Thursday, April 28, 2016

A NONSTOP CRAZY PARTY: THE LATE 1970'S PUNK SCENE IN LOS ANGELES, PART 2

At the  Hollywood Boulevard  Woolworth's photo booth, around the corner from The Masque 1977



 The story you are about to read is the second half of the chapter I wrote for Under The Big Black Sun: A Personal History Of L.A. Punk by John Doe, Tom De Savia and friends. If you'd like to read the first half or my chapter, it's the post just before this one.

 The book  is all first-person essay accounts of what the 1970’s Los Angeles punk scene was truly like. Along with me, the afore-mentioned friends include Exene Cervenka,  Henry Rollins,  Jane Wiedlin and Charlotte Caffey of the Go-Go’s,  Robert “El Vez” Lopez, Chris D., Mike Watt and many more.  It’s a fantastic piece of written  musical and socio-cultural  history, unadulterated by the assumptions of people who weren’t there…enjoy!

On April 18th and 19th, 1977, The Damned played The Starwood. It was a pure revelation and also sort of “legitimized” the LA punk scene. Local power-pop faves The Quick opened for them, which might seem odd now but wasn’t at the time, though it did explicitly illustrate the difference in what was actually punk and what would soon be called new wave. The Damned  played at lightning speed with violent energy. Dave Vanian was  fierce and scary/sexy onstage, Captain Sensible dropped trou and Rat Scabies stood up behind his drum kit spitting beer and flipping the audience off.

It the first time I stayed out all night, blowing off my curfew and my ride home.  In anticipation of a wild night, I’d taken my schoolbooks to the Starwood, parking them upstairs at the VIP bar while I watched the show. I went to Cantor’s with the Damned afterwards, engaging in a food fight before going to party at the infamous Tropicana Motel. The next morning at Duke’s Café, Tom Wait’s took in my hungover appearance- whipped cream and maple syrup congealed in my hair and staining my homemade Damned shirt- and admonished me in his gravelly voice,

“Pleasant, for God’s sake, stay in school!”

I assured him I would, and looking like  a hot drunk mess, was chauffeured down Santa Monica Boulevard to school in the back of Rodney Bingenheimer’s vintage black Caddy, the envy of Randy Kaye, Dennis Crosby and Lisa Curland, who’d  made the mistake of adhering to their curfews.

 After that, there was a summer-long string of benchmark events and uproarious gigs, all with a full attendance roster of those who’d eventually become celebrated as “LA’s First Hundred Punks”. The Germs had their first official gig at Kim Fowley’s punk series at the Whisky, which resulted once again in a huge mess of food, this time because they’d requested their fans to bring condiments, and everyone obliged. They’d moved into a nearby apartment on Holloway Drive, Joan and Lisa had rented an apartment on San Vicente, across the street from both Licorice Pizza and The Whisky, and Brian/ Kid Congo, Ann Mclean, Dennis Crosby and I moved into 909 Palm- all our pads were within walking distance of each other. Our 909  parties were epic and never-ending. At the end of the night, no matter where we were, there was always a standing invitation for everyone to come over, and they did.

Slash Magazine held a coming-out bash at a ballroom at the Santa Monica Ramada Inn, because their offices were nearby. Hotel guests were staring at us in sheer terror. I was in disbelief that such a cool punk magazine had an “old” publisher- Steve Samioff – who also had a beard! Nevertheless, I knew a good thing when I saw it, hitting him up for a staff writing position, which he agreed to. My name appeared on the masthead in the next issue, and my first piece was The Germs interview I did, though to my chagrin, the story went uncredited. When Slash moved to a loft on Pico and Redondo in LA, they had many insane parties there, not the least of which was The May ‘77 Screamers’ debut, and a party for Devo in July, after which I slipped on a puddle of spilled Mickey’s Big Mouth fell over the Germ’s second story balcony. Phast Phreddie and KK rushed me to the hospital, where I got five stitches in my chin… and stole a plastic “Patient Belongings” bag to use as a purse.

