Rare op to read TRUE history of early punk as seen though “the girl with the camera eye,” Jenny Lens. I met David Jones through someone at Virgin Sound and Vision when I was a consultant for their E3 booth. He and I often looked through my boxes of prints, while regaling each other with wonderful details. I pulled out a few photos as he interviewed me and David Travis video’ed me. I’ve corrected some factual errors and made a few new comments, but 98% of this is from his transcription. Many, many thanks for the transcription.
All right, we’re here with Jenny Lens…So Jenny, where’d you grow up?
I grew up in Northridge, in the San Fernando Valley. I was born in Good Samaritan Hospital in L.A., when we lived in West LA. When I was five we moved to Canoga Park and at seven Northridge. I was living in Granada Hills when I discovered punk.
Were you into music when you were a kid?
No, although I loved the Beatles. I went to the Beatles at Hollywood Bowl — I wish I’d kept the ticket stub — I was 13 or 14 and didn’t drive. My parents had a big hissy fit, and I had to take a bunch of buses, but I did go. Which was really amazing as I was so obedient, the really good student and daughter, but no way was I gonna miss the Fab Four! But here was the disappointing thing: I’m surrounded by girls who were screaming and I had a very early reel to reel with these teeny little tapes, the box was huge (and I wish I had it!). I brought it into the Bowl and I taped the show, but all it was “aaaah!” [screaming girls]. I wanted to hear them, not screaming girls. That was the rock last show I saw for years.
And then I saw Joni Mitchell probably when I was about 18 or so. I still didn’t drive and had to take a series of buses. She was at the Greek Theater in a bad mood with Crosby, Stills, and Nash and they were trying to cheer her up. I spent my time and money — I don’t care if she’s in a good mood or not — put on a show! Music should elevate the performer as well as the audience. So I didn’t go to many live shows, because the few that I did were just not good experiences. But I loved the British invasion, hate Motown, hate Surf music, because I resented all the skinny tanned Valley girls with the blond hair and who would go off surfing while I was busy studying and doing my homework. I hated them because they just thought they were so much better than I, so Beach Boys and Jan and Dean and all that stuff could go to hell, and Motown I hate! And R&B I hate! But I loved the whole (I hate to use the generic term) hippie revolution: Jefferson Airplane, “Don’t You Need Somebody to Love” and “White Rabbit” cos I loved dropping acid and all that, and Janis Joplin was the best! So the San Francisco and British invasion of the 60s I loved. The other stuff was crap.
Did you like the American or L.A. bands like Zappa or the Doors?
The Doors are the one band I wish I had seen. I didn’t drive in high school and I had a friend who always went to Pandora’s Box or see the Doors at the Whisky. She’d always tell me about it on Mondays, and I always wished that I could have gone with her on Friday or Saturday. The Turtles played at our school and the Doors played at Cleveland High and I was so jealous they got to hear the Doors. Absolutely, they are definitely the most important band of that era and still so great! I saw Zappa at UCLA when I was in college cos some of the guys who were in my wood design classes loved him, but I didn’t get it at all.
Did you like the Seeds at all?
Only “Pushin’ Too Hard.” Early Beatles, the Stones, the Who, Jefferson Airplane, the Doors, Janis Joplin and later Creedence Clearwater were my faves. A major theme among them is: anger at times, and just emotion, passion. The early Beatles, like “Meet the Beatles,” was not angry, but it had passion, feeling, honesty, originality, and a lot of integrity. Plus a beat and you could dance to it and let’s face it, they were cute and I was a very lonely, shy lusty girl. And that always surprised people in high school because sometimes I would just start singing a song and they’d respond with “I didn’t know you listened to rock n’ roll.” People never see me as who I am and I think that’s also a common thing in punk. I was listening to lyrics of the Ramones, reading and printing lyrics from the internet. “You know I’m an outsider,” and that was what a lot of people felt in punk . . . so I related to the musicians who weren’t the popular Beach Boys surf bunny thing, who Lenny Kaye paid tribute to in “Nuggets” Later the world found out Brian Wilson was very tormented and his songs were his escapist fantasy, but never mine. He very much felt like an outsider, but that wasn’t real apparent in “Let’s All Go Surfin’ Now” and only added to my pain, being fat with dark curly hair when the style was skinny and long blonde hair.
Did you get into . . . did you like Iggy?
No, was Iggy on the radio? There were a couple of FM radio stations that played albums. They played all of “Quadrophenia.” They’d play all of “Tommy.” I didn’t really listen to the music that much because even then the radio was very programmed and repetitive. So I didn’t know anything about Iggy. Here’s the irony: I knew very little about rock n’ roll, and nothing about rock n’ roll magazines. I never went to rock n’ roll shows and I became a photographer. When I was in college I listened to two artists: Joni Mitchell and Stephen Sondheim. Sondheim is a fabulous yet underrated Broadway songwriter/composer with hardcore fans.
Recently he had a revival of “Follies,” which I saw when a small handful of people saw it in the 70’s in L.A.; very few people saw it in New York. A “Follies” revival was staged spring 2001, around 30 years later, but truncated because it’s far to expensive to ever mount the version I saw. “Assassins”, a brilliant, powerful work was finally going to be on Broadway but cancelled after 9/11. That’s unfortunate because Sondheim wrote eloquently about the kind of people who kill presidents whose behavior is not so different than those who use commercial jets to destroy the tallest buildings in America. His characters from our history are also outsiders. “Into the Woods” stands with my fave punk albums. An amazing Broadway show, which only gets better upon repeated listenings. I learn so much – going “into the woods” is all about rites of passage, of change and growth, and very punk and insightful, so beautiful, so wise and witty.
Spin decided 2001 was the 25th year of punk. I really didn’t listen to rock other than my album back when I discovered punk. I could understand the lyrics in Broadway musicals and in some rock but not rap. I’m a very visual person and I need to hear the words, see movies and paintings and stories in my head. I wasn’t getting that from rock ‘n’ roll cos it was pretentious crap. I could understand a lot of the words in punk and they were very visual and relevant to me. People are rediscovering Sondheim, genuflecting for Joni Mitchell, and now even the Ramones and Talking Heads are part of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame. I enjoyed peripheral entertainers who are now embraced.
So you were going to college in the early 70’s?
