Saturday, May 15, 2021

The L.A. Punk Scene

Al's Bar
Turn back the clock  to the early '80s and find a different L.A. The city was a hostile environment back then. The optimism of the '50s and '60s had faded. Gang culture and drug violence were on the rise; the homicide rate nearly doubling (rising from 12.5 per 100,000 to 23.0) in a few short years. The now tourist friendly Hollywood Blvd. was known at the time as a destination for drugs, sex shops, runaways and prostitution. It wasn't "White Riot" London, but L.A. was ready for punk. Just as New York had CBGBs, a whole underground rock culture existed in Los Angeles, a culture that defined itself in opposition to the vanilla bland of the music industry. Bands such as the the Germs, the Weirdos, the Dickies, the Go-Gos, Wasted Youth, Fear, X, Black Flag and the Circle Jerks were all part of a vibrant new scene. With little exception, it wasn't my scene, but at the end of the evening, punk and new wave, and to some degree, heavy metal, congregated at Canter's Deli on Fairfax, like it was sanctuary. Despite a penchant for hot pastrami on rye, you'd usually find me instead at Ben Frank's or Barney's Beanery, but Kenya and Cathy liked Canter's, and when Laura was along, you could bet I'd be there too. More:

Al’s Bar (Hewitt Street and Traction Avenue, 90013) — Located on the ground floor of the American Hotel, Los Angeles' oldest punk venue, closed in 2001. (Meat Puppets, Sonic Youth, Misfits.)
Anti-Club (At Helen's Place: 4658 Melrose Ave, 90004) — Eclectic venue opened in 1979 that was originally booked by Russell Jessum, Jack Marquette and Jim Van Tyne. In the mid-80s the Anti-Club moved downtown to Eddy's Burritos under different stewardship. (Descendants, Fear, Angry Samoans.)

The Arena (11445 Jefferson Boulevard, 90230) — This place was once part of the Jefferson Arena Bowling complex and was home to punk rock shows in 1980. Now a mini-mall. (Plugz, The Toasters, The Go-Go's.)
Atomic Cafe (E. 1st Street and S. Alameda, 90012) — Noodle shop in Little Tokyo that was open until 4am. Nancy, the daughter of the owners, loved punk rock and was  successful in bringing in that crowd, including luminaries like Blondie and the Ramones. Closed in 1989.
The Anti Club
Blackies (607 N. La Brea, 90036) — Opened in 1979, this smaller club was only around for 9 months. (Bates Motel, The Dickies, Germs.)
Brave Dog (438 E 1st St., 90012) — Located near the Atomic Cafe, this underground punk club run by Jack Marquette was open from 1980 to 1982. (Black Flag, Bad Brains, Social Distortion.) 
Canter's Deli (419 N. Fairfax Avenue 90048) — This Jewish deli somehow managed to be a rock 'n' roll meeting place, a trend that continues today. 
Cathay de Grande (1600 N. Argyle Avenue, 90028) — Chinese restaurant in Hollywood that in 1980 turned punk when Fred Paterson began DJing and booking bands here. Closed in 1985. (Traitors, Fuck Ups, and famous for "Six Bands - One Buck.")
Club 88 (11784 Pico Boulevard, 90064) — After opening in 1977,  this club featured a ton of unsigned bands (including Ah-Ga-Oo, a talentless combo that featured former members of Ella and the Blacks; for two weeks in 1980, I sang back-up vocals). Closed in 1981.
Club Lingerie (6507 Sunset Boulevard, 90028) — This place has been open under various names since the late 1940s. After the Masque clubs closed, Brendan Mullen booked bands here until 1991. Now this nightclub goes by "Club L." (Bad Religion, TSOL.)
Hong Kong Cafe (425 Gin Ling Way 90012) — Club near Madame Wong's that followed down the punk road and became a competitor; the Hong Kong stayed more punk rock and less New Wave. Closed in 1981. (Circle Jerks, Black Flag.)
X at the Masque
The Masque (1655 N. Cherokee, 90028) — Between 1977 and 1979 Brendan Mullen’s basement space was central to the punk scene. After the original Masque was shut-down, Mullen hosted shows at the “Other Masque” (6314 Santa Monica Boulevard, 90038) and then at Club Lingerie. (X, Dickies, Weirdos.) 
Oki-Dog (Santa Monica Boulevard and N. Vista St., 90046) — Late night staple. Danny's Oki-Dog was a hot dog with chili and pastrami wrapped up like a burrito, and along with a sack of greasy skin on potato wedges, this was hangover food like no one else could do.
Tropicana Motel (8585 Santa Monica Boulevard, 90069) — Ground zero for a lot of party action back in the day, from Tom and Rickie to The Dickies. Duke's Coffee Shop was also a hot spot diner. Duke's ended up moving to the Sunset Strip; the motel was torn down in 1988.
The Go-Go's at Tail of the Pup
The Starwood (8151 Santa Monica Boulevard, 90069) — This was one of the major Hollywood clubs and a music industry showcase spot (the other major clubs included the Whiskey, the Troubadour, Gazarri’s, and the Roxy). The Starwood was the first of the big clubs to feature punk and heavy metal acts. 
Zero Club (1957 N. Cahuenga Boulevard 90068) —  Also called Zero Zero. Underground art gallery/after-hours venue open from 1980-85.

