Brendan Mullen the Writer: Highlights of his Work for the Weekly
In addition to opening punk club the Masque, LA DIY music giant Brendan Mullen, who died at age 60 yesterday after suffering a stroke on Saturday, was a longtime LA Weekly music writer whose prescient insight and in-the-trenches curiosity captured the experience of being a music head in LA in the 80s, 90s and 00s. We're currently working through old Weekly issues to find some more gems, but for now, here are a handful of Brendan Mullen pieces that illustrate the point.
On the eve of the first Coachella, Mullen sat down with Goldenvoice's Paul Tollett and Rick Van Santen to discuss the notion of the festival. Mullen begins the piece with an argument against the programming of American festivals before Coachella.
In 1970, I saw Black Sabbath, Funkadelic, the Grateful Dead, Led Zeppelin and more all on the same bill at an open-air three-day rock fest in northwestern England. This was before marketing terms like "heavy metal," "folk rock," "acid rock" and "whatever rock" sliced 'n' diced up youth audiences to a point by the mid-'70s where it would have been unthinkable, laughable even -- especially in America -- to have Ozzy, George Clinton and Jerry Garcia on the same concert stage.
He continues the thought:
In contempo Europe, it's no big deal anymore for electronic artists and guitar bands to play the same event, like Glastonbury Fair, the Reading Festival and the many other outdoor fetes, which are probably the only places in the world where you might see thrash-metal monsters Sepultura on the same bill with outer-space soundscapists The Orb. Last year, Bob Dylan and Tony Bennett played Glastonbury alongside the Asian Dub Foundation, Roni Size, and god knows who and what else.
Mullen was a musical omnivore, and lapped up LA hip hop. This piece, from 2000, captures the rise of The Good Life, the formative Leimert Park rap club.
Nowadays, former Good Life scenesters reminisce about the night Fat Joe from New York, after being duly warned of the keep-it-clean rule, swore onstage anyway, and when B. Hall pulled the plug, Joe lost it and took to cussing the place up and down while the audience drowned him out and booed his ass out of the joint. It was hilarious to all except the overweight rapper himself. Then there was the hardly comical but nonetheless unforgettable night when the Watts Prophets and the Last Poets jammed, probably the only time the original East and West Coast jazz-rooted granddaddies of politicized rap ever appeared onstage together.
Mullen penned the definitive feature on Darby Crash, an inside account of the rise and fall of the Germs vocalist. Mullen gave the Germs some of their early gigs at the Masque.
Most people thought of Darby as asexual, since in public -- and very much in keeping with the "No Feeling" punk ethos -- he carefully avoided emitting any perceptible sexual energy. Gay punks from the Old Guard have pointed to the homophobia rampant within the Hollywood-O.C. scene as the motive for Darby's secrecy.
"I think homophobia was part of the fascist facade of a lot of the punk mentality," says Slash contributing photographer Kerry Colonna, "especially the hardcore aesthetic as it began to evolve from mid-1979 on." When asked about this issue in a 1986 interview, Claude Bessy commented, "[The band] Fear was homophobic. X was homophobic. I was homophobic. Fuck, basically we were all homophobic."
On DJ Quik, from 2002.
DJ Quik is arguably the best documentarian of the West Coastin' rap scene, both lyrically and sonically. His sharp, clipped rapping voice, as much as Cube's, Dre's, Eazy-E's, Snoop's or Nate D's, has pervaded hip-hop's consciousness of Los Angeles for over a decade. His yarns, Eazy-E-inflected but without the nasal, helium-high Joe Pesci tone, are concise, detailed, reflective, "journalistic" in many ways, rhymed from the perspective of an observer over the sleaziest, filthiest, dopest, most booty-to-the-sky bass and keyboard riffs you'll ever hear.
Mullen wrote a touching obituary of Marc Moreland, best known as the guitarist for Wall of Voodoo, but, earlier, a member of the Skulls, one of the first-wave LA punk bands:
When Britpunk started to break in 1977, Marc fell in love with many of the London bands, especially the Vibrators, and he jumped heart and soul into the local punk scene where he quickly became a member of the Skulls, one of the first and most fun bands to play at the Masque. Skulls shows were memorable for always collapsing in the middle, Marc's signature duct-taped-together Flying-V guitar breaking into two pieces; invariably he'd finish up naked onstage.
Mullen witnessed the rise of OC punk, and chimed in via a feature on Bad Religion:
Love it or hate it, the sleek Bad Religion-Epitaph-Westbeach punk-pop sound of layered guitars and harmonized vocals -- epitomized by the hit "Infected" -- has become the soundtrack to the surfer-rooted extreme-sports-meets-punk-rock culture of contemporary Southern California, a phenomenon that was written off as extinct 20 years ago. This punk-pop sound and its offshoots and descendants are everywhere, generating tens of millions of dollars in record sales and concert-ticket receipts, through attractions such as the Warped Vans tour, an annual summer punk gala that makes Lollapalooza seem like a poetry slam in sheer numbers.
A half-hour sit-down with Factory Records' empresario Tony Wilson in 2000 feels like a meeting-of-the-minds.
Over the next half-hour, I make the acquaintance of an enthusiastic nonstop pop-culture theorist with a slight Northern accent, "cultured" at Cambridge, where he read . . . I forgot to ask what. At 52, still with a decent sandy-red hairline, he's a cross between a hippie-enlightened (in the good sense) public schoolboy (in the good sense) and a "Manky lad" (in the good sense). His enthusiasm is endearing rather than annoying, as he deftly parries or deflects any question or observation that would erode his case for the canonization of Joy Division and the early Manchester punk scene. To his admirers, Wilson -- apart from being a hard-working modern-day media whore and family man (wife and two kids), a sport, a good egg -- is, now and forever, the Big Wanker Who Gets the Job Done. (He is, after all, the man who first put the Sex Pistols on British telly in 1976, when they were still just a rumor in London.)
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