By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
Photo by Kerry ColonnaTHERE WASN'T MUCH HAPPENING IN UNDERGROUND publishing in L.A. around the mid-'70s. The postArt Kunkin L.A. Free Presswas making its final descent into absolute irrelevance. The only thing worth a damn in the Freep was Charles Bukowski's hilarious column "Notes of a Dirty Old Man" and the occasional poem by Tom Waits. In music, there was only the odd local garage-rock/power-pop fanzine, like Bomp! and Back Door Man, with scant circulation and minimal coverage of a virtually nonexistent local music scene. The art-scene media circa 1976 was epitomized by Leonard Koren's whimsically silly WET magazine, which covered the promiscuously schwingin' Venice-rooted Plato's Retreat coterie of hot-tub "new wave" artists like Bob & Bob. It was a very strange period of nowheresville before the arrival of the Weekly and the Reader in late 1978.
It was through this wide-open French window that Claude Bessy merrily skipped on the tip of his brothel-creepered toes, clutching a drink and an unfiltered Camel, and cussing loudly about anarchy, class war, complacency and the utterly boring rock & roll music of the time. He launched his famous call to arms, "So This Is War, Eh?," in Slash, the monthly magazine he founded in May 1977 with graphic artist Steve Samiof (and assisted by Claude's longtime love, animation artist Philomena Winstanley, photographer Melanie Nissen and graphic designer David Allen). Claude's editorial seemed to mobilize every sleepy misfit music creep and art wanker in the county into writing letters or starting bands. Although the initial context was the exploding punk scene in London, under Claude's guidance as chief reporter, L.A.'s version quickly came into focus with its own unique take. He once said that Slashwas a dream opportunity for him to go to his typewriter on Monday morning "to make the friends I'd spent the weekend with even more interesting than they already were . . ."
Every small village has its own newspaper and tavern, and the early Hollywood punk scene of 1977 was a hamlet of sorts. I ran the local tavern (the Masque) and Claude hung out there, classic-barroom-poet-style, winding up all the customers. One of the most passionately irreverent characters I've ever met, Claude spared no one his wheezy wit -- not the record companies, which might find their ads placed right next to a review trashing the record being promoted, and certainly not me. I lost count of the times I was libeled in Slash, but that was part of what it was all about. If I tried to complain about the latest outrage, Claude would just tell me to fuck off, or come over and have a drink by way of settlement! So I'd go and argue into some drunken netherworld all night and be too hung over to call a lawyer the next day.
Claude came to the U.S. from his native France in 1973 (reportedly by way of the Mexican border) and founded L.A.'s first reggae fanzine, Angeleno Dread. He adopted the pen name "Kickboy" from some Jamaican dub artist and then added the "Face." After Slash finally folded in 1980, he announced: "The scene was not fun anymore, so I bailed on L.A. and the USA never to return the day Ronald Reagan was elected."
He and Philomena moved to England, where they spent seven years in London and Manchester. Claude worked as a VJ at the Hacienda Club in Manchester and for Rough Trade in London, writing sleeve notes and producing videos for the Virgin Prunes and the Fall. He also did some promotional work for Nick Cave and Sonic Youth, and made a film from some vintage Burroughs footage combined with newly shot readings in Manchester.
In 1987, the couple moved to Barcelona, where Claude took to drawing and painting, and teaching English: "The English weather was a big incentive as far as getting out. At first it was gonna be Italy, working for some Italian TV program that didn't come through (it never does with the Italians), so it was down to Barcelona, the pearl of the Mediterranean, the city which thinks it's the center of the universe; this narrow-minded provincial town with delusions of grandeur, this lovely fucked-up polluted modernistic village with a million scooters ignoring the traffic signals is definitely our home and we love it . . ."
Claude died fighting the effects of lung cancer at his home in Barcelona on October 2, with Philly by his side. He was 54. The Weeklyasked a number of Claude's friends and colleagues to remember Kickboy Face:ã
LYDIA LUNCH, ARTIST
"Anyone who says they've stopped drinking hasn't even really started," Claude screamed into my right ear as he ordered another Pernod. It was a dusty night; even the flies were exhausted as they slowly circled the dried sausages that flanked the head of the old fascist who lined 'em up behind the dirty old man's bar on the outskirts of Barcelona. It was the last time I'd see him. We reminisced about my still-pending assault-and-battery charge. He had harbored me from the law in England, circa the early '80s. He was playing DJ in some shithole there; I was the main act. Someone got out of line; I bottled them. It broke. Blood splattered everywhere. He stuffed me in the back of a black cab and hid me out in the guest room. We waited for the Filth to arrive. Within minutes they did. "Fuckin' PIGS!!!! . . . Now let's smoke a joint." For as long as I knew Claude, I was always haranguing: Write the book, WRITE THE GODDAMN BOOK ALREADY. But the words on paper started to fall off. He couldn't commit them to stick. I'd beg his wife, Philly, to just tape the bastard. Stick a mike in front of his mush and let him go off. That's where the beauty was. In his rhythm. The poetry and magic in his conversations. The madness of his genius. Passionate. Irreverent. Beautiful. As handsome as a faded matinee idol, whose star will always bring a twinkle to the eyes of those who knew him.