We Got the Neutron Bomb
The Untold Story of L.A. Punk
by Marc Spitz and Brendan Mullen
(Three Rivers Press) 2001
The "oral history" has become de rigueur for chronicles of the
punk movement since Please Kill Me. Authors Marc Spitz (a former
scenester) and Brendan Mullen (proprietor of the gestational
Masque club) take up this format and begin with the late '60s and
Jim Morrison as L.A.'s prototype punk, quoting the Lizard King from
the Doors' first Electra bio: "I've always been attracted to ideas that
were about revolt against authority. I like ideas about the breaking
away or overthrowing of established order. I am interested in
anything about revolt, disorder, chaos--especially activity that
seems to have no meaning."
The '60s gave way to the '70s and things got weirder. The advent
of space-gun bands like Zolar-X, and an all-ages Hollywood version
of glitter rock, found freakazoid Svengali Kim Fowley (who provides
outrageous quotes throughout) and impresario Rodney
Bingenheimer overseeing and masterminding the festivities. Iggy
moves to L.A. and gets strung out, Fowley puts the Runaways
together, and Bingenheimer lands his most famous job as deejay
on KROQ and starts playing the punk rock.
Fanzines like Slash, Flipside, and Lobotomy document the scene,
and bands like the Screamers, the Weirdos (whose song title
named this book), the Germs, X, and Black Flag become definitive
L.A. punk bands, though their musical approaches vary wildly. There
is the usual carefree recklessness--until people start getting hurt (and killed) by bad habits, cops, out-of-control
cars, and Hillside Stranglers. The Masque "was like heaven and hell all rolled into one...
You could always go there... it was like the clubhouse. It was like a bomb shelter, a basement, all these weird rooms,
stairways going up to a cement ceiling ... such a dive, but it was our dive" (Hellin Killer).
Darkness was gathering, though. The Germs--a band that started off as more of a goofy "concept"--grew in
reputation and "skills" as their frontman morphed from the innocuous "Bobby Pyn" to the fated "Darby Crash." Kim
Fowley describes the band thusly: "You get a donkey and you get a baboon and you feed 'em a diet of chili and
custard for 30 days and then you get 'em to fuck. Their children would be the Germs." The Germs' pastimes of
getting fucked up and fucking with people's minds intensified. Darby's unquestioned brilliance and spooky influence
started to attract hangers-on--and the ultraviolent element from Huntington Beach, spearheaded by T.S.O.L.'s Jack
Grisham, who led a gang of thugs known as "Vicious Circle." The end days of the original, coed,
artistically-influenced punk scene are documented by filmmaker Penelope Spheeris in The Decline of Western
Civilization, just before "hardcore" took over and mass brawling became the norm. (This book exposes some "tricks"
Spheeris used to get the sensationalism she was after, by the way.)
Though nobody was actually surprised, Darby's intentional OD on December 7, 1980, devastated those who'd
known him. L.A. punk went on in its various forms, but Darby and the Germs had left their nihilistic mark, and
despite groups like the Better Youth Organization--formed to counter the violence and self-destructive idiocy that
were taking over--the street scene got increasingly ugly while bands like X and the Go-Go's went on to see some
modicum of mainstream success. Many of the bands involved in the early scene have achieved various levels of
mythic underground status. We Got the Neutron Bomb reveals the personalities and the passionate persuasions
that stirred this tempestuous teapot--and doesn't flinch.
Christeen Aebi 2003 (Reprinted from Backfire Magazine)
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