Many nights you'd find me at the Seven Seas across from, what was then, Mann's Chinese Theater (nee Grauman's). It wasn't a venue for bands, but was peopled with teen-aged girls, announced last call at 1:45, and stayed open till 4. Loved that place. 

Sunday nights, though, was all about: Madame Wong's (949 Sun Mun Way, 90012) — This spot in Chinatown was briefly booked by well-known promoter Paul Greenstein; later proprietor, Esther Wong (the Dragon Lady), steered the place in a New Wave direction. Closed in 1985, but what a run.
Born in Shanghai in 1917, Madame (Esther) Wong immigrated to the United States in 1949. In the 1970s and ‘80s, she owned two restaurants/clubs—Madame Wong's in Chinatown and Madame Wong's West in Santa Monica—that became the beacon for some of the greatest punk and new wave bands of the era, the most famous among them The Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo, The Police and, after my time, The Red Hot Chili Peppers. 


Wong was in her 60s and looked like your typical Chinese grandmother and nothing at all like the woman who would, in many ways, revolutionize rock 'n' roll. When the Polynesian bands she booked were no longer bringing in customers, she turned to rock acts, saw her business take off and a legend was born. Despite the outwardly kind demeanor, Wong scared the shit out of everyone. She'd walk around the club and if she smelled marijuana, she'd grab you by the ear and drag you out like you were one of her kids. Rumor has it (and I believe it) she made the Ramones clean up the graffiti they painted in her restroom before allowing them to play, and they did. She was tough as nails and you didn't want to be on the receiving end of her wrath. I saw her once grab an Asian kid like a steroid addled bouncer, toss him out on the sidewalk and say, "Aren’t you ashamed? A nice Chinese boy should be at home studying, not carrying on like a low-life!" How could you not miss that? Yeah, the good ole days.


Other venues: The Music Machine on Pico, so many good shows: The Cult, James White & The Blacks, Red Hot Chili Peppers. Seems so long ago (because it was). Radion, across the street for food! New Year's Eve 1985; do you remember? The Starwood - so long ago, like a dream. Rodney spinning records. Wall of Voodoo, the Mau Maus, Human Hands, Black Flag, Geza X. Just fun to be there. Drink your Mickey's Big Mouth in the parking lot. The Whiskey - Like the time in March '84 when Jello Biafra jumped on my head from the stage during a DK show. Nice guy; said, "Sorry." Club Lingerie - Don't remember that night, only there once. The Lhasa on Hudson off Santa Monica Blvd. No alcohol, no one seemed to mind. Artsy shows, like the nude string quartet that backed Lena Lovich. Scream - at that place on Highland, whatever it was called. Oh, to be young, cute and drunk on a Monday night in the 80s. Anti-Club - before that witch Helen took over in '86. Cheap beer, cheap shows, and cheap.... The [Hollywood] Palace - big shows there...Gang of Four, the Pogues, etc. The Hollywood Palladium - still there, of course, but not the same. Too polished now. Were you there for The Smiths? I was. And the Clash in '82? Talking Heads, U2 - met Kenya, Kyra (remember San Fran, guys? Crazy). The New Florentine Gardens - New Order, The Professionals. Lotsa teens, bright 80s colors. Cathay de Grande - lotsa nights there: Gun Club, Kommunity FK, etc. What's not to like? There was a New Romantic club there in early '81, can't remember the name. Seven Seas - known as the Seven Sleaze, Hollywood Blvd. - the place to pick up teen-age girls; order as many drinks as you want at ten minutes to two, stayed open till 3. The Continental - across from the Capitol Records tower - new wave DJ in an old Hollywood dive, women at the bar left over from '63; open till 4, if you slept in the car, breakfast at the Tick Tock across the street. The Firefly on Hollywood Blvd., just a dream now - like so many.

A plea: When I do my research I am constantly at a loss for photos. I own virtually none of the photographs I post, but as a not for profit venture, I have few qualms about my copyright infringement; still I find it distressing that so little photojournalism exists for the era, ho-hum. If you know me, knew me, remember me, hate me, blew me, avoided me, what-evered me, and you have photos you'd like to share, email me. Thanks.