Studied art at Cal State Northridge when I was 17 in 1968, got a BA in Art with Honors in 1972. I began my Master’s there, but they didn’t offer a MFA, just a MA, and I wanted to teach at a university, which requires a MFA, so I transferred in 1973.
Tell me about your MFA . . .
Master of Fine Arts in Design from Cal Arts, the Disney school in Valencia. I was getting my MFA in Design when Iggy was playing the Hollywood Palladium, October 1974. I was totally focused on my Master’s project for a year and half, working on my art at home and not going out, so I had no idea what was going on. Plus I have a huge library of movie history books. I love old movies so if I left my home it was to see and old Garbo or Dietrich film or Busby Berkeley. Now I can get it on cable or dish, but I couldn’t then. This is really important: I never, ever studied photography nor photographers. I never read rock mags til I discovered Patti when I was 25.
So then what got you into music?
Patti Smith. “People” magazine had its 25 most intriguing people issue. There was a picture of this androgynous looking woman with a white man’s shirt, and a loose skinny black tie, fist in the air, reading outside in public. It was a paparazzi picture — it wasn’t the well known Robert Mapplethorpe cover. She mentioned Rimbaud, (“Go Rimbaud, go Rimbaud”), a Symbolist poet. The only art covered in art history was endless studies of the Greeks, Romans, and European churches (boring!), so I avidly collected books and read art history on my own. The camera liberated artists and it’s no coincidence my favorite movements came after its invention. I studied a huge litany of various art movements from the 1870’s to the present time. Study of the mind with Freud, Jung and others, the theater, literature, the stage and later the movies influenced artists and out of it came my faves: Surrealism, Symbolism, and German Expressionism. I thought, “I’ve got to check out any rock ‘n’’ roller that knows about a Symbolist poet of from the 19th century.”
I bought Patti’s first release, “Horses,” at the end of ’75. I was listening to it her saying, “Jesus died for somebody’s sins, but not mine, they belong to me.” I stopped what I was doing ‘cause I was in a different room, and I played it again and I shouted, “Oh my god!” I’m very much into personal responsibility: that you have to live your own life on your own terms and no one absolves you of your actions and its consequences. I think most of the problems in this world have to do with the belief you can do anything you want, go to a few confessions, say a few Hail Marys and it’s fine. Go to any church, listen to the preacher, put a few dollars in and you’re fine. That’s ridiculous. You need to know that what you do (are you listening, George W?) to the environment today affects tomorrow and pisses people off in every other country in the world, and that you have a responsibility to do the best you can. Be aware of what you can change or make better and if there’s nothing you can do about it, don’t fret, move on.
I loved how Patti took ownership of her life and her sins — that defined punk. My high school teacher told us the definition of liberty was doing anything you want as long as it doesn’t infringe on the liberty of someone else. So I really liked that, and I thought that was real thought provoking and needed to be said.
All of “Horses” was just so visual and visceral. Later I found out she worked in a bookstore in Greenwich Village, and I’m sure she looked through a lot of the same art books that I studied. The reference of horse’s feet in flames reminds me of a painting by Walter Crane, with horse’s feet metamorphosing into the ocean waves. Her songs were so visual, like “Kimberly.” I knew she’d had a baby, although I hadn’t read or heard anything about it at the time. It was very passionate and deeply felt. Later I found out she had a baby she gave up for adoption. The whole music was really spare, and you could hear the words coming out of her beating heart, and it just wasn’t this predictable same old same old pretentious crap. I’ve been reading what Joey Ramone said about progressive rock and his reaction was the same as mine and the earliest punk rockers. Current popular rock was just not relevant nor fun, controlled by an industry and performed by people who turned their backs on roots rock and its fun, energy, ideals, and passion.
I started picking up “Creem” and “Rock Scene” and reading everything I could about punk. I subscribed to “Punk Magazine” and “New York Rocker” and obsessively read and re-read them, although I looked at the photos more than the stories. I did this the whole time I was doing rock ‘n’ roll. I read the British newspapers: “NME,” “Melody Maker” and spent a huge amount of time reading to find out what was going on. I never had time nor money to really listen to a lot of music – I rather read about it. I’m so visual, what can I say? I have boxes and boxes of magazines and articles from 1976 on. I got the “Ramones” album in the spring of i76 when it was released (and really loved it). It’s right out of American Bandstand: it had to beat you could dance to. Plus it was funnier than anything Iid ever heard. What more do you want from rock ini roll, you know?
I was in the front of the line to see the Ramones debut at the Roxy in LA. I’d been going to see Ray Manzarek, (he had a band called “Night City” and saw them at the Troubadour) and saw some of the fans who’d been going to the same shows as I. They too were standing at the beginning of the line. We were waiting and waiting for the Ramones, and sat up really close. The Flamin’ Groovies played with them (I can’t remember if they opened for the Flamin’ Groovies, or the Groovies opened for the Ramones). One of the girls said, “We’re going to the Sunset Marquis because that’s where the Groovies are staying. Do you want to come along?” Well, I didn’t care about the Groovies, but I’m like, “Sure, it’s 2 in the morning, what else am I gonna do?” Sitting in the lobby and the Ramones walked in and I could’ve fallen off my chair. “Oh my God, that’s the Ramones!” Danny Fields, their manager, recognized us ’cause I had this black t-shirt with a white dragon on it and I’d been sitting right up front, and he said, “You want to come on up?” Yeah! So I’m hanging out with the Ramones in their hotel room. My whole life was changed.
I followed them around: I saw all their Roxy shows, then I went down to the Huntington Beach to the Golden Bear. I photographed them up in San Francisco. I have pictures of Joey leaning up against my car. I found this one where he’s actually in a laundromat holding a bottle of bleach. He’’s standing next to this double-decker laundry thing, you know, he’s as tall as it is. I shot him in the swimming pool and lying out by the pool with Dee Dee and other places. I just photographed them like crazy, and it was just fun, and they was accessible. We got in backstage; and that’s where I met Brian Tristan, who later became Kid Congo, who later played in the Cramps and his own bands. Brian had always been a hard-core fan. And Hellin, Trudie and Mary Rat, dancing in the proof sheets from the Golden Bear Ramones’ show before I knew them, but they were the only ones dancing up a storm. You can see this beginning phase where people were wearing bellbottoms and they were still in the ’70’s clothes. They hadn’t quite changed over to straight legs and the street fashion that changed so quickly and radically. This was August ’76, and by beginning ’77 the fashions had really changed. [Although Jenny’s photos indicate Hellin is as hardcore as ever with a short haircut, dyed black, and a shirt with iron-on letters that reads: “Who the Fuck are the Ramones?” David Jones.]