Soon, two events occurred spawning a party of mythical proportions at my place: my mom left to work out of town for a week, and Hellin and Trudi got a settlement for their car accident. Because I’d let them stay at my house for so long and they were now rollin’ in dough, we went on a shopping trip to The Pleasure Chest. We bought matching black leather spiked slave collars and more cockrings, a cat o’ nine tails, various bullwhips, paddles, and an authentic, regulation canvas straightjacket with leather straps. Because my mom was gone, in order to show off our kinky loot, we decided to have a party. 

We got cases of beer, lots of vodka, and avocados to make guacamole; we spent the afternoon calling everyone to invite them. Among the first to show up were Joan Jett and Lisa Curland, already many sheets to the wind on Quaaludes and vodka. Our other  guests all arrived in various states of inebriation, too. By the time Cherie The Penguin, Tony The Hustler, John Doe and Exene and everyone from Dangerhouse and The Wilton Hilton showed up toting six packs of Mickey’s Big Mouth beer, we’d run out of chips. I dared Tomato to try the guacamole with a dog biscuit, and he did, declaring it “fabulous”. Suddenly, everyone had to do it. The downstairs bathroom was commandeered as a dungeon, with Joan, Lisa, Hellin, Trudi, Gear and I taking turns bending anyone who was willing over the rim of the bathtub, whipping them as hard as we could.

We started a game with the straight jacket and a stopwatch, having a contest to see who could last the longest amount of minutes; some people took dares to escape but couldn’t. When KK emerged from a really long bathroom session with Trudi and Joan Jett, I convinced him to try it.  He was drunk and obliged, but none of us- even KK- realized he was claustrophobic! Once the buckles were in place, he flipped out and made a dash for the open front door, running down the street screaming and body slamming against the palm trees in an attempt to escape. Of course a neighbor called the cops, and the party was busted immediately. The clean up was challenging; there was blood on the bathroom walls, guacamole and crushed dog biscuits everywhere, and for months, any time a piece of furniture was moved, a booze bottle or beer can rolled out.

 When the Masque opened in August, it became our amazing secret clubhouse.  The steep concrete stairway –which, in hindsight,  I’m shocked no one ever tumbled down and died on- lead to a warren of subterranean rooms, the walls already covered in punk graffiti from the bands who practiced there.  The stage was small and low, and the sound system sucked but we were in heaven!  It was also conveniently located within crawling distance of The Canterbury and the Hollywood Boulevard Jack In The Box, where you could buy pills.

 The vast public parking lots behind The Masque functioned as a free motel- the ‘Ludes-fueled make-out sessions that started in the Masque bathrooms would inevitably be consummated there. We’d select the nicest cars we could find, try the doors-which were mostly left unlocked- and climb in the backseat for some lovin’, leaving the windows fogged up as we made a hasty exit to catch the next band. 

Sex in those extremely pre-AIDS days was louche and fun, and the hook-ups weren’t always heterosexual.  One night at Larchmont Hall, during an X show, Alice Bag and I got very cozy while guzzling Southern Comfort on the fainting couch in the Ladies Room. Her boyfriend Nicki Beat of The Weirdos burst in and a huge brawl ensued.   My other constant make-out companions- all on a friend-with-benefits basis, with no strings attached- were Joan Jett and Lisa Curland (who were in a relationship at the time) Bobby/ Darby, and Go-Go’s Jane and Belinda. My affair with Jane, which had started at The Masque, spanned years, continuing into our respective relationships with Levi Dexter of The Rockats and his drummer, Dean Thomas…though neither of the guys ever knew about it!

