Thursday, January 30, 2020

The Masque - 40 Years Ago - Abandoned Places

Retrospective: In Awe of Its Beauty
I was at the Masque just once for half an hour. That's it. That's my history with L.A. punk, when push comes to shove. We were punky, trendy not punks - we were who punks beat up, the new wave (the next wave). We fit in with the Mods; we'd hang at the ON Club, get drunk enough to make an appearance at the Atomic CafĂ© or the Cathay de Grande, but our home was the Lhasa or down Hollywood Blvd. at the Seven Seas across from Grauman's Chinese. We were Orange Juice and Depeche Mode, Haircut 100; the Masque kids were Darby Crash, the Germs or the Circle Jerks. We may have even been friends - we'd end up at Danny's Oki Dog or Canter's Deli at 3am (a demilitarized zone) and share a hot pastrami with Zander Schloss (long as we paid - no one ever paid), but we didn't last long on their turf.

I went to high school with Belinda Carlisle out in Ventura County, as suburban as suburban gets. The Newbury Black and Gold. Belinda was a 10th grade cheerleader. By the time she was 19, she wouldn't talk to me anymore; I represented something to her. I was new wave and younger, and she was punk, yet we'd run into each other at the Aardvark or Flip (vintage clothing stores on Melrose), and when no one was looking she'd say, "Remember when..." I had a real respect for her.

I couldn't be a punk. It took a rugged spunk I didn't possess. Indeed, my claustrophobia started at the Masque, just going down those steps - a dank stairwell that led down to a graffitied concrete basement with no way out. It smelled like sweat and piss. I don't know how she did it; she was this sweet thing. Twenty minutes on I got socked in the face when some nasty-ass skinhead started messing with Kenya. She turned around, looked at me and said, "You gonna let him talk to me like that?" Well, frankly, I was, but I can't now. can I? Ended up a war wound; I milked it; got lots of sympathy from the little new wave girls at the Seven Seas.

Entryway on Cherokee
The Masque opened August 18, 1977 on the southwest corner of Hollywood Boulevard and Cherokee (1665 N. Cherokee), the Pussycat theater next door. The club was owned and operated by Scottish expat Brendan Mullen.  It was originally intended as a cheap rehearsal spot for Brendan and a place to live. Brendan quickly became the leader, like Fagan, to every kind of street urchin and ragamuffin that walked the streets of Hollywood Boulevard. By 1979 the club was closed. It wasn't my scene; that was yet to come, but it was a scene, a vital one, unforced, unabiding, The Masque just happened. This was pre-crack, pre-AIDS, pre-Reagan, back when things were allowed to just happen. In the way of tribute, the following is a list of the bands who graced the Masque in its short reign and in my absence: The Suburban Lawns, Black Randy and the Metrosquad, The Germs, Geza X, The Bags, The Screamers, The Weirdos, F-Word, The Motels and, of course, The Go-go's.

Unlike bands like the Pistols, The Ramones, Siouxsie and The Clash, L.A. punk never had the same notoriety as those iterations in London or New York, but it was no less influential. There are few photos of The L.A. punk scene at the Masque, yet unlike The Mudd Club or CBGBs, what was the Masque remains pretty much intact. I remember the rank odor, the sticky floors and the punch in the eye, but I look at these photos, and there is a beauty there, a beauty that eluded me in '79; it's too bad. Sometimes you just have to wake up and smell the vomit.

A documentary film on the Masque is available here. For their video "Perfect," Smashing Pumpkins revisited the Masque, bringing it alive one last time. (Click the image below to see the vid.)

The Only Way Out is Through