By the time the paper got started at the end of ’78, L.A.’s music biz was slowly awakening from a prolonged state of slumber. In the early- and mid-’70s, hardcore and "art" bands had zilch opportunities to play, or no say in what kind of material they could perform in the clubs, the limited numbers of which presented either Top 40 ä cover combos or, worse, were pay-to-play showcases. In these latter venues, bands actually forked over cash to club owners for the "privilege" of being seen and heard on a stage, where, with any "luck," some major-label A&R beast would spot their commercial potential, and they’d sign away their lives and get layered hairdos.
But things here got rudely shaken up by the disgruntled rumblings of the Sex Pistols/Clash–
inspired kids of ’77; the start of a few clubs such as the Masque and of punk ’zine Slash that year had shown that something was up, and the Weekly seized the day with vigorous, pertinent (and funny) profiles of the music and the scenesters — and of those who wished these freaks would just dry up and blow away.
No doubt, down through the years, the Weekly’s editors had some hairy times grappling with the right tone to set. Since 1978, Stuart Goldman, Mikal Gilmore, Bill Bentley, Robert Lloyd, Craig Lee, Jonathan Gold, Arion Berger, RJ Smith, Sue Cummings and myself have tackled the job of establishing a context in which to evaluate and interpret what to our ears sounded like the best (and worst) music. Each has had favored areas of coverage, from hip-hop, to country, to new music, to opera, to alternative rock, ä to world music, to nu-soul, to roc en español, to jazz, plus those niggling little areas in between. Each knew that music is very big and round, with a multitude of functions, and that it means a hell of a lot to those addicted to it. Each tried to impart a piece of the story about how all this music got here and where it’s leading us.
It’s been the Weekly’s specific challenge to counter L.A.’s easy lapses into complacency. And fortunately, local punk rock (which, by an up-to-date definition, has to include rappers and DJs, art-rock and experimental music, buskers laying out hats) refuses to curl up and die. As you may have noticed, there’s no consensus on anything in Los Angeles; speaking for the previous Weekly music editors, it could never have been easy concocting a musical point of view that’d fully satisfy the motley demands of L.A.’s radically polarized fans.
Ironically, punk rock itself, which had represented artistic freedom, eventually produced not only a stylistic rigidity but encouraged a limited critical framework (lyric-oriented rock & roll) that has placed a kind of stranglehold on the pop consciousness here for lo these past 20 years — perhaps not so strangely, one hears old punks carping bitterly about the current supremacy of hip-hop and DJ/electronic music, about the dearth of meaningful "songs" and great live bands. Yet the late-’80s rise of Southland hip-hop greats such as N.W.A, Freestyle Fellowship, Aztlan Underground and Kid Frost showed that punk rock’s do-it-yourself ethos translated very well in non-rock (i.e., black and brown) circles. (To get a picture of the social milieu that produced hip-hop’s logical rise out of the ashes of punk, see the accompanying excerpt from RJ Smith’s story on South Gate’s Cypress Hill.)
Local punk was a legitimate means of expression, yet became a fashionable way of having fun, hence its overripening and withering away (and resurgence) and the inevitability of the torrent of glam/hair/
hard rock bands in the ’80s (Ratt, WASP, GN’R!, Hangmen, Tex & the Horseheads, etc.), or the eerily resilient rockabilly and ska crews that crawl out from under their rocks every other year, or the sweetly Anglophiliac goth ’n’ gloom in-betweeners who’ve been here from the start and show no intention of going away. This being L.A., nothing except nostalgia lasts, and historically, cohesive scenes here have gotten trampled by a predictable inventory of commercial/bureaucratic/encroach ing-middle-age concerns — believe it, the Fire Department, the LAPD and the City Council hate live music now as much as ever, and would love to see it rubbed out.
Today, nightlife in L.A. has again become a punishing experience; the morality-affirming constraints on human behavior meted out in the clubs — no smoking, "proper dress code enforced," New York–
style velvet ropes — not to mention $10 parking and being patted down by muscle goons at the doors, and shoved around by more of their beefy brethren inside when it looks like you might be having a bit of fun — such Red Onion values seem custom-designed to suck the life out of people, especially the young. These are old-fashioned times the world over, so such culture-quashing must be happening elsewhere, but — live-musicwise at least — things look especially harsh in L.A. right now. Where’s the progress?