Feel Lucky, Punk?
A STUFFED ALLIGATOR SMACKS AGAINST THE FACE OF THE singer of Kung Fu Chicken and explodes. It is retaliation for the torrent of toy animals that he and his band have been chucking mercilessly at the audience. In the slam pit, there's a kid in a hooded sweatshirt and baggy pants hanging down to his knees precariously holding a chocolate shake and flailing around like a Tasmanian devil as Kung Fu Chicken spew forth some pleasantly inept punk rock. Though this sort of action usually occurs in a smelly club hellhole, tonight's spectacle is taking place at Head Line Records, a small store specializing in punk rock and the like. Owner Jean Luc Gaudry looks on smiling as his store is redecorated with Fluffy's innards and airborne one-eared bunnies knock records off the wall.
An exceedingly friendly, mild-mannered Frenchman, Gaudry moved here five years ago and opened Head Line Records in Westwood. The store happened to be near a small French community that Gaudry was unaware of, which includes a French video store, a sort of French general store called La Cité and a guy who sells quiche at the Westwood Village farmers' market. Business was slow for the first few years, and Gaudry had trouble when he put on shows and punks puked on nearby shop fronts, so he moved to higher-rent Melrose Avenue, where things have taken off in a big way, though punks still vomit on his neighbors' stores.
"Everyone I spoke with," says Gaudry, "they always said, 'You know, man, it's not the right location for you. You have to be on Hollywood or Melrose or this kind of place, and I always said, 'Why, if you have a good store?' I couldn't understand that. But it's just the way it is."
For the first three years, Gaudry ran the business by himself, seven days a week. When he complained to me a couple of years back that he might have to close shop 'cause no one was coming in, I suggested that maybe his store was too specialized. Perhaps, to make some extra bucks, he could sell hip-hop records. But he said he didn't know anything about that kind of music. On another occasion, I was about to purchase a couple of expensive import CDs at his store and asked what he thought of them. He told me they both sucked. Though this isn't the sort of selling technique that leads to multiple franchises or Forbes magazine accolades, it's definitely a more European way to run a business, and his no-bullshit approach has made Head Line Records a very independent, thoroughly punk rock store.
"Even if it's your passion," says Gaudry, "if you don't make money, forget it. What I am trying to do is not to compromise, but to make a business that does well. I don't ask to have, like, a castle, you know. I need to pay myself, to pay Mike and Jim [his two employees], and to pay them fairly, and at the same time to have fun, to do what I like, like organize shows. Also to, I don't want to say 'support the scene,' but sometimes I have bands play here, and they are so awesome. It gives me all the energy, because it's like you believe in something."
WITH GAUDRY BOOKING UP TO FOUR GIGS A WEEK, ALL free, Head Line Records has become one of the most important spots for all-ages punk shows in L.A. Though nobody in the world except Gaudry has heard many of the bands that play there, he's also had the Dwarves, F.Y.P, U.K. Subs, and France's Burning Heads and TV Killers knocking stuff off his shelves.
"It's difficult to say no to a very small rock band who can't play everywhere because they are totally unknown and they say, 'Oh, can we play?' and it's not really my kind, but I say, 'We can schedule you just for one night.'"
Gaudry also books bands like Kung Fu Chicken who are too obnoxious and messy to get gigs anywhere else. Though he says he digs all sorts of music, it is spiky-haired, glue-sniffing punk rock that he's most devoted to.
"People in Europe are more dedicated," says Gaudry. "You have some people who are dedicated here, but in Europe, someone who starts listening to this kind of music at 16, if you check him at 31 or 40, he still loves this kind of music and goes to shows, this kind of thing. In general, here, people listen to this music when they are 16 or whatever because they are against society, their parents and everything. I specialize in punk because I like punk a lot. When I listen to that, it just does something for me. It is my passion."
Head Line Records is located at 7708 Melrose Ave.; (323) 655-2125.
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