Tag Archives: Los Angeles

Run With The Brown Buffalo

9 Feb

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“We are all cockroaches.”  I have this realization, and it hits home and tears stream down my face. I have to take refuge in the airplane bathroom.  There is turbulence and my tears drip down onto my jeans and my shoes and the airplane bathroom floor.  I sob for Oscar Zeta Acosta. I sob for all of the pain in the world.  I sob for my uncle and aunt who were just murdered by their own son with a pair of hammers. I sob for my Grandmother who died before Christmas. I sob for Eric Garner who was strangled to death by NYPD on Staten Island. I sob for myself.

Finally I clean myself up and wash my face in the impossibly tiny airplane sink.  I feel like a giant. I am six foot one and I hit my head on some white hard plastic in the bathroom.  I look at myself in the mirror. I look like I have been crying, or that I am really stoned or maybe just red-eyed from lack of sleep.

I head out into the world of the plane and order a whiskey and coke from a pair of haggard flight attendants. They are friendly and I open up to them, telling them the story about the murder of my uncle and aunt in rural Michigan.

**

I’m on a gargantuan metal bird, soaring 3000 feet in the air. It’s an American Airlines flight from JFK to LAX. I am reading about Buffalo Brown, the Chicano lawyer with a lust for life and a fire in his belly. He has a thirst for the truth and a revolutionary spirit. He is defending the vatos locos in East Los Angeles during the Chicano Power movement in the late 60s. Bobby Kennedy is killed, LA Times journalist Ruben Salazar is killed, Molotov cocktails are thrown, it is a war between the pigs and the people on Whittier Boulevard. They blow up a Safeway and they try to blow up a courthouse. As a civil rights attorney, Brown is representing dozens of Chicano defendants who he lovingly refers to as Cockroaches. They cannot be killed, there are millions, they are despised by Anglo society but they refuse to hide, they have come out into the streets and are marching against Vietnam, marching for justice for their murdered brethren, fists in the air and Buffalo Brown is their lawyer and compatriot. In between he enjoys drink and drugs and women, after all this is the 1960s, but he wakes with that fire and he fights the good fight for the cockroaches.

I am reading this book and a very kind man from Jamaica has given me some free booze because he is an employee of American Airlines and can drink for free on the flights.

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I drink a bottle of Merlot, not the tiny bottle, one of those medium sized ones. And then I upgraded to Jack Daniels and Diet Coke. I drink 3 or 4 plane cocktails and I am reading this book and I come to this realization.

In America we are all cockroaches.

My cockroach family tree:

My paternal great great grandfather, Jonas Maurer sailed from Bremen, Germany to Baltimore in 1906 and he was a cockroach. He went on to sweat and bleed in the factories of Youngstown, Ohio. Every 10 years he would change his nationality on the census: “Polish,” “Slav,” “Austrian.” He may have been illiterate, the borders in Eastern Europe may have been changing or maybe he didn’t know who he really was or where he was from.

My maternal great grandparents were Irish apple pickers in Yakima, Washington. They were migrant workers, they were cockroaches. My grandmother had to move to a different house every month because her father would drink and gamble all of his money away. He was a cockroach.

And so now here I am, a cockroach in America. I think of this. And the whole Occupy Wall Street movement, about the 1% controlling all of the wealth and the other 99% wage slaving to make these 1% even richer. I think about the Hands Up and the Black Lives Matter movement where black kids and all kids are saying enough to police shooting unarmed black men. I was in New York City and I saw the video of the cops choking that guy to death on Staten Island. He was selling cigarettes on a street corner to try and make money for his family. And they choked him to death.

I remembered the WTO protests in Seattle in the 90s. I remembered the cops billy clubbing teenage girls and grandmothers. I remembered the black woman who had her ear dangling in a bloody mess because she was hit by a rubber bullet. I remembered the tear gas and the danger and the broken windows and the cries of “WHO’S STREETS? OUR STREETS!”

And everything started to make sense to me while riding this great metal bird and tears welled up in my eyes.

So I had to lock myself in the airplane bathroom and tears were streaming down my face and onto my jeans and onto my shoes and onto the floor.

I was sobbing uncontrollably because I knew in my heart that I was a cockroach too and that I was related to all cockroaches everywhere. And I have to start changing around my life so that I can help other cockroaches because there are so many less fortunate than me, fighting over scraps, barely surviving. My talents are music and writing and so I need to hone these weapons, sharpen them, prepare for battle, prepare for war.

Acosta reading a chapter from "Revolt Of The Cockroach People" at the Festival de Flor y Canto, held in 1973 at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. These photos capture Zeta as he holds back tears reading his description of the autopsy of Robert Fernandez. The passage describes in grisly detail how the team of coroners peel back the corpse's face and scalp to reveal a sand-filled cranium and a small bag holding Fernandez' brain. Photo Credit:  Michael V. Sedano.Copyright 1973, 2008.

Acosta reading a chapter from “Revolt Of The Cockroach People” at the Festival de Flor y Canto, held in 1973 at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.
These photos capture Zeta as he holds back tears reading his description of the autopsy of Robert Fernandez. The passage describes in grisly detail how the team of coroners peel back the corpse’s face and scalp to reveal a sand-filled cranium and a small bag holding Fernandez’ brain.
Photo Credit:
Michael V. Sedano.Copyright 1973, 2008.

Before I can help any cockroaches I have to dig myself out of poverty and stop living paycheck to paycheck, stop living in debt. Poverty can be suffocating and I have to pull off this plastic shopping back tied onto my head. I have to get out of poverty. End that vicious cycle of debt in my life. Then I can help the cockroach.

**

So what are our weapons to fight back in the meantime? Words. Writing. Poetry. Literature. Comedy. And Music.

We can kick at them.

Writers’ words need to grow teeth and start biting ferociously. We have to start tearing at flesh.

Musicians chords need to cut through and their words need to have fire, the harmonies can be sweet but the intention must be all out war in defense of the cockroach.

We must make reality bleed. We must pop the bloated bubble and become savages. Drink the blood and march forward like a Viking army.

**

But back to Oscar Zeta Acosta. Acosta is best known as Hunter S. Thompson’s “Samoan” lawyer Dr. Gonzo in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. In reality, Thompson had traveled to Los Angeles to interview Acosta about the death of prominent Chicano journalist Ruben Salazar.  Acosta was an attorney taking on dozens of clients involved in the Chicano Power movement of East LA and he himself became fully involved.  On his suitcase was a sticker, “Chicano Pride,” and he carried a .357 magnum inside of that suitcase which accompanied him to many a court case. He not only had to protect himself against LAPD and the FBI who were tailing him around every corner, but there were threats within the movement as well.  In LA things proved too hot for Thompson and Acosta to have a quiet conversation so they decided to purchase loads of drugs and head to Las Vegas in search of the American Dream.  Thompson was offered a job by Sports Illustrated to cover a motorcycle race in the desert and they spent most of the $300 advance on purchasing drugs hastily gathered in 24 hours all over LA County.

Thompson’s tape recordings of 2 separate drug-fueled adventures to Vegas with Acosta became Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas.  However, Acosta was a writer in his own right, and he pledged to write a book about his experience in the Chicano Power movement.  In 1973 this came to fruition as Revolt of the Cockroach People after his 1972 book, Autobiography Of A Brown Buffalo.

Acosta and a female fan at the 1973 Festival de Flor y Canto, USC, Los Angeles.  Photo Credit: Michael V. Sedano.Copyright 1973, 2008. Acknowledgement to La Bloga for their great piece on Acosta in 2008

Acosta and a female fan at the 1973 Festival de Flor y Canto, USC, Los Angeles.
Photo Credit: Michael V. Sedano.Copyright 1973, 2008.
Acknowledgement to La Bloga for their great piece on Acosta in 2008

But let me go back in time for a second.

In a suburb north of Detroit Michigan my 2nd cousin murdered his parents with a pair of hammers.

I was heading to Boston where there was 3 feet of snow, but managed to reroute my trip to attend the funeral of my Great Uncle and Aunt.

After much eating and drinking and crying it was 11 degrees at 6 in the morning when my Uncle Charlie drove me to the airport.

I was overcome with grief and shock and started reading a book I brought along with me to take my mind off things.

The book was Oscar Zeta Acosta’s Revolt of the Cockroach People.

Hunter S. Thompson and Oscar Zeta Acosta at Caesar's Palace, Las Vegas in 1971.  Thompson was supposed to be interviewing Acosta about the killing of LA Times journalist, Acosta's friend Ruben Salazar.  The scene in LA proved to be too chaotic so they purchased many drugs and left town for Las Vegas when Thompson was offered to cover a  March and April 1971 was when Thompson and Acosta made 2 separate trips to Vegas. Both of these trips made up the material for "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas." Acosta was upset to be referred to as "Samoan" so he demanded this photo be included on the back cover of the book as well as asking for writing credit as much of the book was based on tape recorded conversations the pair had. "The Gonzo Tapes" contains one of these interviews

Hunter S. Thompson and Oscar Zeta Acosta at Caesar’s Palace, Las Vegas in 1971. Thompson was supposed to be interviewing Acosta about the killing of LA Times journalist, Acosta’s friend Ruben Salazar. The scene in LA proved to be too chaotic so they purchased many drugs and left town for Las Vegas when Thompson was offered to cover a race in Vegas for Sports Illustrated.
March and April 1971 was when Thompson and Acosta made 2 separate trips to Vegas. Both of these trips made up the material for “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.” Acosta was upset to be referred to as “Samoan” so he demanded this photo be included on the back cover of the book as well as asking for writing credit as much of the book was based on tape recorded conversations the pair had. “The Gonzo Tapes” contains one of these interviews

I knew about Hunter S. Thompson’s “Samoan” attorney in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. What I didn’t know is that this lawyer was a real person. He was Zeta Acosta and he was there in the trenches of East LA, Whittier Boulevard, Boyle Heights, Tooner Flats during the Chicano Power movement of the late 60s.

When I began to turn the pages, Revenge of the Cockroach People was instantly irreverent and unabashedly un-PC. Like all great writing it kicked me in the gut, the book challenged me to continue turning the pages.

He championed the Vato Loco and described East LA and Downtown LA beautifully.

Here he writes from his Downtown LA hotel, walking distance from Skid Row:

“I’ve been in town six hours and now lie naked on my bed with the window of my sleazy downtown hotel room open to the sounds of the city. I have nothing to do until I see my sister in the morning. After checking into the Belmont at Third and Hill, I walked the streets until dark to shake the cramping bus ride from my bones. But already my bones have told me that I have come to the most detestable city on earth. They have carried me through the filthy air of a broken city filled with battered losers. Winos in tennies, skinny fags in tight pants and whores in purple skirts all ignore the world beyond the local bar, care about nothing except where the booze comes cheapest or the latest score on the radio. Where I am, the buildings are crumbling to pieces. The paint is cracked and falling to the streets covered with green and brown phlegm, with eyeless souls who scuttle between tall buildings hoping to find a bed, a bottle, a joint, a broad or even a loaf of bread. Streets filled with dark people, hunchbacked hobos, bums out of work, garbage of yesterday and tomorrow; with black men and women in bright garish clothes, brown men with mustaches to boost themselves up a notch, coffee-drinking people, wine-sipping sods who haven’t had more than five bucks at a time since the last war. And then back to the hotel…”

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Buffalo Brown travels to Delano, California to meet his hero Cesar Chavez who is weak and bed-ridden in the middle of a hunger strike. Bobby Kennedy is shot and killed. Brown takes LSD in the desert with his vato loco friends. The Charles Manson family murders take place. And the death of of journalist Ruben Salazar at the hand of LAPD. Brown runs for Sheriff of LA County and his only campaign promise is to dismantle the LA Sheriff department. He comes in second place. In contempt of court, various judges throw him in jail dozens of times.

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Here Zeta tells us about East LA:

“Tooner Flats, a neighborhood of shacks and clotheslines and dirty back yards. At every other corner, street lights hang high on telephone poles and cast dim yellow glows. Skinny dogs and wormy cats sniff garbage cans in the alleys. Tooner Flats is the are of gangs who spend their last dime on short dogs of T-Bird wine, where the average kid has eight years of school. Everybody there gets some kind of welfare.

