|Bob Thompson Music|
My first punk show was the Dickies: an L.A. band that have twisted, funny songs (“Stukas over Disneyland” and “Killer Clowns from Outer Space”). I was a little too young when punk broke and as a teen I was terrified that I’d go to a concert and be surrounded by people who were cooler or tougher than I was. My punk experiences were listening to the music while driving Mullholland or Ventura Boulevard in Los Angeles. I distinctly remember buying Group Sex by the Circle Jerks at Tower Records on Sunset and listening to it in my car. I felt afraid of them – and especially their fans.
I didn’t see the Dickies until after college. They played a western bar in what I call the “deep valley,” miles from the Eucalyptus-lined neighborhood I grew up which is near CBS Studios. Someone in the front row gave the lead singer the middle finger. He grabbed it, twisted it away in a circular motion, and then hit his cue to start singing again in one motion. It was the best thing I ever saw and it was clear he was well practiced. He also sings with his finger in his ear so he can hear himself. Never saw that either.
The Dickies played their cover of Knights in White Satin, a stately and lugubrious number by The Moody Blues, with totally glib vocals going a million miles an hour. Knights in White Satin was the kind of song I HATED when I was a teenager. I didn’t like anything that wasn’t avant garde or angry – Pere Ubu, Wall of Voodoo, Dead Kennedys, and Devo in particular. My favorite Dickies song is “Where Did His Eye Go” because it is truly absurdist and makes some reference do dismemberment.
He used to be a star of the stage and screen
But now he only sees half of everything
A funny little man with straight black hair
He lost it in an accident but he doesn't care
Where did his eye go
I don’t know
But nothing can stop him now
A few years later I brought my wife to see the Dickies when we were first going out. She is a librarian and was totally down with it. Nobody gets that librarians have wild minds and understand everything. The show was at the Whiskey is where the Germs played, and where X played the night Exene found out that her sister died. John Doe’s reaction was to punch a hole in the wall or through a window, I can’t remember. That night the punk days were long over, the air had no cigarette smoke and the floor was clean. When Darby Crash played the Whiskey he looked like a homeless person eventually and led a nocturnal life as his witchy mother worked all day and left him largely unsupervised. It’s tragic and not what made him great, which were his lyrics (“No God”, “What We Do Is Secret”, “Caught in My Eye”).
Exene: Punk's Poet Laureate
There were a few punk teenagers at the Dickies show dressed in the 1976 London sort of way. I noticed one tall kid with a Mohawk who was dressed to kill. In the middle of the show a place cleared on the dance floor and the poor guy was sitting there crying. I think he fell or got bumped by accident. I thought: look at me and my librarian girlfriend we are totally keeping up and are not crying!
I also saw (20 years late) the Gun Club, led by Jeffrey Lee Pierce, who somehow infused punk with the ethos of blues and roots music. It sounds like it sucks but it doesn’t. The Gun Club made one of the best punk records ever called Fire of Love with songs like “She’s like heroin to me” (real rump shaker) and Black Train (which sounds like a locomotive and evokes riding the rails in the Deep South).
Before Gun Club the show I was close to the stage and the floor was mostly empty. I think a band started playing and this rather masculine woman in a white T-shirt and buzzed hair came flying across the room and elbowed me. I’d never seen slam dancing by yourself nor been hit by a girl. The floor was huge there was no way she’d wind up at my shoulder by accident. Later on three girls who were very primped and had drinks with straws in them were flirting with me or making fun of me. I couldn’t tell. I was like Valley Girl.
I went alone to see the Gun Club show and what appeared to be a solitary man next to me muttered to himself, and after a LOUD number: “C’mon Jeffrey, get sensitive.” It was a great moment. Jeffery does have a sensitive side. Mother of Earth is a great country song. I made a video for it:
By the end of the show Jeffery climbed a speaker, lied down, and screamed into the mic. I left at that point as religious as I am about him. I felt spent.
I was never a punk but only in my own mind and heart. I came from a background that had nothing to do with “authentic punk”. While the Go-Go, Jeffery Lee Pierce, X, and the Screamers were making great music at the Masque in Hollywood, I was sound asleep in my bed, a few miles away near Mullholland, in a house financed by bank and beer commercial music. Not very punk.
Belinda and other Masque regulars.
I ate a lot of burritos at various places in LA in the 90s, and would always would grab the LA Weekly as reading material. How many times did various writers say: “I saw X when I was sixteen.” OK already! You were there and you are so cool! I was able to see X (finally!) when I was around 40 – for the first time! – and was about three feet from Billy Zoom’s guitar. Better late than never.
Spenser Thompson shares anecdotes, music, and videos from Bob Thompson's music career plus thoughts on artists from Duke to Devo.