In ’76 at the Patti Smith concert, was that where you decided to become a photographer or [had] you decided to become a photographer before?
Okay, it has to do with Dee Dee Ramone’s cheekbones. I first met Donna Santisi at Patti’s show and Donna was taking photos. I saw her and asked if she were going to shoot the Ramones. I said, “Dee Dee Ramone, take pictures of Dee Dee Ramone. He has great cheekbones.” But I don’t think his cheekbones turned her on. Only Pleasant Gehman and I are mad for high cheekbones on men!
I purchased a camera because I needed to photograph my art for my portfolio (it was a gift from my parents when I got my BA), but never understood how to use it. I went to Hooper Camera in Granada Hills on Devonshire and I said going to this rock ‘n’ roll show. I don’t know how to put the film in. I don’t know what film to use. I don”t know what exposure to use. The guy put the film in, told me to focus and push a button. I didn’t use a flash because I thought it was rude. The first night I saw Richard Creamer, the late photographer, who was shooting them up close with flashes in their faces. I just thought that was really rude. You’re performing and you get these flashes in your face. So when I met Danny that first night I said that I didn’t want to take pictures with the flash, and he responded, “Oh shoot it, they love it, don’t worry about it.” So my first shots don’t have flash but then from then on they do, except in places where I couldn’t use flash. But my camera at the time (I didn’t realize it when I first got it) over-exposed images, making them too light, so I have a lot of pictures that haven’t been usable, especially slides. I can scan them in and work with them on the computer but magazines and record companies want slides and prints for the most part. So many pictures that are kind of iffy because of that camera. But I took so much that I got a enough good shots here and there.
You said the reason you became a photographer was because…
I wanted to photograph Dee Dee Ramone’s cheekbones. I had been going to the record swap meet at Columbia because I was looking for an Elliot Murphy album with a song about Patti Smith. I couldn’t find it at Licorice Pizza and an employee turned me onto the record swap meet. That was in the early part of 1976. That’s where I met the “Back Door Man” people. I photographed Martha from the Motels at the Starwood (sometime between the Ramones in August 1976 and Patti Smith in November 1976). Phast Phreddie, “BDM’s” great publisher and incredible music historian, said, “I’d like to use one of your pictures. ”What? I just photographed her, I have no idea what I’m doing. You haven’t seen anything, yet you want to use one of my pictures for “Back Door Man? So, okay, fine.” That’s when I started taking more pictures and started submitting them to the first fanzines.
Patti returned in November of ’76 and performed in San Diego. We weren’t allowed to bring in our cameras. Her late brother, Todd, was standing by and I said, “Would you just take my camera bag in?” He had seen me around and knew I knew her. Donna Santisi was standing next to me, so we both gave our camera bags to Todd. We went backstage to get the bags and we took pictures. I saw Patti on August 9, 2001, after her sound check at the Roxy. She came out and hugged me, telling me she dares other photographers to take better pictures than I did in San Diego. I took 2 shots of her kneeling on the floor, her guitar glowing. Another favorite of her is a backbend, taken at the Roxy prior to her falling off the stage in Florida, where she broke her back. The reason the 2 photos glow is due to my camera over-exposing images and I developed my film incorrectly. I ruined tons of shots but got 2 classic ones instead.
I started sending my photos to “New York Rocker “and they wanted a report from L.A. showcasing my photos. Then I started sending photos to “Creem.” By the beginning of 1977, punk was alive and well in LA and I shot tons of photos.
Blondie opened for Tom Petty in February of ‘77 at the Whisky. The following week Blondie opened for the Ramones. Debbie Harry called me a paparazzi (I didn’t know what that meant) and encouraged me to shot and send my pix to mags. They performed during the week of Valentine’s Day, ‘cause I have pictures of Debbie holding a big heart shaped box of candy that a fan gave her. She had these big green sunglasses, the kind you get that at tourist shops on Hollywood Boulevard, sitting on the top of her head. Blondie was so much fun in those days! Debbie was so adorable and danced around the stage. The music was so much fun that we just bounced up and down with Debbie. Pop cultural references mixed with New York street edginess was never better! Blondie went on tour with Iggy (the “Idiot” tour with David Bowie playing the piano). I met Debbie again when they played at the Santa Monica Civic in April and she gushed, “I’m proud of you, your photos are getting published.” I had been sending photos to” New York Rocker” before I met her, but they were just getting printed, although “Back Door Man” first used my work. I started in the fall of ‘76 and by spring of ‘77, lots were being published. No money, but they were getting published.
You mentioned something really interesting — that the Roxy had seats and no dancing.
The Roxy, begun by record company biggie/hit producer Lou Adler, began as a theater and debuted with “Rocky Horror Show.” The Roxy was the music industry showcase, and god forbid publicists, reporters, radio people, record store employees, A & R, top record company personnel, performers and their pals had to stand during a show! The Roxy was never about the fans. I stood in line to see Patti Smith in January 1976 and I was a little bit east of the marquee. Other people arrived as the doors were opening and walked in ahead of me. I stood there thinking, “I’ve got to figure out a way to do this so that I don’t have to stand in line for hours and be able to see the show.” I don’t know if I were planting the seed to be a photographer, but it was just something — “I have to figure this out.” It was hard to see Patti on the stage because I didn’t have a good seat by the time I got in. That’s why I was first in line for the Ramones — I showed up at five or something ridiculously early. The doors open at eight or nine but if I got there at five I’d be up front. The only time I remember dancing at the Roxy was for the B-52’s and I was dancing to “Rock Lobster” and my all-time fave, “Planet Claire,” with Tomata du Plenty, the great, late Screamers singer. Otherwise the Roxy had seats because they made money from drinks and food, whereas the Whisky always had a floor. They had permanent seats in the back, both on the floor and upstairs, but they always had a dance floor. I usually stood on the stairs, if not on the floor, while dancing and taking photos. I didn’t like the Roxy because it was almost impossible to get great shots and what’s the point if I can’t dance? I have never understood people sitting at rock shows!
So you met Hellin and Trudie at the Ramones?