You learn about life from the toughest guy in the neighborhood. You smoke your first joint in an alley at the age of ten; you take your first hit of carga before you get laid; and you learn how to make your mark on the wall before you learn how to write. Your friends know you to be a vato loco, a crazy guy, and they call you “ese,” or “vato,” or “man” …

There is no school for a vato loco. There is no job in sight. His only hope is for a quick score. Reds and Ripple mixed with a bennie, a white and a toke. And when your head is tight, you go town to the hangout and wait for the next score.

On the day he died, Robert had popped reds with wine and then conked out for a few hours. When he awoke he was ready for more. But first he went down to Cronie’s on Whittier Boulevard, the Chicano Sunset Strip. Every other door is a bar, a pawn shop or a liquor store. Hustlers roam freely across asphalt decorated with vomit and dogshit. If you score in East Los Angeles you score on The Boulevard. Broads, booze and dope. Cops on every corner make no difference. The fuzz, la placa, la chota, los marranos, la jura or just the plain old pig. The eternal enemies of the people. The East LA Sheriff’s Substation is only three blocks away on Third Street, right alongside the Pomona Freeway. From the blockhouse, deputies come out in teams of two, “To Serve And Protect!” Always with thirty-six-inch clubs, with walkie-talkies in hand; always with gray helmets, shotguns in the car and .357 Magnums in their holsters.

The vato loco has been fighting with the pig since the Anglos stole his land in the last century. He will continue to fight until he is exterminated.”

Photo Credit: Michael V. Sedano.Copyright 1973, 2008.

Photo Credit: Michael V. Sedano.Copyright 1973, 2008.

In perhaps his most moving courthouse speech, a straight out of Hollywood speech, he recants the history of the American Chicano:

“It is 1509 AD…We are in Cuba…A captain from Castile wants gold…He wants land and he wants slaves. He also wants to go on a mission for his god and his king…He fills three boats with soldiers, fire powder and horses, which sail west until they land on the coast of what we now know as Mexico.

“The king, the supreme ruler in the land of the Hummingbird Wizard, hears of the arrival of white men in long boats. It is a prophecy come true. For over two hundred years, the prophets of Quetzalcoatl have predicted this event. The king, Montezuma, has taken upon himself all power in his empire. He is both political ruler and chief priest. In a word, he has assumed the status of a god. Not even his family can look him in the eye. He has become the principal deity of the people of Tenochtitlan in the valley of Mexico. The people are called, collectively, the aztecas.

The captain from Castile, Hernando Cortez, burns the boats and tells his men there is no turning back. They have come to this strange land to conquer or die for the glory of God. They attack village after village, taking captives and booty. They make alliances with the natives, promising them protection from Montezuma’s bloody rituals, from the human sacrifices to Huitzilopochtli, the god of war.

Anxious to rid themselves of the burden of Montezuma, these Indians, as they are called by the Catholic Cortez, join up with the Spaniards. They march toward the capital, thirty-thousand strong…Through diplomacy, political chicanery and modern techniques of warfare, the white men on horses and their army of slaves enter triumphantly into the most advanced city in the world, the world’s most beautiful city. In 1500 AD, Mexico City far surpasses anything that the Spaniards have seen on the European continent. There is an efficient government. It is a city with streets and canals and a sewage system, a city of gold and birds and leopards and barber shops. A land of flowers and parrots, mountains and blue beaches. They have priests and philosophers, soldiers and artists.

…And then (Cortez) ransacks the capital and sends the gold and glitter to his king in Spain. And they rape the women. If you want to join the new nation, all you have to do is give up your slave name and your slave tongue. If you want to become a Spaniard, be baptized and take a Christian name. An attack upon the Church is an assault upon the State. And vice versa. Church and State are one.

Ad for Acosta's Autobiography

Ad for Acosta’s Autobiography

Three hundred years later, in 1850 AD, more white men in covered wagons come to the land of the northern deserts, the land we now call the Southwest. It is the ancient land of Aztlan, the original homeland of the aztecas. New invaders. New conquerors. They, too come with fire power and the flag of a new nation…As Cortez had done before, through modern warfare, through politics and diplomacy, the new white barbarians invade the land and subdue it. They inform the people that they now have a new government and a new religion – Christianity. They sign a treaty called Guadalupe Hidalgo. The United States pays a couple of million to an idiot in Mexico City for all Aztlan and for all the slaves living thereon. The treaty says that, if the people choose, they can remain as citizens of America or they can go south to Mexico.

“But we are not Mexicans,’ the people cry out. ‘We are Chicanos from Aztlan. We have never left our land. Our fathers never engaged in bloody sacrifices. We are farmers and hunters and we live with the buffalo.’

“But they are wrong. They are now citizens of America, whether they like it or not. And we’ll call them Mexican-Americans. But if they want to be Americans, they’ll have to give up their slave name.

…And when they entered they were told: There is No Room. Leave, or we’ll kill you. Or jail you. Insult you. Mace you. Kick and bite. Scream and holler. While the choir sings, ‘Oh come all ye faithful…Oh come ye, Oh come ye…to jail and court. Court and jail…Come. Come! Come!’

…And yet we are guilty of inciting to riot. We did want a riot. We sought it. And we did accomplish it!…A riot of the brain. A revolution of the spirit.”

And so I finished Revolt of The Cockroach People and it was one of the best books I read in years. It shoots from the hip and bleeds from the heart and it does not hide behind any thin veils of political correctness.  It is Gonzo literature from Dr. Gonzo himself. This book was written in defense of the vato loco and all cockroaches, straight from the lips and the pen of their very own defense lawyer.  From the trenches of civil rights the Brown Buffalo plowed forward. And if he didn’t achieve all of his objectives, he took a few bastards down with him.  Until the bastards got him back in the end.  Oscar Zeta Acosta mysteriously disappeared in 1974 while in Mexico and was never seen again.

When we learn to walk with the cockroach then we will learn to run with the buffalo.

Dedicated to the memory of Oscar Zeta Acosta.

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Spiders From Mars On The 110 (Yay L.A. Magazine)

19 Jan

Read on the Yay L.A. website here

“SPIDERS FROM MARS ON THE 110”

BY JUSTIN MAURER

17 DECEMBER 2014

I worked in the morning in Hollywood – a sign language interpreter for a deaf actress. She possessed a white hot energy that flowed over everyone like a river of molten lava.

I worked in the evening in Watts. I was a sign language interpreter for a caring mother who was beautiful and impossibly honest.

Nearly all of the other mothers were Spanish-speaking and had no interpreters.

I find the American educational system lacks logic.

Today an 80-year-old man was rightly punished for his racism.

Today a few people hate Los Angeles a little less.

I met my father and brought a six-pack of beer.

He had knee surgery and was staying with my Uncle in Redondo.

Luckily my Uncle was gone.

I owe him $750 and he’s still upset about it.

I watched the basketball game and drank most of the beers. My father had one. He said that he was on a lot of medication after his surgery.

He asked me a little about my and about my life and about my wife. I asked him a little about Rio de Janeiro where he’s been living.

His whole life is a secret.

We hugged goodbye and everything was Okay but everything wasn’t okay. I could feel the sadness of father and son.

There are some conversations we will never have.

There are some experiences we will never share.

Everything was okay but everything wasn’t okay but it was okay.

I stole a cigarette from my uncle’s wife who was sleeping and smoked a few puffs of it.

I saw a sign that pointed to the beach.

I saw a beat up pickup truck make a U-turn in the road.

Then I put out the cigarette and rolled down the windows all the way.

David Bowie was on the radio and they played 4 songs in a row.

For some reason they only play good music on the radio late at night.

And I cranked those 4 songs and the wind whipped through my hair and I could smell the sea and it was beautiful.

And I drove down a street called Torrance Blvd. and up a hill.

I saw a flame dancing above a smokestack at an Oil refinery. I thought if hell looks half this beautiful I want to go there.

The flame taunted the sky with its mad dance and I madly drove towards it.

I continued off course all of the way to the oil refinery and I saw the flame up close and personal.

It stank outside – the oily air. And it was a real moment. Me and the air and the flame and the oil refinery and David Bowie.

Then I got back on course, found the 110 freeway after passing dozens of taco stands.

Late-night taco stands feed the working man and the drinking man of LA.

Then there she was. The 110 Freeway. A drunk driver almost ran me off the road.

And I swerved past him.

They played the last song from Bowie’s Spiders From Mars.

And it was a good one.

Photo by Matt McGrath.

(Photo Credit: Matt Mcgrath)

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Little Armenian Prowler

8 Jan

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I got home late and saw my girlfriend outside our bedroom window shining a flashlight around.

“Oh what now,” I thought.  My girlfriend is prone to hearing ghosts and noises and murderers.  She shouldn’t have been outside in her underwear in the middle of the night.

“What the hell are you doing,” I asked.

“Look,” she said.

There was a chair pulled up in the alley to give someone a perfect vantage point to look into a crack beneath the blinds on our bedroom window.

“There was a man sitting in that chair watching me,” she said. “And he was touching himself. The dog heard the noises and I looked out the blinds and he ran off. I heard the noises too,” she said.

“Jesus Christ,” I said.

The next day we asked our neighbors about it and Jorge, one of the gay guys who lives upstairs, said that he saw a white guy about 6 feet tall, athletic build, leaving the driveway. Jorge was walking his dog and smoking a cigarette. He said that he had practiced reverse racism.

“Because the guy was white, I just assumed he was someone’s friend, just visiting somebody,” he said. “If the guy was black I would have known he was up to something. But the guy was white.”

I told our other neighbor Roberto what happened. He used to be a Sergeant in the Guatemalan army during the brutal civil war there. One night when he was drunk off Bud Lites he showed me a photo of his army days and told me that he had killed plenty of people during the war. His troops slept in the jungle and used giant palm fronds as umbrellas at night when it was raining.  I took him around the side of our apartment and showed him the chair the peeping tom had pulled up.

Hijo de la chingada,” he said.  He told me in Spanish that if the guy showed up again to call him. He would run out and help me beat the guy up. He muttered some more obscenities in Spanish and kicked the dirt in frustration.

I went to the hardware store and bought some things. I wanted to make some booby traps. I kept thinking, What would Kevin in Home Alone do?  What kind of booby traps did Kevin set up?  I bought some nails, some fishing wire and fishing bells, barbed wire, a few small cacti, a motion sensor light and even found an infrared camera that is triggered by movement and body heat.  It was $100 for the camera and I couldn’t afford it but I bought it anyway.  My money had almost completely run out but I had stuff to make booby traps.

Underneath some ivy in the alleyway I hid dozens of crushed aluminum cans. The noise would alert me to the prowler. I put a Louisville Slugger baseball bat by the side door and gave my girlfriend a can of mace to put on her bedside table.  I unscrewed a table leg and had it like a club on my bedside table in case I needed a second tool for bludgeoning.  Across the alley I put strands of taut fishing wire with bells attached.  I left the chair in the exact same place and hammered nails through the bottom so that they were barely visible above the surface of the seat cushion. If the peeping tom sat down again he would be in for a surprise.  I told my neighbor Roberto about my nail idea and he laughed hysterically slapping me on the back. He liked my nail idea.

I set up the infrared camera.  I tested it at night and then plugged it in and saw myself but I didn’t recognize myself. I looked like a blurry dark indistinguishable creature. The damn camera probably wouldn’t work.  I later used the camera to film some footage of my girlfriend and I having sex but I didn’t tell her about it. I watched it when she was at work and it wasn’t bad.

I was getting off track.  I came home from work and hauled the box of barbed wire to the side alley.  Our neighbor had put black plastic garbage bags full of extra gardening mulch all along the alley. No one could get by, they’d be stymied by gardening mulch.  Ah, fine with me. I got a beer from the store.

I began to look at everyone in my neighborhood as if they were the suspect. Was it the six foot tall white guy? Or was it a teenage Mexican kid?  Was it a slow walking Filipino guy with a moustache and a limp?  Was it one of the homeless black guys?  Was it a young Armenian man wearing Adidas? Was it one of the Thai delivery boys, coming back to peep in the window after he delivered food?  Was it a mentally deranged Hollywood street person? Was it one of our neighbors we knew?  Everyone was a suspect and through dark sunglasses I surveyed the street and took note of all of the faces. There were too many faces and too many people were weird and erratic and it could have been any of them.

At night if I heard a noise I’d throw the side door open and charge out with a baseball bat in my boxer shorts. I never saw anyone. My fishing line got broken but I wasn’t certain if it was the prowler who broke it.

