“I always dreaded going to Jabberjaw.” — Rick Rubin
Collecting the stories that make up the text of It All Dies Anyway: L.A., Jabberjaw and the End of an Era required a lot of outreach, mostly on the part of the club/coffeehouse/art gallery's co-founder, Michelle Car. It was an effort that spanned several years, even including the time she spent living in Berlin, taking a break from her burlesque troupe, the Velvet Hammer. I know this because I’d planned on contributing my own story years ago, and Carr’s emails to me about it were consistent. But I totally flaked and didn’t make it into the book. The following is an excerpt from my essay about my most memorable night at Jabberjaw, which I feel says a lot about the time:
You “hang out” a lot when you’re young and living on your own for the first time in Hollywood. The novelty of being away from your parents and having your own place brings a special kind of elation. It’s a freedom you can practically taste. But at some point hanging at home gets tired, and it’s time to get out of the damn house and really exercise it.
Everyone combed through the L.A. Weekly to find stuff to do. And there was no shortage of bands playing all over town on any given night. But as 20-somethings just getting by, working in trendy little boutiques on Melrose Avenue, doing school just six units at a time and budgeting shows by our favorite bands weeks in advance, the options were limited. There was only one place to go on a broke, stoned and antsy night, and though it required piercing through the Hollywood bubble and entering a notoriously sketchy neighborhood, in a way that was part of the adventure. It was time for another jaunt to Jabberjaw.
Sadly, on one particular evening, we didn’t make it into the venue. As our group parked a couple blocks away from the building, a cruiser full of cholos rolled up on the street and sandwiched our roommate, who drove, between her vehicle and theirs. We were on the curb side by her car, so we instinctually dropped our purse (filled with cash from our under-the-table retail job the day before) in the gutter. A kid in a wife beater tank no more than 16 years old stepped out of the car and held what looked like a gun at us from under his shirt. The cotton was thin and white, so we could see it protruding through. Shaking like a tweaker (or a nervous child), he demanded money. Our roommate gave up her purse and the guy in our backseat gave up his wallet (not his weed stash, natch). The kid jumped in the car and sped off.
We never went inside that night, and that having been the first time we’d ever even seen a real gun, we were spooked so hard, we never came back to Jabberjaw ever again. And we regret it. Some of the shows that happened after that night were almost worth risking your life to see.
Here are some more quotes and first-hand recollections excerpted from It All Dies Anyway:
“I can vividly remember walking up the dark narrow path between buildings to the back courtyard that would then lead inside Jabberjaw from the back. It was a big dark loft space, very raw and ‘downtown’ feeling, with an old refrigerator that you could just grab your drinks out of. It was a very exciting and dangerous place. On any given night, at the very least, I could witness a slice of musical culture … a chance to see what new indie bands were up to in the early stages of what they would eventually become, and every once in a while I would see a band that I knew in my heart would change history. It was always exciting no matter what was going on there.” —Drew Barrymore
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“I drove down to Jabberjaw one dark night in a rental car thinking woo this neighborhood can be tricky. So my adrenaline was already up when I walked in. The place was like my dream of a club. It was a sweaty little room full of cool freaks and the best was a garden out back in the open night air. Nirvana played great. I'd seen them before without Dave, but now with him it was a big machine. Still in a little context. I remember a domestic floor lamp providing the lighting onstage. It kept flickering on and off. So after I think it was Kurt who said hey come on let's take a picture. And then he told me I was a jinx because every time I came to see them they always played bad. “ —Iggy Pop
“As a larger point of reference, everyone alive in the early '60s past training-wheel bicycles knew where they were when JFK was shot. I was in the womb so I had to do some math long after the fact to figure that one out. On a similar musical scale for the early '90s, everyone knows where they were when they first saw Nirvana. It was Jabberjaw. I don't remember how that all went, but I do remember the overwhelming sweaty sardine feeling I was experiencing. And there was the whole mixed feelings while gasping for stinky air thing.” —Maynard James Keenan (Tool)