I first shot Hellin, Trudie and Mary Rat at the Golden Bear Ramones show in August, 1976. They were tight with the “Back Door Man” staff, ‘cos they lived in Palos Verdes and most of BDM lived in Carson, both South Bay communities. I had a birthday party for Phast Phreddie around Halloween ’76 in the little house I rented in the valley. They drove all the way from the South Bay to listen to punk and to dance. I came across proof sheets with Brian Tristan, looking very Patti Smith with the white man’s shirt and skinny tie and Hellin, Trudie and the “Back Door Man” people such as DD Faye, Don Waller, Phreddie, his girlfriend at that time, Audrey, and I guess Gregg Turner, but I don’t remember what he looks like. They knew each other through the Glitter era and the Sugar Shack. They knew the Runaways and hung out with them, so they were the real first core people. They brought Ron Ashton, from Iggy’s Stooges and I didn’t even know who Iggy was! I have a picture of him kissing my poster of Patti Smith. This is right before Ron Ashton went back to Detroit to form “New Order.” I have photos of him in his Nazi clothes and memorabilia. I moved to the city in the beginning of ’77, so no more parties at my home. I was falling asleep driving home from Hollywood.
Wow. You knew Mary Rat too?
She hung out with Hellin and Trudie. I have a shot of Mary at a party wearing shades when very few people wore shades indoors at night, safety pins, chains and close cropped hair. Mary was always appeared very cool and aloof.
What were they like? What were all of them like?
I never had a lot of friends. I always felt really out of step with everybody. To be interested in musical theater and Joni Mitchell wasn’t real popular in L.A. in the ‘70’s among my fellow art students, although Joni was a huge superstar then, but she didn’t tour often. I’m very creative and can make almost anything out of anything. My teachers put my work into art shows and it was always very easy and fun for me. Later I found out other art students were jealous of me. I was shocked and saddened by that because I tried to have friends. They resented my independence yet I was so lonely. Didn’t stop me — I went to movies, musical theater, art exhibits and later rock shows by myself and had fun.
Everybody in the punk scene was accessible. I could talk to them. I could photograph them. And we would just say, “Oh, the Ramones…they’re really great, or what’d you think of this song? Or where’s the next party? Or when is Patti coming back to town?” We always talked about rock n’ roll, but we really didn’t talk a lot. We just showed up, danced, and had fun. Hellin, Trudie, Mary, Pleasant and others looked great. I just took pictures. They were hardcore about the music scene and fashion. I took so many photos because everyone looked so incredible, so creative, and were paintings come to life. The men and the women were just so unusual and certainly Trudie and Hellin took that to the extreme. They had incredible sense of style. They did their thrift store shopping, and they were just dedicated followers of fashion, but it was their own fashion, which was really cool . . . and they were party girls. They were just at all the shows and all the parties and stood out because nobody looked like them. Nobody was doing what they were doing.
What was Brian Tristan like?
He was real accessible and really sweet. He was so enthusiastic about the music. He told me that he’d been dancing in his crib when he was a baby and he always liked music. He loved the Ramones. The Ramones always attracted young people. Is it their comic, cartoon sensibility? They had a lot of young fans. Patti Smith had a bit of an older, literary, arty crowd. They read her articles and poetry in “Creem.”
What about Tomata, did you meet him too at that time?
That is such a great story. I love this. The spring of ‘77 was just when things exploded. I met Tomata and Tommy Gear either January or February ‘77. I was upstairs at the Whisky, camera around my neck, and these two guys were sitting there with spiky hair when nobody in America was wearing spiky hair except Richard Hell in New York. I had never heard of them or seen them before. Tomata stood up and said (in his deep, gravely, wonderful voice), “o-o-oh, Jenny, I’m Tomata. Dee Dee Ramone told me all about you. I’m really glad to meet you.” And I’m like, “Somebody’s glad to meet me? Dee Dee Ramone told you about me in New York? Wow!” I went to Little Tokyo with Tomata, Joey and Arturo Vega because I had a big blue Chrysler New Yorker that carried a lot of people. A resulting shot of Joey in Little Tokyo standing next to a Japanese transformer robot as tall as him was in a Ramones Rhino boxed set and his obit in the July, 2001 Spin.
So you were hangin’ out with all them…
We were down in Huntington Beach and the Ramones road crew needed to repair Johnny’s broken guitar in Hollywood, and I let a roadie borrow my car (which he drove with the emergency brake on!). I drove them around, we hung out together and I have pictures of them eating at a counter somewhere. And a picture of Dee Dee Ramone in the bathtub - not X-rated, I’m a nice Jewish girl. I didn’t take those kind of pictures, but just hung out with them.
Did you know Rodney back then?
I was in graduate school during Rodney’s English Disco era. That’s where Hellin, Trudie, Joan Jett and Cherie Currie hung out. Rodney’s Disco was gone by the time I was there. I first ran into him when there were very early punk shows at places like the Bel Air Hotel, near the San Diego freeway at Sunset. Also something downstairs at a place near La Cienega and San Vincente (where I shot Zolar X, but threw out the negs). You’d have to be blind to miss Rodney (or not been on the scene) ‘cause he DJ’d at the Starwood and I ran onto the dance floor when he played X’s” Johnny Hit and Run Paulene”. Otherwise I didn’t hang out on that dance floor because I preferred the main floor with the live acts. I went to Rodney on the ROQ with the Ramones, and later Sham 69. I have lots of pictures of Rodney just here, there and everywhere. Rodney wasn’t much of a conversationalist except, “It’s all happening. This is great, oh, who’s that cute girl over there? Do you know when the next party is?” That’s what we all talked about (plus where to get drugs, or which drug we each preferred, but I don’t think Rodney was into drinking or drugs). Debbie Harry showed up at a party and the first thing she said was “Where’s the drugs?” Sex ‘n’ drugs ‘n’ rock ‘n’ roll.
Did you see that first Damned show? Did you see the Germs there too?
I took a shot of Captain Sensible at the Starwood that is infamous. He’s totally nude, wearing only his bass. I gave it to their manager, Jake Riviera, who also managed Elvis Costello. Rough Trade made it into a button and someone made a fortune off of it. Not me! A similar situation to Gary Panter’s Screamers picture, you know the one that in the public domain by usage, not permission.