We almost forgot about the whole thing and a couple of months later I was backing her car out. We were going somewhere and were arguing as usual. She was telling me not to scratch her car. I was annoyed as hell.  From around the back of the apartments I saw a guy walking out I didn’t recognize.  I pointed at him.

“Who’s he,” I said.  “Follow him!”

My girl followed him down the driveway and asked if he was visiting anyone.

“None of your business,” he growled.

“It is my business, I live here,” she said.

“I’m a tenant,” the stranger lied.

He matched Jorge’s description, white guy, 6 feet tall, normal looking.

We followed him slowly down the block in the car. He flipped us off.

“That’s it,” I said and jumped out of the car.  I started chasing the guy. He had a white mini van parked on Sunset next to the El Pollo Loco.

He got into the driver’s seat and closed the door. I motioned for him to roll down the window. He fired up the mini van and drove down Sunset Blvd. without looking at me.

“Son of a bitch,” I said to no one in particular.

I memorized his white mini-van’s license plate number. Then I repeated it aloud so many times that I was certain I got it wrong.  I had my girlfriend call the Hollywood Police Bureau. She got the answering machine. She called again and put a cop on speaker phone. He had a condescending tone as L.A. cops always do.

“You should have called 911,” the cop said. He sounded like a black cop, despondent that he had to work the phone shift instead of catching bad guys. You could tell he was an actual cop because he spoke the cop language, cop-ese.

“Sir, you could have been in danger. We could have called a helicopter and apprehended the perpetrator.”

“A helicopter,” I mouthed the word helicopter to my girlfriend without making any noise. She covered her mouth so the cop on speaker phone wouldn’t hear her laughing.

“Well, okay, but we’re calling you now, is it okay if we report the guy and give you his license plate number, I asked.

“Sir, again I would like to reiterate. You could have been in danger and you should have called 911 immediately. For all we know he could have been in police custody and we wouldn’t have to have this conversation.”

“Do you want the license plate number,” I asked again, out of frustration.

“Go ahead and give me the plate number, but be mindful that there is a very low chance we can find him at this given time because you didn’t dial 911 immediately.”

I gave the cop the license plate number, said thank you then hung up.

“Jesus Christ,” I said.   Then we got rear-ended by some Latina party girls wearing hair extensions and high heels.  There wasn’t any damage besides a scratch so we didn’t bother to call the insurance people and certainly not LAPD. They’d tell us we should have called 911 so that they could get a helicopter to see if anyone was fleeing the scene of the accident. Then they could radio a squad car and they could open fire on the perpetrator and then unleash a canine on the victim to bite him as he lay bleeding from multiple gunshot wounds.  True story. I didn’t make that up. They did that to somebody.

A few weeks later my girlfriend was out to a work dinner and I was enjoying sitting in my underwear eating Thai Food delivery out of the box.

I got a phone call from my neighbor Jorge, the out of work gay actor who lives upstairs with his husband, another actor.

“Could you do me a big favor,” he asked.

“Sure,” I said.

“Would you mind staying in your living room?”

“No, not at all, I said.”

“I’ll explain later, well, we have this house guest and he’s going crazy and I have to throw him out,” he said.

“No problem,” I said, flicking on the living room lights and the front porch light.

I saw a man with an umbrella and a duffel bag leaving and heard my neighbor’s door slam shut. I heard the man with the umbrella say, “Fuck fuck fuck fuck.”

A few moments later there was a knock on my back door. It was Jorge.

“Come in,” I said. “Do you want any water or juice?” We didn’t have anything besides water, juice and milk and I didn’t think he would want any milk.

“No thank you,” he said, sitting down at our dining room table. He was wearing a black leather jacket, a new-ish one, and had hair gel in his hair. Gay guys are always so well put together. I was wearing a hooded sweatshirt, mismatched socks and a dirty pair of blue jeans with burrito stains that I hastily pulled on.

Jorge began to tell me the story, “We have a houseguest.  He was in a play with my husband Francis last year.  He seemed normal and we heard he was living on the street in Hollywood so we said he could stay over for a little while.”

He showed me a photo of the crazy guy. The crazy guy looked very gay. He had a big femmy smile and a lot of hair gel. I think they call this kind of gay guy a “twink,” even though I don’t really know what a twink is or what that classification of gay really constitutes.

Jorge continued.

“On the couch he’ll just sit there staring straight ahead. Even if we talk to him he just stares straight ahead. At night we lock our bedroom door.”

He rubbed his hands together out of nervousness or lack of warmth.

“We went to the grocery store and there was this pretty girl working at one of the cashiers. He went up to her all close and starting hitting on her. She clearly didn’t want anything to do with him. I said, ‘Joe, come on.’  And he didn’t listen. I walked over to him and he said, ‘I just got out of jail, I haven’t had a woman in a long time, leave me alone.’

Oh MY God,’ I thought, Jorge said in an affected way that made him sound like a teenage girl.

“So we walked back and he started yelling, ‘Fuck fuck, you fucked it up. You fucked it up. Since Francis and I are from Chicago we hide knives all over the house for protection. Just in case, I mean this is L.A. I found one of the knives and put it in my jacket pocket.”

He pulled the knife out of the inside breast pocket of his newish black leather jacket. It was one of those military style hunting knives that’s in a black leather sheath. My dad used to have one like that with a compass screwed on the end of the shallow handle. It was called a survival knife I think. It had a snakebite kit inside the handle along with some other basic survival tools. I remember hoping that I wouldn’t get bit by a rattlesnake. My dad said he knew how to cut an X on the snakebite and suck out the venom but I didn’t believe him.

I found my mind wandering and Jorge was still telling his story.

“So I got his duffel bag and put it outside.  He left and took his umbrella which he always carries around for some reason and a suitcase. I don’t know where he got the suitcase or what he has inside of it.  I don’t know if he’s shooting up or on drugs or what.  Anyway I can’t have him in our house around our dogs.  So if he comes back, don’t let him in.”

Jorge went out the back door. I drank a beer and let the dog out to go to the bathroom and then watched a documentary in bed. I was drifting off, so I shut it off and went to sleep.  A few hours later my girlfriend stumbled in reeking of vodka tonic. She woke me up and told me that a man had tried to kiss her in an elevator. When she pushed him away he bit her on the nose.

“What,” I said. “Where was the can of mace I bought you? You should have kneed him in the balls,” I said.

“I know, but all I could think of doing was to push him away. He tried to put his tongue in my mouth. He was calling me a prick tease and I said I didn’t know what he was talking about, I didn’t know him or recognize him. There was an old man in the elevator too.”

“And the old man didn’t do anything,” I asked.

“No he just asked the guy what he was doing. And then the elevator got to the bottom floor and I ran.”

“Why didn’t you complain about the guy to the restaurant,” I said. “They might have cameras in the lobby there, you could have pointed out the guy.”

“I know, I’ll call them tomorrow,” she said.

I twisted and turned in bed angrily.  There is never a dull moment in Little Armenia.

Sam Rodia’s Watts Towers

1 Oct
Sabato "Sam" Rodia, creator of Watts Towers

Sabato “Sam” Rodia, creator of Watts Towers

“I was going to do something big, and I did…You have to be good good or bad bad to be remembered.”

Sabato “Sam” Rodia, 1952

On a sunny Sunday afternoon I convinced my girlfriend to head down to South Central L.A. with me to check out Watts Towers. Growing up in a gang-rife Los Angeles of the 1980s and early 90s where Crips and Bloods reigned supreme, children were taught to be afraid of South L.A.  South Central was especially dangerous and anywhere south of the 10 Freeway was to be avoided at all costs.  In the films and television of the 80s and 90s, “Don’t go south of the 10 (Freeway),” was a common repeated phrase.

Watts riots, South Central Los Angeles, 1965. Over 100 square blocks torched.

Watts riots, South Central Los Angeles, 1965. Over 100 square blocks torched.

Riot Torn Watts, 1965. Photo by Harold Filan/Associated Press

Riot torn Watts, 1965. Photo by Harold Filan/Associated Press

Fortunately we disregarded the advice of my childhood and decided to pay a visit to Sabato “Sam” Rodia’s Watt’s Towers, a one-man 30 year creation spanning from 1921 to 1954.  Visiting the towers really touched me. I wanted to get a feel for the human heart behind this intense labor of love.

Photo By Marina Plentl

Photo By Marina Plentl

Photo By Marina Plentl

Underside of the main Tower. Photo By Marina Plentl

Coincidentally the Watts Jazz Festival was in full swing on the Sunday afternoon when we made the trip down to South Central Los Angeles.  Watts has a history of defiance, notably the Watts Riots of 1965, the L.A. Riots of 1992, and in a historically defiant work of outsider art, Watts Towers. The Towers have stood the test of time, a veritable fist in the sky against naysayers, vandals and multiple city demolition attempts.

Charles Mingus, 1976, Watts' finest Jazzman

Charles Mingus, 1976, Watts’ finest Jazzman

On the Watts Jazz Festival’s stage a charismatic M.C. declared into the mike, “Don’t let the city officials fool you. We put this together ourselves without their help. We raised the money. We put this together for the people of Watts without help or assistance from the City of Los Angeles.”  The attitude of the M.C. seemed directly reflective of Rodia and his Towers.  Rodia worked alone and completed his masterpiece without the help or money of outsiders. It was his personal gift to South Central Los Angeles and the world.

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Although the Towers and the surrounding park are on the map, as far as city officials are concerned, the people of South Central L.A. are a low priority, off the radar of city government. South LA residents’ marginalization in the past led to drug addiction, gang violence, riots and turmoil. The mostly middle-aged black attendees of the Watts Jazz Festival have survived living in a place that at times resembled a war zone. They continue to have a sense of quiet yet defiant pride. The Watts festival attendees seem to prove that holding your head high and holding your culture close is one of the only ways to overcome decades of adversity. What better way to show this sentiment then throwing a free Jazz Festival in the park, run by the people for the people.  This idea seemed to go back to the Wattstax Festival of 1972 where admission was $1. They kept the admission cost low so that everyone who suffered the Watts riots 7 years earlier could afford to partake in the festivities.

Simon “Sam” Rodia was an Italian immigrant who began his new life in Pennsylvania in 1895.  When his brother died in a coal mining accident, he moved west, living in Seattle and Oakland, where he and his wife had 3 children. A tiny man, at 4’11”, he worked with his hands as a tiler, logger and construction worker as well as finding work in railroad camps and rock quarries. Many of the skills he learned in his varied manual labor occupations would later facilitate the creation of his masterpiece.

When he divorced his wife around 1909, he left his family in Oakland, moving south to Long Beach. After a few years of living and working (including relationships with 2 women), he heard about a reasonably priced small plot of land for sale in Watts. At the time, Watts was not a desirable location to live because of its proximity to both rail road tracks and the light rail tracks for the Red Car, a street car which connected downtown Los Angeles with Long Beach.  The street car and the railroad produced quite a bit of noise which made the nearby lot a difficult sell.

Rodia’s romantic relations with a woman named Benita dissolved and in 1921 he decided to buy the triangular plot located at 1761-1765 107th Street in South Los Angeles. He built a small house for himself on one side of the lot and feverishly began construction on his vision of 3 towers on the other. In the 20s he lived with a woman named Carmen. After she left him in 1927, he would remain alone for the rest of his life, dedicated to creating something great.

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Rodia’s heroes were highly regarded Italians like Galileo, Marco Polo, Christopher Columbus and Michelangelo. He admired the Leaning Tower of Pisa and other noteworthy Italian architecture. He was determined to create something that matched the accomplishments of his idols. It was also rumored that he drank heavily after leaving his wife, and he felt the need of a monumental project to avoid a plunge into heavy drinking.  Rodia came up with an idea to create a giant sculpture resembling one of Marco Polo’s ships.

He built his Towers using a mixture of concrete, steel and wire mesh. He would bend steel using the nearby railroad tracks to anchor a makeshift vise. His basic masonry tools and his bare hands were his instruments to build. He decorated his towers and the walls surrounding the Towers with his neighbors’ discarded trash: glass bottles, broken kitchen platters, ceramic pottery and seashells from the beach 20 miles away. He constructed a stone oven where he baked bread as well as melted ceramic and glass items for decoration and construction of the Towers. His sense of humor is seen in his offbeat touches including a cement cowboy booted foot and teapot spouts jutting out of walls.

mosaic

Rodia would also pay neighborhood kids in cookies or pennies for pieces of broken pottery and kitchenware.  He was known to the children as the “3 Musketeers Man,” because at the time, a full-sized 3 Musketeers chocolate bar cost a nickel. If the kids brought him enough ceramic pieces, he would sometimes reward them with a nickel.

