There are lots of books out there about punk rock, but the best ones aren’t necessarily anchored in cultural critique, scholarly examinations of rebellion or, in the case of oral histories, how well people remember this show or that show. The best ones are about how the music profoundly affected and reflected the writer personally. L.A. music journalist Michael Essington has collected stories, interviews and more to create this kind of tome: My Punk Rock Book. With chapters covering important figures such as G.G. Allin, Rikk Adnew, Greg Hetson and Steven Blush alongside musings on punk expression through fashion, seminal albums and zine culture, it’s DIY feel and tone makes it a fine addition to the punk fan library. Advancing Essington’s signing event at the Punk Rock Swap Meet in Canoga Park Saturday, here’s an excerpt from Chapter 1 about punk garb and where Angelenos found it in L.A.
CHAPTER ONE — Clothes Maketh The Man
About a year ago, my wife and I were going to dinner, and we cut down Sherman Way in Canoga Park, going towards Topanga Canyon Boulevard. When out of nowhere I was hit with a flashback that smacked me like a ton of bricks.
Back in 1981, or 1982 a guy I went to school with, Rob, used to design T-shirts with another guy who was already out of school. They designed British punk shirts. As they seemed to believe they were the unsung members of Discharge and Blitz. Anyway, Rob would never sell me a shirt directly; he was kind of snobbish about his shirts. I found out that they had done a TSOL shirt so I asked him to bring one to school and I’d give him the cash. But no, he’d say, “Go pick it up at Moby Disc.” Dick.
Anyway, after a few months of this, Rob came by one day at lunch and said if I was still interested in some shirts he and his partner were going to be opening a shop in Canoga Park. I don’t remember the name of the shop, but it was on Alabama Avenue off Sherman Way. I went in there with my brother, more than likely my mother drove and waited in the car so I would look cool. I picked up a shirt and looked around a bit. It was a smaller version of Poser, the shop on Melrose Avenue (the shop Michael Jackson bought all his bondage crap from).
A few months later, my mom returned and bought five or six shirts for me for Christmas. The shop was gone within six months or so. It was one of those places where you felt you needed an invitation to walk in; it was crowded with all the “friends” of the shop. Everybody looked like they stepped off Kings Road in England, perfect twelve inch Mohawks, brand-new leather jackets with the Discharge “face” painted on the back. And I walk in with my beat up flannel, worn out Levi’s and my black Van’s. I was just a fifteen-year-old skate kid that got into punk; I didn’t have the cash to look like them.
In 1981, I saw somebody wearing a pair of creepers for the first time. I thought they were the coolest-looking shoes I had ever seen. I had to get a pair. Later that night I saw the guy who was wearing them out in the parking lot, so I asked him how much his shoes cost and where he bought them. He kind of looked side to side and said they were under $120.00 and he bought them at Let It Rock on Melrose Ave. I almost fudged my shorts! $120.00! I was 15 years old, no job, single-parent household, fixed income—I’d never get these shoes! The guy then told me that Let It Rock sold used pairs also; I could get a pair for $30.00. Used, no problem, did they smell?
Anyway, after a month I had $15.00 saved and convinced my mom to drive me to Let It Rock and we’d buy the $30.00 pair of creepers. We get there and they tell us they have never carried used shoes; mind you since I first saw these shoes I had close to 15 people tell to go to Melrose and get the used shoes. Now I find out they never existed. Damn lying-ass punks! The sales lady tells us that the cheapest creepers they have cost $75.00. So, I do my best to convince my mom that this unemployed, broke kid deserves a $75.00 pair of shoes. The selling point is I could pay for $15.00 of it. No, go, 15 minutes later we were driving back down Highland headed towards the Valley.
About a month later, a shop opened in the Sherman Oaks Galleria that carried rockabilly clothes and they stocked creepers. I went to see a movie at the Galleria one weekend with some friends and discovered this store. All their creepers were $10.00 to $20.00 cheaper than Let It Rock.
