Who says the 1980s were terrible? Long before downtown L.A.’s transformation into a hipster playground of luxury lofts and concept bars, Jack Marquette and a hardy band of pioneers sandblasted and jerry-wired their own vision of Xanadu from industrial L.A.’s steel-and-concrete wilderness. Exiles from art schools and academia, these settlers playfully embraced their forbidding surroundings, regarding the ceaseless cacophony of freight cars and sirens as their own soundtrack.
Marquette, who began a long-term job in 1980 working at California Apparel News,came from a Hollywood family (his father produced Attack of the 50 Foot Woman)and trained as an architect and urban designer at USC. But he would find his true calling as the Warhol-like inaugurator of a brief but exhilarating party carnival in Los Angeles, seeding it with $25,000 he received from the sale of a family Tiffany lamp. Brave Dog, Theoretical, Phenomena and the Anti-Club were the names of clubs that weren’t so much brick-and-mortar addresses as nomadic happenings and floating parties, put on with Marquette’s late collaborator, Jim Van Tyne. In doing so, the two men would change the way the city’s art community socialized — and the expectations that Angelenos would have of nightclubs.
I cannot remember a dull or embarrassing moment at Marquette’s venues — even when penniless you could somehow gain admission and leave fashionably wasted. No one in those amicable haunts put on an attitude to intimidate or belittle others in the room. Perhaps this is what most separates Marquette’s ’80s downtown, with its dime-a-square-foot lofts, unmedicated neighbors and viral street crime, from the image-obsessed nightmare that would follow soon enough. Although it describes a countercultural reality different from Marquette’s world of gay-art damage, X’s song “In This House That I Call Home” captured that period’s anarchic spirit: “Nobody knows the party rules gotta get in but there’s no room …”
There was one other thing about Marquette’s energy and his clubs: They both seemed never-ending. The clubs did close, however, and on June 17, Marquette died at the age of 60 from liver disease.
Last Saturday, many of Marquette’s friends packed out his funky hillside home in Highland Park to pay their respects. Guests carefully picked their way among the jungle of plants shading the house, holding in their hands two things they hadn’t at the Anti-Club — cell phones and bottles of water. Just as the potluck fare ranged from dolmades to KFC, so did the alumni of Marquette’s clubs reflect a wide horizon of backgrounds. Performance diva Johanna Went was there, along with endurance artist Skip Arnold, KXLU DJ Stella, ’80s alter-rockers John Talley-Jones and Pierre Smith, painter Anthony Ausgang and former Al’s Bar bartender icon Ellen Vinitsky. The list, in fact, might have been a copy of a theoretical guest list, circa 1983. Marquette’s partner of the past few years, Frederick Ascher, recalled how, toward the end, the two would spend quiet evenings watching reruns of I Love Lucy. Ethan Port, formerly of Savage Republic, expressed the shocked dismay of many, who had no idea of Marquette’s declining health. Port rattled off the names of bands, from the Party Boys and Nervous Gender to Tank Burial, to whom Marquette had given venues.
“Constant inventing and reinventing and pushing,” Port marveled. “Jack was always there to say, ‘Yes, let’s do it!’”
For all his goofy charm, his kindness to strangers and animals alike, and his fondness for orange jump suits, Marquette had a shrewd sense of talent, time and place. His booking and promotion of up-and-coming bands like Psi Com (which would one day become Jane’s Addiction) suggests he could have become a kind of punk Bill Graham. Instead, Marquette remained the generous enabler of good times for a crowd of spirits, gay and straight, who came together for a decade of conversation, music and laughter. Later, real estate speculators would see gold in L.A.’s warehouse and factory districts — once their ancient buildings had been demolished and the neighborhoods’ poorest citizens evicted. Marquette saw in downtown only a faded beauty and a place to bring together a town of strangers. A place we once called home.