By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
The secret history of punk sneaks up at unexpected moments. It’s well after midnight on the Loyola Marymount campus, and the place is deserted, except in the little fourth-floor studio of KXLU, where a couple of punk-rock vets and impresarios are the guests on Stray Pop, a weekly radio show. One is a punk-rock intellectual, the other is not. Joe Carducci smiles beneath the fluorescent tubes but looks damn serious with his graying beard and Jack Nicholson hairline. He’s here with a bag of CDs and ancient LPs to share some choice cuts of noise and dysfunction, of sounds ingenious and unlistenable, and songs of brilliant melody and attack. There is punk and original-recipe hardcore, some avant-garde, even a bit of Wyoming bluegrass.
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The photographer (right) with some of her subjects
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And the dude sitting next to him is called Mugger.
They once shared ownership of the mighty SST Records with founder Greg Ginn and Chuck Dukowski, back when the label was a center of the secret rock & roll underground, home to Black Flag, Sonic Youth, Minutemen, Hüsker Dü, Bad Brains, the Meat Puppets and other musical malcontents. Back then, Mugger “loved trouble and laughs,” Carducci remembers, and you can still see some of it in this fit, surf-city joker with his on-air raunchiness. But he’s also the father of an 11-year-old son in Long Beach who goes to Catholic school on the weekend, and whose name is definitely not “Little Mugger.”
Carducci hands an album to host Stella Voce, a champion of outsider rock and indie sounds since she first took the FM microphone, in 1980. It’s called Chunks, a DIY, punk-era Nuggets-style punk compilation from 1981, and on the back cover is the familiar, cryptic handwriting of artist Raymond Pettibon: “Guns don’t kill people, songs do.”
Soon, we hear Mugger’s voice on the vinyl, a track from a quarter-century past by his old band, the Nig-Heist. His snarling “Fuck!” is blown right over the early morning airwaves. Carducci looks up. “Oops.”
This stuff is dangerous, and that was part of its charm, before punk became a fashion statement and major-label marketing plan, instead of what it first represented: a venue for unpredictable aggression and the avant-garde. SST in Hermosa Beach was about something else. And in 1990, Carducci wrote his own history lesson and 300-page manifesto, fueled by a desire for a return to the carnality of pure rock & roll, and fearing that the whole movement would be forgotten otherwise. His Rock and the Pop Narcotic was as startling and obsessive a statement on rock and its impostors as Richard Meltzer’s TheAesthetics of Rock had been for another generation of disagreeable rock thinkers.
Carducci’s now done the same for Naomi Petersen, the house photographer for SST, who died in 2003. His memoir, Enter Naomi: SST, L.A. and All That, takes a hard look back at his time in L.A., at the music and contradictions of that scene, and what it meant to be a woman in the uncompromising world of Black Flag. He’s talking about this on the air with Voce, as the clock edges toward 3 a.m. and the next DJ is anxiously setting up. Mugger has a flashback to another time in local punk-rock cuisine as he leans into the mike: “So, are we going to Oki-Dog’s tonight?”
It was art, not politics, that fueled the SST revolution, that sent no-frills van tours by Black Flag and others rocketing across the country, planting seeds even they were unaware of. “If you were after money, you just weren’t in our scene,” Carducci says now. He arrived at SST in September 1981, right before Black Flag’s Damaged hit the street, selling a quick 60,000 units locally but facing ambivalence from East Coast distributors. “They couldn’t imagine punk rock coming out of L.A.,” he says. “It’s hard to believe, but it was conventional wisdom.”
Money was tight. Ginn and his partners lived at the office, sleeping under their desks, on couches, sleeping bags, with no money and no regrets in their strange commune. If they were hungry, they might walk over to the nearby home of Ginn’s parents for a sandwich.
One night in ’82 at SST, Naomi Petersen, then just 17, hooked up with Mugger in his van. He immediately retreated under his desk, leaving her to drive back to Simi Valley at least a little drunk. When she got home at 2 or 3 a.m., her father locked her out of the house. Then the phone rang at SST. Dukowski answered. It was Petersen, calling from a phone booth, her wrists slashed, “throwing herself again on Black Flag’s mercy,” writes Carducci. She was told to come back, and she slept there. No one could tell if she’d been serious, but friends could still see the scars a decade later.