Live at the Masque: Nightmare in Punk Alley (Hardcover) – by Brendan Mullen (Gingko Press – ISBN: 158423290-0). One of the downsides with ordering over Amazon is not being able to actually hold the item in your hands and look at it before purchase. That was always the problem with CDs. They just didn’t really offer much besides a cheap plastic case and an insert. When CDs were forced upon us in the mid-eighties, a lot of record collectors were very resistant. We came up with a lot of excuses why we didn’t like CDs (most being completely valid, by the way) but at some level, we just loved the feeling of peeling off the plastic on some 12 inch record and opening it up. Was it a gatefold? Was the vinyl colored? Were there any cool inserts? I for one believe that my easy acceptance of mp3s came from having already lost vinyl to the greed of the record industry twenty years prior. You want me to keep buying this shit over and over again? Fuck you very much.
But as always, I digress….
So, for those of us who love books and records, we know that the selection process is largely a tactical one. When we go to a bookstore, we thumb through the book. We give it a once over….twice. We make sure it checks out. Ordering online is a risky gamble. We read user reviews to try to get a feel for what we would prefer to check on our own. Any good elitist will tell you, user reviews are flawed because most people are stupid.
So when I took my little $40.00 XMas Credit at Amazon and went a-shoppin’, I had an idea of what I wanted. I had seen the dirt on this new Brendan Mullen book Live at the Masque: Nightmare in Punk Alley and I had decided that this was what I was gonna spend my holiday lucre on. It seemed a little expensive at $30.00 but whatthafuck; it was free money to me. I assumed it was one of those soft cover flimsy 8X10 books. Kinda like Banned in DC or something…which, by the way, is an excellent book in and of itself.
So a week later, imagine my utter and complete shock when I received this bad-assed HARDBACK, 8×10, 2inch thick, MONSTER book. I start nervously fumbling my way through it and it is just LOADED with photos and flyers I have never seen before on that glossy, acid free paper that just screams bonafide to my petit bourgeoisie ears. Dear readers, I experienced pure consumerist fetishization of the highest order. I had to step away and smoke a cigarette. It was that good.
Once I regained my capacity to be rational, I approached the thing again and basically didn’t put it down until I had read the entire lurid tale. It’s a short read, actually. Brendan spins his yarn pertaining to the history of LA’s proto-punk club The Masque over the first 35 pages. The remaining 300 pages (!) are devoted to the aforementioned clippings, flyers and photos that I had a consumerist love affair with in the previous paragraph.
Now this is the second book for Brendan. He co-authored We Got The Neutron Bomb a few years ago with Mark Spitz. It was an oral history, told by the players involved and ordered chronologically. This seems to be the style du-jour for punk retrospectives. I believe the theory goes that punk is an automatic art form and that the oral history style of writing mirrors the “off the cuff” style of the music (and related artefacts like zeroxed flyers, hand labelled 7inches, zines etc.).
There’s logic to this. Highbrow treatment of such an inherently animalistic art form could potentially seem like typical Wonder Years boomer douchebaggery. This book seems more highbrow. It’s hardback for chrissakes. What am I getting myself into?
Once you start reading Mr. Mullen’s takes on the history of his club The Masque however, you realize how nice it is to be reading a singular author with the kind of mad skills needed to spin a yarn with wit and style to spare. It also doesn’t hurt that he has excellent material to work with.
See, the LA punk scene was an extension of the entire Lost City of Angels mythology. As Mullen puts it, it was “a tag on Cecil b. de Mille’s Boulevard of Shattered Screams.” It was apparently not taken seriously at the time in comparison to more highbrow scenes like San Francisco and New York. Well…as any of us who were there know, New York’s alright if you like saxophones. But that was a few years later. Apparently in the late 1970′s, LA was considered a joke or something?
I was a wee tot when all this LA-dissing was going on. To give you an idea, I think I was 9 when Forming came out. So I was a little too busy with my Evel Kneivel windup racer to be bothered with punk rock thankyouverymuch. However if you look at the numbers, you will see that I came of age in the hardcore 1980s and in my mind, LA was always taken dead fuckin’ seriously.
I remember seeing Decline at an old Art House theatre in Saint Louis at 13. If we, as punk kids, were supposed to have any icons at all, they were up there on that screen…Darby Crash, Lee Ving, Keith Morris, Greg Ginn, Alice Bag. And Brendan Mullen was up there too, providing, along with Claude Bessy, the entire Chandleresque interpretation of the scene that gave that movie its dark soul. Are you fucking kidding me? I walked outta that theatre that night a changed man. Anything that came from LA after that already had credibility to spare.
