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Brendan Mullen, RIP

Man of the Masque: Brendan Mullen
Gary Leonard

If you never met Brendan Mullen, who died on Monday after suffering a massive stroke, you really missed something. Brendan was one of L.A.’s great treasures, and the gifts he gave the city were many. The first came in June 1977, when he opened L.A.’s pioneering punk club, the Masque, in a dank basement, off a dirty Hollywood alleyway. The Masque was the fetid petri dish that spawned all that has since taken place here in the name of punk rock, and Brendan pretty much ran and maintained the place all by himself. More importantly, he set the tone for what went on in the club. Brendan was an extremely irreverent person who had an infallible bullshit detector; pretentious musicians didn’t get far on his watch. He was unstinting in his support of all things experimental or playful, however, and his influence contributed mightily to making L.A.’s first generation of punk as extraordinary as it was.

I interviewed Brendan for the Los Angeles Times six months after the Masque opened, and the minute we met I knew I’d come across a remarkable character. He could be a divisive person, and participated in his fair share of feuds, but who could stay mad at somebody so funny and smart? He was committed, too. Brendan cared desperately about the history of popular culture and was seriously informed on the subject. It mattered to him that somebody got the facts down right, that the unsung heroes received their due, and the frauds and fakes were revealed for what they were. He made a substantial contribution on that front, too, and completed four exhaustively researched books, including an oral history of early L.A. punk; a book about legendary band the Germs; an oral history of Jane’s Addiction; and a pictorial portrait of the Masque. At the time of his death he was working on an authorized biography of the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Born in Paisley, Scotland, in 1949, Brendan grew up in England, and settled in L.A. in 1975 after visiting the U.S. on holiday. When he first stumbled across the Masque, his plan was to operate it as a rehearsal space. But history has its own momentum, and Brendan’s peculiar genius began to blossom as soon as he moved in (yes, he lived there now and then). He was a tireless worker, and a catalyst, and by the time the Masque was closed by the fire department in 1979, he’d made a name for himself. He spent the next few years as the highly innovative booker at the now-defunct Club Lingerie, on Sunset Boulevard, and establishing himself as one of the hippest DJs in town. The breadth of his musical knowledge was dazzling.

For his first decade or so in America, Brendan was a major party animal who earned quite a reputation with the ladies. By the late ’80s he’d gotten sober, and in 1993 he began a relationship with Kateri Butler, a gifted writer who brought stability to his life. They bought a house together and were devoted to one another.

A few weeks ago they were among the guests at a dinner I attended, and at a certain point Brendan took center stage, as was his wont, and began telling a story. When Brendan got rolling, it was best to just get out of the way and let him rip, because whatever ensued was sure to be entertaining. He was a brilliant mimic, had an uncanny eye for detail and an astonishing memory, and was completely hilarious. Midway through his story I looked across the room and caught Kateri’s eye, and gave her a look that said, “I hope you realize you’re living with a complete maniac.” She rolled her eyes in acknowledgment, then looked back at Brendan with an expression of complete love and admiration.

Life poured out of Brendan, and those of us who knew him, and grasped what was unique and wonderful about him, will miss him terribly.


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