Captain Sensible told me that they’d had a review in the “Herald Examiner” that the first night wasn’t anything to write home about. This is punk? So what’s the big deal? Captain Sensible told me the beginning of the second night, “I’m gonna do something, watch me. I’m gonna do something, we’re gonna get in the paper.” And so I’m standing on a chair — I wish I had that metal case that I didn’t get that ‘til after the Pistols, ‘til after ‘78 probably summer or something. So I’m standing in the chair over by Brian James, their guitarist, and Captain Sensible was audience left or stage right and I’m looking in my camera and see him stripping. I jumped off the chair, grabbed it, dragged it across the floor, got back up on the chair and took a picture of him wearing no clothes.
April of ‘77 and Blondie opened for Iggy. I purchased an Iggy t-shirt and I wore it to the Damned show a few nights later. I was backstage and the Damned wanted to be really outrageous so Captain Sensible tried to take my Iggy t-shirt off in front of a crowd of people. I don’t wear a bra and no way was this group going to see my breasts. So I’m holding on to my t-shirt all the seams got pulled apart. I couldn’t wear it again ‘cause it was just short of being ripped, which would be punk but would fall apart with a few washes. I don’t stay mad at people. I think I’m a good sport but I don’t know if others think so because at the time I got really mad. I wasn’t real happy about that, I was just backstage taking pictures and I don’t think I did anything to provoke them. I have great shots of the Damned at Bomp Records and a great party at the Screamer’s house. I didn’t know it at the time but the Damned were sleeping on the Wilton Hilton’s floor.
Sometimes I wish that I had given my photos to more people like X to use in their projects. Sometimes they couldn’t get a hold of me and they needed pictures. But the people that I did give the photos to, many as a courtesy, were later used for their profit, no credit or money to me.
The Germs: that’s the saddest story of my life . . . [fake crying] Okay, I have pictures of that, almost but not quite . . . I didn’t realize that the Germs were gonna play. I shot the Weirdos at Bomp Records on April 16 ,1977, maybe the first time they were ever photographed. Pleasant was with Darby and dared them to talk to the Weirdos and get on the bill. If they were a band, they should play. But I didn’t know this until you told me that recently. I know the Weirdos were scheduled and I lived 20 feet from the Orpheum. The theater was on Sunset Boulevard right next to where Book Soup is, right across from Tower Records. There’s a big office building on the corner of Sunset and Palm now, but there used to be bar on the corner and a teeny 8-unit, two story building just south of it. I lived in an upstairs apartment facing the alley. I was always early to shows and parties, but I just missed the Germs because I didn’t know they were playing. They played for 30 seconds or 3 minutes or whatever. I photographed Captain Sensible of the Damned jamming with the Weirdos. That was my big picture of the evening. I just discovered a shot of Captain Sensible, Dave Vanian, the Damned singer, Jake Riviera, their manager and Brian James, their guitarist, sitting in the audience. I wonder where their drummer Rat Scabies was. But it verifies the rumor the Damned showed up, not just Captain.
Did you see the Zeros that night too or did you miss them?
Yes. One of them is wearing a Punk magazine t-shirt.
Did you know the Germs before that? Did you know Pat and [Lorna]?
Yes, we all hung out together. Pleasant called me up one night and said, “Slash magazine needs some pictures of the Germs. Meet me in 10 minutes on Sunset Boulevard.” That became their first official photo shoot. I shot Darby sitting in the street gutter, covered with safety pins all over his pants when nobody was wearing those many safety pins. The torn knees were obviously due to Joey Ramone’s influence (perhaps in homage to him). The torn t-shirt has Germs written all over it and he called himself Bobby Pyn. Rhino used the gutter shot in the “We’re Desperate,” part of the D.I.Y. series. Lorna sat in the trash container right outside the Roxy on Sunset. Slash Records stretched it to fit the Germs CD package and distorted her body.
I have pictures of Pat Smear at Bomp Records, which I think opened in March, 1977. I knew all of them prior to the shots. We saw each other at shows and parties. We were all just having fun. That was the neat thing about punk. You’re standing next to somebody in the audience. Maybe a month or two or three later, they were on the stage. Or participating in the scene. I became a photographer. Connie Clarksville, unknown to me at the time, was a hairdresser who did a lot of the hairdos of Belinda, Jane Weidlin, Mary Rat and Hellin Killer. I’m a do-it-yourself person and fried my dark curly hair the first time I bleached it and dyed it cyclamen shocking pink magenta purple. Connie might have colored my hair but I didn’t even know to ask her. Later she opened her own hair salon. People wrote songs, became a roadie, a performer, stylist, manger or whatever. We all hung out together, never dreaming the influence and importance they’d have later as the Germs and the Go-Gos. But we certainly believed it was possible!
How did you meet Pleasant?
I first photographed Pleasant at the party the Screamers threw for Blondie and the Ramones in February, 1977, but didn’t talk to her. I was unbelievably shy and quiet in those days. People don’t believe me when I say that, but my parents were always afraid I’d be the loneliest girl on the planet cos I was so shy. I talked to Pleasant while at Bomp Records a month or so later. I have an outstanding issue with Greg Shaw or his ex-wife, Susie, the founders of Bomp magazine, records and the store. They used my photos, won’t return them and won’t pay me. My Weirdos photo is in “We’re Desperate” part of the Rhino D.I.Y. releases and it says Courtesy Bomp. Courtesy Bomp nothing, it’s my photo. The graphics designer at Rhino thought it looked like a Jenny Lens picture and didn’t know if I had a print, so she made another print and made certain that I got paid for it. She felt badly that she didn’t discover it until after the layout was done. I wrote to Greg, and Susie wrote back saying Greg had been ill and to leave him alone. Greg got well and I still haven’t been paid or gotten my photos back. Both the “LA Weekly” and “New Times” wrote big praises about Bomp, Greg and Susie for having survived 25 or 30 years (yeah, by cheating people!). I wrote to both publications and they wouldn’t print my letter. I said, “You know what, they use my photos without credit or payment, so you gonna run my letter?” And they didn’t run it. Why? Because they want to keep getting their free CDs from Bomp. [ok, so Greg is dead and people wrote such wonderful things about him, but this is how I felt when I wrote this in 2001 and I’ve yet to receive payment, product or my photos returned. Early 2007 I received an email about this matter, asking me to remove what I wrote about Bomp, Susie in particular. I didn’t know til I updated this page that might be the reference. No, I don’t rewrite history, not my personal story. It’s MY life.]
When Bomp opened up on Laurel Canyon near Riverside in North Hollywood all us punks actually made it out to the Valley (the Sugar Shack was also in North Hollywood or nearby). Many of us came from the valley and never wanted to go back!
