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
That summer, Haskell stayed off and on with photographer Ed Colver and his wife, Lani, at their Highland Park home, preferring a pallet in the converted garage to the antique bed in the guest room. Colver got his start in 1979 shooting punk shows for No Mag and knew both men for decades. Out of the blue one night, Colver got a phone call from Kalberg.
“I said, ‘Hey, guess who I’m sitting here with? Pete’s in town,’” Colver recalls. “I put him on the phone, and they were chatting it up for quite a while. Bruce said, ‘Hey, you can come stay with us and maybe I can get you some work,’ and then it was probably within a few days that he was down at their place. From what I heard, it was one big, happy family for a while.”
Bruce Kalberg started No Mag in 1978 with Michael Gira, a friend from Otis College of Art and Design, who left for New York after several issues to form the early noise band the Swans. Aside from the requisite profiles of X, Fear, the Germs, Johanna Went, Phranc, Suicidal Tendencies, ad gloriam, this sub-Slash tabloid fanzine amply captured the corrosive admixture of medical atrocities, sexual pathology, gallows humor and political anarchy endemic to the times: autopsy photos; profiles of working dominatrixes; textbook entries on female circumcision and how to synthesize heroin from morphine; cartoons of “Nancy Reagan’s favorite color” (bloody Tampaxes); and house ads featuring photos of progressive gum disease, with the caption, “You liked our smile, now catch our disease” — what Kalberg once called “the old cliché of shit-and-guts imagery” by which to wage war on polite society. It also frequently bordered on the pornographic — Susanna Hoffs topless, Belinda Carlisle naked under tights, Germs producer Geza X with his cock in his hand, the Cramps’ Brian Gregory with a semi-erection and a python, and the irrepressible El Duce shitting on a plate are a fair representation -- forcing him to manufacture it in San Francisco, where printers are apparently more tolerant.
“We wanted to make the most evil, nihilistic magazine ever,” he says in a 2007 profile in the ANPQuarterly by co-editor Aaron Rose. Kalberg is widely remembered for shaving a reverse Mohawk into his head and covering it with liver, a look he wore out to the clubs and later re-created for a full-page ad in Slash — garnering him the nickname Liverhead.
“He was a really strange guy,” Cervenka says, “but once you got to know him, he fit in with all the other weirdos, if you can imagine that becoming normal, him walking around like that.”
Heather Haley met Kalberg in the clubs shortly after relocating here from Vancouver in 1978, and dated him briefly. “He took me to his apartment and introduced me to his pet cockroach,” says Haley. “And I knew he was doing it for effect — I was supposed to be shocked or repulsed.” She also recalls him saying he had — or else planned to get — a gun for the car, because “when you drive around and you’ve got a loaded .45 in your glove box, it gives you a hard-on.”
None of this is at odds with the self-portrait Kalberg creates in Sub-Hollywood. The narrator, Ronnie Kale, is from a dysfunctional San Francisco family, and runs away to art school, where his innate nihilism, contempt for authority and penchant for gore and viscera find purchase in the small, energized music scene surrounding the Masque in Hollywood, which he undertakes to document in his own magazine, called P*NK. Published in December 2005 under the aegis of Yes Press (the name is a takeoff on No Mag), the novel displays almost no literary conventions (such as character development or forward momentum), but it is a detailed evocation of a certain moment in time, particularly the Zero-One Gallery and club scene, and the crushing paranoia of protracted methamphetamine use. (“Zanna claimed that I had the biggest methamphetamine habit in L.A.,” says narrator Kale, citing the Wojciak character.) Caen/Kalberg crafts a protagonist consumed with self-loathing, gun fetishism, hard-drug addiction, sex with underage women and darkness visible.
“People rarely like me,” Kale says at one point, and at another: “It always surprises me when any person doesn’t appear to dislike me on sight.”
Writing in the Weekly, Greg Burk called Sub-Hollywood “a dirt-stylish experience of absurd and stupid lowlife,” stressing its autobiographical elements: “The author breaks no sweat fictionalizing, since the real mammals and their behaviors are plenty fantastical.”
When asked about the book today, Burk says, “It is 90 percent real ... with different people’s names, and sometimes one person’s name assigned to a different person’s activity.”
Haskell called it “a thinly disguised autobiography” and wrote to an ex-girlfriend that Kalberg “had to change names and stuff to avoid lawsuits.” As Kalberg himself wrote in promotional materials sent as an e-mail to Haskell, “The scene is re-created as a fiction novel although I lived the life.”