Jenny Lens Interview, continued from Part 1.
Okay, your favorite band.
X is (and will always be) my favorite band. I have photos of them at Bomp Records, which was the March ’77. A lot of it had to do with hanging out with Pleasant because she hung out with these people. It was just this small circle of people who would go to different apartments, parties, shows and things. I hung out in X’s Circus Books aka Adult Books apartment that summer.
Farrah Faucet Minor, whom we know from the song Los Angeles, was very anti-Semitic. “She started to hate …. ” [However, this is not the case now. People often feel one way when they are young, and another as they mature. I only relay this cos X wrote about her. Plus she plays such a significant part in my life. She is my friend.]
I remember her stopping me on Holloway, (a little street parallel to Sunset between La Cienega and Palm where I lived, across from Tower Records and the Old World Restaurant, a few blocks east of the Roxy and Whisky. I walked to and from there all the time). The Germs had an apartment there and gave great parties. I remember walking outside and coming face to face with Exene and Farrah. Farrah would say things like: “Hitler was right — Jews should be burned.” I was 26 years old and too stunned to do anything but cry. I knew people felt that way about Jews, but I never heard it said repeatedly within inches of my face. She said far more, but I blacked it out, while trying not to cry or shake too much.
Exene set me with her stare from Devil Doll, which they wrote post-1980. I will never forget the looks on both of their faces. Farrah getting off while Exene’s intense scrutiny made me wonder what she was thinking. Farrah was her best friend. I’ve dropped friends for the slightest hint of prejudice, be it anti-Semitic or racist, ageist, misogyny. I’m a proud liberal and wonder how could someone hang out with her? I love love love X, but think about it. Think about “uncivilized wars.” Their main themes, and part of their enduring popularity, is due to exploration between people. Their stories are complex and they wonder about behavior. Exene was definitely studying me. What did she learn or see, while standing still while I was being verbal attacked?
Farrah was always greeting me with anti-Semtic remarks, yelling and screaming, waving her arms in the air, pointing at me. Trying to scare and threaten me. Everyone knew I don’t scare easily. I left one night after a few ganged up on me, led by Farrah. The police soon arrived. Someone called and reported a woman screaming. I didn’t scream per se, but everyone knows I’m loud. I probably told them to leave me alone and got out. Some took that as a woman in trouble. I still laugh thinking about it. Ha ha, the cops responded. Oh I wish I been there and seen their faces! LOL!
Some say she just did that to provoke people, but you have to be hateful to say such things. I asked Tomata, Pleasant and others to help me think of a punk name. I was at X’s apartment and drunken Farrah had a chicken leg, using it like a gun, pointing it into my face, maybe she had a chicken breast ‘cos she was calling me Jenny chicken breast, Jenny blah blah blah blah, Jenny Lens! That’s how I got my name. Good things can come from bad people! I have the postcard inviting me to Farrah’s farewell party. I saw X rehearsing in the garage at 6th and Wilton. They weren’t good at all. I shot them at the Masque benefit in February of ‘78, then the Whisky, the Starwood and they were awful. Then one day they got really good . . . which just goes to show practice makes perfect. All of a sudden, they were so tight, so exciting. I turned down other photo opportunities (where I could make money), just to shoot them.
Initially Exene never looked good on or off stage. Originally she’d be on stage and do really ugly faces. She started to relax on stage and look better. She started dressing better because the clothes that she wore initially were not flattering.
There’s a fine line between looking unique and just looking unattractive. She could look very beautiful, and I don’t mean beautiful like in this Western sense that we all have to be model beautiful. But just bring out your cheekbones, be seductive, make people want to look at you — especially if you’re a performer. Originally she had on pink tights that didn’t fit up in the crotch. They were too big and then she had this short, checkered top and silver go-go boots. It just didn’t look good. You compare that to later where she would wear a black dress from the 40’s, a little sweater, rhinestones, or something that flattered her figure and gave her an identity that worked. Nobody was worse than the Go-Gos. They’d stand on stage and didn’t know how to dress, didn’t know how to move (or were too scared). Eventually they got more confidence and got more competent. The musicianship improved, and like X, all of a sudden were a viable band. I am so proud of the Go-Gos!! People have NO idea who they were and who they became, internally and on stage. Amazing growth and longevity. I just love them. I saw X all the time. After one show, we went to a rehearsal space in a tall building on Hollywood and Western. Exene said, Aren’t you tired of coming to all the shows? and I replied, I will never tire of seeing X.
