a personal history of L.A. Punk by John Doe with Tom DeSavia

Cover00Camden Joy at Bookforum:

In Los Angeles in the middle of the 1970s several hundred diverse misfits came together and began to collaborate. Some were high school glam-rock enthusiasts, like Belinda Carlisle, Jane Wiedlin, or the boys who became Pat Smear and Darby Crash. Others were older, having traveled farther. From Baltimore came John Doe, from Florida came Exene Cervenka; in California they met and fell in love. Together, and against the world, these few hundred sparked an experiment called LA punk rock—an impulse, some might say, a happening, an underground movement, a rebellion, a cultural revolution. Mention of it now usually stirs memories of mohican haircuts and hardcore music, stage-diving and slam-dancing, but those didn’t come until later. There was an initial punk endeavor in the city that was far different. The charismatic Tomata du Plenty at the front of The Screamers. The wonderfully harebrained choreography of Devo, newly arrived from Ohio. Photographers, cartoonists, poets, painters, and performance artists participated fully, supporting and contributing to a movement that was all about risk, immediacy, rule-breaking, and anti-materialism. Despite how that sounds, the scene was a welcoming one, more Brando and Bettie Page than what was going on in New York and London at the time. This is the moment with which John Doe’s new book Under the Big Black Sun concerns itself, shining a light on a legendary but largely unexamined corner of the West Coast counterculture.

This LA moment ran from 1976 through 1981, and Doe, a founder of the band X, saw much of it firsthand. Under the Big Black Sun—which Doe wrote with Tom DeSavia and includes contributions by a number of others musicians—gathers together a few of the musical and critical celebrities, allotting them each a chapter or, in the case of John Doe, several chapters. Here nostalgic fans of LA punk will learn amazing things: how The Go-Gos and The Germs grew out of the same rehearsal space, how the stories of Charles Bukowski inspired not only the lyrics but the lifestyle of X (the cigarettes, tattoos, and booze), how friends became bandmates, parties went on for weeks, everyone was high and no one had any money, and some people died, and some became famous, how the scene was pansexual, gay-friendly.

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