The squalid, raucous, raunchy haunts of old LA scenesters came back to ignominious life Saturday night at Notes from a Punk Rock Crash Pad, a group reading at Stories Books and Café in Echo Park. Denizens of infamous dwellings, most notably Disgraceland, recalled walls decorated with Maxi Pads and nights of vibrator abuse. There were lots of anecdotes of drugs and sex, usually combined. And there was a prodigious amount of name dropping: X, Runaways, Social Distortion, Gun Club, Screaming Sirens, Germs, and – winners of the most mentions – Tex and the Horseheads and Top Jimmy and the Rhythm Pigs.
Evening co-hostess Pleasant Gehman unveiled a freshly inked travelogue about partner swapping, speed dropping, and Them: the porn-shop vibrators she and her roommates came to appreciate for their efficiency. Lisa Cherry read from a frightening novel about a junky on the edge of self-destruction. It made me think of Sandy West. The women and one man at the Crash Pad are survivors. Not everyone is so lucky.
Noir was the tone of the evening, which included co-hostess Iris Berry, Chris Bailey, and Annette Zilinskas. Notes offered two hours of naughty, gossipy, decadent fun, and some stellar writing. Someone make this an anthology please.
“1776: Bicentennial. 1976: Bisexual.” So said a T-shirt that rock-star groupie turned rock-star DJ Chuck E. Starr liked to wear during what he calls the summer of the Runaways.
“That’s when all the magic happened,” he told me recently as we met for coffee in the desert, where the one-time LA nightlife legend now tends to others’ health needs, as well as his own.
One of the great pleasures of researching Queens of Noise, my book on the Runaways, is getting to meet the colorful survivors of an era of great freedom and indulgent excess. In the last month, I’ve joined Rodney Bingenheimer, the other DJ who spun “Cherry Bomb” as if it were a number-one hit, for his daily supper at a Hollywood IHOP. He remembered how great the band’s music was — and the hostility the all-girl group could provoke: “The only time I got offered payola was NOT to play the Runaways.”
Germs drummer Don Bolles praised Joan Jett’s production of the band’s album GI: “She did help us make a better record.” Journalist and one-time garage rocker Don Waller showed me the early coverage of the Runaways in Back Door Man, the seminal fanzine he helped put together. “I feel like I ran away and joined the circus,” Waller says of those days.
That sense of having lived through something special — and maybe still living through it — permeates the interviews. What that something special was — the era, the place, the people, the politics, the music, the drugs, the fashion, the freedom — is what I’m trying to document and analyze. I’m going to try to start posting updates regularly to this blog. Coming up: The managers take credit — what Kim Fowley and Toby Mamis did for the Runaways.