Anyone who grew up in Los Angeles and wanted to dance has memories of a wild night (or several), when they told their parents they were going to have a sleepover at a friends (and friends told their parents they were doing the same at your house). You didn’t stay in for long, though. You piled on the makeup and donned your coolest clothes (for those of us who grew up in the ’80s, this meant raccoon black eyes and fishnets) and then proceeded to hit the city after dark in search of trouble, maybe some drinking if you could find an adult to buy you booze, maybe meeting someone and “scamming,” aka making out. If you had a fake ID from the local check cashing joint, and you were a cute girl (or boy), you could charm your way into a lot of 21+ places back then, but this didn’t always work. It was then that the teen dance club was your go-to.
In the ’80s and early ’90s, there were several to choose from — the Odyssey and 321 on the Westside, Phases in the Valley, Network in Glendale and Marilyn’s Back Street in Pasadena. There were also all-ages nights at Circus Disco in Hollywood, and makeshift clubs that kids hit every week on the deeper outskirts of L.A., the most notable at an amusement park, of all places— the disco at Knott's Berry Farm called Studio K.
I always say that my first club experience was the Scream Club downtown, run by Michael Stewart and Bruce Perdew and booked by Dayle Gloria, and it was thanks to that fake ID, but if I’m honest I did the teen-club thing first, and at some point I didn’t even have to lie to my parents about it. By the time I was 16 or 17, they drove me to a lot of them, because, why not? These underage clubs (only those between 16 and 21 allowed) didn't serve alcohol and were kind of like a school dance in a lot of ways. We went to them to crush on and maybe meet someone and even possibly hook up, but mostly to enjoy the music of the era (’80s disco jams, goth and new wave) and move our bodies, which provided much-needed release from the frustrations of teenhood.
These clubs were formative for many Angelenos, and we look upon them with nostalgic joy and warmth, especially those of us who have kids about the same age we were when we started clubbing. Over the years, Gen-X L.A. “kids” of the teen-club generation have sought to reunite via Facebook, mostly to share memories of adolescent antics and favorite old songs in groups. There had been rumblings of an actual reunion event in the Valley for Phases (where I went the most, thanks to a bestie who lived in North Hollywood) but it fell through.
Now, thanks to Victor Mena (of ’80s band The Vurge) and DJs Boris Granich and Chris Modig, Marilyn’s is stepping up to the plate, bringing it all back so that 40-somethings can relive their carefree youth on the dance floor with people who get it because they were there, too. It all goes down tomorrow night at the Rose in Pasadena, and it is sold out, but the promoters have created a waiting list in case any ticket holders don’t show, and the insane response to the event has got to be encouraging enough to prompt more parties very soon.
A little background: Marilyn Feldsher started the venue in 1978 as a response to her offspring's desire for a dance club of their own. Marilyn's was a safe space for the underage set to boogie and, while it wasn't officially “chaperoned” like a dance, she was there often and there was always decent security, too. There was a dress code (but just like the uniforms my tween daughter is forced to wear at her middle school, kids got creative and found ways to cheat it) and the "bar” served only juices and sodas.
Granich was Marilyn’s resident DJ and he worked there during its entire run, from ’78 to ’92. He later worked at Power 106 radio along with Modig, who also spun there before getting a job at KROQ, also in Pasadena at the time. Swedish Egil (who makes an appearance tomorrow) also spun at the venue, as did Richard Blade during KROQ-promoted nights. Blade, of course, wrote a best-selling book last year, World in My Eyes, about his experiences at KROQ and his many nights spinning for L.A.’s youth, with appearances at pretty much all the teen clubs mentioned above. We recommend his book as it captures the energy of the era in L.A., an energy that today’s adolescents will never know.
The teen clubs of the ’80s weren’t just about connecting with others your age. They were about discovery. Many of them had different theme nights genre-wise, but some meshed everything together and those were always my favorites. I grew up loving rock & roll, which led to becoming a “new waver” and then a “death rocker” (no one said “goth” back then) and later got into glam and punk, but I also always loved funk, soul and disco, having grown up in the ’70s. I loved to dance and I discovered groove-y stuff like C-Bank’s “One More Shot" and The L.A. Dream Team’s "The Dream Team Is in the House" and early hip-hop such as Eric B. & Rakim's "Paid in Full" at these clubs. Somehow it all fit perfectly alongside synth-dance fare from favorites such as Heaven 17, Duran Duran and Depeche Mode.
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I only attended Marilyn's a few times back in its heyday. Saturdays were disco nights, and when I had to choose I always went new wave. Marilyn's Friday party bought out the dark side of young L.A.: lots of black, long bangs that covered everyone’s faces, pointy buckle boots and punky looks that stores like Hot Topic have helped turn mainstream today.
The cellphone-savvy teens of today — even those who shop at Hot Topic — have no need for alternative underage clubs like we did. They have the internet to connect, and to discover music and edgy fashion. They are too jaded to see the thrill of gathering in a room full of strangers to dance. Or are they? I told my daughter about the underage-club phenom of my youth and she loved the concept, saying that she’d enjoy having a safe place to get dressed up and enjoy music with non-adults beyond the confines of a school dance.
The idea intrigues and kind of scares me. But I think it’s a good one, and some smart promoter needs to get on it. Times have changed and technology rules, but nothing can take the place of real human interaction and movement fueled by new (and old) music that not only excites us but expresses who we are at that time.
Marilyn’s Back Street 40th anniversary at the Rose, the Paseo, 245 E. Green St., Pasadena; Sat., Jan. 5, 8 p.m.-1:30 a.m.; $25. Info at facebook.com/groups/marilynsbackstreet or https://bit.ly/2LsjSJA.