Friday, April 22, 2016


 A typical night at Joan Jett's house circa 1978. L to R: Brad Dunning, Joan, Billy Idol, me, Wendy Bowie, Lorna Doom and Darby Crash of The Germs. Photo: Theresa Kereakes

 The story you are about to read is the first part 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.

 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!

 A Nonstop Crazy Party Part 1

It took a moment to realize that the handsome silver-haired man handing me a lit joint was Tony Curtis. I’d arrived in Los Angeles- and turned sixteen- less than two weeks before, but somehow I had the social savvy to act as though it was completely normal to be getting high with an iconic Old Hollywood movie star. Taking a huge hit and choking out “Thank you!” as I handed the reefer back to him, I silently marveled at my good fortune.

Being in LA was surreal, something I’d dreamed about constantly since I’d discovered Creem Magazine, Rock Scene and Andy Warhol’s Interview at the age of twelve. I was absolutely certain that once I got to The City Of Angels, everything would pan out the way I’d always daydreamed it would. A rock ‘n’ roll obsessed girl, I saw myself hanging out backstage at The Whisky and The Rainbow sipping champagne with rock stars, or riding in the back seat of a vintage convertible, cruising past pastel mansions and towering palm trees on my way to the beach. To manifest this opulent fantasy lifestyle, I channeled the glamour of silent film star Clara Bow, dying my ass-length hair bright red with henna, piling on way too much black eye make up and muddy maroon lipstick.

I’d taken the 83 bus down to The Santa Monica Civic Auditorium for a concert. I felt extremely foxy in my stained crepe 1930’s evening gown, a frayed antique velvet jacket and the pair of mile-high silver glitter platforms that had cost me three weeks’ worth of waitressing pay and tips… and now I was getting wasted with the leading man from Some Like It Hot!  It was March 29, 1975, and along with the rest of the sold-out 2,000-seat house, I was waiting breathlessly to see Queen.

 As Mr. Curtis handed the joint back to me with a beatific smile, a pair of amazing looking boys passing my seat suddenly diverted my attention. The taller one was slender and dark, a long black satin cape billowing out behind him as he strode down the aisle. Barefoot and shirtless, he wore heavy Egyptian eyeliner, his kinky hair splaying out from his head in a Sphinx-like wedge. The other one looked like a real-life David Bowie action figure, attired completely in white, his fluorescent  orange rat-tail mullet framing icy blue eyes and a powdered pale cheeks, a perfectly rendered lightning bolt zigzagging across his baby face.

Sharing a reefer with a movie star was one thing- but what I was seeing was quite another. In that moment, it seemed that all my fervent prayers were being answered.  Never one to ignore an omen, I took fate into my own hands, borrowed a pen from Tony Curtis, and scrawled a note on a matchbook I’d dug out of my tiny antique  beaded evening bag. Along with my number, it read:

  Aladdin Sane; You Cosmic Orgasms-- Call Me!!!

To further drive the point across, I added stars, a crescent moon, a Saturn and a lightning bolt. With the precision of a crackerjack pitcher, I threw the matchbook across a few rows of seats just as the house lights were dimming, certain my life was about to change.

 The next day both the guys called me, constantly grabbing the receiver from each other for the hour or so we stayed on the phone. Our affinity was immediate. Since they lived by the beach, and I lived in LA proper, we decided to take the bus to meet at the median point of Westwood. We became a trio on a regular basis, cutting school, day-drinking while listening to records, vandalizing office buildings, and hanging out at Santa Monica’s lifeguard Station #26, known as the  “juvenile delinquent” beach. We’d prowl Hollywood Boulevard, another haunt for high school students who were ditching class. At night, we’d invade Sunset Strip to hear The Motels, Van Halen, The Quick and the newly formed Runaways play The Whisky, where I’d gotten the coveted job as ticket-taker in the box office. After the show, we’d score Quaaludes for a dollar in The Rainbow parking lot.

Of course I had crushes on both of them and couldn’t decide which one I liked better… until the dark haired one made a move and I officially became his First Girlfriend. Their names were Paul Beahm and Georg Ruthenberg…they hadn’t yet switched to their new monikers: Darby Crash and Pat Smear.

