I was no stranger to drugs when I came to the Weekly in 1982. I had once spent a day with Rosalynn Carter and the Secret Service, while on assignment as a journalist in another city, with a little vial of cocaine around my neck for occasional refreshment. But it was in L.A. that I was introduced to black-tar heroin — it was opium, I was told, which sounded far less scary to a novice like me — by one of the exquisite "Persian" boys we used to meet in the Rainbow’s parking lot, which was, in the early ’80s, Holly wood’s premier pickup spot. Their families had fled the Ayatollah with assets intact, apparently, and they seemed happy to gain entrée to Western culture by lavishing drugs and late-night breakfasts on American girls.
So I don’t pretend for a minute that the Weekly made me a drug addict. And don’t you pretend for a minute that it works like Nancy Reagan told us: that a drug addict can "just say no." But then, the Reagans were wrong about so many things that it made you wonder if you were crazy sometimes because you saw it one way — so clearly — when America’s "silent majority" saw it another. And it was some combination of this sense of alienation and whatever personal shortcomings caused me to want drugs in the first place that brought me to the Weekly and the subculture of dissent that it celebrated.
Dissent was a many-splendored thing at the L.A. Weekly in the ’80s. Because the status quo presented so much opportunity for it. It was a moribund period for mainstream anything — music, film, religion, medicine, media. And the Weekly responded to the intense craving for new ideas. Michael Ventura, Jay Levin, Craig Lee, Ginger Varney, Joie Davidow, Carolyn Reuben — all of them were saying things that no one else was saying. I won’t attest to the validity of their claims — in fact I would challenge many of them — but that’s beside the point. In the throes of the Reagan administration, we as a culture were so desperately in need of provocation that I was among those who embraced Sid Vicious as a tragic hero.
And the L.A. Weekly sought to provoke. Sure, the Weekly’s news section was based on rumors that no one could quite back up with facts. But at least it was interesting. And it made you think. Why were the L.A. County supervisors allowing developers to rape and pillage the remaining wild acreage in the Santa Monica Mountains? Why was the LAPD routinely allowed to beat up people of color? Was the USA financing a covert war in Central America? What was this new illness afflicting the gay community, and shouldn’t we be doing something about it? Important questions, you’ll have to agree, that astonishingly weren’t being asked in the halls of power.
Where did we get the courage and inspiration to ask hard questions and pose interesting answers? Well, I would say drugs ignited the spirit of the paper, or at least ignited the spiritual, cultural and political rebellion that took hold of the world, really, with the Sex Pistols and the Clash providing the soundtrack and the punk movement providing the casting — all of which was inspiration for the Weekly. Drugs and irreverence go well together. Providing that you know where to draw the line. Which is the dangerous part, obviously.
No one worried about that in the beginning. There was more than one occasion when concern about the staff making the printer’s deadline prompted someone in management — I won’t say who — to count hands: Who wanted cocaine? Speed? Acid? Marijuana? But then we had probably started drinking beer at noon, and the cocktail cart came out at 4 p.m. Daiquiris, anyone? Margaritas? And the music would get louder and fiercer. And the antics of staffers became increasingly remarkable.
There was juvenile behavior like photocopying body parts and taping the pictures up all over the office, field trips to Forest Lawn for inspiration, sharing drugs with advertisers and then inserting photographs of staffers into the pictures of the bands they were advertising, and hobnobbing with the prostitutes who plied their trade on the seedy corner of Sunset where our office was located. We’d turn off all the lights and watch as they took their johns into the Weekly’s back parking lot to transact business. There were such a lot of slimy condoms littering the driveway the next morning, which was hard to take after a night of drugs and drinking, but it all served to underscore the fact that the Reagan era might be glitzy and Gucci on top, but it was rotten on the underside, and this made our criticisms seem even more important.
I’ll never forget the night that one exuberant art-department crew member dripped Bestine (a turpentinelike substance used in the art room) in a trail throughout the warren of rooms that made up our dive of an office and lit it on fire! ä Why did a copy of The Anarchist Cookbook keep reappearing in the bathroom? The mood was so highly charged with revolution and revelry, it was small wonder that when I accidentally left my briefcase in the office one night, editor/publisher Jay Levin was so frightened it contained explosives that he hastily dispatched a security guard to get rid of the thing. I suppose he should have called the bomb squad, but we seldom turned to the authorities for anything.