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Rodia worked full time in a ceramics factory, the Malibu Tile Company in Santa Monica, and would collect ideal pieces to decorate his massive sculpture. He was fired from Malibu Tile when they discovered he was stealing such a large amount of supplies. He quickly lined up other work in the area in tiling, as a security guard and as a telephone line repairman. He diligently attended work full time and remained obsessed with his project during every free moment day or night for 30 years.

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To make his commute to work quicker, he placed a circular police siren on top of his car. After successfully navigating South L.A.’s streets in an imposter squad car, someone reported him.  The police came to investigate and he told the officers that he had never owned a car.  The rumor was that he buried his car to avoid prosecution.  It remained a rumor until it was confirmed in the 1990s, when the shell of a car was found buried behind one of his walls.

Despite his popularity with certain neighborhood children, he was often mocked by locals, dismissing his project as crazy or an eyesore.

Shrugging off the frequent ridicule, Rodia remained focused.

“Some of the people they say what is he doing? Some of the people were thinkin’ I was crazy, and some other people they say he’s gonna do something.”

– Sam Rodia

He would frequently walk the entirety of the railroad tracks from Watts to the rail road depot in Wilmington (about 15 miles one way), to collect broken bottles and other useful items on the side of the tracks. He used bottles of popular beverages such as 7-Up for green glass and Milk of Magnesia for blue glass.

His name was misspelled in a 1937 LA Times article calling him “Simon Rodilla.” History would correct his last name (Rodia), but unfortunately his incorrect first name (Simon) remained. He went by the nickname “Sam,” although his Italian given name was Sabato.

As Rodia’s project reached new monumental heights (his tallest Tower 99 1/2 feet tall) he ordained himself a minister and began orchestrating weddings, baptisms and other religious ceremonies in front of his towers. His ceremony had an unmarried couple entering the compound from one divided door frame and leaving simultaneously through one door. The ceremonies he performed were not recognized by the church or the State of California, but he drummed up a steady flow of marriages and baptisms nonetheless. On Sundays he would give sermons from a podium to any who would listen. Rodia built two fountains that spurted water. As the overflow of liquid seeped into his designs imprinted on the ground, it gave them an otherworldly feel.

watts-towers

According to our tour guide at Watts Towers, Rodia worked with his hands so frequently that his fingerprints were completely rubbed off. He bathed once a month in rubbing alcohol to get all of the building material off of his skin.  He used a window washer’s belt and harness to climb the towers, and in his old age fell off one of the Towers in the 50s, breaking one of his hips. He remained committed and finished his project which he compared to “Marco Polo’s ship.”

"Nuestro Pueblo" inscription, photo by Sarah Janet

“Nuestro Pueblo” inscription, photo by Sarah Janet

On the side of the main tower is inscribed “Nuestro Pueblo” – “Our Town” in Spanish. He was fluent in Spanish and his Mexican neighbors thought that he was of Latino origin. He attended Italo-American society meetings in downtown Los Angeles so he managed to retain his Italian identity. It is curious that he named his creation “Nuestro Pueblo,” in Spanish instead of Italian. The Italian would have been “Nostra Città.” Simon Rodia was illiterate, dropping out of school at the age of 12 when he began working, so perhaps he became more accustomed to Spanish after his 50 years in the states or maybe he knew that more locals were familiar with Spanish. Perhaps it was a nod to the region’s Latino history or the El Pueblo de Los Angeles Monument on Olvera Street, the most historic street in downtown Los Angeles.

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When completed, within the walls of Rodia’s Towers are 17 structures including 3 towers, a baptismal font, fountains and the four walls that surround the Towers. A city ordinance forbade a building taller than 100 feet so his tallest tower is 99 1/2 feet tall. The inner and outer walls as well as the ground are covered in Rodia’s personalized imprints – using a garden hose faucet to depict flowers, the metal backings of chairs and headboards to create intricate imprints and also hand-placed sea shells, glass bottles and tiles. Heart designs also feature prominently. When asked about the significance of the hearts, he replied, “You know.”

During WWII, in step with Japanese internment and widespread anxiety and paranoia, it was rumored that his creation was a clandestine radio tower used to communicate with the enemy.

After 31 years of labor, in 1948 his Towers were complete, ornately decorated and solid.  Allegedly he frequently bickered with his neighbors, and some of the locals would even vandalize his project.

Finishing his masterpiece well into his 70s, he decided to relocate to Martinez, California (near his former home of Oakland) to be closer to his family. In 1954, he gave the plot of land to a neighbor, Luis Sauceda, and left his beloved Towers forever. One year later Sauceda sold the land to Joseph Montoya who wanted to convert the property into a taco stand that prominently featured the Towers, but this project never came to fruition.

Photo by Marina Plentl

Photo by Marina Plentl

In 1959 the Towers were condemned and slated for demolition, deemed “hazardous” by the City of Los Angeles. A few art advocates spearheaded by William and Carol Cartwright and Nicolas King, managed to raise $3000 to purchase the Towers.  They orchestrated engineers to conduct a safety test. A crane was attached by rope to the main tower. It was decided that if the tower fell, then the Towers were unsafe. If the tower was left to withstand the intense force of the crane, then it would stay.  Rodia’s Towers past the strength test with flying colors as the wheels from the crane were lifted off of the ground and the rope eventually broken with no damage to the tower besides a slight lean.  His tower was jokingly dubbed, “The leaning tower of Watts.”

Sam Rodia happily conducted a few interviews with journalists and filmmakers about his Towers as they began to attract international attention in the 50s.

“I was going to do something big, and I did…You have to be good good or bad bad to be remembered.”

– Sabato “Sam” Rodia, 1952

Rodia attended a conference about the towers at UC Berkeley in 1961 and appeared satisfied about finally receiving some recognition although he never visited his Towers again after leaving Watts in 1954. Sabato “Sam” Rodia died July 16, 1965 about one month before the Watts Riots violently erupted.

Demonstrators push against a police car after rioting erupted in a crowd of 1,500 in the Los Angeles area of Watts.  14,000 national guardsmen were called in to disperse the rioting and over 100 square blocks were destroyed by arson.

Demonstrators push against a police car after rioting erupted in a crowd of 1,500 in the Los Angeles area of Watts. 14,000 national guardsmen were called in to disperse the rioting and over 100 square blocks were destroyed by arson over a 6-7 day period in August of 1965.

Two years later, a photo of  Rodia was included on the iconic album cover of the Beatles, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band released in ’67  (Rodia is on the top row, far right, to the immediate left of Bob Dylan). Jann Haworth, the co-designer of the album cover was a native Angeleno, she included Simon Rodia as one of her personal contributions to the inspirational or historic figures included in the artwork.

Simon Rodia's face is on the top row, far right, to the immediate left of Bob Dylan

Simon Rodia’s face is on the top row, far right, to the immediate left of Bob Dylan

Since the towers were proven safe, in 1975 the City of Los Angeles and the State of California took over the maintenance and conservation of the towers and they became a public heritage site. The immediate surrounding area became a park and arts center.

“Through the sheer force of the creative intelligence they manifest, the towers uplift the Watts community. They serve as an urban oasis…”

– American National Biography, A.N.B.

Photo by Marina Plentl

Photo by Marina Plentl

I thought about Simon Rodia and how his tenacity, character and personality reminded me of the way Italian-American writer John Fante, also an L.A. writer, described his own father, Nicola “Nick” Fante in his books.  His father was a brick layer, often out of work during long winter months in Colorado. He drank plenty of “Dago Red” wine and was very proud at his intermittent accomplishments, constructing many prominent buildings in the Denver area. Many of Nicola Fante’s schools and churches still stand today in Northern California and Colorado.

In Dan Fante’s memoir about his family “Fante,” he recounts a tale of his Grandpa Nick in a bar fight with two Irishmen after they humiliated him. He smashed a bottle over one of the Irishmen’s head and bit the ear off another. He couldn’t handle being slighted or humiliated.

John Fante, Italian-American author and screenwriter. His father was a stubborn stonemason - Nicola Fante, and his son Dan Fante, another iconic Los Angeles writer - also ferociously stubborn, it runs in the family...

John Fante, Italian-American author and screenwriter. His father was a stubborn stonemason – Nicola Fante, and his son Dan Fante, another iconic Los Angeles writer – also incredibly stubborn, it runs in the family…

In John Fante’s book, “Full of Life,” he writes about his ferociously stubborn Italian father, who moves in with his son’s family in Los Angeles to help renovate their house when it became infested with termites.

“I felt his hot tears and the loneliness of man and the sweetness of all men and the aching haunting beauty of the living” 

– John Fante, Full of Life

The ornery tenacity of Italian-American laborers like Nicola Fante and Sam Rodia has disappeared from today’s milk toast American society.  Sam Rodia’s Watts Towers still stand, now respected but only after years of being considered the work of a crazy recluse. Rodia put up with the humiliation of being considered a laughingstock but remained ferociously dedicated to his art.  After he was forsaken from his family, Rodia had a singular focus, building something he would be remembered for.  In the still struggling South Los Angeles neighborhood of Watts, his Towers remain a testament. They reveal the resilience of the human condition. They show that a neighborhood can survive racism, poverty, police brutality and riots.  They show that a simple man can create, even a man with a broken heart.

rodiamartinez

Rock/Fight (LA Record)

13 Sep

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(View this article on the LA Record Site)

A new photo exhibition has opened in Hollywood called Rock/Fight.  Most of the shots were taken at LA’s Olympic Auditorium downtown.  The idea is a pairing of 80s punks with 60s and 70s boxers and wrestlers. Half of the exhibition are action shots of  leathery brawlers mostly snapped by photographer Theo Ehret in the 60s and 70s. The other half, paired with Ehret’s bruisers are of high-energy hardcore punk bands who performed at the Olympic Auditorium in the early 80s as well as a few other timeless rock n roll shots.

The Olympic Auditorium in its heyday (photo by Theo Ehret, not a part of the Rock/Fight exhibition)

The Olympic Auditorium in its heyday (photo by Theo Ehret, not included in the Rock/Fight exhibition)

Host Henry Rollins explained the event to a full house.

“Rock and roll is a contact sport. Most of you here in this room have been spectators in one way or another at either sports events or at a rock show.  Performing rock and roll is hard work, just like boxing or wrestling can be brutal to the body of an athlete. You see these images of both boxers and musicians in these airless, windowless Dostoyevsky-ish back stage rooms, I have been in many of these rooms and they are straight off the pages of a Dickens novel.  Over there is a photo of Muhammad Ali and the heavyweight champion of rock n roll, Iggy Pop.  That’s going to be the only time I’m above Iggy Pop in anything.”

The crowd laughed as Rollins gestured to photographer Edward Colver’s 1981 outtake of the cover shot from Black Flag’s “Damaged” Album, Henry  punching a mirror. It’s framed above a 1972 Mick Rock snap of Iggy Pop bending backwards like a gymnast.

“That shot was taken just down the street,” Rollins told the audience, referring to the “Damaged” cover shoot.

Host Henry Rollins,, "Rock and Roll is a contact sport."

Host Henry Rollins,,”Rock and Roll is a contact sport.”

The event was sponsored by Peligroso Tequila.  I waited in the liquor line. I was eager to get a drink, but was able to survey the framed photographs on the wall next to the line.   The first shot to my immediate right was the Colver photo that Rollins joked about. There it was, the outtake from Black Flag’s “Damaged” LP cover shoot in 1981.

© Edward Colver, Henry Rollins, outtake for Black Flag's Damaged album, Los Angeles, California, 1981

© Edward Colver, Henry Rollins, outtake for Black Flag’s Damaged album, Los Angeles, 1981.

Ed Colver was interviewed recently on website DoubleCrossXX.com where he spoke about this mythological photo shoot:

“…The “Damaged” cover photographs of Henry…I shot at what was called the Oxford house in Hollywood. I taped the entire backside of the mirror, turned it over and broke it with a hammer, then cleaned it. The “blood” I made with red India ink that I brought with me and stuff I found in the kitchen. After experimenting for a bit I came up with red ink (for color) liquid dishwashing soap (consistency) and powdered instant coffee (for color).

We did some photographs outside with a blue blanket as a background (unused, no mood) and then some inside. The best photographs in my opinion were not used (Henry’s eyes glowing red from my flash) they were deemed too demented (those photos have been “misplaced” for over 20 years).