 *      *      *

 Historians might argue that LA Punk didn’t get its “official” start until 1977. It was definitely a year of benchmarks, with the April 16th Weirdos/Zeroes/Germs Orpheum show, followed the next day by first visit of a UK punk band- The Damned- at the Starwood, Slash Magazine’s debut in May and the opening of Brendan Mullen’s club The Masque in August. However, the scene had actually been bubbling under the surface since 1975. That year, two key punk-precursor events occurred in quick succession:  Glam Rock haven Rodney’s English Disco closed, and Patti Smith’s debut album Horses was released. Suddenly everyone on the scene chose sides, pledging allegiance to one of two distinct camps. Those who were interested in frivolously dancing the night away kept their Farrah hair and French bellbottom jeans, embracing Disco. The others- like me- who were interested in a darker form of hedonism gravitated towards what was soon to coalesce as the original LA punk scene.

Along with Georg/Pat and Paul Darby, almost everybody I knew was in high school.  Most of us were seriously un-supervised latchkey kids, completely alienated by the bland 70’s pop culture which society relentlessly shoved down our throats and into our ears. We actually read books, something that seemed like a truly archaic pastime and was frowned upon during The Disco Years. Horrified by the stupidity of Charlie’s Angels and The Six Million Dollar Man, we infinitely preferred subversive “art house” fare:  the racy foreign films, Manson Family documentaries, John Waters’ Pink Flamingos and Reefer Madness that showed as midnight movies at The NuArt or the Fox Venice.

We were disgusted with the syrupy garbage on the radio; the infinitely stupid, effervescent saccharine of The Carpenters or The Captain & Tennille. We chose the sonic mayhem of the Stooges, the salaciously macabre Alice Cooper, Kraftwerk’s robotronic void, and the tawdry, homoerotic fabulosity of Lou Reed, David Bowie, and the succession of British bands that were influenced by them. There wasn’t a snowball’s chance in hell any of that would ever be broadcast on Top Forty radio, so we never expected to hear it on anything but our cheap Sears Roebuck stereos or our painstakingly curated homemade cassettes.

 Under-fed intellectually and refusing to conform to a dumbed-down vanilla sensibility, we were constantly searching for like-minded souls, people who shared the same arcane frame of reference. Soon, a scene began to develop: in addition to disenfranchised kids from LA’s vast array of suburbs, we began meeting people who were slightly older than us. Aside from a love for unadulterated rock‘n’roll, we all seemed to have a blend of the Beats’ appreciation for literature and art combined with the louche, Harry Crosby-informed laissez faire of Paris in the Twenties and the drug-addled debauchery of Andy Warhol’s Factory or the notorious Back Room at Max’s Kansas City. Once night fell, we were sincerely on the prowl, and, as the New York Dolls said, “Lookin’ For A Kiss”…or more, if we could get it…and usually, we could.

My crowd and I were streetwise teenagers, sophisticated enough to be experimenting with drugs and sex, but hideously below the legal Age Of Consent. Most of us hitch hiked or took the bus to Hollywood Boulevard, because many weren’t even old enough to have a driver’s license, let alone own a car. With Rodney’s closed, we hung out in Westwood or at The Sugar Shack, a San Fernando Valley teen club where you were carded to prove your were under 21.

Our favorite late night gathering spots were the all-night coffee shops- Arthur J’s on Santa Monica Boulevard and the two similar Hollywood Boulevard institutions, Danielle’s and The Gold Cup, later immortalized in Black Randy’s song Trouble At The Cup.  We fit in at these places, which were full of street crazies, leather daddies, and seventy-five year old women with capped teeth who’d come to Hollywood in the 1950’s as aspiring starlets.  Trannie hookers turned tricks in the Ladies Room while rent boys straight out of John Rechy’s City Of Night worked the sidewalk. Mostly we hung out at these establishments after hitting the United Artists Theater in Westwood to see The Rocky Horror Picture Show for the millionth time.  None of these dives served liquor, so they didn’t card anyone. Whether you were male or female, you could be totally at home in your ripped fishnets, heavy maquillage and Sally Bowles’ fierce Divinely Decadent attitude. Who was going to hassle you about your appearance…a stoned drag queen?

