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Monday, March 28, 2005

When Did Punk Begin?

Did you know that question is kinda like "fighting words" ?

As a Los Angeleno attending school in London for most of 1976, I'd have to say that I became aware of this new cultural revolution sometime in March 1976. The Sex Pistols were playing around, and so were the Damned, and I believe the 101er's, who would morph into the Clash. I saw them all. They all kind of sucked. Really, I liked them (and I thought Mick Jones's flat-mate, Tony James was just the hottest and coolest thing I'd ever seen....) but I can readily admit they were all kind of .... green at their instruments.

But, in a few months, some Americans would come over.... on the 4th of July, ironically, the Bicentennial of our independence from the British.... The Ramones played gigs in London and every important, up and coming punk rocker was there in the audience - from Johnny Rotten and members of the Clash on down to people who never made it past their local pub's make-shift stage. You gotta give it up to the Ramones. In my mind, that singular event became the birthdate for the crystallization of the new cultural aesthetic. The rock show that launched a thousand bands. The birth of Punk as we know it.

So, why am I telling this Ramones story under a picture of Debbie Harry of Blondie?

Simple. No more scanned shots of the Ramones! AND - to commemorate another milestone.

February 1977 - Blondie played almost every night one week at the Whisky A Go Go. For a couple days, they shared the bill with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and for the rest of the week, they opened for The Ramones. It was Blondie's LA debut.

There was so much buzz on all the bands. Tom Petty was caught in the punk media swirl for two seconds because of the association and his demeanor, but he stuck to his guns and forged a new "classic rock" with the punk attitude and remains one of the late 20th century's most enduring songwriters and live performers of his genre.

Blondie - we Angelenos had been reading about the NY scene for a long time in our favorite magazines and finally, Blondie was on one of our stages. And then the Ramones were back, too! It was a triumphant punctuation mark.

This Blondie / Ramones double bill was exactly the shot in the arm that the Sunset Strip needed to bring a little spotlight on to Los Angeles as a West Coast anchor for this vibrant new way to play rock n roll. Sadly, we couldn't claim the crown in the 60's. Despite being home to the Byrds, LA really could not deny that San Francisco was the place that gave rise to the best in hippie music during that decade - Janis, the Dead, Jefferson Airplane, all from San Francisco.

So, when Elmer Valentine re-opened the Whisky in 1976, after closing it in 1975 because of the dearth of good live music, the bookers were adamant in procuring the best acts.

Michelle Myers booked the Whisky at the time. She passed away a few years later, from cancer. I recently found a photo of Michelle with Stiv Bators that I need to scan and share with you . Michelle was the female equivalent of Kim Fowley. I think she just tried to talk like him - calling every female band out there by the gruff endearment, "dog meat," just like Fowley did. She was trying to prove that girls were tough business people too. Regardless, she did bring in the best acts, and was booking punk shows there that really caught the eye of the media and played sort of midwife to a scene, caused some competition among club bookers, which as anyone knows, develops and gives birth to even more venues.

As a result of the cool stuff getting booked into the Whisky, other clubs had to up their ante. Disclaimer: I worked at the Whisky -- in the office during the day, selling tickets and answering phones, in the box office at night, and eventually booked talent there myself. The Whisky did regain its prominence as the premier place for a record company to showcase its bands and we debuted bands like The Jam, Elvis Costello, Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Cure, Echo & the Bunnymen, and on and on. Bands who couldn't get the bookings they wanted from us had to play The Starwood, on nearby Crescent Heights and Santa Monica Blvds. There was the Palomino in the valley, a country bar, but once The Pretenders played their first LA gig there, rock bands, punk bands and new wave bands started playing there as well. Chinatown had a hot hot hot scene with Madame Wong's operated by Esther Wong who eventually opened up a West side satellite, and the Hong Kong Cafe. Sometime late in the summer of 77, when LA punk was really buzzing, The Masque opened and became a mecca for local bands, and was the place to see and be seen.

The Masque has been given a lot of credit for being the birthplace of LA Punk -- but as much as I enjoyed going to the Masque and seeing bands there, I'd have to beg to differ. As my back up, I have my memory, the microfiche files of the LA Times, my photos, and a whole lotta ticket stubs and gig flyers with dates.

Punk was alive on the streets and in the long-standing legit clubs before punk hung up its own dedicated shingle. I'm glad that punk had a shingle to hang, to be sure. Let's just put things into perspective and in chronological order.

And in the end, I'm throwing this out there ---- I always thought that punk began really and honestly with the New York Dolls, who took glam to a High Baroque place and added their dirty street cred to it, creating something that looks, smells and sounds like: PUNK. They did not play glam music; they played rock music in a bad-ass punk style. They did dress kind of glam but more trashy. They created a new form, spawned a new trend that evoked the old guard but with fresh twists. They caught the attention of Malcolm McLaren. And really, I think that's when the seeds were planted, to be sowed by Malcolm himself only a couple years later.

But that's just my opinion...

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    sleepybomb said...

    well, i saw the dolls in 74, and the pistols in 78, and opened for the ramones in 80. . .
    gotta a cool story about the pistols in baton rouge in 78. . .
    check it out.
    cool blog, i think i'll link!
    the question is, is not where it started, but where it died . . .

    Alice Bag said...

    Great blog and very good points you make here. I agree that (at least for me and my friends) punk came from NY with the Dolls and Ramones and was definitely around L.A. before the Masque opened, but we were all excited to have a place to play (and drink) on a regular basis when it finally did open.

    Bernard Yin said...

    WONDERFUL BLOG !!! I always tell people that Damn The Torpedoes was when I LOST interest in Tom Petty. Neat to see how others recognize how he came from a really cool place. Oh 'vell !!! Man I see a lot of familiar faces and names here. Cheers. B