The Boldface Life

Photo by Wild Don Lewis

“You’re not on the list.”

It’s been years since I heard that chilling phrase.

Check again, my good man, I must be.

Wouldn’t you just know that there’s not a soul I recognize working the door. Somehow, I manage not to succumb to the temptation of asking the bouncer, “Don’t you know who I am?” That’s always seemed a rather existential query to pose to a guy holding a clipboard and wearing an earpiece. And I know he wouldn’t realize I was joking. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard that question asked in earnest, so imagine how many times he’s listened to it. Besides, do any of us really know who we are?

But back to our tale of woe. It suddenly strikes me that I’ve come full circle. I might as well be 15 again with my fake ID trying (usually unsuccessfully) to get into the Roxy or Whisky. Okay, perhaps that’s more of a half triangle than a full circle, but the point is, I’m back to being just another face in line. Not like that’s the worst place to be.

It was worth waiting to hear Flipper screech out “Sex Bomb” at the Music Machine — or was it Club 88? — while moshing (the one and only time) so wildly my sandal flew off and gave some guy a shiner. Lines provided some fabulous flirting opportunities — nearly any show during the early days of the Lingerie, although a Bush Tetras gig in particular stands out. And the wait could lead to friendships: At a 45 Grave/Human Hands gig at the Hong Kong I spotted a couple of girls from my dorm and realized there were kindred spirits among the prepsters and frat/sorority set that dominated UCLA at the time. And of course there’s always the bathroom line, a classic, to noodle over the events of an eve: The Slits’ Ari Up haranguing, beseeching and wailing from the stage of the Vex over her shoes that were stolen . . . performance artist Skip Arnold hanging upside down and naked from a metal sculpture at the Zero while onlookers drank the usual cheap beer.

I wasn’t the only one discovering there was a whole world of clubs that had nothing to do with the Sunset Strip (Gazzarri’s, anyone?). In fact, there was a sense of scene developing, fomented around the Masque and carried on at spots such as the Anti-Club, Brave Dog, Al’s Bar, the Cathay de Grande, the O.N. Klub, Lingerie, the Lhasa Club, Madame Wong’s, Theoretical, and the Vex. It seemed every night offered at least two different clubs with mind-blowing lineups: the Minutemen, BPeople, the Fibonaccis, Dream Syndicate, Salvation Army (later the Three O’Clock), the Bangs (soon to be the Bangles), Red Kross, Green on Red, X, Circle Jerks, Black Flag, and the list goes on. L.A. was astonishingly rich with bands. But can a scene be a scene without boldface names?

In August 1980, the Weekly launched the column L.A. Dee Da. “The place to dig if you’re looking for dirt,” wrote Pleasant Gehman, its first columnist, “the place to scan if you’re looking for a scoop, hot flashes for cold action, etc. . . .” Talk about timing — column and scene fueled each other. Over the years, Pleasant, Marci Marks, Craig Lee, Bruce D. Rhodewalt, Shelly da Cunha, Kim Jones and Belissa Cohen, among others, scoured the streets and combed the clubs to dish the do on the hip and the haps. They identified (and in some cases, created) a new class of celebs. Not the folks who might eventually warrant an E! True Hollywood Story perhaps (well, Courtney Love ultimately did), but it was coverage that captured a very specific time and place, as if you’d stumbled into an L.A. within an L.A.

By the time L.A. Dee Da gave up the gossip ghost in 1993, clubdom had begun undergoing profound changes — from the pay-to-play Strip action to the fetishized edge of places such as Club Fuck! Bars started becoming the new hangs — witness the rise of the Cahuenga corridor. The scene wasn’t necessarily just about the bands anymore. L.A. Dee Da was revived in 1995 as the Low Life by Tina Fez (nom de plume of Weekly staffer Libby Molyneaux), with J.V. McAuley (briefly) and then me subsequently digging the dirt.

Over the nearly five years that I went in pursuit of the boldface name, DJ-driven spots — such as Cherry, as well as outdoor raves — defined the clubscape. But it wasn’t just about clubs for me. Theater and gallery openings, performance pieces, fashion shows: All got the boldface treatment as well as the music — which we continue to do with Slush. In part, the evolution of the columns over the years traces the cultural shifts of L.A. as well as the Weekly.

But back to my moment of reckoning: “You’re not on the list.”

Hmm.

“The show is sold out.”

Hmm.

So maybe it’s been awhile since I’ve snuck in the back door, but it’s like riding a bike, right?

I got in.

But I came away with that unsettling realization that a new generation has taken over (thank you, Vaginal Davis, for continuing on with Bricktops). Sure, after some 25 years of clubgoing, I’ve had twinges of this before, but somehow, between turning 40, buying a house, and doing god knows what else — learning to throw dinner parties? — I pretty much skipped this transition, or can’t keep up with it (oh, the sound of creaky middle age setting in). The club du jour is becoming the club du minute, and if you don’t get there opening night, it may be some place else by the time you do.

So maybe I’m not always on the list anymore, but I can make a hell of a coq au vin.