The back cover photo of just the broken mirror was my idea and I took it at a friend’s house in Los Feliz. I photographed the mirror for the back on Rowena Ave. To have it only reflect black, I laid the mirror on a sidewalk at night and photographed it at a slight angle as to not have my camera or I show up in the reflection. Where I shot it was two blocks from the Labianca house scene of the Manson murders. My friend’s aunt that lived a block away found bloody clothes in her alley after the murders, she lived on St. George and at the time of the murders Tex Watson lived on Griffith Park Blvd.”

– See more at: http://doublecrossxx.com/edward-colver-on-photographing-the-damaged-cover

Below the Rollins shot was Iggy Pop, “The heavyweight champion of rock and roll.”

Iggy Pop by Mick Rock. 1972. Edition of 90. Asking price for a Silver Gelatin 16" X 20" print, $2000.

Iggy Pop by Mick Rock. 1972.

Seeing some of  the Edward Colver shots were surreal, as I grew up poring through punk fanzines and had seen many of the classic early 80s punk photos on flyers, record covers,  back covers and inserts.  This one of Minor Threat was truly breathtaking to see up close and personal. My heart quickened. I could feel the energy and smell the sweat.

Minor Threat, Torrance, CA 1982. © EDWARD COLVER, 1982 Ian MacKaye of Minor Threat, photographed at The Barn in Torrance, California, July 3, 1982. Also on the bill were Dead Kennedys, MDC, Zero Boys and The Detonators. This is one of two Colver photos selected for the Brooklyn Museum's "Who Shot Rock" exhibit.

Minor Threat, Torrance, CA 1982.
© EDWARD COLVER, 1982
Ian MacKaye of Minor Threat, photographed at The Barn in Torrance, California, July 3, 1982. Also on the bill were Dead Kennedys, MDC, Zero Boys and The Detonators. This is one of two Colver photos selected for the Brooklyn Museum’s “Who Shot Rock” exhibit.

Growing up a fan of 1982 punk documentary “Another State of Mind” I recognized Mike Ness’ outfit from the film.

Mike Ness (Social Distortion) by Edward Colver. Los Angeles. 1981.

Mike Ness (Social Distortion) by Edward Colver. Los Angeles. 1981.

And next in line finally, waiting impatiently for a cold drink, there was John Lydon to greet me.

Johnny Rotten by Bob Gruen. Atlanta, 1978.

Johnny Rotten by Bob Gruen. Atlanta, 1978.

I was asked what I wanted to drink by the Peligroso Tequila staff.   A bearded young man told me that the special was Cinnamon Tequila.  He gave me a shot of that and mixed me a tequila and OJ topped with a little special syrup and a squeezed lime.  The cinnamon tequila actually wasn’t bad, but as agave cactus and cinnamon are grown in separate regions of the world, I found the pairing to be odd.  (With a little research I found that Mexico is the major importer of “true” cinnamon. They get it mainly from Sri Lanka, who supply about 70% of the world’s cinnamon demand. Food for thought).

With tequila and OJ in hand, I weaved my way through the crowd to the restroom where I found the most unimpressive photo of the exhibition, a shirtless Lenny Kravitz (taken by Stephanie Pfriender Stylander).  Bare chested Lenny and his six pack abs go for $950 if you’d like a 16″ x 20″ Archival digital print.  As this photo was the lamest of the show (runner up being some bare boobs from Woodstock ’99 shot by Henry Diltz) – next to the crapper was a fitting place for ‘ole Kravitz.  Maybe I’m being harsh, but honestly Lenny Kravitz does not deserve to be in the company of Iggy Pop, The Who, Bruce Springsteen, Black Flag and Minor Threat.  Just saying.

Lenny Kravitz by Stephanie Pfriender Stylander.  He was next to Theo Ehret's "The Champion" - Danny  "Little Red" Lopez - 1977.  Also next to the toilet.

Lenny Kravitz by Stephanie Pfriender Stylander. He was next to Theo Ehret’s “The Champion” – Danny “Little Red” Lopez – 1977. Kravitz’ location was next to the bathroom in the far corner of the gallery.. Courtesy of Entertainment Weekly’s EW.com

Now heading to the left, her Eminence Debby Harry shot by Bob Gruen in ’77.

Debby Harry/Pink by Bob Gruen. Toronto, 1977. Unfortunately this was the highest resolution I could find. Gorgeous photo, gorgeous woman.

Debby Harry/Pink by Bob Gruen. Toronto, 1977. Unfortunately this was the highest resolution I could find. Gorgeous photo, gorgeous woman.

Below Debby was this wonderful shot of Keef by Ethan Russel from the Stones’ ’72 US Tour.

Keith Richards Patience Please by Ethan Russel. Rolling Stones US Tour 1972.  The largest print size was sold out. Price? $12,000.

Keith Richards Patience Please by Ethan Russel. Rolling Stones US Tour 1972. The largest print size was sold out. Price? $12,000. Smaller sizes are available $1K and up.

Next to Keef we have The Who, fucking shit up at the Monterey Pop Festival.

The Who by Henry Diltz. Monterey Pop festival, 1967.

The Who by Henry Diltz. Monterey Pop festival, 1967.

Getting to the main dish, Ed Colver’s seminal “Flip Shot.”  Colver was chatting to folks near the shot (although they seemed to be queuing up for a photo-op with Henry Rollins). I shook Colver’s  hand and told him “good job,” explaining that I had used his “Flip Shot” for a flyer I made in High School for a punk show on Bainbridge Island, Washington.  He seemed pretty non-plussed about my story and a little annoyed at the fact he couldn’t make a beeline for Rollins.  It seemed like he had something he wanted to tell Henry, but he had to line up just like everyone else.

Rollins was telling some very-tall high heeled women an animated tale about one of his middle school teachers in DC.  The women were smiling and nodding politely, waiting for their chance to ask him for a photo.

(Pasadena, CA © EDWARD COLVER, 1981)

“Flip Shot” of skater Chuck Burke taken by Edward Colver during Stiff Little Fingers / Adolescents / DOA show at Perkins Palace in Pasadena, California, July 4, 1981)
Now the meat of the exhibition.  A massive shot of Sid Vicious by Bob Gruen from the Sex Pistols 1978 show in Dallas, Texas.  A 30″ x 50″ Digital print is on sale for 5 Grand, but there’s smaller sizes available for $800 and up if you’re so inclined.
Sid Vicious by Bob Gruen. Dallas, TX. 1978.

Sid Vicious by Bob Gruen. Dallas, TX. 1978.

And to the left of Sid, a real man. Wrestler Victor Rivera in Theo Ehrets 1978 shot “Bloodbath”

Unfortunately this was the highest lresolution of Theo Ehret's "Bloodbath" (his shot of wrestler Victor Rivera at the Olympic Auditorium in 1978). Courtesy of Entertainment Weekly.

Unfortunately this was the highest resolution of Theo Ehret’s “Bloodbath” (his shot of wrestler Victor Rivera at the Olympic Auditorium in 1978). Courtesy of Entertainment Weekly. This little jpeg does not do “Bloodbath” justice at all.

Here's a snap of "Bloodbath" I took with my trusty old BlackBerry Curve,  reflection off the glass and all

Here’s a snap of “Bloodbath” I took with my trusty old BlackBerry Curve, reflection off the glass and all

And a couple photos down to the left from “Bloodbath” is this gorgeous mid-air shot of Elton, circa 1973

Elton John by Barrie Wentzell. London, 1973.

Elton John by Barrie Wentzell. London, 1973.

Muhammad Ali, "Training For The Rumble In The Jungle" by Theo Ehret. Main Street Gym 1974.

Muhammad Ali, “Training For The Rumble In The Jungle” by Theo Ehret. Main Street Gym 1974.

You had this brilliant shot of a free-for-all at Olympic Auditorium, starring Andre “The Giant”

Andre The Giant "Battle Royale" by Theo Ehret. Olympic Auditorium 1976

Andre The Giant “Battle Royale” by Theo Ehret. Olympic Auditorium 1976

Mando Ramos "Aftermath" by Theo Ehret. Olympic Auditorium 1973

Mando Ramos “Aftermath” by Theo Ehret. Olympic Auditorium 1973

Freddie Blassie "Dust Cloud" by Theo Ehret. Olympic Auditorium 1974

Freddie Blassie “Dust Cloud” by Theo Ehret. Olympic Auditorium 1974

I met a man named Carlos who grew up in East LA and was an avid attendee of many of the punk shows depicted in the Colver photos.  “Ed Colver is like our Van Gogh,” he told me.  “We grew up with all of these albums, t-shirts, going to all of these shows.  I was at both that Andre the Giant Wrestling match AND the Dead Kennedys show, both at Olympic Auditorium downtown.  The openers for Dead Kennedys were Fishbone.  They had this trombone player who was crazy, man.  A kid stage dove off of a PA speaker and knocked into him.  The trombone player tried to fight the kid.  In those days they didn’t frisk you before you went into punk shows, so the kid had a fuckin’ knife.  He pulls out the knife and stabs the fuckin’ trombone player from Fishbone.”

“What happened next,” I asked.

“Nothing. The show just went on.  The band got the guy out of there and the Dead Kennedys just went on and played.  That’s how it was in those days.  At some of these punk venues we’d be leaving the show and outside would be Crips or Bloods just waiting to start shit with you. We’d be like, ‘Man, are you serious?  AGAIN?’

Man, right around the corner, up here on Hollywood Blvd, used to be this club where Courtney Love used to hang out.  She was a stripper at Jumbo’s at the time.  One time I saw her shooting up heroin with River Phoenix in the bathroom.”

Carlos laughed. “They were just right there, man, in plain view.”

“That’s what it was like in LA back then, man. That’s what it was like.”

Dead Kennedys by Edward Colver. Los Angeles. 1982

Dead Kennedys by Edward Colver. Los Angeles. 1982

After another round of tequila, the place was getting pretty crowded and I headed out.  On the way out I bumped into Henry Rollins.  I thanked him for calling rock and roll a contact sport. I rediscovered a couple old photos of mine recently that reminded me what life was like sometimes as a touring rock and roll band on the road.  I was often treated like a human piñata and could relate to what Henry had said.

Clorox Girls live in Mexico City, 2006, Getting choked by Chilangos.

Clorox Girls live in Mexico City, 2006, Getting choked by Chilangos.

Another guy's blood on my face. Clorox Girls live in La Roca, Spain 2007. Photo by Mateus Mondini

Another guy’s blood on my face. Clorox Girls live in La Roca, Spain 2007. Photo by Mateus Mondini

I told Rollins about getting punched in the balls and choked by the crowd when my band played in Mexico City.  I told him that sometimes on tour we’d listen to his book on tape “Get In The Van.”  I told him that we could relate to his stories like Black Flag getting attacked by skinheads in Austria.  Rollins chuckled and said, “Yeah, back then it used to be, the first thing the crowd would do, is go up to the stage and hit the singer.  It’s not like that anymore, I think it’s better.  You know, most people don’t understand that type of experience.  After I went through that, everything else in life seemed easy, seemed like cake.”

The Rock/Fight exhibit will be on display until October 12th at Project Gallery, 1553 N. Cahuenga Boulevard in Hollywood.

Here’s a link to this article on the LA Record Site

History of LA (& OC) Punk 1976-1981

11 Sep

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(Darby hurt his neckie-weckie… Darby Crash of the Germs, photo by Jenny Lens)

The Weirdos, 1977. Photo by Jenny Lens.

The Weirdos, 1977. Photo by Jenny Lens.

Vom

VOM “ELECTROCUTE YOUR COCK”

Live At Surf City (7″ EP1978 White Noise Records)

Main Photograph

(Pasadena, CA © EDWARD COLVER, 1981)

“Flip Shot” of skater Chuck Burke taken by Edward Colver during Stiff Little Fingers / Adolescents / DOA show at Perkins Palace in Pasadena, California, July 4, 1981)

HISTORY OF LA & OC PUNK 1976-1983

HISTORY OF LA & OC PUNK 1976-1983

 

Okay, Dudes and Dudettes…Thee LA Weekly recently printed a piece called Top 20 Greatest L.A. Punk Albums of All Time: The Complete List, and I found the list to be missing quite a few classics and gems.  In my last post, “My Favorite Los Angeles Records 1959-1971” I started my foray into LA punk history in the late 50s with Richie Valens and then through LA’s proto-punk bands of the 60s like Love, The Seeds and The Standells.  We ended in 1971 with The Doors “LA Woman” LP.

