Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A Love Letter to The Masque--33+ years later

If eating sustains life biologically, storytelling sustains it culturally; a story gives a person a second, fourth, fifth life.--M.F.K. Fisher

Nearly 34 years later, it still amazes me that the original LA punks, without social media or even cell phones, found one another. But to begin with, by the mid 70's rock music had become bloated, and corporatized, and Disco, country rock, and Prog Rock had reared their hideous heads. Bored LA kids started hearing about the scenes in NYC and London and it peeked our interest. I was amazed and intrigued by the photos of The Sex Pistols that I saw in Rock Scene, and other music magazines, but I had no venue in which to hear the music until KROQ gave Rodney Bingenheimer a show and he started spinning records from the NYC and UK scenes, and other places too, including the remarkable "Stranded" by The Saints--these kids who were working in isolation in remote Australia. Oddly enough, I had been in London in August of '76, but other than reading a piece on the SEX shop in Harper's and Queen's magazine, I had little inkling of the youthquake then happening there. But actually hearing the music--it spoke to me, and touched something primal.

Punk bands started coming West in early '77: Blondie and the Ramones in February, then in April the Damned played the Starwood, usually there was not much to do after the concerts, although there were private parties of course, Dee Dee and Joey Ramone showed up après their  Whiskey gig at Belinda, and Lorna's apartment off Sunset, and stood around silent and oddly watchful as these newly hatched baby punks drunkenly swirled around them; the Tropicana was party central for a while with lively gatherings of the tribe celebrating Blondie, and The Mumps among others, but the cops soon broke up such gatherings, and that is why the Masque was so important to us--being underground meant that the bands could play loud, and that punks could drink and make mischief in relative comfort without the cops coming around--at least at first.

To begin with, Hollywood Blvd in 1977 was clearly in decline; dirty, populated by hustlers, drag queens, prostitutes, and junkies, it was not the sort of place that nice middle-class suburban young people should have been hanging out in, but of course, I loved it. For one thing, there was the insta-photo booth which I and my friends frequently repaired to after a night of drinking at either Rodney's (till it closed), or, The Rainbow, which was a pathetic excuse of a club IMO--it was a place were celebrities such as Gene Simmons (in full KISS make-up once!) flexed their considerable egos at pliant young women--ugh. Then, in the afternoon (being Los Angeles, this could be any time of the year), as the heat thickly shimmered off the Hollywood Hills and the sidewalks sizzled, we would go to The World Theater which sat at the far east end of Hollywood Blvd proper--in air-conditioned splendor, an afternoon of soft core porn could be had for $1.25--another plus was the interactive audience which was mostly black, and the comments they made back to the screen were hilarious.

It was in this atmosphere of lost souls, and relentless grime, that The Masque surprisingly came to life in the Summer of '77. I have wracked my brain trying to remember who took us into the Masque one afternoon before it opened as a club, but I cannot recall who (it might have been Nickey Beat, but whoever, I am thinking that it was someone Joan and I met at one of the afternoon rock shows that played the Whiskey at the time.) Anyway, we descended into the bowels of this old building, the entrance to the basement being set off from a narrow alley that was bordered by N Cherokee, on one side, and a block and half away lie a "residential" area, Selma Ave, where squat, run down California Bungalows shared street space with desperate young rent boys (Cue the Jobriath tune, "Street Corner Love" which paid homage to Selma, and the trade plied there.)

Down a steep concrete staircase lie a rabbit warren of small rooms to one side, the rehearsal spaces, and one central larger space where the bands would play, adjacent to that was another largish room that had a staircase to nowhere with a cement ceiling at one end, and along the sides were these arched semi private "chambers" where some dirty deeds were done no doubt. Every sub-culture has its physical epicenter; think of The Cavern, CBGB's, The Hacienda, The Roxy, The Mabuhay Gardens--The Masque was our meeting ground, it was the place where our tribe confabbed, and unlike those other places, The Masque was more like a private hang out rather than an actual functioning business enterprise. Most of us had already met in other venues, and we had organically come together with the surprise of recognition--"here is my kind". Of course, all the important local, and San Francisco bands played there, but frankly, most of all, it was the scene that mattered. On any given night, to the beat of our own frantic sound-track, people would fuck or fight, kids would dance and get high; in retrospect, the "drugs" of choice were so innocent initially, alcohol, speed, quaaludes primarily, the deaths had not started yet--tragedy was waiting patiently bidding his time.

