The Avengers were a San Francisco based punk band in the first wave of American punk.
Penelope Houston, who later turned to folk music making a career out of it, was and still is
the singer for the band, and part of what made the band unique and memorable.
The Avengers got national prominence when they opened for the Sex Pistols in San
Francisco for the Pistols final show at Winterland, January 1978.
The collusion with the Pistols didn't end there, The Avengers 4-song EP was also produced
by Steve Jones of the Pistols. This recording, released in 1979 on White Noise Records
featured the memorable song, "The American in Me," as well as " Uh Oh!," "Corpus Christi,"
and "White Nigger." In addition to Houston, James Wilsey played bass, Danny Furious
played drums, and Greg Ingraham played guitar. Brad Kent played guitar on "Corpus
Christi." An earlier debut 3-song EP on Dangerhouse Records was issued in 1977. A full
album called "The Avengers" was issued in 1981, but by then they had broke up. Penelope
however took a different route in music with an acoustic approach. And has released 11
albums in her own right and undertook successful solo tours of Europe and US.
However in 1999, a compilation of unreleased Avengers tracks and outtakes called "The
Avengers Died For Your Sins" was issued by Lookout! Records. Which give Penelope and
the band the impetus to reform. They played a handful of gigs and rediscovered their punk roots much to
The Avengers have now toured Europe twice, as well as coast to coast tours of the USA and continue
to be a regular gigging unit on punk bills across the Western world.
This profile of Penelope appeared in Search & Destroy #9 published in 1978 at the height of her
original punk era, and gives us an interesting insight into what inspired and influenced a highly talented
punk prime mover.
PENELOPE voice of the AVENGERS, San Francisco's most British New
Wave band, was born December 17th 1957 in an LA housing project.
Parents separated and her mother a teacher of music theory and choral
music, moved the family all over the USA. In Seattle Penelope attended
Fairhaven College at the age of 16, then quit, worked for a while got
depressed, become friends with TOMATA and GEAR of the SCREAMERS
while moving in the local artist/joker/ rockband scene. Starred in VALLEY
RICE's prizewinning short film, NIGHTCAP and acted in HONEYMOON
(featuring an axe murder) and VIRGIL'S VIGILS.
Penelope came to San Francisco in January 1977 to attend the SF Art
Institute. As she put it: "Mine is a classic story, girl with classic art
school background comes to San Francisco, freaks out, does
abstract paintings and joins a rock band." She has a $3000 art school
scholarship waiting for her this fall and if she goes she wants to do
"giant perspective paintings of Japanese superheroes in really bright
Q: Has music changed your life?
A: My main turning point as far as Rock & Roll goes was when I heard
PATTI SMITH'S HORSES - it was the perfect album for me. She was so
right, I agreed with everything she said. I loved her visuals, the way she
sounded. I used to walk around singing Patti Smth songs, and people
would stare at me, hearing these weird lyrics.
I grew up listening to choral music. Bach, Beethoven, madrigals. Never
went to concerts and never could afford to buy records.
Q: Have you ever seen PATTI SMITH live?
A: No, but I've seen 8mm movies of her in these underground parties in
Seattle. She's so great - you don't have to compromise your intelligence to
be attractive, punky, or sexual onstage. People are brainwashed so easily
. . Like I don't want to be a typical punk, I've done it, it's easy. You don't
have to be into either violence OR placidity. I saw that NBC punk special on
"Weekend" - thought it was incredible the way the kids were dancing, but I
also think it's sad - I'm not into self-destruction. I loved the strangle-dance,
thought it was the greatest, but I don't want to give people the idea they can
throw rocks at me and I'll love it!
Q: Do you ever dream of death by fire?
A: No - car accidents more frequently. It's funny that you asked that - I've
been having dreams of death lately...Last night I had this dream that I had a whole new wardrobe of clothes, and I was looking through
them and trying then on. There was a kid who lived in my neighborhood when I was 13 or 14 - I remember suddenly turning around
and seeing him, rushing to the window and striking him with my hand, cutting his face with my fingernails. Blood poured out of his
face - it wasn't that much of a blow to cause such a wound.
Q: Have you been more violent lately?