DISCLAIMER: IF YOU ARE JUST LOOKING FOR A TOP 10 LIST SKIP TO THE END. I ACTUALLY DID ONE. IF NOT, ENJOY THIS BEEFY BALONEY OF A LA PUNK HISTORY!

(Further reading, Marc Spitz & Brendan Mullen’s “We Got The Neutron Bomb, the untold story of LA punk:”

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HISTORY OF LA & OC PUNK 1976-1983

HISTORY OF LA & OC PUNK 1976-1983

 

Okay, let’s get going…frist off, what did I forget ito include in “My Favorite Los Angeles Records 1959-1971”?  Plenty.  How could I forget the Music Machine?

music machine

I also forgot Kim Fowley’s “The Trip” (1965) !?

How could I forget The Leaves who did maybe the BEST version of “Hey Joe!”  

I was born in LA and was a Catholic school kid until I moved near Seattle in 1994.  Nearly 20 years later, I live in Los Angeles again and am attempting to unravel my own history as well as the history of my birthplace.  When I got hooked on punk I dug deep and found that my favorite punk bands were usually Southern Californian. As a teenager in a rainy small town, those bands from the late 70s and early 80s sounded exactly like how I felt.  They were bands like Black Flag, The Adolescents, The Weirdos, The Germs.

The Adolescents anthem, “Kids Of The Black Hole” was perfectly in-tune to my mindset, feeling trapped in a culturally repressed place.  (You could probably say the same for another Adolescents jam, “No Way” where frontman Tony Cadena complains about his lack of action as a suburban kid; an  80s So Cal punk answer to “Can’t Get No Satisfaction”…No ass/no head/gotta go home/and jack off instead…”)

Frank Agnew, Rikk Agnew and Steve Soto  of the Adolescents. Photo by Edward Colver

Frank Agnew, Rikk Agnew and Steve Soto of the Adolescents. Photo by Edward Colver

When I was 15, I tracked down a VHS copy of  Penelope Spheeris’ 1980 LA Punk Documentary “The Decline Of Western Civilization” in the local record store, “Singles Going Steady” and would watch it again and again, especially the footage of Ron Reyes & Black Flag.

Decline Of Western Civilization Soundtrack. The Germs' Darby Crash is on the cover

Decline Of Western Civilization Soundtrack. The Germs’ Darby Crash is on the cover

The Ramones. Queens, New York. These 4 had a contagious energy that inspired a new generation of bands from London to Los Angeles and everywhere in between

The Ramones. Queens, New York. These 4 had a contagious energy that inspired a new generation of bands from London to Los Angeles and everywhere in between

It all started with The Ramones blitzcreig of dates in Southern California in the summer of 1976 at venues like the Roxy and the Starwood in West Hollywood. The brudders from Queens also made it down to Huntington Beach and up to San Francisco.

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From The Starwood’s Wikipedia page: 

“The Starwood was highly instrumental in the careers of many regional bands and artists including; Black FlagThe GermsThe DickiesThe Go-Go’sFEARCircle JerksThe BlastersThe KnackThe Kats/The Nu KatsThe Mau-Mau’sSister (band),Circus Circus (band) (going on to become W.A.S.P.) The MotelsMötley Crüe, Foxtrot, Windance, The PlimsoulsThe QuickThe PlugzSuburban LawnsQuiet RiotThe RunawaysVan Halen (who made their all-originals debut there), and X.

Some of the acts from outside of California who played at the Starwood include; The DamnedDokkenDevoThe JamCheap TrickThe RamonesDead BoysThe StranglersAC/DCSladeVince Vance & the ValiantsRush, and The Fleshtones.”

Billy Zoom from X on Elvis to the Ramones from his Razorcake Interview

“The Ramones were the first ones to figure out what it sounded like. I think punk was a lot like rockabilly and rock‘n’roll when it started. Back in the early fifties there were a lot of records that were almost rockabilly or almost rock‘n’roll. You’ve got these music history buffs that will argue about “What was the first rock‘n’roll record?” As far as I’m concerned, it was “That’s Alright Mama” by Elvis Presley, because everything before that wasn’t quite—it was like two-thirds of the way, three-fourths of the way there—they never quite got all the ingredients right. Elvis was the first one to really get the whole combination right and it just took off like crazy. He was the first then, all of the sudden, there was a hundred people, then two hundred, then four hundred, jumping on the bandwagon. I think it was the same way with punk. I think once the hippies killed rock‘n’roll, there were a lot of disgruntled musicians who had grown up with rock‘n’roll and pop music, and were looking for a way to take music and the radio back from the hippies. Take the art out and put the rock back in. The Ramones were the first one to get the whole thing right.”

Billy Zoom of X

Billy Zoom of X

Billy Zoom again, “I loved the Ramones the minute I heard them. They played the Gold West Ballroom in Norwalk and it just so happened that the company I worked for, my regular job, had just put in the sound system. I was an electronics guy. I saw the Ramones and said, “That’s it. That’s the sound.” I actually thought it was going to be the next big thing, I didn’t realize it was going to be banned from the radio. That was Friday or Saturday and the Monday after, I put an ad in the Recycler…two bass players answered the ad. The second one was John Doe.”

X (L to R Billy Zoom, John Doe, Exene Cervenka, DJ Bonebrake)

X (L to R Billy Zoom, John Doe, Exene Cervenka, DJ Bonebrake)

Who knows when the “first” LA Punk show actually happened but according to  this blog , LA Punk, the first punk show in 1977 was on January 1st at the KROQ Caberet with The Dogs, The Pop, Berlin Brats & Zolar X.

Zolar X. LA Space Aliens

Zolar X. LA Space Aliens

ZOLAR X “SPACE AGE LOVE” (1974 DEMO)

From YouTube channel “cometothesabbat”:

“From 1973 to 1981 Zolar X became legendary on the west coast USA for dressing and acting like space-aliens 24 hours a day. They spoke ceaselessly in an “alien language” of their own invention, which would amuse, but often infuriate the public at large. They are referred to as “Los Angeles’ first glam rock band” in the 1998 book Glam by Barney Hoskyns. Zolar X’s origin is included in author Marc Spitz and Brendan Mullen’s quintessential 2001 book on the Los Angeles punk scene “We Got The Neutron Bomb.”

In the 1970s, Zolar X’s outlandish image was matched by over the top performances, otherworldly stage sets, and their unique brand of glitter-space-rock. They were the house band at famed Los Angeles nightclub Rodney Bingenheimer’s English Disco, which was recently immortalized in George Hickenlooper’s 2004 documentary Mayor Of The Sunset Strip. Zolar X played historic gigs with Iggy Pop, Michael Des Barres, Jobriath, New York Dolls, among others. Ace Frehley of Kiss was a Zolar X fan and early supporter.”

Before “LA’s 1st punk show in 1977,”  bands like THE RUNAWAYS, THE QUICK and BERLIN BRATS were already tearing up Sunset Strip Venues like the Whisky A Go Go

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The Runaways, 1976

The Runaways, 1976

Brad Elterman

The Dogs moved to LA via Detroit and NYC.  They played with the cream of the crop of the proto-punk bands in both cities.  They brought this style, napalm and vitriol to their songwriting and playing and quickly set up shop in Hollywood with their DIY Imprint, Detroit Records. They started booking a concert series called “Radio Free Hollywood.”   The intersection of Hollywood & La Brea would never be the same…

THE DOGS “FED UP”

dogs flyer

The Dogs Reissue on Dionysus Records

The Dogs Reissue on Dionysus Records

BERLIN BRATS

From BerlinBrats.com:

“It’s circa the mid-1970’s and the Rolling Stones are recording in the luxury of the Caribbean and the New York Dolls are in the midst of their death throes….but in Hollywood, Ca. the Berlin Brats are torching the Sunset Strip, demolishing pay-to-play live gigs and bringing rock and roll into a psychosexual realm – all before the Sex Pistols have played a single note.

They were the entertainment at the raucous launch party of a soon-to-be-behemoth L.A. radio dynasty – KROQ. Rodney Bingenheimer (who) called them “The West Coast’s first Punk Band”. They performed their legendary anthem “Psychotic” in Cheech and Chong’s “Up In Smoke”. Then they helped organize “Radio-Free Hollywood” with other like-minded groups that were determined L.A. would have its own scene for music, and were soon headlining the Hollywood’s Sunset Strip.  They released a 45 (Psychotic / Tropically Hot), catching the attention of the annual Playboy Magazine’s Rock Census, who called the song “an anthem” and the band as one to beat in the industry’s largest market.  The flame was burning hot…too hot.

With the advent of punk rock and half the Brats drawn to the music and others not, the band broke up on the way back from headlining a Mabuhay Gardens show in San Francisco with the Avengers. Rick Wilder and Rick Sherman went on to form the notorious rock n roll punk band the Mau Maus, who went on create their own mayhem….”

Berlin Brats, LA's answer to the New York Dolls

Berlin Brats, LA’s answer to the New York Dolls

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The Quick formed in 1976 and would play clubs like the Starwood and the Whiskey A Go Go supporting the likes of The Runaways, The Ramones and Van Halen. They released one LP in 1976 “Mondo Deco.” KROQ DJ Rodney Bingenheimer would frequently play their unreleased Elektra Records demo “Pretty Please Me”, but the record wasn’t available in stores.  Later LA punk bands like The Dickies and Redd Kross would cover the song.

THE QUICK, PRETTY PLEASE ME (1978 Elektra Records demos, unreleased at the time, later released as “Untold Rock Stories”)

znerves-balck-and-white

THE NERVES

From minutegongcoughs  YouTube Channel (Thanks Dude)

“The Nerves were a mid-’70s power pop trio based in Los Angeles, California, featuring guitarist Jack Lee, bassist Peter Case, and drummer Paul Collins. All three members composed songs and sang. They managed a national tour, including a few dates with The Ramones, but they lasted just a short time and self-released only one self-titled four-song EP in 1976, featuring the songs “Hanging on the Telephone” (Lee), “When You Find Out” (Case), “Give Me Some Time” (Lee), and “Working Too Hard” (Collins). The EP was distributed by independent Bomp! Records.”

The Re-Issue “One Way Ticket” of the Nerves discography, demos and live tracks is now available and excellent.

The Nerves only 7" EP, released in 1976

The Nerves only 7″ EP, released in 1976

The Nerves

The Nerves

THE BEAT

After the Nerves split up, drummer Paul Collins formed THE BEAT.  1979. Fantastic Power Pop.  The first 2 LPs are unstoppable.

zpaulcollinsbeat

The Plimsouls

The Plimsouls

THE PLIMSOULS

Peter Case from the Nerves formed the Plimsouls after The Nerves broke up. “A Million Miles Away” was on the “Valley Girl” Soundtrack in 1983. They also played live in the movie.

OKAY BACK TO THE PUNK!  (continue below)

The Damned, the first UK punk band to hit US shores in 1977 on tour. New York City at Twin Towers.

The Damned, the first UK punk band to hit US shores in 1977 on tour. New York City at Twin Towers.

The Damned were the first UK punk band to tour the US in 1977. They were also the first English punk band to play in Los Angeles. According to Brendan Mullen, founder of the Los Angeles punk club The Masque, the Damned’s first tour of the U.S. found them favoring very fast tempos, helping to inspire the first wave of U.S. west coast hardcore punk. (From The Damned entry on Wikipedia).

Photo by Jenny Lens Capt Sensible of the Damned jamming with the Weirdos, playing “Pushin’ Too Hard” by The Seeds, a 60s LA band who influenced punk. The Orpheum, April 16, 1977.

Photo by Jenny Lens. Capt Sensible of the Damned jamming with the Weirdos, playing “Pushin’ Too Hard” by The Seeds, a 60s LA band who influenced punk. The Orpheum, April 16, 1977.

The Damned made quite a splash in LA with their 3 appearances.

Here’s an account of the three shows (from http://www.whiterabbitskgs.co.uk):

Saturday 16 April – Whiskey A Go Go, Los Angeles

The Damned were booked as support for Tom Verlaine & Television but the headliner refused The Damned as support.  Here’s an account of the night, from LA Punk Blog 1977:

April 16 1977 is a day that will remain permanently imprinted on my mind until the day I die. We had tickets to see The Damned and Television at the Whiskey. When we arrived for the show, the Damned had been removed from the bill and replaced. Fortunately for us, one block down, across the street from Tower Records, the Weirdos were going to be playing.’

