The original punk scene in LA was very small, scruffy, and thoroughly art geeky. When I started going to shows, there was maybe a hard core of 50 or so and maybe another 100-150 hangers on like me. It’s safe to say that all of us had felt out of place for years, if not forever.
I remember the day I decided to cut off the long hair I’d been growing since I got out of high school (okay, there were a few trims along the way, but at its longest it was maybe 6 inches above my belt)… it was a Traffic concert at the Santa Monica Civic in 1973.
There I was, in line, waiting to see one of my favorite bands. A band I thought of as artful and smart… even when they were playing stoner grooves like “Low Spark of High Heeled Boys.”
But as I looked around me, I felt as though I might as well be at a Grand Funk or Deep Purple show. Wherever I looked, there were long haired dooods… I could feel the IQ points ticking away. The next day I arranged to get my hair cut.
It was a long wait, waiting for something to happen. There were glimmers along the way. In 1975 or so I stumbled onto the nascent Hollywood scene. I was shocked to find young people with short hair (Like me! They were like me!) and straight leg jeans. (It hadn’t occurred to me… I hit the thrift store the next day.) I remember seeing a Sparks-like band called The Quick a few times. In some ways they were what would later be called power pop, I suppose, but at the time they seemed almost revolutionary.
Few small venues even booked original music. If you were not in a touring act, you’d better be prepared to spend your time playing Doobie Brothers covers. When my friends and I found even a cover band with a few shreds of personality or originality we cherished them as a few drops of water in a barren desert.
So, when a few signs of life started poking up around 1976-1977, I was practically beside myself. The year before the first (and, for me, only really satisfying) Patti Smith album came out, with its strange blend of arty pub rock and drug poetry lyrics. A Tom Verlaine/Television cassette made its way around. The first singles started coming out of the British punk scene.
At first I didn’t get the Brit scene. When I read about the Pistols, they seemed plastic, like the Monkees. The first time I heard them — on a really crummy portable stereo — it really did sound like noise to me. (And you have to realize that I’d seen Captain Beefheard a couple times by then. We’re not talking about a Loggins and Messina fan, here.) But after I’d heard the first single a few times I decided that, whatever the background of the band, there was something really going on there, no matter how bogus the motivations behind the project or culturally suspect such the media manipulations seemed.
Flash forward a few years.
It’s early fall 1980 and, after I’d predicted the demise of punk as we knew it the year before, it really had looked like it was dying out in LA. Silly me.
By mid-1980, a new suburban punk was then beginning to leave its heavy Doc Marten bootprint on the scene. The result was that most of the early scenesters were gone.
This was nothing like the arty, ultra-boho scene of ’77 and ’78. The new, rapidly expanding scene was made up of dudes, suburban headbangers, their own longhair recently shorn, exuding all the mindless conviction of any new and rabidly fanatical set of converts.
While the LA Times pop music coverage was lucky enough to have a couple of writers at the time who actually got into the scene and participated (Craig Lee, RIP, bro!), much of the paper’s coverage was dominated by a sort of culture-vampire perspective, seemingly slightly revolted by this new music scene — but afraid to look “out of it” or stodgy.
Near the beginning of fall of 1980, the Times’ Sunday entertainment magazine featured a lead photo spread and article on, and I quote, “The Slam” — which was, according to the culture mavens at the TImes, taking the local music scene by storm.
I am absolutely positive that I had never, before that article, ever heard anyone describe what the Brits called “moshing” as “slamming” (people slammed heroin, y’know?) but — hey, there it was in the Times.
And, for awhile, particularly among the newly buzzed and mohawked suburban converts, the term actually stuck.
Which provoked near endless amusement among me and some of my friends… what had once been so fresh and genuine and interesting was now just the latest prepackaged plop on the big conveyor belt of American pop commercial culture.
The original version of The Slam by my band, Machine Dog, didn’t sound much like this acoustic version, below, lemme tell ya.
Went to the Whisky just the other night
did a little dance that I learned in the Times
Beach punk made a grab for my date
smashed by beer bottle right in his face
La La La La La La
Aint it great how the media
regulate your culture — tell you just who you are
10,000 kids and they just found themselves
cause they saw the punk report on the Evening News
La La La La La La
They threw me out on my face but that didn’t phase me
cause The Dance is Art and Art ain’t free
Well, I’m proud to be a Punk and I proved that’s true
when I pogo’ed through the window of the Emergency Room
La La La La La La
(C)1980, TK Major