Next day at school the local poser-patrol, a girl named Leslie (I’ve mentioned her before) came up to me and went into a rant about me being at the Galleria, and only posers go there, and how I’d be the biggest poser in the world if I bought creepers at the Galleria. I dismissed her with a comment about her and the horse she rode in on, and as I walked away, she yelled threats of the beatings I’d take from the Suicidal Tendencies gang.
So, I hatched a plan, if I told any and everybody, who asked, that all I want for my Birthday and Christmas is cash, I could afford these shoes by next year. And that’s what I did, and after Christmas 1982, I bought a pair of black suede creepers with a rounded front and a buckle across the top from the shop in the Galleria for $65.00. They were $55.00 when I first spotted them, and after six months they raised the price.
$65.00 is the most I have ever spent on a pair of shoes. And the downside of this is midway through my senior year of high school I had outgrown them. Shortly before graduation, I sold them to a rocker kid who dug the look of them.
My creepers and my leather jacket were my prized possessions, and I had to part with both things due to growth. Chinese women are on to something with this foot binding thing.
In 1982, after the income tax deadline my Mom, keeping with her annual routine of getting us one surprise, for my Brother and I, said I could get a black leather motorcycle jacket. It was something I wanted for a few years, and I called everybody in Southern California, got prices, locations, lay-a-way information, and my Mom used her hard-earned tax money to get me decked out.
April 1982, Sears Roebucks, Northridge, CA; $75.00 (before taxes).
Man, going to school that next day I was the coolest thing on the planet. Everybody wanted to do something to the jacket, paint it, and add spikes. I waited for so long to own a jacket like this; I was afraid of fucking it up. So, one weekend I went to an army surplus store in Reseda and got silver stars to put on the shoulders. I had seen some old pictures of Brando in The Wild One, and he wore them like that. It was subdued, but cool.
I wore that jacket damn near every day. I had more memories with that jacket than I did with most girlfriends, accused of stealing comic books from American Comics in Studio City (I didn’t), jumped and almost pummeled for a murder attempt on former Mayor Tom Bradley in Los Angeles (I was looking for a map in my pocket), a great jacket. In 1994 I went to put it on, and it didn’t fit. Like a marriage that had run its course, I had to get rid of it, but it was heartbreaking. One afternoon in early 1995 I sold it to a used clothing store in Canoga Park.
Back in 1980 or 1981, one of my Mom’s friends gave her a leather coat they thought was my size and would fit me. I was fifteen years old and had started my journey into punk rock six months earlier. And a coat, leather or not, just didn’t seem cool.
So, I pulled a jacket out of my closet and laid it on top of the coat, marked the size difference with a piece of chalk and cut the coat to the same size as the jacket. I left a bit of overhang and stapled the excess leather under to make it look like a leather jacket.
Wore it to school and I remember seeing a schoolmate of mine, Rob Malone. He had a great leather jacket with the Blitz logo on the back, not the later stencil logo. It was great looking. I wanted to do that, but I wasn’t sure how.
At the time my favorite band was RF7. I had bought the Public Service album at Moby Disc in Sherman Oaks and played the RF7 tracks over and over — all day.
So, I was determined to put RF7’s logo on my “leather jacket.” I didn’t have any paint, nor did I have a paintbrush. I ended up sketching it with the chalk and then with a ruler and a bottle of White-Out I painted the logo on the back of my jacket.
Did it look good? Was it as cool as Rob’s Blitz jacket? No, not even close.
On April 11, 2016, I bumped into Felix Alanis at Eric Leach’s solo show and I got the “jacket” flashback. I shook his hand, took two pictures, but I couldn’t utter:
“You know, I was a big loser for your band.”
Michael Essington will sign copies of My Punk Rock Book at the Punk Rock Swap Meet featuring sets by The Dickies, Youth Brigade, Channel 3, Shattered Faith, Killroy, Glam Skanks, Infirmities and Something Ferocious, at OLOV Hall, 21433 Strathern St., Canoga Park; Sat., Jan. 25, 3- 10:30 p.m.; all ages. Tickets here.