The Germs and The Zeros played support to The Weirdos at Orpheum Theatre down the road. Sometime during the show, Dave Vanian and Captain Sensible of the Damned arrived with Rodney Bingenheimer.

Photographer Jenny Lens (wrote about) the first live appearance of The Germs – ‘ The Germs: thats the saddest story of my life… [fake crying]. Okay, I have pictures of that, almost but not quite…I didnt realize that the Germs were gonna play. I shot the Weirdos at Bomp Records on April 16 1977, maybe the first time they were ever photographed. Pleasant (Gehman) was with Darby and dared them to talk to the Weirdos and get on the bill. If they were a band, they should play…”

Jenny Lens continues, “I know the Weirdos were scheduled and I lived 20 feet from the Orpheum. The theater was on Sunset Boulevard right next to where Book Soup is, right across from Tower Records. There’s a big office building on the corner of Sunset and Palm now, but there used to be bar on the corner and a teeny 8-unit, two story building just south of it. I lived in an upstairs apartment facing the alley. I was always early to shows and parties, but I just missed the Germs because I didn’t know they were playing.

I photographed Captain Sensible of the Damned jamming with the Weirdos. That was my big picture of the evening. I just discovered a shot of Captain Sensible, Dave Vanian, the Damned singer, Jake Riviera their manager and Brian James their guitarist, sitting in the audience.

The Damned may have been booted off the Television bill but they did play the Starwood 2 nights later’.

Monday 18 April – The Starwood, Los Angeles

The Damned Set List: I Feel Alright, Born To Kill, Fan Club, Neat Neat Neat, Stretcher Case, Help, New Rose, Stab Your Back, So Messed Up.

Comments: Support from The Quick. Apparently 2 sets were played – exactly the same set.

A write-up of someone’s memories of the show states… “They belted out basically the entire contents of their debut album that night and left us wanting more. The Damned had run out of cash pretty early on in their American tour so they asked the audience to throw whatever change they had on the stage. I think they made a good amount of money gathering up what we tossed up to them. They also offered to have their picture taken with you for $10. $10 was a bit steep to afford in those days but would have made a great souvenir all these years later if I had bitten on the offer.”

Another piece on the web by M Compton states – ‘The Starwood, one of LA’s best and most missed clubs. They offered the Damned two nights, obviously expecting a huge turnout. But when the nights of the shows came around, there were maybe 20 or 30 people per show who came out to see this groundbreaking band. (As punk grew in popularity after these shows, it was hard to find any punk who wouldn’t claim they were there to see it. There was no way all the people who claimed to be there could have been there unless they were hiding behind the bar.) I went to both shows and was in heaven. The band pretty much played their first album in order, making up a set that lasted all of 25 minutes. And I was exhausted after that.”

Tuesday 19 April – The Starwood, Los Angeles

Comments: Support from The Quick.

M Compton states on a web blog – ‘The second night I dragged along my friend Jeff Wolfe, who knew little about punk, but was in the process of forming a band called the Furys that punk would influence quite a lot. For some reason, Captain Sensible took a dislike to Jeff, jumping onto the dance floor and spitting right in his face. Jeff allowed punk to influence him, but he always hated the Damned after that. I secretly found it kind of amusing. I got my own injury that night when Dave Vanian lit a flare and the hot sparks cascaded over my shoulders and burnt the crap out of me, leaving holes throughout my shirt. I wore the wounds proudly. It wasn’t the first injury that my love of punk rock would lay on me.’.

THE GERMS

(Great article in the Guardian on Darby Crash & The Germs here)

The Germs 1977, Lorna & Darby playing their 1st show at the Whiskey

The Germs 1977, Lorna & Darby playing their 1st show at the Whiskey

Introduction by “The King of Los Angeles Radio”  Rodney Bigenheimer of KROQ and Belinda Carlisle of the Go Go’s “The reason I don’t play in the group anymore is because They’re too dirty for me…and they’re sluts.”

THE GERMS are best described as a cult. Singer Darby Crash was an LSD-dropping teenager into Nietzsche and Scientology and wanted to form not just a band, but a “Circle One” cult, where the members wore blue armbands not unlike the symbolism of the Nazi swastika. Darby had illusions of grandeur, taking the David Bowie song “Five Years,” literally telling people he would kill himself in 5 years and become immortal.  Their first show at the Whiskey, they had already become legendary in their own right even though they couldn’t play their instruments.  Darby and Pat put an ad out for “Two Untalented Girls” and that’s how they found Lorna their bassist, and a female drummer who would soon be replaced by Arizona  (“cactus head”) transplant Don Bolles.  They released a few singles and only one album “GI,”  Released in 1979, it’s poetic lyrics and searing white-hot savagery (produced by the Runaways’ Joan Jett) was called “an aural holocaust” in the LA Times.

Darby was a closeted gay man, who thought he couldn’t be the frontman of a punk band and also be openly gay. Darby OD’d on heroin in 1980, trying to fulfill his “Five year plan.”  The only problem was that John Lennon was killed in New York City on the same day which greatly overshadowed his death.

Darby would not be forgotten however,  and in recent years a book (fantastic “Lexicon Devil”) and a film, not so fantastic (“What We Do Is Secret”) have been released in his memory.  The Germs album, released on Slash Records in 1979 has apparently never gone out of print.

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THE WEIRDOS

The Weirdos are absolutely fucking brilliant.  One of the finest of the early LA punk bands.  Started by the Denney brothers in 1976, they’d dig through thrift store bins to find the most outrageous stage outfits.  As they were art students, they could turn any bit of ripped fabric into a visually stunning masterpiece.  The Weirdos wrote some of the hits of early LA punk including but not limited to “We Got The Neutron Bomb,” “Destroy All Music,” “Life Of Crime,” “Solitary Confinement,” and many more. They also did a great cover of Love’s “Seven and Seven Is,” as well as “Pushin’ Too Hard” by the Seeds.

Music critic Critic Mark Deming called them “…quite simply, one of the best and brightest American bands of punk’s first wave.”  I have to say I agree.

Their first two singles are absolutely essential:

“Destroy All Music” (1977), Bomp!

“We Got the Neutron Bomb” (1978), Dangerhouse

Both Frontier Records and Bomp! Records did discography releases which are well worth tracking down.

DANGERHOUSE RECORDS was probably the best of the early LA punk labels although Bomp!, Posh Boy, Slash, & Upsetter put out some great releases.

Dangerhouse released bands like RANDOMS, ALLEY CATS, X, DILS, THE BAGS, THE EYES & More.  They issued a comp in 1971 called “Yes LA”

Yes LA was a stab at the "No New York" No Wave compilation that came out the year before. It even said "Not produced by Brian Eno" on the picture disc. Hilarious

Yes LA was a stab at the “No New York” No Wave compilationn that came out the year before. It even said “Not produced by Brian Eno” on the picture disc. Hilarious

Dangerhouse discography here

RANDOMS ABCD b/w LETS GET RID OF NEW YORK 7″  (DANGERHOUSE RECORDS, 1977)

The Randoms ABCD 7", Dangerhouse Records 1977

The Randoms ABCD 7″, Dangerhouse Records 1977

BLACK RANDY & THE METRO SQUAD “TROUBLE AT THE CUP” 7″ (1977 Dangerhouse Records)

"Trouble At The Cup" 7" with tracks like "Loner With A Boner" and "Sperm Bank Baby"... can you say "classic?"

1977. Dangerhouse Records. “Trouble At The Cup” 7″ with tracks like “Loner With A Boner” and “Sperm Bank Baby”… can you say “classic?”

THE DILS “198 SECONDS OF THE DILS” 7″ (1977 DANGERHOUSE RECORDS)

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The Eyes "TAQN" EP 1979 Dangerhouse Records. "TAQN" stands for "Take a Quaalude now."  Do it, dude!

The Eyes “TAQN” EP 1979 Dangerhouse Records. “TAQN” stands for “Take a Quaalude now.” Do it, dude!

THE FLYBOYS “PICTURE PERFECT”

THE MASQUE

Founder of the Masque, Brendan Mullen, late 70s

Founder of the Masque, Brendan Mullen, late 70s

From the Wikipedia Masque entry ”

The Masque was founded by Scottish-British-American rock promoter Brendan Mullen. It quickly became the nexus of the Los Angeles punk subculture. It was located at 1655 North Cherokee Avenue, between Hollywood Boulevard and Selma Avenue. Many L.A. bands frequently performed there, including Needles and Pins, The Model Citizens, The Dickies, Shock, L.A. Shakers, XThe GermsThe Bags,The ScreamersBlack Randy and the MetrosquadThe Alley Cats, F Word, Backstage Pass, The Wildcats, Suburban LawnsThe Mau-Mau’sThe WeirdosThe ZerosThe AvengersThe DilsThe SkullsThe Controllers and others. The Berlin Brats, Backstage Pass, Needles and Pins, The Skulls, The Controllers, The Model Citizens, The Motels and The Go-Go’s rented practice space there. Rhino 39, one of Long Beach, California‘s earliest punk rock bands, played there often. At least two compilation records featuring live performances at The Masque have been released.

THE WEIRDOS LIVE AT THE MASQUE 1977

First generation punk fanzines like Flipside and Slash covered the scene at The Masque.

The Weirdos on the cover of Slash Magazine

The Weirdos on the cover of Slash Magazine

An early issue of Flipside covering The Germs as well as "Punk Roq"

An early issue of Flipside covering The Germs as well as “Punk Roq”

The Masque was closed by the Los Angeles Police Department in 1978, and briefly re-opened before closing its doors permanently in 1979.”

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THE SCREAMERS were one of LA’s most original and theatrical punk bands.  Starting up in Seattle as “The Tupperwares” and “Ze Whiz Kids,” the boys found themselves in Los Angeles starting up a synth-punk band. They never released a proper record, they just had demos and a few videos. Thankfully we are left with some of these gems.  Openly gay singer Tomata Du Plenty died of Cancer in San Francisco in 2000.

THE SCREAMERS LIVE AT THE MASQUE 1977

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THE SCREAMERS VERTIGO

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THE SCREAMERS DEMOS 1977-78

The Damned hanging out with The Screamers, LA 1977. Photo by Mark Sullivan

The Damned hanging out with The Screamers,. Los Angeles, 1977. Photo by Mark Sullivan

Blog New Jersey Noise did a nice piece on The Controllers here

THE CONTROLLERS are another one of my favorite LA punk bands. They started after dropping acid on the Santa Monica pier in 1976 or 77 and apparently spray painted “Controllers” in the street.  They were the first Masque house band and apparently “discovered” the Masque, making it a known venue for other 1st wave LA punk bands like the Screamers, Weirdos & The Zeros.

The Controllers claimed to write a song about the Neutron Bomb before the Weirdos did, even though the Weirdos “We Got The Neutron Bomb” is considered paramount over the two. Nonetheless The Controllers tune captures that early LA punk energy quite well…

The Controllers 1st 7" released on What? Records in 1977

The Controllers 1st 7″ released on What? Records in 1977

My favorite 2 controllers tracks are “Jezebel,” a cover, off of the “TOOTH AND NAIL” Compilation on Upsetter Records in 1979.

Upsetter Records '1979 "Tooth and Nail" compilation is essential LA punk listening

Upsetter Records ‘1979 “Tooth and Nail” compilation is essential LA punk listening

THE CONTROLLERS “JEZEBEL”

THE CONTROLLERS “KILLER QUEERS”

Controllers’ Guitarist Kidd Spike on the origins of the song, “Killer Queers”:

“Hey,This is straight from the horses mouth….kidd spike hisself speaking, just to clear up a couple o’ little things. It’s always bugged me that most everybody misses the point of the song killer queers. I’ve heard it all and just chalk it up to bad recording or lazy listening. For the record, it was an anti-Anita Bryant song. She was at the time a famous spokesperson for minute maid orange juice and had begun to publically (sic) speak out against homosexuality. I didn’t think it was any of her business, hence the song and the punch line (which I stole from my sister) “Anita baby, yea yea yea….Anita blow job.”

Slash poster of Flesh Eaters

Slash poster of Flesh Eaters

THE FLESH EATERS are one of the most unique bands of the early LA punk scene.  Street poet Chris D. was the main man, singer and songwriter.  There were many lineup changes between ’78 and ’81 but I have to say the best one was in ’81 on the “A Minute To Pray A Second To Die” album with Dave Alvin (of The Blasters) on guitar, John Doe (of X) on bass, Steve Berlin (of The Blasters and later, Los Lobos) on sax, D.J. Bonebreak (of X) on marimbas, snare, and maracas, and Bill Bateman (of The Blasters) on drums.  Hoo ah!  What a super group!