1978 started off with January 14th Sex Pistols gig at The Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco. Tickets were a whopping three dollars and the migration from LA was massive. Brad Dunning, Randy Kaye, Brian/ Kid Congo, Nancy Nagler and I all crammed into Theresa Kereakes’ tiny Honda to make the pilgrimage. But a few others got a head start: Hellin, Trudi, and a bunch other chicks from the Canterbury had gone to Texas to catch the shows there. It was rumored that Hellin lost her virginity to Sid, and that Alice Bag and Pat Bag had followed suit with Paul Cook and Steve Jones. I reported on this salaciously in my fanzine Lobotomy (which I started with Randy Kaye in 1978) though now I’m not entirely sure if these rumors were actually true and who did what to whom! A few days after Winterland, the Sex Pistols broke up and the Masque was shut down by the LA fire marshals. The huge Save The Masque benefit took place at The Elk’s Lodge, with   The Dickies, Black Randy, The Avengers, Dils, Weirdos, X, Bags, Screamers, Randoms and many others and many others taking the stage.

Things rolled along with events happening thick and fast- there were now so many local bands, plus New York and English bands touring, there were multiple choices of things to do on any given night.

In 1979, with the release of GI, produced by Joan Jett, The Germs morphed from a semi-novelty band into a serious force to be reckoned with.  Their legions of slavish followers, fresh Germs Burns blistering their hands, were sort of annoying and cult-ish to me, and quite a few of the other original punks. Also, beach punks and Cromagnon-esque jocks from Orange County had begun to infiltrate our scene, and many of us- especially the women- were put off by it because of the violence in the slam pits. Instead of the pogo-dancing fun we’d been accustomed to at the Masque, the idiots who’d just months before had been screaming at us from car-windows and beating us up had suddenly decided that punk was “cool” and the original scene began to splinter. 

 Many of the punkettes made a swift turn to the neo-rockabilly movement, perpetrated by Levi & The Rockats, an English band managed by the legendary Leee Black Childers of Bowie’s Main Man Productions. Brian/Kid and I had seen them at Max’s Kansas City in New York, opening up for the Cramps, and they were astounding. When they moved to LA and took up residence at The Tropicana Motel, Jane Weidlin and I were among the first punk chicks to convert, followed quickly by Belinda, Connie Clarksville, Rosemarie “Wyline” Patronette, Anna Statman, Ann McLean and many more. Though we all still adored punk, rockabilly shows were a much safer bet for us physically, and the guys were more courtly in a 1950’s throwback way.  Guys were converting too, including Jeffrey Pierce, Billy Persons (of The Falcons) and Brian/Kid. I reported on this trend with my first article, “Rockabilly Redux” for the LA Weekly, and after that, they gave me my own gossip column, the infamous La De Da, which I wrote for years, by myself and later in tandem with Craig Lee, and other contributors.
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 By early 1980, Ana Statman and I discovered The Blasters, just before their first album came out. Even though I still continued going to punk shows, writing for Slash, LA Weekly, New York Rocker and publishing my fanzine  Lobotomy, the punk scene had lost its initial lustre for me. The rampant violence at shows, constant police harassment and the rise of heroin as the drug of choice within the scene had left me seriously disenchanted.  The quick rise -and subsequent fall- of The Germs, the concert series for The Decline of Western Civilization, and in December, the untimely death of Darby Crash sealed  it for me.  I not only lost a dear friend- someone I felt I’d already lost to heroin- I was sure that the scene I’d loved so much had ended for real. At the time, I blithely moved on to other things- more writing, starting my own band, the all-female Screamin’ Sirens in 1983, and becoming the full-time booker for the seminal LA clubs Cathay De Grande and Raji’s.

  In retrospect,- and not just because I was so young- the years between 1975 and 1980 really were beyond incredible. Los Angeles was a crazy non-stop party and the punk scene was chock full of full of interesting, wildly creative people.  It was so much fun, most of us didn’t even have time to stop and notice that history was being made.

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 Purchase Under The Big Black Sun on Amazon:
http://www.amazon.com/Under-Big-Black-Sun-Personal/dp/0306824086


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 With  artist Brad Dunning, circa 1979

2 comments:

  1. Although this place is probably not cheap, but they are centrally located, have fabulous staff and delicious food, and most importantly, the best views of the city. I would definitely recommend these venues in Atlanta for any kind of fancy event – all my friends talked about throwing parties here only.

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