I wanted to look punk and Pleasant took me next door to a thrift store and we bought some old jewelry and stuff and Pleasant put punk makeup on me. She was always very accessible and friendly. Pleasant Gehman was just the best person I met in punk. She just had an open heart, and really creative and just accessible, warm and friendly, and tons of fun! She put together a fanzine – “Lobotomy, the brainless magazine,” which of course is based on the Ramones song. She was offered the first “L.A. De Dee Da” rock gossip column in the “L.A. Weekly” based on her reputation and writing “Lobotomy.” Pleasant’s mother, Betsy, was a freelance writer too. Plez was always at the parties and the shows and never dressed the same, so I always took tons of photos of her (plus she was so animated. Falling down drunk with Kickboy in the kitchen in the house where X and Black Randy debuted for Farrah Faucet Minor’s good bye and good riddance party, laughing in the shower with Exene at Slash’s Devo party, roller skating while drinking, dancing, whatever). There was a core group— look through my pictures and you’ll see these two or three dozen people who were everywhere, looking really cool and unusual and having fun: Pleasant, Trudie, Hellin, Lorna, Darby, Pat, Margo, Belinda, Tomata, Exene, Cherie the Penguin and Tony the Tiger, and later Sheila, Shannon, Trixie, Gerber, Donnie, John Valium.
When was the first time you saw the Screamers play?
I just came across some great negs at the newsstand on Sunset and Gower with Tommy Gear looking space age with a huge mohawk. I was driving by and jumped outta my car and started shooting. I don’t know if that were before I saw them at Bomp, but probably after I met that upstairs at the Whiskey. I took a great shot outside of Bomp: the sun was setting, and the light was just perfect, very industrial and spare, on the street with cars in the lot, telephone wires above them. I bent down and shot upwards and it’s a powerful photo. They were the best band to photograph because the Screamers had a great visual sense and they knew how to feel the poses and everyone looked great. I have other shots of people when somebody in the group just wasn’t there (looking boring or lame, eyes closed, not dynamic). When Slash magazine started, Melanie published great shots at their home with Genny Schorr (later of Backstage Pass) and some friends. Melanie was the ideal photographer for them!
I hung with them for a few months before their public debut. The Screamers debuted May 28, 1977, at Slash magazine’s founder Steve Samioff’s loft, which was a store front on Pico. I remember driving from LACMA (LA County Museum of Art), after seeing “Palm Beach Story” by Preston Sturges. I grew up in the valley and didn’t know the city, and driving around West Hollywood was disorienting for me. Melanie was upstairs shooting the whole audience. A shot of mine from that show was used in “We Got The Neutron Bomb, an Oral History of LA Punk” and unofficial Screamers CD you can find on the net. I have great shots from that show! Even them at the liquor store before they played that are amazing!!
The Screamers were at the Roxy, around July 20t h (my birthday), 1978 and I just returned from Texas after photographing the Stones. I took mushrooms and didn’t think anything would be in focus, but I took the best pictures. Most everybody knows the Edvard Munch picture of The Scream. But I’ve never seen anybody’s mouth do an oval and when I saw this picture of Sheila and Tomata I was blown away! They could have posed for the painting! They’re called the Screamers and they look like they posed for Edvard Munch’s Scream. I just love that. Hey, a rare photo: Tomata kissing a girl!! Tomata just looking real cute and the Screamers shows were just great and Tomata — I like this one where he’s grabbing his head - you know Peer Pressure.
I had a really hard time getting into their Roxy show. Tickets cost between $3 and $6. I’d spend $30 a night to cover photography expenses and was forever broke. You’d think it’s no big deal just to put me on the guest list. But I had to call and call and call and finally was begrudgingly told I’m was the list. So I’m backstage at the Roxy and Tomata thanks me for my photos in “Creem” magazine because it got them the gig — they had international coverage because of me! Being shy, I don’t think I said anything, what I should’ve said was, “So you couldn’t put me on the list? So I had to call and call and beg?”
That’s what happened all the time. I tried so hard to get things published. I sent so many photos out but my photos were published with the wrong name, no name, no money, and would the groups put me on the list? It cost a lot of money for film, developing, postage, buying mags to see if I were published. I spent a lot of time dealing with magazines and record companies promoting these new bands. I’d see people who spent money on clothes, new jewelry, drinking, going out eating and I never did that. What’s three dollars to them? If I were Trudie and Hellin, the bands and managers would call up and say, “Hey Trudie, Hellin we’re playing next week, show up” . . . but not me.
I had a great photos from the Roxy even though I don’t know how I focused because I was hallucinating so much! Exene used to say I was the only photographer who could dance, be high on acid, and take great photos. I was just out there, connected with what was happening and able to capture these amazing shots while having the time of my life.
I had this conversation backstage with Tomata because Tommy Gear looked like the Nihilistic French actor/poet/Theatre of the Absurd founder Antonin Artaud. Artaud was a great influence on Patti Smith. I told Tomata, “Gear looks so much like Antonin Artaud from “Joan of Arc.” I have a book on Symbolism and there’s a still from the silent classic movie, “Joan of Arc,” directed by Danish Carl Dreyer.” Tommy looked like Artaud playing a priest, wearing a white robe, looking demented and hauntingly out there. Tommy was standing in the doorway by the backstage stairwell to go downstairs to the stage. Tomata said, “Oh, Gear loves Artaud, you should mention that to him.” I told Tommy, and his reaction was, “So? So you know your art history. You think I care?”
You did those famous photos of them near the bus bench. Was that near the Wilton Hilton?
I wasn’t good about setting up staged shots. I always wanted to be invisible while taking pictures, so how could I impose on someone to say, let’s do a photo session? I didn’t know most people would’ve loved it, because they could’ve used it for publicity, but I just didn’t know any better. I didn’t talk to them. I was nervous and shy. I wanted to take pictures of them so I rented lights. I went to a camera place in Hollywood and rented camera stands, and I didn’t know anything about lighting. I’m totally self- taught. I put these stands up in their home and took wonderful, dramatic, Joseph von Sternberg Dietrich-type shots of them. Very dramatic, very unusual.
