Like all of us, the recession has forced me to make choices about how I spend my discretionary income. New books? Ha! My library card sees a lot more action than my Visa or American Express. And yet, the other day, I saw something on a remainder table — marked down from $45 to $14 — that I simply could not resist.
Live at the Masque: Nightmare In Punk Alley (Gingko Press, 2007) is 300+ pages of photos documenting the Hollywood basement and rehearsal space that was ground zero for L.A. punk in the late ‘70s. Brendan Mullen, the proprietor of the Masque, has documented this territory before, in the 2001 oral history We Got the Neutron Bomb: The Untold Story of L.A. Punk, and Lexicon Devil: The Fast Times and Short Life of Darby Crash and the Germs. But this time, he lets the pictures do (most of) the talking. And screaming. And laughing.
“L.A.’s first generation of punk rockers was comprised of smart, defiantly original, truly creative people,” notes journalist Kristine McKenna, who began her career covering the L.A. punk beat, in her introduction to this tome. That’s reflected in the array of energetic oddballs housed in its pages; as a kid who went to school dressed in glad rags procured at the church thrift store, it’s reassuring to see scene icons like Exene Cervenka and Alice Bag decked out in clothes not so different from the ones my small circle of friends wore. The vivid pictures of Geza X (see above) and the Screamers conjure up that weird fusion of science fiction and Expressionism that seemed a peculiar hallmark of the L.A. scene. And the early shots of the grubby, pre-fame Go-Go’s? Who knew Belinda could be so cool?
The book also includes reproductions of show flyers, a thorough index, and biographies of all the contributing photographers (including the seminal Jenny Lens). Nor is the music forgotten: On the final pages, Mullen offers up his “L.A. Punk Hot 100+ (1977-1980),” with a list that underscores how diverse — and hilarious — the scene could be. If you can find Live At The Masque at a price that won’t force you to skip lunch for a week, or they have a copy at your local library, definitely pick it up. These photos will remind you that limited means are no match for an unchecked imagination.
DJ El Toro is the host of the overnight show In Between Sleep & Reason, Wednesday mornings from 1 AM to 6 AM on KEXP 90.3 FM Seattle and kexp.org. His column, Weird At My School, appears every Monday on the KEXP Blog. You can now follow DJ El Toro on Twitter!