My Favorite Flesh Eaters song is “SEE YOU IN THE BONEYARD” From “A MINUTE TO PRAY A SECOND TO DIE” (1981)

Great history on the Flesh Eaters here (which I plagiarized some of, thank you.)

X hanging out at the Masque in Hollywood

X hanging out at the Masque in Hollywood

We covered X for a minute earlier.  They are one of Los Angeles’ most lauded of punk bands and are still playing today.  There’s been a lot written about them, so should be easy to find more info.  I just missed them playing a free show at Pershing Square in Downtown LA.  I didn’t hear about the show until after it was over.  Biggest regret of the summer.

Here’s their 1st 7″ on Dangerhouse Records, 1978:

My favorite couple of early X tracks from their seminal 1st album “Los Angeles” on Slash Records (1980) are THE UNHEARD MUSIC & THE WORLD’S A MESS IT’S IN MY KISS

Another great shot of X at the Masque

Another great shot of X at the Masque

THE PLUGZ

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Okay Vatos, now we’re off to East LA which I covered a little bit in my last entry: “My Favorite Los Angeles Records 1959-1971.  East LA was a straight up Chicano punk scene that was often not included in the Hollywood Scene about 20 miles west.  THE PLUGZ famously contributed to the “REPO MAN” soundtrack, which was the first semi-mainstream film to feature punk bands. THE PLUGZ and THE BAGS were two of East LA’s finest…  Enjoy… (If you’re interested in reading more, Razorcake Magazine did some great interviews with Alice Bag recently)

THE PLUGZ!

THE PLUGZ!

Excellent debut LP by the Plugz - 1979

Excellent debut LP by the Plugz – 1979

THE BAGS

Alice Bag on the cover of Slash Magazine

Alice Bag on the cover of Slash Magazine

THE DICKIES were the first (and only?) of the first LA punk bands to get signed to a major label (A&M) in the late 70s.

They were wacky and schticky with songs about Banana Splits and car repair men (“Manny Moe & Jack).  The singer Leonard Philips even had a song about his penis (“If Stewart Could Talk… what would he say?”)  Super Ramones influenced and bubblegummy, if you like that sort of thing (which I do), you’ll LOVE The Dickies

The Dickies, A & M Records promo photo, 1979

The Dickies, A & M Records promo photo, 1979

Album cover photo for 1979's "The Incredible Shrinking Dickies"  Best cover photo ever?

Album cover photo for 1979’s “The Incredible Shrinking Dickies” Best cover photo ever?

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VOM “I’M IN LOVE WITH YOUR MOM”  (Richard Meltzer & members of Angry Samoans.  Genious and self explanatory).

THE URINALS “ANOTHER EP” 7″ (HAPPY SQUID RECORDS 1979) – Art School Boys make some great great punk songs…

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FEAR

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FEAR were one of the most confrontational of all of the early LA Punk bands.  In the “Decline Of Western Civilization” footage, they baited the crowd to attack them before they even played a note.

They were friends with John Belushi who got them a spot on “Saturday Night Live” on Halloween night of 1981.  The producers wanted the crowd to be as “authentic” as possible, so they bussed in loads of punks from DC and New York.  The HC punks were tribal at the time and did not like each other. They weren’t fans of FEAR’s music either.  After a few thousand dollars of damage was done on cameras, lights and other equipment due to stage diving punks, the producers pulled the plug.  A punk band wouldn’t return to SNL for a long, long time…

Their album FEAR “THE RECORD” (1982) Slash Records, is a classic of LA punk with off tempo art beats, saxophones and baiting of everyone and anyone who takes themselves too seriously.

Lee Ving has had an extensive music and acting career and has appeared in dozens of commercials, TV shows and fims. Lee Ving Filmography

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FEAR FUCK CHRISTMAS (1982)

THE GEARS “ROCKIN AT GROUND ZERO” LP  (Surfs up with THE GEARS and THE CROWD!)

THE CROWD “MODERN MACHINE”

TSOL (From Long Beach… fantastic…)

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SOCIAL DISTORTION “MOMMY’S LITTLE MONSTER” LP (You have to admit it’s a classic)

Mike Ness fixing his hair and makeup in 1982 documentary “ANOTHER STATE OF MIND” is also classic

DESCENDENTS “MILO GOES TO COLLEGE” LP (Great! Poppy! Near Perfect!)

BLACK FLAG “FIRST FOUR YEARS” LP (Compilation of Black Flag’s first coupla singers including Keith Morris, Chavo, and Dez)

BLACK FLAG “DAMAGED” LP (Henry’s searing 1981 debut.  Cover photo by Edward Colver)

CIRCLE JERKS “GROUP SEX” LP (1980) – Keith Morris’ band after Black Flag… They had members of Bad Religion and Red Cross too.. they played a few songs by all 3… a little faster…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lOgOcZmBkak

CIRCLE JERKS “WILD IN THE STREETS” LP (1982)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WxfhW-HPDVA

OFF! FIRST 4 EPS  – Keith Morris strikes again…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4swhL6sDG-U

DI “JOHNNY’S GOT A PROBLEM”  (Stands for “Drug Ideology,” brother… “Richard Hung Himself” another classic DI tune)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IZkDohSwKMw

AGENT ORANGE (From Fullerton, California, home of Fender Guitars, The Adolescents, Social Distortion and Cassette tape Revival)

ANGRY SAMOANS (Underrated and great)

GUN CLUB “FIRE OF LOVE” LP 1981  (Overrated/underrated whatever your opinion, still a fantastic record)

MAU MAUS 1981 (kinda boring but here it is)

1Nov 17, 1984, Black Flag & the Ramones play at the Hollywood Palladium. The LAPD crack some skulls. Henry Rollins wrote about it in his tour diary/memoir “GET IN THE VAN” which is highly recommended. Photo by Gary Leonard.

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Black Flag Singer Henry Rollins, Photo By Edward Colver in 1981

Black Flag Singer Henry Rollins, Photo By Edward Colver in 1981

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plugz_standard

SLASH RECORDS

POSH BOY RECORDS

SIMPLETONES CALIFORNIA 7″

BEACH BLVD COMP 1979 POSH BOY RECORDS

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RED CROSS EP (1980 POSH BOY RECORDS)

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THE ZEROS 1980 (“The Mexican Ramones”  is what they were called at the time.  FANTASTIC)

BAD RELIGION 80-85 (Great Early Bad Religion)

THE MINUTEMEN – DOUBLE NICKELS ON THE DIME

Minutemen from San Pedro. 1984 LP. I'm not following my own criteria now.  I was supposed to stop in 1981...Fuck!

Minutemen from San Pedro. 1984 LP. I’m not following my own criteria now. I was supposed to stop in 1981…Fuck!

Punk Boots at Oki Dogs, a hotdog place on Santa Monica Blvd. in Hollywood that was a popular after-show hangout in the late 70s/early 80s.  One of Darby Crash's typical end-of-show lines was "See You All At Oki Dogs." He apparently said this the night of the last Germs show before he OD'd on heroin. Photo By Edward Colver. This photo was used on Bad Religion's "80-85" Cover

Punk Boots at Oki Dogs, a hotdog place on Santa Monica Blvd. in Hollywood that was a popular after-show hangout in the late 70s/early 80s. One of Darby Crash’s typical end-of-show lines was “See You All At Oki Dogs.” He apparently said this the night of the last Germs show before he OD’d on heroin. Photo By Edward Colver. This photo was used on Bad Religion’s “80-85” Cover

Glen E. Friedman photo of Black Flag behind the Cuckoo's Nest in Costa Mesa, 1981

Glen E. Friedman photo of Black Flag behind the Cuckoo’s Nest in Costa Mesa, 1981

THE DJ: RODNEY BINGENHEIMER

KROQ DJ Rodney Bingenheimer religiously played punk, new wave, power pop & early 80s hardcore on his KROQ radio show, "Rodney On the Roq" The Angry Samoans wrote a song for him "Get Off The Air" that wasn't very nice...

KROQ DJ Rodney Bingenheimer religiously played punk, new wave, power pop & early 80s hardcore on his KROQ radio show, “Rodney On the Roq” The Angry Samoans wrote a song for him “Get Off The Air” that wasn’t very nice…

POSH BOY RECORDS Released some great comps with great early punk tunes and a ‘zine by Flipside inside

Here's one of the Rodney on the Roq compilation LPs. Posh Boy released the vinyl and Flipside did a great insert zine for every release

Here’s one of the Rodney on the Roq compilation LPs. Posh Boy released the vinyl and Flipside did a great insert zine for every release

Here’s ANGRY SAMOANS ode to Rodney

THE FLYERS:

These flyers care of: http://oldpunkflyers.tumblr.com

These are some of my faves:

black flag flyer black flag 2 black flag3 coolflyer1 coolflyer2 coolflyer3    coolflyer5 coolflyer6 coolflyer7  coolflyer9 coolflyer11 coolflyer13 coolflyer14 coolflyer15 coolflyer16 coolflyer17 coolflyer18 coolflyer19  coolflyer20 coolflyer21 coolflyer22 coolflyer23 coolflyer24 coolflyer25 coolflyer26 coolflyer27    coolflyer30 coolflyer31 coolflyer32 coolflyer33  coolflyer35 coolflyer36 coolflyer37 coolflyer38  coolflyer40 coolflyer41 coolflyer42 coolflyer43 coolflyer44 coolflyer45 coolflyer46 coolflyer47 coolflyer48 coolflyer49  coolflyer51 coolflyer52 coolflyer53 coolflyer54  coolflyer56 coolflyer57

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So what did I forget? Everything?  Did I forget your favorite band? A lost classic? Send me hate mail/love letters here: jmocheeks@yahoo.com

XO

Justin

PS I bet you just wanted a Top 10 List… Okay, here’s 27…

My Top 27 LA Punk Songs

1. The Adolescents “Kids Of The Black Hole”

2.  Black Flag “Revenge” (1980 SST Records)

3. Weirdos – Life Of Crime

4. Controllers – Jezebel

5. Fear – I Love Livin’ In The City

6. Germs – Richie Dagger’s Crime

7. Love – Seven and Seven Is (1967)

8. Descendants – Suburban Home

9. Urinals “I’m A Bug”

10. The Bags – Babylonian Gorgon

11. The Zeros – Handgrenade Heart

12. The Nerves – Paper Dolls

13. Dickies – Manny Moe & Jack

14. The Go Go’s “We Got The Beat” (Yup, you heard me)

15. X “Los Angeles”

16. Red Cross – All of these songs:

17. The Beat “Don’t Wait Up”

18. VOM – I’m In Love With Your Mom

19. The Plugz – Adolescent

20. Controllers – Killer Queers

21. The Eyes – TAQN 7″

From where he tells you to “Take a Quaalude now” to the last song where he tells you about how Disneyland is his favorite place.  Brilliance.

22. Black Randy “Sperm Bank Baby”

23. The Gears – The Last Chord

24. Simpletones – I Like Drugs

25. Simpletones – I Have A Date

26. TSOL – ALL OF THESE SONGS

27. VOM “ELECTROCUTE YOUR COCK”

Live At Surf City (7″ EP1978 White Noise Records)

New LA Drugz Music Video

27 Feb

Hello Friends,

The new music video for LA Drugz’ “Outside Place” is finally live!  The song is from our upcoming 12″ EP on Hovercraft Records. The video is based on the 80s punk flick “Repo Man” (Harry Dean Stanton, Emilio Estevez, 1984), and shot all over Los Angeles. We shot in the L.A. River, Boyle Heights, Downtown, Griffith Park and more.  It took a full 2 days to shoot.

Here’s some of the locations we shot at: Repo Man Locations

Alex Cox's 1984 cult classic "Repo Man" starring Harry Dean Stanton & Emilio Estevez

Alex Cox’s 1984 cult classic “Repo Man” starring Harry Dean Stanton & Emilio Estevez

“Outside Place” was directed and edited by Brett Roberts, the Director of Photography was Ardavon Fatehi and it was produced by yours truly. Thanks to everyone who participated, it turned out great!

You can hear a few more LA Drugz cuts here or here.

Enjoy!

XO

Justin