Finally they said, “Let’s go down the street.” They were up at Wilton Hilton, just a little bit south of Franklin, and I don’t remember if we walked or drove to Gower Gulch, at Gower and Sunset. There was a favorite newsstand with a magazine Tomata loved called “Violent World” (also the name of one of their songs). We’re walking around, and I’m taking pictures of them at the newsstand and we walk across the street. We see a little old lady on the bus bench with a big neck brace and we ask her, “Could we take a few pictures?” She’s nodded her head yes. We asked her to hold “Violent World” and next to her are the Screamers. I’m shooting away and after about the 3rd shot Tomata starts laughing. He afterwards said, “Ah, she was just so cute.” There was one good shot: the first shot. Afterwards he said, “Did you see what she was reading?” because if you look at the print she was reading some kind of gossip newspaper.
What I love about this photo are all the individual elements. It has the 666, when I didn’t know what that meant. People would look at the print and go, “Oh, you got the sign of the devil.” I’m like, “What . . . the 666 . . .that’s what?” What do I know from Revelations, I’m a nice Jewish girl, I don’t know anything about the New Testament. Enough people pointed that out that I learned what it meant something very significant to many people and obviously I have a very different belief system than many people. The sun was setting, my shadow is hitting the ground, so it’s my Alfred Hitchcock touch. Then towards the left background there’s a guy with Bermuda shorts and a palm tree. How much more California can you get? The neat thing about that (Neat, Neat, Neat,): it couldn’t be posed. I could not have come up with that. No way. That’s the part when the magic happens, which isn’t too often: everything comes together. That’s been used like crazy and it’s definitely my favorite.
Screamers, Fourth of July at the Starwood. I was up against the stage, audience right, stage left. I was changing my camera lens and somebody was poking me and I turned around. Then I turned back and somebody stole my camera lens right off the stage. I just set it down for a second to swap lenses. That kind of thing happened too often. What did they do to the flag at that one?
I don’t know and my negatives don’t show anything weird on stage, but a camera lens was stolen, so I might not have shot the whole show. But the great thing is all the torn clothes, the tape all around them, way they looked and the way they sounded, so unique. The last time I saw Patti Smith at the Santa Monica Civic, she waved the American flag around, singing “You Light Up My Life,” which was a huge hit for Debbie Boone at the time. My response was: I’m out of here. I haven’t forgiven this country for the Vietnam war and this new war and suspension of the Constitution. I don’t wave the flag and a Debbie Boone pop shit sung by anyone else is still a Debbie Boone pop shit song.
So you said you were sent to Texas to take pictures of the Rolling Stones?
Japan, unknown to me but pretty obvious to everyone now, is a big fan of American music. The Runaways made more money from touring and selling in Japan than they certainly did in America. Many bands were like that. So I hooked up with a photo agency, primarily to get a photo pass to do the Stones. I was starting to send some pictures off to Japan, but I was never really good about that ‘cause I could’ve made a lot of money because they loved the early punk stuff. I went to Texas because I could be in the Sam Houston Auditorium and I was about twenty or thirty feet away from them and I could photograph them. I met the lighting guy afterwards and asked him why he didn’t have enough light on Keith. He gave me some lame answer. Is there any reason to not light Keith Richard? I wasn’t allowed to use a flash for this show, so I didn’t get very many shots of Keith. The few I got were really great, but there were times when he was just in the dark. Who would light the Stones and put every light only on Mick? Hello. What is the matter with people?
I saw the Stones at the Anaheim Stadium. I actually was on stage photographing Peter Tosh, who was their opening act. I have pictures on stage looking out at the whole Anaheim audience. It was really amazing because when I first started getting into rock ‘n’ roll in that summer of ’76, I saw the Who at Anaheim. I saw Aerosmith and I remember dropping slides (from a local punk show) at a film lab in Hollywood. Sam Emerson was dropping off film and I had seen him through my binoculars at Anaheim. I didn’t know he was a big-time photographer. I looked at him and I said, “Ooh, I saw you photographing at Aerosmith at Anaheim stadium last week.” So who would ever believe that I’d be on that stage photographing Peter Tosh? That was pretty amazing for someone who knew nothing about photography and even less about rock magazines and the rock scene.
Yeah, that’s great. When did you first start going to the Masque?
I guess I started going to the Masque when it opened, the summer of ’77. I have some wonderful shots from the Masque, although I didn’t go there often and rarely took my camera. A great shot of Claude Bessy/Kickboy at the Masque, Mary at the Masque . . . the usual suspects and lots of people I didn’t know. I took lots of photos during the Masque Benefit in February, 1978, so it wasn’t open very long the first time, wow.
How did you hear about it?
I knew a guy named Michael Romero who ran into me at the Track 16 “Forming” show in 1999. I’d be in the dark room at 2 in the morning and he’d call and bug me, saying, “You’ve got to come over and hang out at the Masque. Now.”
Do you remember the first show that you saw at the Masque?
No, the Masque was never my fave place. I spent many hours in my closet darkroom and didn’t have time to get trashed and go there when I could take awesome shots at the Whisky and other places. I went to the Masque after Iggy played and drank just sloe gin because the Masque was where I could get a little looped. It was dark there, it was trashy there, there was no place to put my camera equipment down because the floor was sticky and where do you even go to the bathroom there? You had to keep your eyes on the floor because god knows what you’d be standing on: broken glass or beer or whatever. I always wore colored plastic jelly sandals or my Birkenstock sandals. It’s a miracle I never cut my feet or was stomped on by spiked heels or biker boots. It was our clubhouse and there were times when I just wanted to dance and head bang and things. I saw a video where I’m whipping Darby with Hellin’s cat o’ nine tails and the Screamers are playing, and at one point I whip Tomata and he practically drags me onto stage, holding the whip. Ask me if I remember that. When I saw that video, I was like “Oh my god, was I drinking that night?” Or was I just having a lot of fun? Because you could just be uninhibited and have fun there and I don’t remember that night. It wasn’t because I was that drunk but because I went out all the time and it’s impossible to remember every single show I went to or what I did or who or what I shot.
Did Connie Clarksville serve drinks there? What did she do there? She did something there?
