“I don’t wanna go down to the basement/There’s something down there.”
It was just a stripped-down basement under the Pussycat Theater in an alley off of Cherokee Avenue in Hollywood, but the Masque was a literal hothouse in which about a hundred punks briefly bloomed, with their messy assignations and brash experiments in volume and nihilism in the late-’70s merging into one great big purifying brushfire that consumed the worlds of music, art and fashion. The Masque was just a few steps down from Hollywood Boulevard, across from Boardner’s, but it might as well have been a million miles away from the bewildered tourists looking for the tracks of long-vanished movie stars on the scuzzy Walk of Fame. The club was hidden in plain sight — at least for a little while, until the growing numbers of freaks, loners, CalArts students, glam refugees and leather-jacketed punks attracted the less-than-protective nightstick interventions of the LAPD. “What we wear is dangerous gear/It’ll get you picked up anywhere,” as the Clash once sang about their own “City of the Dead.”
Brendan Mullen was a self-described “dirty, hapless schmuck from Scotland” looking for a place to live and bang on his drums when he “tumbled into the basement of the Hollywood Center Building.” As he recounts in the massive new photo book Live at the Masque: Nightmare in Punk Alley (Gingko Press/R77 Publishing), which he compiled with Roger Gastman, he ended up managing the 10,000-square-foot space and hosted his first parties with the Skulls and the Controllers in August 1977. Despite ongoing hassles with the L.A. police, fire and building & safety departments and eventual relocations to other sites, Mullen was able to keep the Masque operating until December 1979, booking most of the major early L.A. punk legends (the Weirdos, Screamers, the Alley Cats, Germs, X, the Go-Go’s, the Dickies, U.X.A., Black Randy & the Metro Squad), simpatico San Franciscan visitors (the Avengers, Dead Kennedys) and the first wave of the burgeoning suburban ?pop-punk and hardcore invasion (the Crowd, Suburban Lawns, Flyboys, Middle Class, the Last, Black Flag).
Mullen calls the book a “narrative by image,” and the cumulative effect of its flood of photographs, fliers, scraps of reviews, band contracts and other ephemera is nostalgically thrilling yet rarely sentimental, with some artfully dramatic and iconic photos from Melanie Nissen, Ann Summa, Herb Wrede, Donna Santisi, Frank Gargani, Jenny Lens, Al Flipside, Jules Bates and the Flesh Eaters’ Chris D., among others. Beyond revealing charismatic performers like the Screamers’ Tomata du Plenty, Alice Bag, the Germs’ Darby Crash and the other “red-eyed legends of the night before” (as Crash put it) in their prime, Live at the Masque also documents L.A.’s twisted mutation of cut-&-pasted-&-sewn-together DayGlo fashion. Punks were considered “ugly” with their butch haircuts and ripped-up clothes, but the photographic evidence here reveals how alluring scene queens Trudie Arguelles, Patricia Morrison, Pleasant Gehman and Exene Cervenka looked in their repurposed vintage frocks, torn fishnets and lavishly overdone Cleopatra makeup — especially when compared to the blandly ubiquitous earthy hippie fashions of the time. Even as the musicians were transforming themselves into “colorful thrashed parrots,” as Beck (who visited the Masque as a 7-year-old) later described it, the tome reminds us that many of the0 kids in the crowd still had shaggy hair and boogie-rock attire in those semi-innocent days before the punk fashion rules were firmly codified.
To celebrate the Masque’s 30th anniversary and the book’s publication, the Echoplex is presenting an all-day marathon with more-than-slight returns from many of the Class of ’77’s survivors, including extremely rare reunions by the Plugz (whose original lineup will reprise their sardonically brilliant and criminally out-of-print debut LP, Electrify Me, which was the first indie studio album released by an L.A. punk band), the Eyes (with Joe Ramirez trading off zippy, wickedly witty tunes like “Disneyland” with the comparatively seedy kidnap-victim rant “Don’t Talk to Me” from guitarist Charlotte Caffey, later of the Go-Go’s), pop-punk-surf dazzlers the Flyboys, Billy Bones’ reincarnation of the Skulls, the Controllers, the Deadbeats and others.
The Masque Anniversary Party at the Echoplex, 1154 Glendale Ave., Echo Park; Sun., Nov. 11, 3 p.m.; all ages.
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