We recently spoke with Brenda Perlin, the author of a series of books on Los Angeles punk rock. L.A. Punk Rocker and its followup Punk Rocker captured teenaged Perlin and her friends' immersion into the City of Angels' music scene, including late nights at the Roxy and the Whisky with many future legendary punk bands. Her latest book is LA Punk Snapshots, and it collects her photographs of the burgeoning musical landscape, with snapshots of Billy Idol, Iggy Pop, Siouxsie Sioux, The Damned, and many others.
The perception is that the LA punk scene was dramatically different from that of the East Coast, in particular NYC’s music and culture. Did if feel that way to you, and what was your perspective?
I only can comment personally on the L.A. Scene but like any area we had our own style and local bands. We watched garage bands become big names and felt proud that we saw them while they were unknown unsigned bands and they came from local areas. I would like to think that we were authentic in our culture. We shared attitudes and were passionate about our city. We took to the streets and for many of us the streets became our home.
Certainly, the LA scene seems much more fashion-conscious than the “anti-fashion” of, say, CBGBs, or was it just the LA version of anti-fashion?
In a way our fashion too was considered anti-fashion as we rebelled against the styles that were popular to our areas. We did what we could to stand out but to also make a stand, I guess you could say but fashion was an important part of our scene. What we wore became our identities and we yearned to be authentic and individuals. Standing out was half the fun and so was the shopping. We loved thrift shops, army surplus, vintage stores and British fashions that we paid a bit more for. Most of us couldn’t afford the high priced labels so second hand made it possible for us to be fashionable. Some of our clothing we tailored to be one of a kind. Style was always a concern. From our hair to our shoes. We made a sport out of discovering the best finds all over the city. The was search was half the fun. Our clothing was a reflection of our personalities.
As a teenager living through the wild times at the Whisky and the Roxy, what is the one thing you remember as the wildest or most memorable?
Every night out seemed memorable but for me I will never stop cringing when I think back to the time my mom showed up at the Whisky searching for me wearing her pajamas under her winter coat. She came looking for me and made sure she asked everyone in the area where I might be. I finally got word from backstage that she was outside. Horrified, I asked my friends to keep my cover. I have many memories of my mom searching me down. Sometimes she found me and sometimes she didn’t but that one time really stands out in my mind because it was a rare time she didn’t take me home with her. Also, it’s the first time I experienced that kind of embarrassment. Freedom was not something my parents were willing to give me while I was living under their roof and I fought them every step of the way.
Your latest book in your personal trilogy is LA Punk Snapshots. What can you tell us about that? Did you just start bringing your camera everywhere? That’s a far cry different from today’s instant cellphone generation.
At the time there were obviously no cell phones and the term ‘selfie” didn’t exist. Not too many people dragged along their heavy cameras to gigs and nights out but for some reason I felt I was catching important moments. Even if my photographs were just pictures of my friends hanging around. I enjoyed capturing our coming-of-age stories from the streets.
I never imagined anyone would really want to see my photos or considered them important and yet no matter how many times I moved I always felt the need to bring these photos along with me. As it happens, they became my prized possessions and I hoped I would find an avenue to share them with people that were as passionate about the scene as I was. As it happened, L.A. Punk Snapshots gave me that opportunity and I have to say it has been a great feeling. Is great that people from that time period in the photos have come forward and have thanked me for sharing some of their history with them.
What’s your take on the pop/rock music scene of today? Seems like it could us a nice, swift, punk-rock kick-in-the-pants!
I did think punk was dead though it’s arrogant to think everyone now is a poseur and we were authentic. We were a part of a scene that at the time was inclusive. We didn’t want to judge because we didn’t like being judged ourselves. Everything and anything went and no one was excluded. Black, white, hispanic, straight, gay or whatever. Why should we change our attitudes now? It was about the music, the great love of music but also about identity and acceptance. Most of us who got involved in the punk scene did so because we didn’t fit in with what society told us was right. We thrived on individualism and I hope the scene today holds onto some of that sentiment though I doubt that as I witnessed the scene changing and our inclusive society was surely becoming less open minded and put more into a box. More people are following rather than leading their own way and that is a shame because being different was what made being a punk so special. Not sure the punks of today have any idea what being a punk meant for us. Being a punk today might even be trendy which wasn’t at all back in the day.
I remember being spit on and laughed at in high school by the trendy kids but then punk became more mainstream and all the people that were beating on me wanted to join the scene. They were just following the latest trend. They had no concept of what got us there in the first place.
All time favorite punk rock, LA or otherwise song/album?
You are asking me this question right after seeing The Damned for the first time in over thirty years. At the moment, I am so jazzed over their music so the first album that comes to mind is The Damned Machine Gun Etiquette. It’s sublime. Was then. Still is to this day.
#brendaperlin #punkrock #losangeles #billyidol #thedamned #theyroxy #thewhisky
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