This is not to suggest that there was not any assholishness, there was plenty of that--"hippies" (any guy with long hair) were not made welcome, eventually a sign went up next to the front door which read something like, "Admission: normal people, $2.50, hippies, $5.00, and Nicky Beat FREE." I remember the constant teasing of a girl who looked like a refuge from Gazzaris--the "right look" was de rigueur, those who refused to conform (ironically) paid the price. Suffice to say, the original 50 or so Hollywood Punks had usually been the outsider, the freak, the outlier at their high school, and suddenly they became the popular kids--it was a super-power with a potential to be cruel that was hard to resist, and most of us did not. That said, usually we came together, and had FUN.

As I've said, plenty of live punk music was to be had before The Masque (a journal I kept at the time shows that Fall '77 through Winter '78 had weekend after weekend of great shows at the Whiskey and Starwood, not to mention the various SLASH benefits), so it was the social scene at the club that was most important to me, although I saw many a memorable gig, and the thin divide between musician, and fan was never so obvious as when standing nearly eye level with the band who were propped up on a short stage. This inherent egalitarianism was proven when "famous" punks like Steve Jones and Paul Cook showed up at the Masque, they lounged around, unmolested by "fans", like the rest of us.

Presiding over the madness, was Brendan Mullen (it seemed to me that he was usually hanging out in his office near the front steps.) I did not get to know Brendan very well, but my friends and I once spent hours with him at an emergency room after a junk-yard dog down the alley gave him a severe bite one night--I think that in a drunken stupor he tried to pet the beast, which as I recall was snarling and lunging at the cage in which it was kept.

Other times the action inside almost had a Marx Brothers comedy aspect to it, I recollect an evening when my close friend Pearl Harbour kept drunkenly harassing our mutual friend Meredith, now Meredith by nature is not a violent chick, but enough was enough, and she cold cocked Pearl so hard that she flew against a wall and sunk to the floor in slo-mo while various punks started applauding. A lot of the action of the night would spill out into the street as people escaped from the fetid atmosphere of the basement, and hung out in the alley and parking lot with a can of beer in their hand. After a while, the cops took notice, and responded by raiding the joint, and attempting to clear the streets; thus, I spent New Year's Eve 1977 in an empty walk-in dumpster behind The Masque splitting a bottle of cheap pink champagne with Meredith, Claude Bessy, and Phast Phreddie rather than clear off as the Po-Po would have us do--snug in our malodorant capsule we could hear the cops hassling kids, and chasing people off, so staying put in that dumpster and continuing our New Year's celebration was a flip of a finger to LA's finest.

Of course with no real money behind it, and without the proper permits and licenses, The Masque was destined to live fast, die young, and leave a well mourned corpse. The last Masque function I went to was in February '78 when 20 odd bands played the Elk's Lodge down town across the street from MacArthur Park. Obviously this venue later became the scene of a punk riot provoked by an over-zealous LAPD, but at the time, punks were just coming into sharp focus on the cop's radar. To be honest, I had seen most of the bands featured, X, The Weirdos, The Dickies, etc. dozens of times by then, and each band had a limited time to play anyway, which led me to note, in my last edition of Generation X, that, "The big problem with the Masque benefit was too many bands in too short of time, consequently, a good portion of the audience spent more time getting drunk then passing out on the huge staircase that led up to the Concert Hall than listening to the bands."

Part of the problem as I see it was that large scale "official" concerts lacked the intimacy of the crumbling graffitied basement we had made our home, but then, of course, by the time of the Elk's Lodge gig punk would naturally have growth pains, and in the way of the World, change was coming. As for the Cops, the coming crack down was presaged for me when a few punks-- Rod Donahue, Robert Lopez, Joel, this quiet kid with sad crazy eyes whose last name I do not recall, Meredith and I went across the street to drink at a picnic table in the huge old park, a once Grande Dame fallen into a decrepit seediness--we were only there for a few minutes when PD came up and started hassling us, and insisted on taking only the boy's photos, and looking at their IDs, in case they "needed to identify the bodies." Assholes. Not long after this, I stepped away from punk for various reasons and decades passed as they always sadly do....