 Since it was The Swingin’ Seventies, our nascent sexuality was also one big fat gray area…and it’s not like anyone was keeping tabs, either! Our youthful, carnally adventurous spirit fit in with the prevalent freewheeling attitude of the time. Mixed with the handfuls of pills we took, washed down with the Mickey’s Big Mouth and Olde English 800 tallboys we guzzled in back alleys, it made any sort of sexual classification totally irrelevant. My crowd’s prurient interests- which had taken hold during Glam Rock and informed many factions of LA’s early punk scene- included but weren’t limited to fluid gender identities and non-specific sexual roles, uniform fetishes, multiple partners and especially openly gay and bi-sexual experimentation.

The people I ran with were all fun and interesting. My schoolmate Randy Kaye introduced me to Dennis Crosby, delinquent grandson of Bing.  Dennis was an absolute riot; openly gay and so casually out, everyone accepted him. He was like an outlaw rock ‘n’ roll version of Liberace. He’d wear my 1960’s Peter Max mini dress with a thick leather and rhinestone KISS belt, cowboy boots and a Lone Ranger mask to school. Through Randy and Dennis, I met their mutual friend from Rodney’s, Joan Jett, just as The Runways were being formed. We’d cut school nearly every day watch the band rehearse at SIR Studios in Hollywood. Joan introduced me to their manager/producer Kim Fowley, and the guys who wrote the Backdoor Man  fanzine, Phast Phreddie and Don Waller. The Runaways actually played their first show in Torrance…in Phast Phreddie’s living room!

 Around the same time, I’d met a kid whose thrift store Pachuco pimp clothes belied his amiable nature and vast musical knowledge, Brian Tristan. He became my roommate and changed his name to Kid Congo before joining the Gun Club and later, The Cramps. Brian worked as a clerk at Greg Shaw’s Bomp! Records. Though it was located in the vast wasteland of the San Fernando Valley, Bomp! might as well have been Mecca, and everyone made the pilgrimage, staying for hours because the English import 45’s we all read about in Brit music papers Sounds and NME were always in stock.  Anna Statman, who went on to be an A&R person at Slash Records and Jeffery Lee Pierce, who was the president of Blondie’s fan club before forming The Gun Club, both practically lived there.

The double-trouble blonde duo Belinda Carlisle and Terry Ryan (later known as Germ’s bassist Lorna Doom) made the long trek from Thousand Oaks to Hollywood almost nightly. Likewise, brother and sister Paul and Kira Roessler and their pal Michelle “Gerber” Bell had  left the surfer life, abandoning Station #26 in favor of hanging out on Sunset Strip or The Starwood. The gals from Backstage Pass- Johanna “Spock” Dean, Holly Vincent, Marina Del Rey and GennyBody looked like tough ‘60’s B-movie stars and were ubiquitous scene makers - wherever you went, they were already there, or walking in just behind you.  Photographer Theresa Kereakes,  whose appearance was fairly  “normal” (she was just starting at UCLA) began spending every night out at the clubs documenting the bands that were playing.  Alice Armendariz and Patricia Rainone (later known as Alice and Pat Bag) were always on the scene. A few other gals constantly out on the town were Natasha, a petite redhead who’d been around at Rodney’s, and sisters Jade and Zandra, who wound up documenting the LA scene in their fanzine Generation X.  Along with Exene, they all rocked a vampy 1920’s look with a modern streetwise twist. I’d met Jane Wiedlin long before the Go-Go’s existed. We were both at The Sunset Strip sister-store of the famed London rock’n’roll boutique Granny Takes A Trip, trying to sell our original T-shirts. Mine were covered dirty words stenciled on with spray paint, hers had two zippers down the front, which when opened, would reveal the breasts.  Jane swears I was the first punk she’d ever met, and she immediately began hanging out in Hollywood.

