I started writing for L.A. Weekly in 1979. At 18, it wasn't my first job as a rock writer but it was my introductory foray into professional journalism — meaning I'd actually be getting paid. I'd already been publishing Lobotomy, the Xerox fanzine I'd created with Randy Kaye and photographer Theresa Kereakes, and writing for Slash magazine and New York Rocker since 1977.
Music editor Bill Bentley brought me on board, as we knew each other from clubs and parties and shared very similar tastes in bands. One night, getting drunk at the Frolic Room, we were talking music and he greenlit my first feature story, “Rockabilly Redux,” on the resurgence of American roots music. He was unaware of my ridiculously poor typing skills and I certainly wasn't about to tell him. I wanted to seem professional. Because high school typing class had been so boring, I'd literally cut every session in favor of going to some friend's house where parents weren't around, getting high while listening to Bowie. It took me an hour to get my first article for the Weekly down in longhand, and then all night to type it on a barely functional, borrowed manual typewriter.
Back then, fax machines didn't exist, so you had to complete your story a few days before it was due if you were mailing it in. Yes, mailing it! I preferred hand delivery. On the due date, I took the bus down Sunset to the Weekly office to turn in my story. I was unsure what to expect from a real newspaper; my only frame of reference came from hard-boiled crime reporters in '50s noir flicks. Located in a rundown two-story house just east of Western Avenue, the Weekly's first office was a hybrid of a bustling hippie commune and a messy art studio, a touch of free clinic with a rebellious punk rock flair bubbling just under the surface.
Instead of sleek corporate furniture, mismatched wooden desks and chairs were flanked by filing cabinets that looked like they'd been scooped up off the street on trash day. Several people ran around with paste-up boards; anyone who sat at a desk was either furiously typing or yelling into a landline phone. Most surfaces were cluttered with stacks of papers, overflowing ashtrays, dirty coffee mugs and typewriters, some of which were as messed up as the one I had. Newsprint proofs were tacked to the walls between unframed rock & roll posters and hand-drawn flyers for local bands.
I began to write for the paper regularly, reviewing albums and live shows, doing more features, and interviewing everyone from horror mogul Forrest J. Ackerman to Malcolm McLaren's New Romantic sensations Bow Wow Wow; from photographer and installation artist Steven Arnold to Maila Nurmi, aka Vampira, to whom The Screamers' Tomata Du Plenty had introduced me.
I also got a handle on the vibe of the office. I had wonderful relationships with all my editors. They each did their job with care and taught me so much about writing. I loved working with Bill Bentley because he cracked me up, and with Mikal Gilmore for his attention to detail and because he brought out the best of me with constructive suggestions for rewrites. I revered Phil Tracy because of his no-nonsense newspaperman persona, which matched my crazy noir-inspired fantasies. He seemed tough as nails but was super nice. I also admired the fact that he kept an emergency bottle of booze in one of his desk drawers, all “oldskool” newspaper man, which was what he was.
Jay Levin was kind of like a wacky father figure to me, too. In 1982, when I was about to be married to rockabilly singer Levi Dexter, Jay asked, “What would you like for a wedding present: money or drugs?” Unsure if he was posing a trick question or being serious, I answered sarcastically, “Both!” And in true '80s fashion, I got both from him, each portion of the two-part present way more generous than I'd ever dreamed in my broke punk-girl existence.
Many staffers were older than I was but they were mostly still young, and it all felt fresh, creative and fun. Lots of musicians and artists worked at the Weekly over the years, among them Craig Lee of The Bags, Don Bolles of The Germs, Suzy Gardner of L7, Falling James of The Leaving Trains [Still with us! —Ed.], Ron Athey, Vaginal Davis, plus members of The Flyboys, The Radio Ranch Straight Shooters, Haunted Garage and my own band, The Screaming Sirens. Many hung out in clubs and bars till the wee hours on a nightly basis, showing up to hand in an article spectacularly hungover or even still high.
In an office full of debauchery, the art department was particularly notorious, glamorous in a fucked-up way and always louche. There'd be cocaine bindles casually tossed into the trash sitting on top of proof pages, and people having Irish coffee as they pasted up the paper at 9 a.m. Every time the door to the art department opened, it was like a cross between the party scene from Breakfast at Tiffany's, a Cheech & Chong film and the playa at Burning Man.
I was certainly no exception to that riotous “All Tomorrow's Parties” lifestyle. Once, I’d lost track of the deadline for a piece that was due, and had taken a couple hits of acid to go see Ken Russell’s film Caligula with some friends. Only after I returned home blazing did I realize the story was due the next morning … so I attempted to write it. I was so high that every time I typed a sentence, it looked like it jumped off the page. I don’t remember finishing it, but somehow I did. The next day editor Phil Tracy called me to tell me he thought it was one of the best things I’d written. Thanks, Aldous Huxley!
My favorite memory of the Weekly is from 1989 and pretty much sums up the wild, laissez-faire attitude that everyone had. A paperback biography called Deviant was published, chronicling the infamous mass murderer and cannibal Ed Gein, whose crimes inspired Psycho, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and The Silence of the Lambs. Gein, who was an avid transvestite and cannibal as well as a crackerjack hunter, murdered women, cut them up and wore their skins over his body while dressing up in in his mother's clothes. He'd also eat parts of his victims and, as a way of disposing of the bodies, he gave the extra flesh to his neighbors, passing it off as “venison,” so they all were eating his victims, too. Everyone at the Weekly was reading Deviant obsessively and simultaneously.
At that moment in time, an extremely expensive and super-trendy French restaurant opened in Los Feliz. The specialty dish was provincial wild game, and venison in particular. When the place got reviewed in the Weekly, some lunatic in the art department inserted the Deviant cover photo of Ed Gein into the review, with the caption reading something like, “This is NOT the chef of ______” — and it actually got published! Decades later, as far as I know, nobody’s ever confessed.
While the old L.A. Weekly had an unruly atmosphere at times, it was also a hub for serious reporters who took their beats very seriously. I had a lot of fun covering L.A.'s underground but I also worked on perfecting my irreverent reportage and taking advantage of the access I had as part of the punk scene. Which was exactly why Jay asked me to start the L.A. Dee Da nightlife column in 1980. Jay gave me free rein on content, and it often got pretty racy. But then, that's what the rock scene was all about. Obsessed as I was with Old Hollywood, in a punk-rock paean to 1940s gossip columnists Hedda Hopper and Louella Parsons, I billed L.A. Dee Da as “the place to dig if you're looking for dirt.” But honestly, if I'd actually spilled everything I knew, I'd have been run out of town. Unlike the loadies in the art department, I preferred to keep my debauchery outside of the office.
My process for producing L.A. Dee Da went like this: I'd go out every night, often to three or more places, scrawling a few notes in eyebrow pencil on a flyer. At the end of the week, I'd pop off a stream-of-consciousness column in my trademark one-fingered hunt 'n' peck. By 1983, I was consumed with booking bands at the Cathay De Grande and getting ready to tour, so Craig Lee joined in, and eventually many others. The column ran for years, into the 1990s. Years after I quit writing it, I consistently got blamed for items that other people wrote!
I miss those late 1970s to early 1990s days sometimes, somewhat out of nostalgia for my youth, of course, but also because it seems as if most of the “alternative” stuff going on was actually alternative. Mainstream media wasn't covering most of the people or events that L.A. Weekly was. On the slim chance a mainstream publication did feature something “alternative,” it usually seemed to come on the heels of a recently published Weekly piece.
My time at the Weekly was way too much fun, and I look back on those days wistfully. It was like a journalistic Wild West under the palm trees of Old Hollywood.