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Adventures in Iggyland--

My sister and I got into the Stooges after we learned of David Bowie's interest in them. I bought Raw Power, then the first Stooges album, then Funhouse. When it was announced that the Stooges would play 5 nights at the Whiskey in June '73, I sold some records and other possessions so that we could go every night. Needless to say the shows were insane--Iggy ran onstage half naked in knee high black leather boots, and glittery blue briefs with a fringed scarf tied around his narrow hips, whether the band slammed into the opening cords of "Raw Power" straight away or not I don't recall--but whoosh, we were off! Iggy was the first stage diver, he leapt into the audience nightly and let the fans man-handle him; male/female it didn't matter, inevitably someone would stick their tongue down his throat, or cop a lusty feel. The gig was electrifying, and it changed my life--I dived wholeheartedly into freakdom and didn't look back.

Anyway, unbeknownst to me, the group was disintegrating, and Iggy moved into a small dingy apartment in the Hollywood flats, and started hanging out at Rodney's which is where my sister and I met him in 1974. I remember running up to him and asserting that "Not Right" was written about ME (LOL), to which Iggy replied with a bit of a smirk, "I thought that I wrote it about myself."

The first thing I noticed about Iggy was that he wasn't kidding when he wrote 5'1, the second thing was that he wasn't an asshole--he was nice to his fans--even giggly 17 and 18 year olds. At any rate, Iggy did not have a car, so I drove him home when he needed a ride, in turn, he used to buy booze for us, since he was in his mid-20's and I and my gang were all minors. At the time I drove a mid-60's American made station wagon, and Iggy would invariably claim that he would ride "shot-gun," so off we went--my gang, and the Ig. Sometimes Iggy had an, er, "friend" go home with him, frequently of the "she-male" variety, however, as we had already been hanging around with a drag-queen, a Rodney's habitué named Michael Doll, and had met some of his friends, Miss BJ, Leilani, to name 2, we were like, whatever. I also met James Williamson at the time, and he was a nice guy--I once bought him dinner at Ben Franklin's on Sunset since The Stooges had no money, and he was hungry--I wish that I could remember our conversation, but alas, I can not (we did however, have a lively conversation about Keith Richard's relative merits as a guitar player in the bar of The Rainbow a little later...).

Around this time I rented an apartment in Hollywood--a one room bachelor pad with a stained Murphy bed in a rundown part of town--East of Highland above Hollywood Blvd, that cost $105.a month. I was 18, my sister 17, and we were ready to party. Iggy showed up one day; at the time he was completely, and seemingly, hopelessly addicted to heroin. The following was written about 3 years after the fact, and published in the June '77 SLASH magazine as a letter (sadly I wish that I had kept a copy of the original manuscript since Slash cut stuff out.):

"There has been a lot of criticism recently of Iggy's performance at the Civic (note: Iggy played The Santa Monica Civic as a solo artist in '77, and he had been working with David Bowie rather intensely at this time which did change the sort of music he wrote--it became slicker as it veered away from the raw power of The Stooges)...The critics are probably right. No band, no performer can ever live up to the spectacle--the sheer energy, the guttural violence of the Stooges '73/'74 tours...I'd never been close to such anger expressed in raw musical terms before, or since...It was like something black and rotten had exploded inside Pop's brain, and we, the audience, just happened to see the explosion.

...I finally met Iggy in the summer of '74. My roommates brought him home one morning...he looked awful...his formerly silver hair had been cropped short, and was haphazardly dyed red. He was fucked up (I later learned that he had made a stop at his dealer's before coming over). I turned on my tape recorder and let him start talking. It was sad. He sang "Crystal Ship" and cried on the part, "the days are bright and filled with pain..." He tried to piss in one of our ashtrays, but the piss wouldn't come...he passed out before he could make it to the front door. Later he was busted on Hollywood Blvd, he was on his way to a recording session (note: he was walking down the street with Pearl, my sister, and a friend of ours from Rodney's, a prostitute named Kat. He was obviously intoxicated and drew the attention of the cops--he did instruct the girls to call Danny Sugerman before the cops drove him away--which they did, and Sugerman bailed him out.)..later he was beaten up at one of Bowie's concerts at The Amphitheater..."

I kept that tape for years until my sister's asshole husband stole it apparently--pity that. I do remember that he kept pointing at our friend James, then known as Jamie, and telling him emphatically to "look at me!", heard in the back-ground was Pearl whimpering "please look at him Jamie!") Iggy also kept telling us to call his dad, James Osterberg Sr. in Michigan.

