communal bottle of Jack Daniel’s, and to us that was good as paying six months’ rent. Everybody would come over at four a.m. looking for someone; Disgraceland was like a human lost-and-found department. Can’t locate your friend? Try D.G. Land, the Bermuda Triangle of the Hollywood underground scene!
One early morning, in the wee hours past bar closing time, Iris, our roomie Laura, and I trashed the entire living room—I mean, we seriously destroyed every stick of furniture we owned—by re-enacting G.L.O.W. (Gorgeous Ladies Of Wrestling) bouts. There were a ton of people there that night and the party got completely out of hand because we all took Ecstasy…back when it was still legal. It was so raging that even The Hit Man couldn’t stand it—he called the cops on us. The ones that showed up didn’t know us, but Iris saved the day by telling them that her boyfriend Rat’s Ass was joining the Marines the next morning, hence the party. God only knows why they believed her, but they did.
Sometimes we’d wake up to complete strangers cooking breakfast for us, but more often the strangers were soundly asleep beside us. In that case, there was the delicate task of finding out if you’d had sex with whomever it was was in bed with you although some of my friends never even bothered to ask.
Matt Lee of the L.A. band The D.I.’s once said about Disgraceland,
“Usually when I wake up, I have no idea where I am. But when I wakeup at Disgraceland, I always know exactly where I am. The question is: How long have I been here?”
He wasn’t alone—members of T.S.O.L, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Detox, Poison 13, R.E.M. The Vandals, Tales Of Terror, The Rockats, The Cramps, The Gun Club, The Big Boys, The Blasters, The Joneses, X. Blood On the Saddle, The Gears, B.Y.O., The Mumps, Teenage Jesus, The Hickoids, Hard As Nails Cheap As Dirt, Mary’s Danish, Bulimia Banquet, The Mentors, Top Jimmy & The Rhythm Pigs, The Go-Go’s, The Dicks, Tex And The Horseheads, The Plugz, The Dickies, D.O.A., Red Scare, The Runaways, The Senders, Blondie, Fishbone, Guns’n’Roses, etc., etc.—shit, you name it—all felt the same way.
MTV did a special on famous punk hangouts and featured Disgraceland; journalist Art Fein wrote about it in The L.A. Musical History Tour, it was featured in Rolling Stone; on The Tanqueray Gin Rock’n’Roll Map, it’s even—no lie—on the current version of Maps to the Stars’ Homes! ("Do Not Disturb Current Occupants!) Disgraceland got more famous than anybody who ever lived there did! That movie The Boost with James Woods used the exterior as a crack house…It was perfect, all they had to do to dress it up was put a shredded up old mattress in the yard, that was the only change they made. The location scout for that film must’ve gotten a raise!
After ten years, I (finally) moved out—actually, it was an eviction that, for once, worked. The whole place was remodeled into an office building, and there were handicapped ramps installed. But before that, we were always so wasted, someone that had lived there observed,
“Too bad the ramps weren’t there when we really needed them!”
Years later, I keep finding out that many people were terrified—and rightly so—to even go near there. But there are others who claim, right to my face, that they used to party there, people I never saw before. I’d be thinking, “I wasn’t that fucked up!”, then I’d realize they were lying! It got to the point that I was skeptical of believing anyone I didn’t recognize immediately when they said they’d hung out there.
But one girl restored my faith. She was a lovely redhead who said she’d been there. Of course, I didn’t believe her.
“What’d ya do there?” I asked, expecting to catch her in a lie.
“I’m not sure,” she said,
“All I know is, there were a bunch of punk bands from Texas staying there, and I got really shit-faced and wound up fucking someone’s fat roadie on top of a pile of clothes in a closet!”
Obviously, she was telling the truth.
|Flyer made by Pleasant for the Disgraceland moving sale, 1988|
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