A: Couple of days ago I was lying in bed trying to sleep. Someone put on the DAMNED really loud - I got really mad and yelled out "You Assholes!" but they didn't respond....I
got up to go to the bathroom but instead headed for the record player and turned the volume OFF - stunned silence in the air - everyone was staring at me....I walked over
and hit __ in the face really hard, yelling something like, "YOU REALLY MAKE ME SICK!" and went into the bathroom. I was surprised 'cause I meant to just get up and turn
the sound down; instead - WHAM!
Q: Do you think creativity and strong emotions are linked?
A: Someone said PATTI SMITH would reach a certain core of creativity and her images would flow out. When I wrote POISON LOVE that was the case. I felt a strong
emotion, felt horrible, wanted to release it somehow. I was watching TV - someone said the word 'poison' and that word clicked in place and all these images came into my
mind about something that's supposed to to be positive like love, really being poison.
My basic feeling is there's a NAIVE part of you that you can come in contact with - I don't like anything that's put on, don't like to think about words rhyming, compromises,
anything artificial. That might sound funny 'cause I have Blue Hair - I'm not against Things artificial, but I'm against carefully studied contrivance. I'm influenced a lot by Patti
Smith, but my lyrics come from me, I wasn't trying to write like her. People always in touch with the naive self are close to being lunatics. Like RQKY ERICKSON really
believes in what he's saying. If someone believes in voodoo, then it's real for them and forces you to believe in it. When ROKY was talking about summoning the Fire Demon,
I wouldn't have been surprised if a Being burst into flames! It was frightening.... I think a lot of artists commit suicide because they come into contact with their naive selves so
much and they can't stand what's there. But contrived naivete is absurd. When I saw Jonathan Richman, I could barely believe in his sincerity.
Q: You've had turquoise hair for several weeks - have
you had hostile reactions?
A: Well, I was on the 15 Kearny Bus heading toward our
studio. It was really crowded with little black kids going to
Hunter's Point. There was no place to sit in front so I sat in the
back. This kid behind me was really talkative: "Man, oh man,
is that your real hair? How'd you get your hair like that?"
(I held my breath, I'm from Mars) Anyway, I explained to him
that my hairdresser decided on the color, explained the
process, etc. real friendly. But as he got off the bus he said,
"Well, mam, if you got blue hair just don't come 'round MY
Q: How do women react to your hair?
A: I think they're sorta jealous, because it's so outrageous.
Some really like it. When I first walked out of VIDAL
SASSOON'S, people just turned around and their mouths
would drop open, their eyes would bug out - they didn't even
pretend to be cool about it - they stared! I walked down
Market Street and went right into this Optometrist that has old
50's glasses; neon lighting....I remember thinking, "Oh, this
is too much...."
Biggest response I had was when I passed a neighborhood
center. The back doors were open, I could see people inside
playing basketball. A little girl was outside playing - when
she saw me she ran into the building - "Hey, you kids!" All
of a sudden there were like 30 little kids, black kids, with
basketballs under their arms, surrounding me! They liked it!
Q: What's your Idea of Fashion?
A: I dress for attention - it's like the crib death syndrome -
babies that don't get handled, they die. However, now that I
have blue hair I don't have to dress up anymore!
I have my own aesthetic of thrift store shopping: I don't know what I like anymore! Now if I look at something and I hate it, I'm attracted to it! I'm into clothes from the sixties -
stripes polka dots, paisleys, but I think I'm into NOT CARING. It used to be I'd go to school and be "perfect fifties" or "late forties" -- I'd have everything down, the gloves, the
purse, the shoes, the makeup like Lucille Ball or Marilyn, but now I don't want to look like that on stage. From the 60's I went Punk - fishnets, ripped-up shirt, burned-up
dress, punk makeup, mini skirts, a lotta black" I still like the 60's, but I'm afraid if I dress 60's people will think we're a nostalgia band. It's easier to dress Punk 'cause you can
be freer. In a recent gig I wore a pink slip strapped under the crotch, and gash-makeup on my throat with blood dripping. Put a swastika on my right cheek for the benefit of
the BERLIN BRATS whom we shared the bill with.
I cut everyone's hair in the band, grease it or put styling gel or whatever I can find to make it stick up.
