As its title suggests, “More Fun in the New World: The Unmaking and Legacy of LA Punk” chronicles the messy denouement and meaning of LA’s consequential punk scene circa 1982-‘87. As they did with its precursor, 2016’s “Under the Big Black Sun: A Personal History of L.A. Punk,” X frontman John Doe and Tom DeSavia wrote the book with numerous friends from that time who contribute chapters of their own. It may not be one of Studs Terkel’s oral histories, but a similarly nuanced, gritty portrait — no, make that a noir film — emerges from hearing all those personal, sometimes tragic stories side by side.
Those friends include filmmaker Allison Anders, Los Lobos guitarist/songwriter Louie Pérez, and veteran music journalist Chris Morris. They will join Doe and DeSavia in discussing “More Fun in the New World” and the era it documents at Vroman’s Bookstore next Thursday, Sept. 5.
Doe, Dave Alvin, and Go-Go’s guitarist/songwriter Charlotte Caffey deliver some of the most soulful recollections, as they recall their musical and individual maturation while struggling to claim their integrity (and, in Caffey’s case, hard-won “deliverance” from heroin addiction into sobriety). Jack Grisham’s debauched wisdom almost reads like poetry, thanks to his Chandler-esque prose style. Reading their evocative chapters, thoughts spring to mind like “more, please” and “What kind of novel would they write?”
Writer, dancer and Screamin’ Sirens vocalist Pleasant Gehman cheerily recalls sharing boyfriends with Belinda Carlisle, and a “decade-long reign of pure rock ‘n’ roll insanity” living at notorious Hollywood crash pad Disgraceland. In one surreal moment after bleaching her hair “vintage starlet platinum,” she unexpectedly encounters stammering landlord and former Mr. Universe Mickey Hargitay, who asks, “Has anyone ever told you that you look exactly like Miss Jayne Mansfield?” (A scene Gehman resurrects with trademark aplomb: “And exactly what the fuck is the etiquette when your landlord, to whom you owe hundreds of dollars for several months of back-rent, announces that you’re his dead movie star ex-wife’s doppelganger?”)
More thoughtfully, Gehman also chronicles how and why many creative members of that punk community gradually migrated to roots music, establishing a musical trajectory that has since distinguished LA from other punk circles. She credits women with leading the migration: “Our slice of punk heaven had been shattered by violence from the same testosterone-fueled assholes who’d crash gigs for the sole purpose of starting fights. The diaspora began with the women — we weren’t safe at shows any longer — and eventually spread to the guys, who were fed up with the relentless aggression and dumbing down of what had once been a thriving creative community.”
Peter Case, Long Ryders frontman Sid Griffin, Maria McKee, “X: The Unheard Music” documentarian W.T. Morgan, Keith Morris, Chip Kinman, Mike Ness, Henry Rollins, Jane Wiedlin and original Bangles bassist/Blood on the Saddle vocalist Annette Zilinskas all add vital viewpoints. The connections they trace between bands, events and songs reinforce the scene’s architecture and value, as does a late chapter by Doe heralding the often unacknowledged impact of bands it produced (Greed on Red, the Gun Club, Lone Justice, Rank & File) on more contemporary acts (the Avett Brothers, Neko Case, Wilco). Meanwhile, stories offered by artists from other mediums track surprising ways in which punk’s influence emanated outward into film, theatre, literature, art, fashion, social norms and even politics. The music was neither bland nor background, but a call to emancipation from artistic, social and political conformity, and other art forms responded in kind.
Anders opens her chapter, “Everything Became Possible,” with a simple declaration: “If there had never been the DIY reaction in music in the seventies known, for better or worse, as punk rock, there would never have been the American independent film movement in the eighties.” Actor/director Tim Robbins draws direct connections between the “liberation” of punk rock and the founding of his convention-defying theatrical troupe, the Actors’ Gang. Pro skateboarder Tony Hawk explains how both skating and punk enabled him to determine his own identity and find his community: “Skaters found inspiration and redemption in the ugly urban landscape just as punk musicians had. One group danced on it, the other sang about it, but both used the blight to make undying art.”\
Street artist Shepard Fairey, who later achieved international renown via his Obama “HOPE” poster, credits punk’s “democratic, unintimidating, visual language” with opening his eyes to the “do-it-yourself empowerment potential of art.” The pervasive flyer culture of punk later informed Fairey’s signature style, and bands and songs like Agent Orange, Black Flag, and especially Suicidal Tendencies’ “Subliminal” (“Mind control, the easiest way/ Sponsored by the CIA/ It’s a weapon you cannot see/ It’s propaganda subliminally”) had a lasting influence on his burgeoning artistic perspective. In lauding lessons in “work ethic, fearlessness, self-promotion, media creation, scene building, graphic art, outspokenness” he absorbed from LA’s ’80s punk scene, Fairey sets forth punk’s ethos as received by a transformed fan whose own work has informed others: “True punk is the freedom to fulfill your own vision without worrying about stylistic orthodoxy or commercial appeal. LA punk looked and sounded a lot of different ways, but they were all about freedom.”
John Doe, Tom DeSavia, Allison Anders, Louie Pérez and moderator Chris Morris discuss “More Fun in the New World” at Vroman’s Bookstore, 695 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena, at 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 5; free admission, but anyone wishing to get a book signed must purchase at least one copy from the store. Info: (626) 449-5320. morefuninthenewworld.com, vromansbookstore.com