Soon Iggy's situation improved, and he moved to a better part of town to a nicer place on Sunset Blvd across the street from the Mondrian (then an apartment building where my friend Meredith lived.) One of the last times I saw him, he invited me and Joan up to this apartment to hear some tunes he had been working on--alas, as I noted in my journal, he couldn't find the lyrics, and we never knew which songs they were which provided a bittersweet finish to my dealings with Iggy Pop as he spiraled up toward commercial success, and away from hanging out with Hollywood Club kids

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Night I kicked Madame X's Ass--a tale from Punk Rock LA

The story begins at The Starwood Damned concert in April '77, my friends and I were backstage when my friend Natasha spotted an apparently abandoned tape cartridge on a sofa & grabbed it--now to be fair, I damn well knew whose it was, and roughly what the content was--it was the infamous Farrah Fawcett-Minor of "she had to leave...LOS ANGELES!" fame, who was chatting up Capt Sensible and recording the chat--and, although I didn't know her by name then, I did see her recording their conversation. At any rate, Natasha took the tape, and I didn't stop her--that is my sin in the matter. At the time I was writing for a fanzine, "/ for the Blank Generation," and I borrowed the tape from Natasha, and transcribed part of the chat; in my preface to the "interview" I described Farrah as a Dumb Blonde Groupie, and was generally dismissive of her, hehe. When the piece was published, the shit hit the fan and a prolonged war was on until the day I gave Exene, lead singer of X, a couple of karate chops, and Zandra hit her over the head with her heavy purse!

First of all, the core X people, not Don Bonebrake the drummer I must add, but the others, were prone to trouble, I remember one time at a Dictators gig at the Whiskey sitting at the upstairs bar when a major ruckus broke out, and I looked over and saw The Dictators, their Girlfriends, John Doe, Exene and a couple of other people trading punches--so that is who these people were back then.

Anyway, after the dumb blonde groupie article, I caught this skinny chick with a dirty blonde shag hissing and spitting at me at a SLASH benefit--one of those held at Larchmont Hall I believe, after that Farrah, Exene, and even John Doe to a certain extent, started bothering me, glaring at me, etc--basic High School shit even though all of us were 2-3 years out of High School. Finally at this gig, I was standing near the stage when I felt a drink being poured over my head--I looked around, and the only person I saw was Exene, so I assumed she did it, in retrospect, maybe it wasn't her, nevertheless the time had come for a showdown, words were exchanged, and I snapped, grabbed her by the hair, and did a few karate chops to her neck. etc., Zandra got into the rumble with the aforementioned shoulder-bag.

Amazingly enough, although none of Exene's close cohorts were around, there were a bunch of guys standing there including Claude Bessy, and they let me beat on her for a few minutes, LOL. Later Bessy reported the incident in SLASH (why didn't I keep my Slashes?)

Although Exene is tiny, and I am nearly 5'8, I didn't take her down, but after I left the gig I noticed that I had a hank of her hair caught in my ring. As often happens in such cases of bullying, she and her friends left me and Zandra alone after that...

The article that started it all:

"/ The Fanzine For The Blank Generation" issue #3 May 1977

And Still More Damned

by Jade Zebest

The Damned are fucking amazing! With seemingly unlimited energy, they have copped Iggy's old stance. Search and Destroy? More like Gimme Danger. What are these bad boys like, I asked myself. Being the curious type, I strolled back-stage (at the Starwood, April '77) and set up observation. I am happy to report that the Damned live up to their "I don't give a fuck" image. First, Rat Scabies threw a drink in Runaway Joan Jett's face, then Guitarist Brian James kicked a well known groupie in the ass (this could have been Sable Starr) Finally, they threw everyone out of the dressing room. The Damned ended their engagement in LA by staging a food fight in the ledgendary deli, Cantor's, on Fairfax--Don't you just love it?

The following interview took place between Capt Sensible (CS), and some dumb, blonde groupie (DBG):

DBG: That was fantastic! Your set was really fun.

CS: The whole thing about our group is...I don't know what I mean...maybe the audience misses the point, we are not stars, we are anti-stars. We're just proving that ordinary kids can get out on the stage and do it. We're really not the greatest musicians in the world.

DBG: But you're also real fun.

CS: We play, react differently, to each audience. Like in New York, the audience wasn't that good...well...they were great right, but not as good as here. This is the best audience that we've had in America.

DBG: Is that right?

CS: Oh yeah, they are fantastic. They are standing up. They make noise whether they like you or not. Some cheer, and some boo. In New York, it is polite applause. I hate to be rotten about American people, but they miss the point with us, they don't understand.

DBG: You don't think that I understand?

CS: Probably not.