  I can’t remember the first time I encountered Helen and Trudi, but it was probably while in line waiting to get into The Whisky. Manager Jim La Penna had a habit of letting teenagers in for free if we could prove that we maintained a B average- he’d actually make us show him our report cards! Helen, Trudi and I formed a trio immediately, a mutual admiration society based on similar taste.  Hailing from the beach community of Palos Verdes, they looked and acted anything but suburban.  A slutty symphony in black and white, it was as though they’d come to life from the pages of a 1950’s pulp Men’s Magazine. Their dyed black hair was always snarled, they wore torn vintage black slips, lacy bullet bras and battered stiletto heeled pumps.  By accident or design, their vampire-white bare arms and legs were usually covered in an assortment of scratches and bruises.

 One night while driving from the beach to LA, they got in an accident that totaled Helen’s mother’s car. After that, they moved in with me so they could be closer to Hollywood. Though my mom detested the fact that our pillow cases were routinely stained bright pink or electric blue due to the Rit Fabric Dye we’d taken to using on our hair (Krazy Kolor hadn’t hit the market yet) she was actually the one who named Helen  “ Hellin Killer”, and the name stuck. We’d study the postage stamp sized photos of Kings Road punks in the English rock rag Sounds, trying to absorb their ferocious attitude.  Since there wasn’t any punk gear available in America, Helen, Trudi and I made due wearing dog collars from the pet store and bought $4.00 studded leather cock rings from The Pleasure Chest to wear as wristbands. Soon Helen chopped off her bedhead hair, styling it into a crew cut with two points in front, shaved her eyebrows and pierced her cheek with a large safety pin, emulating Sue Catwoman of “The Bromley Contingent”, a group of Sex Pistols fans that included Siouxsie Sioux and Billy Idol.  Around this time, Belinda started showing up at gigs in Hefty trash bags that she’d fashioned into dresses.

 Though our attitudes- and they way we expressed them in our DIY fashion- were shocking to “normal” people, we soon fell in with a crowd of slightly older hipsters who were in their twenties and thirties; their arty outrageousness was so professional, it made us look exactly like what we were- kids. Every night, there’d always a bunch new cool people congregating in Hollywood. Many of them had been involved in various other fringy subcultures. They came from all over Southern California and beyond, major cities like New York, San Francisco, Seattle, Chicago, and London, but even obscure places like Oklahoma State University, where Dangerhouse Records founders K.K. Barrett and Pat “Rand” Garrett had fled. John Doe hailed from Baltimore, Exene and Farrah Faucett Minor had left Florida; the three eventually settling into a large single apartment in the alley behind Circus Books. Located across the street from the legendary rock club The Starwood, the apartment where X’s song Adult Books was written, it soon became infamous for noisy after-hours parties. The constant influx into Hollywood was like a seasonal mass migration, happening  as if by instinct. In those days, you absolutely could judge someone on appearance alone, because nobody in Mainstream Society looked the way we did. God knows where they all came from, or how we all found each other, but we were always excited to meet.  There’d be an almost tribal moment of stunned recognition- you could practically see everyone thinking, Holy shit, there’s other people like me?

One night early in March 1977 at The Whisky, I was in the balcony with Joan, Hellin, and Randy trying to act nonchalant as we sipped the illegal Long Island Ice Teas that waitress Marsha Perloff had slipped to us.  She’d get us drunk every night by putting our cocktails on some hapless record exec’s tab…not that they ever noticed. The Runaway’s Queens Of Noise had recently been released and Joan had just returned from London. She’d left for the UK wearing her customary battered white platform boots, high-waisted French bellbottom jeans and a baseball shirt, but had returned clad in straight legged Levi’s, Converse sneakers, a black leather jacket and a necklace made of safety pins. She regaled us with tales of what was going on with rock ‘n’roll in the UK, and we were all fascinated to hear a firsthand account. We were grilling her about English punks as The Damned’s Neat Neat Neat blared over the PA, when suddenly our minds were blown to bits as we first laid eyes on The Screamers.

