“This publication was born out of curiosity and hope. Curiosity regarding the possible rebirth of true rebel music. Hope in its eventual victory over the bland products professional pop stars have been feeding us. May the punks set this rat-infested industry on fire. It sure could use a little brightness.”
This cri de cœur kicked off the first issue of Slash in 1977, the seminal punk rock fanzine for the then-fledgling L.A. scene. The headline above it read: “So this is war, eh?”
Over 28 issues and three years, the Mid-City–based magazine published by Steve Samiof and Melanie Nissen chronicled both local and national punk rock and reggae so well that its archive doubles as a semi-definitive history of the era. After being nearly impossible to find for 35 years, the magazine’s entire run is beautifully anthologized in Slash: A History of the Legendary L.A. Punk Magazine 1977–1980, released this month by Hat & Beard Press.
“In a weird way, Slash validated the experimentation of a lot of great bands,” Samiof says from his home in Costa Rica, where the Santa Monica native has lived for the last dozen years. “It was just us reporting on what was happening, and some kid in a garage would say, ‘Hey, let’s make a band,’ and a lot of kids did. It was never a huge audience, but it was rabid.”
The circulation grew for good reason; Slash covered bands years or even decades before they earned mainstream attention. The staff downed vodka milkshakes with The Germs and got reprimanded for smoking cigarettes in front of Peter Tosh — while he lit up spliffs and taught them that the foundation of reggae is the heartbeat.
There are sardonic press conferences with The Clash, where they diss Kiss and Foreigner and shout out The Germs. An interview with John Waters in which he discloses that he voted for Gerald Ford over Jimmy Carter because he didn’t want any “hillbillies in the White House.”
Slash conducted what might be the first-ever American interview with Joy Division, not long before Ian Curtis’ suicide. There are existential lamentations about the fate of the Masque, L.A.’s first punk club, and a revelatory conversation with author Philip K. Dick in which he discusses The Circle Jerks, being a beatnik and having “the shit kicked out of him by the authority.”
Expanding its purview beyond L.A., Slash’s cover stars included Malcolm McClaren and Johnny Rotten, David Byrne, Debbie Harry and Winston Rodney of Burning Spear. Nissen’s striking photos depict the landmarks and eccentric styles of a vanished city: the spiked pink mohawks, pegged pants and heavily badged jackets; long-gone clubs like the Tropicana and the Starwood.
“Slash did everything it could do to not be commercially successful. We’d take an ad from a band, then destroy them in a review, and then A&M wouldn’t take out another ad for a year or two,” Samiof says. “It was fun and then it wasn’t. For three years, you didn’t think about what you were gonna do every night. You were going to see a band, get fucked up and see a lot of people you knew.”
Slash eventually spun off a punk label, which released classic records from X, L7 and Los Lobos. But its real legacy is readily apparent in the anthology, an impressive reminder that money usually disappears, but exceptional work can live forever.
“Love and excitement can be a much better payoff than money,” Samiof says. “I’m proud of Slash and what we did. It was our way of rebelling. It was an act of love and joy, and that’s about as anti-punk as you can be.”
An L.A. native, Jeff Weiss edits Passion of the Weiss and hosts the Shots Fired podcast. Find him online at passionweiss.com.