I never bought drinks due to spending all my money on film developing, printing, postage and equipment. I developed my film but later only printing and had to drop the film off at labs because I shot so much. I had to look at the proofs and order black and white prints (or print some myself), and then go to a color lab somewhere else, and put the names of the band, date, my name, etc. on the slides and often bought bulk black and white film that I had to roll into canisters to save money. I mailed them and then looked at magazines to see who printed what and billed them in the usually vain attempt to be paid. So I didn’t go to the Masque that often. I didn’t hang during the day. I didn’t know bands rehearsed during the day and I probably would have gotten bored watching them rehearse. I needed to do my film tasks. I needed to read rock mags to know who to shoot and I like to be alone when I read. I needed to know the buzz on groups in England and New York so when they came to LA I could contact them or their record company for photo passes. Taking photos and keeping up with the scene took time. I didn’t hang out with people and listen to records. I read about them.
There’s a lot of stuff I just missed ‘cause I was doing other things. I have a shot of Shannon Wilhelm at the Masque. Shannon was beautiful and had great style — I think she’d been a model, but she eventually died of AIDS because she became a heroin junkie. I shot her at the Masque wearing ripped stockings and Allison, the punk bunny, with leg warmers over her ripped stockings, wearing slips without a dress, didn’t cover the garter belts, added a dog chain as a necklace and really dramatic make-up.
I was a student at the Teenage Drama Workshop at Cal State Northridge when it was San Fernando Valley State College. My favorite teacher was Ellen Albertini Dow, the rappin’ granny who’s a television star on “Maybe It’s Me” as the wild and wacky grandmother. I knew about theater and every day and evening we performed live theater, but not choreographed to death like Madonna, Michael Jackson, Britney Spears et al. This ain’t no rock ‘n’ roll without spontaneity. It was “Three Penny Opera” and “Cabaret,” but 1970’s youth updating 1920’s Weimar decadence.
Here’s a picture of Joan Jett with Mark Martinez, a long-time fan who was at all the shows and parties. Here’s Joan Jett dancing with Pleasant. There’s an apartment building behind Book Circus, around the corner from the Starwood (Santa Monica and Crescent Heights), south of Santa Monica where Trudie and Hellin lived and Farrah Faucet Minor, Exene, and John shared an apartment. X’s song. “Adult Books” is about that time. I have a picture of Hellin wearing leather boots up to her thighs and only a little slip holding while her cat o’ nine tails whip. I met Black Randy through either the Screamers or X, because he hung with them. Black Randy released “Sperm Bank Baby” with a spoken intro ” . . . and Jenny Stern will take all the photos tonight.” That totally surprised me, because I had no idea I’d ever be in any song and if I had known, I would’ve told him, “I’m Jenny Lens.” This is a shot of him at X’s apartment, on the floor doing something really rude to Cherie the Penguin.
Black Randy lived at the Montecito, which was this great 1930’s tall building that had been a hotel/apartment for early movie stars. It was the last place I lived in Hollywood, on Franklin, just east of Highland. Randy got around, but I only saw part of his personality. I didn’t know about some of the things that I read about now: the telephone sales, the manipulation, the massive amounts of drugs, or his involvement with Dangerhouse Records.
What was the art you were doing before you did photography?
Okay, my background is in crafts and I have in my closet, buried away, things that I made. I have a wooden table that I carved with Art Nouveau ladies all over it and it’s walnut, a hard wood. Usually people use a soft wood like pine or fur to carve. But I love it. It’s real dark walnut. So I worked in wood for a long time, I turned things on lathes. That table was in the Downey Museum of Art and I wouldn’t even drive out because it was like another country. Now I go there to teach, but at that point I was like, “Downey, where’s that?” I have tons of things that I’ve woven and hand-dyed a lot of yarns. I did a lot of tie-dye and batik, weaving, jewelry: lost wax casting, beads, sculptures, and working in wood. Clay wasn’t quite my medium. I always liked making things. I could look at things and figure out how they were made and I really loved that. I loved the technologies. My work was in museums, galleries and juried student shows and exhibits from high school to college. My water colors were on the bulletin boards of my elementary school. I have tons of talent, but never knew where to focus it.
The thing that I miss the most working on the computer is working with my hands, the smell of the sawdust, yarns, the tactile feel whether glass beads or weaving or crocheting or tying yarns or rubbing oil into wood. You could get to a point where you could be at one with the media and you were not at odds with the technology as you are on the computer. You constantly are aware you’re working in Photoshop, struggling to remember the keyboard shortcuts or menu items. You have to do certain steps in a certain order to make it work on the computer. You have more freedom with traditional media.
You get into the rhythm of working on a lathe, you get in the rhythm of carving, you get in the rhythm of weaving, and you get beyond the technical and into the spiritual magic of creating. You can do that with the photos to a certain point — just focus, take the picture. You could be reasonably guaranteed some of your pictures would be usable, although the frustration of photography for me was not knowing for sure. Sometimes the photos didn’t work out at all, when the film isn’t threaded correctly or the lab messes up. I really miss working with my hands. But I never thought being an artist would be a viable future. It’s hard to make a living in the hand made arts and crafts, although I haven’t made much of a living in my life. But I didn’t just want to be sitting there carving things, I wanted do something else. I always want to do new things.
Did you just cease doing that once you started getting into the photography?
Never went back. It takes a bit of space and equipment to do those activities. As far as college is concerned, art begins with the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans and ends with cathedrals in Europe. Really the discussion of Modern Art is minimal. You’re lucky if you make it to Impressionism, but you don’t discuss Surrealism, Symbolism, Art Nouveau and Art Deco. All the things that people are now showing in museums and are increasing in monetary value we couldn’t study in college. I studied art movements on my own because I was so intrigued by it. There’s a few, rare times when people come together and you have this synergistic effect, a community arises like a short-lived phoenix. You see this with Impressionism, with Surrealism, with any art period. That’s why I took the photos.
I knew it was now or never. I’d experienced the British invasion and then San Francisco and knew music rapidly changes. It wasn’t gonna be like this for long. Things were going to change, so I really wanted to document it because I felt that this was an incredibly important art movement. Most were like Pleasant 16, 18, 20 years old. So many were in their teens and didn’t know the short shelf life of art movements or rock scenes. Trudie has often said she had no idea people would pay attention to this years later. I did and that’s why I took the pictures. I had absolutely no doubt the music, the graphics, clothes, hair, the photos would become very influential. I hoped it would be successful on its own, but it’s taken later mutations and generations to appreciate what we were doing. When I saw Marie Osmond on television with black fingernail polish I had to laugh because people thought we were so weird when we asked for black makeup at the stores. Too much art and creativity has not been documented and this needed to be. Punk was heavily influenced and enjoyed by women and women’s art has traditionally not been documented.