 As Tomata Du Plenty and Tommy Gear walked through the front door, our mouths fell open in unison. They were magnificent; it was as though they were a pair of ambassadors that been sent from another planet to educate earthlings on Punk Cool.  Both had black spiked hair and wore wraparound sunglasses and pegged black pants. Gear had on a 1950’s black motorcycle jacket and a hardware store chain around his neck fastened with an industrial padlock. Tomata was in a red sharkskin suit jacket with a huge wooden coat hanger shoved into the shoulders. As if hypnotized, we all walked onto the dance floor to talk to them. I immediately became obsessed with the Screamers, as did everyone else.  Even though they hadn’t played yet, their looks alone were so impressive that we all bowed down. Brian/ Kid Congo soon became the president of their fan club.

I hung out daily at The Screamers’ place, dubbed The Wilton Hilton. A dilapidated Craftsman duplex, it was two blocks away from Danger House, the pad where Screamers K.K., David Braun and their friend Rand McNally lived, and  founded LA’s infamous underground record label of the same name. Tomata and Gear lived in the top half of the Wilton Hilton with Chloe, wide-eyed professional make up artist whose crew cut changed colors every week. A stunning redhead named Fayette Hauser (who shared a matching crudely done Kewpie Doll tattoo with Tomata) lived there too.  She and Tomata had been a part of The Cockettes, San Francisco’s celebrated, outrageously gender-bending cabaret drag troupe. According to Tomata, William Randolph Hearst had built the place in the 1930’s as a love nest for Marion Davies, before Paramount Studios bought it to house their starlets.  Apparently, at some point in the 1960’s, all or most of the GTO’s had resided there; after they left, it was occupied by a Satanic cult. It seemed credible- the floors had large circles burned into the wood that could’ve been used for ritual, and the downstairs family’s dog constantly dug up cat skulls from the back yard. The hallways were painted matte black and at the base of the steps, there was a huge wall safe and a framed newspaper clipping from August 6, 1962 that declared in French “Marilyn Est Mort! “.

   Hanging out at The Wilton Hilton was like attending Punk Rock Finishing School.   The Screamers taught me how to crash strangers’ parties and make a French Exit, which meant you left by slipping out suddenly without saying goodbye to anyone. They showed me how to screen telephone calls, a necessary art in the days preceding answering machines. Gear demonstrated picking up the phone with your voice disguised, and when the caller asked if you were home, you’d say,

 “Let me see…” as you  put your hand over the receiver, then come back on the line and go, “No, I’m sorry, can I take a message?”

 Everyone visited The Screamers; it was like paying homage to their greatness.  I was so obsessed with them that I kept a CIA-like dossier on them in my journal, surreptitiously noting down pertinent facts such as their real names, the people they knew (Divine, John Waters, The Ramones, Blondie) and even what they ate. Helen, Trudi and I would sit quietly, amazed that they considered us friends and awed with the parade of cool people trickling into their house. Their entourage included Seattle cohorts Gorilla Rose and Suitcase, ex-Warhol star Mary Woronov, Black Randy, Hal Negro, and houseguests from San Francisco like The Nuns, Don Vinyl from The Offs, Chip and Tony Kinman of The Dils and The Avengers, plus their mutual manager, Peter Urban. The Screamers were constantly photographed, and the screaming spike-headed logo that artist Gary Panter created for them became one of the most recognized punk rock images ever.

 The spring of 1977 turned out to be a huge turning point in the Hollywood scene; the punk rock storm clouds that’d been gathering and building steadily turned into a killer tornado. Word spread quickly on the street that The Damned, the first UK punk band to visit America, were playing a two night, four-show run at The Starwood. Anticipation ran high because since their first album had come out in February, The Damned had usurped the Clash as our favorite English band. For weeks , you could walk into any apartment at The Canterbury at any hour of the day or night and hear New Rose or Fan Club playing.  In fact, The Damned album was always baring so loudly you didn’t even have to be in the building- the sound carried out the open windows and could heard it all the down on Hollywood Boulevard.  Once Brian / Kid Congo spilled the beans that  The Damned were making an in-store appearance at Bomp! on April 16th, we all made giddy plans to be there.