Q: You're very focused on stage; there's a gleam of possession in your eyes....what does it feel like?
A: I think I AM somewhat possessed. I can never really recall the exact emotions of performing. A lotta times I ask people, "How do I look on stage?" - it's like I can't
remember, I'm not aware. ....You have to forget about the audience. I usually get sorta numb, I can't think about the songs, it's all a big blank, and then I go on stage and
just DO IT! My movements are completely ad lib, I've only been on stage 7 or 8 times. You get used to moving fast on high heels!
Q:How do you get ready for the stage, do you hyperventilate?
A: I get out there and there's this beam of light coming out of the darkness, you can see the front row
but I never look at them, I might get unnerved....eventually I do, I look to see if there's someone
I know. . . .
Q: Does the time go by fast?
A: Yeah, like I'm only up there for a few minutes. The first time I played - I must have been in a state
of shock. I thought, I can't believe it, I'm up here doing it! The hour before I go on stage, I never try
to recall the lyrics, 'cause if I couldn't, I might panic, so I don't even try! They're all there.
Q: Do you improvise?
A: I don't usually. Between lyrics, maybe.
Q: How do you feel right after the stage?
A: Really hyper. I run around and see people: "Oh, I'm so glad you came." People stop and say
(mimics bass voice) "Hey, you gotta real good voice."
Q: What New Wave Bands do you like?
A:I came to San Francisco, saw the RAMONES, CRIME, BLONDIE - but the DICTATORS I hated, like
I hate dogs in the exact same way. The MUMPS moved me, they were the first band since BLONDIE
that looked like they were having fun, not trying to say they're great - not trying too hard - so,
I was thrown onstage, was dancing next to Lance Loud, then he was pulling my hair so when he put
me in a headlock it was sort of a relief! When he threw me offstage I felt sorry for
the girl I fell on top of....We're so new, I really like being new,I think it's great!
Q: Tell us how you lost your virginity.
A: Oh! it was horrible. Oh I was old - I was 17, 2 years ago, had been in college a year.
I had tried and tried and tried, but I couldn't. One day I was real drunk and I tried again, and
it worked! Real good-looking guy. He kept saying, "Come ON! Breathe! Breathe!
Breathe!" All I could think was, "God, I lost my virginity, it's great. I don't have to worry about
it anymore." I'd been on the pill 4 months before I lost it, went off it right after. But it was
great being a virgin for so long, you'd tell people and they'd go, "You're kidding! I can't
believe it! No!"
Drinking was so much better when I was a kid. It was always Southern Comfort, straight
from the bottle. Lots of parties in these big houses, with liberal parents. About 30 kids,
12-16, and at least 10 of them would throw up. I mean they used to get drunk! Now no one
throws up anymore.
There was one girl who was older, she was 18 and experienced. She had a swimming pool
in her back yard, her parents had a large liquor supply. She'd get everyone drunk so she
could fuck the boys. In fact, she fucked my boyfriend before I even thought of it...I like that
song by the SCREAMERS: "Peer pressure, peer pressure, get it from my peers/ Some of
them are straight, some of them are queers!"
(From the PUNK ROCKER archives SEARCH AND DESTROY #9 1978)
(Additional pics from various sources)
For the full Avengers Discography and everything else on PENEL0PE go here....
- RING magazine, March 1976. (Wrestling)
- miniature nude playing cards scattered
- jade bracelets, drumsticks
-silver elbow gloves
-roll of silver my Lar
-hand mirror, 3-inch nail, hammer
-postcards: 8 piglets feeding, apple
penetrated by bullet, etc.
-Japanese Superhero cards: Robo C,
-pink 50' s Sunglaases
-clear perspex shades
-orange plastic sparklegun.
-briefcase signed by Andy Warhol
-"Leave Me Alone" dress
(tan, slashed and pinned)
-prom dresses, strapless, white with
-5 men's suits, prefers striped materials
-assorted fishnet stockings
-2 pairs of black vinyl socks with black
-2 leopard spot coats, plus matching belt,
-3 leather jackets
-MY BOYFRIEND'S A PINHEAD
-IT'S A DRAG
-I WANNA FUCK YOU
-I WANT INTO YOUR HEART