So this idea that LA was ever derided by other towns has always been something I can’t conceive of. I mean, look at the track record! The Masque was open for under a mere 2 years from August 77 to February 79. There were two Masques apparently. The first one was the famous basement dive that is talked about in hushed tones by those who were either there or would like to get you to believe they were there. The second one opened up in 1978 and was more of a traditional venue. Either of them hosted shows that would make any kbd-fanboy cream his pants.
In this same block of time, Dangerhouse Records released 16 singles which virtually define the US punk sound. A few of these releases easily qualify as some of the best (not just punk but) rock songs ever. And this ain’t my opinion. This is FACT.
The differences in retrospect between LA and its more highbrow counterparts in San Francisco and New York are very similar to the differences between the Sunset Strip, Haight Ashbury and East Village scenes of the 1960′s. The LA bands were more Day-Glo and pop-art than their more literary counterpoints. It was easy for literate, eastern-philosophy spewing hippies to dismiss pop-art as disposable and great bands like the Chocolate Watchband were never taken as seriously as utter dreck like Jefferson Airplane were. But that was the 1960′s and they were a different time, man….
So did the literati try to pull that shit during the punk explosion of 1977? Did they try to co-opt punk rock and fuel it full of Artaud references? Like I said, I was in the Webelos at the time so don’t ask me. But if they did, they clearly got it wrong. Cuz punk rock was inherently a nihilistic, disposable genre and attaching your agenda to it just cramps its style baby. As Mullen says it, “it’s raw art”.
My opinion is that LA got it right. They got it right straight from the start. They were working in an automatic, disposable genre and they created the most automatic, disposable bands like The Weirdos and The Dickies right off the bat. The traditionalist New York and San Francisco scenes couldn’t figure that out back then and downplayed it as all as too cartoonish. But that is precisely why it was better. LA, due to what it is, was aesthetically ready for punk rock quicker than anywhere else. By the time the rest of us caught up, they had already invented hardcore.
But that’s another story. What you will see in Live at the Masque: Nightmare in Punk Alley is a small group of people getting it right. Nailing it instantly. It’s a great read and its real pretty to look at too. Treat yourself. Buy a copy.
And in honour of this momentous achievement, I have collected all of the bands I have that played at the Masque and I have created three podcasts in chronological order from 77-79. They are also streaming from this site on the right in the media player. I declare the remainder of this month as Month of the Masque!
Podcast #1: 08/77 – 12/77
Victims – The Skulls
Another Day – The Controllers
We Don’t Need The English – The Bags
TAQN – The Eyes
Circle One – The Germs
Nothing Means Nothing Anymore – The Alley Cats
Class War – The Dils
Rico Amour – The Zeros
Hideous – The Dickies
Kill The Hippies – The Deadbeats
This Generation Is On Vacation – Shock
White Girl – X
Slither – The Dogs
Open Your Eyes – The Avengers
Shut Down – F-Word!
One Way Ticket – The Nerves
122 Hours Of Fear – Screamers
Podcast #2 – 12/77 – 12/78
Achin’ – The Plugz
I’m Confused – The Nuns
Impossible Crime – Flesh Eaters
Sperm Bank Baby – Black Randy & The Metrosquad
Lies – The Last
Tricia (Live) – Randoms
Now Your Dead – Fear
Solitary Confinement – The Weirdos
How Much More – Go-Go’s
J. Alfred – Rhino 39
Baby You’re So Repulsive – CRIME
Black And Red – Negative Trend
Situations – The Middle Class
Insect Lounge – The Mutants
Crayon World – The Flyboys
Zero Degrees – The Offs
My Boyfriend – Suburban Lawns
Youth Coup – Holly & The Italians
Podcast #3 – 12/78 – 12/79
Sit On My Face Stevie Nix – The Rotters
The Man With the Dogs – Dead Kennedys
LIFE’s A PILL – The Crowd
UXA – UXA
DON’T TELL ME WHY – Brainiacs
I Like Drugs – The Simpletones
Domino – Cramps
Caught With The Meat In Your Mouth – Dead Boys
No Rules – Pure Hell
Ring Of Fire – Wall Of Voodoo
I Don’t Care – Black Flag
The Paranoids Are Comming – Geza X And The Mommymen
Dance With Your Baby – Top Jimmy & The Rhythm Pigs