 Bomp! was a madhouse, so packed that the crowd spilled onto the sidewalk. Everyone was there, even Rodney and Kim Fowley, It was An Event. It was also the first time many of us had seen each other in daylight. Randy Kaye and Brian were elbow-nudging me as Angleyne sauntered in wearing a powder-blue marabou-trimmed satin corset, her white Barbie Doll hair piled in a high bouffant, with a face full of stage make up, which, in the afternoon sun, looked like a scary doll-head mask. At the time, well before her billboards had gone up all over LA, Angelyne was in an excruciatingly bad bar-band called Baby Blue, made up of shag-headed poseurs, trying valiantly to ride on the coattails of the punk scene. As though a chorus of angels heralded their arrival, The Damned appeared with the vampirical Dave Vanian sending every punkette’s heart a-flutter.  Helen, Trudy, Mary Rat and I were absolutely dumbstruck- and even more so years later when Pat Bag wound up marrying him!

Lots of us were drinking or had shown up already drunk, like Darby Crash (who was going under Bobby Pyn at the time) and Pat Smear. They were proudly wearing their new mustard yellow band t-shirts, emblazoned in velvet iron-on letters GERMS. The shirts had been made at a store were they charged by the letter, and their first choice of band name, “Sophistifuck And The Revlon Spam Queens” simply wasn’t affordable.  A band that none of us had ever seen before, The Weirdos, showed up, and  their appearance was so extreme- a pastiche of 1960’s vinyl raincoats, white patent leather belts, bits of trash, metal chains and Japanese toys- that they momentarily diverted everyone’s attention from The Damned. The Germs and I introduced ourselves, and found out they were promoting their show that evening at The Orpheum Theater, with Peter Case’s band The Nerves and a band from San Diego called The Zeros.  Ready to stir up some trouble, I announced that The Germs were a band, and those they should open the show… and they got invited onto the bill.

 We were already tipsy before leaving Bomp! but since Chris Ashford was driving and he was over the legal drinking age of twenty one, we stopped at a liquor store to get a few bottles of Cold Duck before adjourning to my mom’s house so The Germs could get ready for their debut show. Bobby/ Darby had purchased ten or so packages of red Licorice Whips, so we spent the hours before the show tying them around his whole body, over his clothes, knotted bondage style while popping Quaaludes washed down with the cheap champagne. We got so wrecked that all I remember from the ride up to the Sunset Strip was being crammed into the backseat, giggling hysterically as the Cold Duck spilled all over Bobby’s Licorice Whip-wrapped body, making him a sticky mess.

The Orpheum wasn’t a regular rock venue; just a small black-box theater that Peter Case had somehow managed to rent for this gig, which I believe was the first-and last- rock show ever held there. Located just off the Sunset Strip, kitty-corner from Tower Records on the tiny dead-end Nellas Street, the entrance was in the back, and as our carful of crazies arrived, there was already a number of punks congregated in the alley drinking, including Belinda, who was dressed in a light blue Disco jumpsuit and spike heels, a giant flower in her hair. She hadn’t yet started rockin’ the look she had in The Go-Go’s. The place was pretty crowded, lots of people who’d been at Bomp! earlier were there, and when the Screamers showed up with The Damned in tow,  sitting on tops of the theater’s seat backs, it proved the show was definitely The Place To Be.

 The Germs set was a huge mess, and that’s an understatement. Aside from the ‘Ludes and Cold Duck, they’d never really played before- and only had minimal rehearsals, and it showed.  Even setting up took them ages. Their show was actually pretty funny it was so bad, but a lot of people were horrified, especially when the peanut butter came out, setting a sloppy, condiment-oriented precedent for their future shows. It was meant as a tongue-in-cheek tribute to Iggy, but it created a gigantic, disgusting mess and the plug was pulled and the Germs thrown out. The Zeros were on next and they were amazing.  They were so young and cute, like fetal versions of the Ramones, and really tight as a band.  Don’t Push Me Around was so catchy it became a new anthem for many, including me. The Weirdos were flat-out astonishing. Everyone went crazy. Their insane appearance was the perfect foil for their music, which was like a sonic wall of sludge, with John Denny lurching around the stage like an escaped mental patient. With his tongue lolling out of his mouth and eyes rolling as he growled out unintelligible lyrics, he was a rock ‘n’roll version of a Pieter Bruegel demon.


  Part 2  of this story will be published on April 28, 2016

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Nurse Pleasant, 1977   Photo: Theresa Kereakes


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