I told Exene and John it was my Xorcism, and I guess they didn’t like that little pun, cos they both looked at me strangely, without knowing the other reacted similarly.
I screamed/sang along while dancing up a storm and I loved the lyrics and music. The songs focus a lot about women and women’s feelings from “Universal Corner” to the “World’s a Mess to It’s Who You Know”. “There are no angels, there’s devils everywhere.” That was my experience: I could go through every line of their songs and really relate to them better than any other band. I wish I could find another band I love as much. I still love X nearly 30 years later.
D.J. is such an incredible musician. I don’t know from guitars. I’m tone deaf and I have a hard time because I cannot tell the difference between a bass and a guitar. When I hear a really good beat, and I hear a real complicated thing going on with the drums— but we’re not talking drum solo, a John Bonham — just that it moves the song along like D.J. does — I love that. I also loved how the band changed how they would play and sing. I loved that spontaneity. You never knew how a song would be delivered, and it was exciting for me to be able to hear new lyrics or a change in rhythm or whatever. I don’t want to hear the same thing verbatim all the time so I really loved X. Their songs just spoke and speak to me so much. The best live band in the universe were the Clash. No doubt about it. I shot them at least 20 times and they were consistently great, no matter the venue or audience reaction. I am just discovering amazing shots I took in England in June and July 1980. Defies words. Hard to pick the best, shot after shot takes your breath away! The best, best, best live shows and god how I miss seeing them!! God bless Joe Strummer and I love Mick and Paul too, and Topper.
You think a lot of when they got better had to do with D.J. playing drums with them, ‘cause I know he didn’t play with them until . . . I think the Masque benefit was the first live show he did with them. The Masque benefit was the first X show I remember. I recently found shot of their first public debut! The opened for the Dead Boys at the Starwood. Brendan Mullen told me they played at the Masque night before to rehearse/play for their first big public audience, their official debut to the world! The Masque probably attracted 100 people, if that.
Dead Boys at the Starwood was an amazing debut for X! Place packed, plus tons of press and personalities. The Dead Boys were one of the early bands coming to us from New York. Other local bands played earlier and had more experience, but it was obvious something special was going on with X because they were constantly playing and getting larger and loyal audiences. Still small in the big world, but big in our little punk world. But I don’t remember them at all at that Dead Boys show. I was stunned when I saw footage from Dead Boys. Everyone was packed in tighter than sardines. BUT I took shots for all over the stage. Stiv in various clothes, so I must have shot all Dead Boys shows. I have no idea HOW I did that. I didn’t push anyone around.
I have shots of all of X onstage, a few group shots. I only shot part of a roll. it’s really fun … Billy not wearing his leather jacket I think (gotta look again) and a strange drummer.
I missed X debut at Farrah’s party, September 17, 1977. I spent the evening photographing in the kitchen and caught Black Randy’s debut. They needed a beer run and Tomata was going down to the liquor store. I loved hanging out with Tomata, so when he asked me if I wanted to come, I said yeah. I don’t remember if I drove him or not. X insisted I take photos outside the kitchen that September party night, but I objected cos they but they were very drunk. I took the shots and later John said they should remember never to have their photo taken when Exene is drunk. Ha ha, I will never forget him saying that after looking at my proof sheets. I warned them! I’ve never published those photos.
I really didn’t become a fan until ‘79. I think they’d be a different band without D.J. I think the song writing of John with Exene and D.J., with his incredible percussion, are all really important elements and it wouldn’t have worked without that trio. Nothing pro or con Billy, but I don’t know from guitarists . . . John Roecker repeatedly told me, “I hate Tony, I only like Billy.” I would be upset if D.J., Exene or John left. Exene passed out song books and that made me an even more devoted X fan. I was dancing to songs and didn’t understand every word. Sound checks are done with an empty room but acoustics change when it’s filled with bodies. There’s far too much importance on making everything really loud, to the detriment of lyrics. Most shows sound awful, with the instruments drowning the vocals. A problem with most live shows, not just rock, and it’s gotten worse. Many movies are too loud. I was blown away the first time I heard “Nausea.” It was always my favorite, yet I had no idea what it was about. I just loved the music to “Nausea.” Just the thought of it makes me dance. I had no idea it was about bad hangovers because I’ve never had a hangover. I loved X even more when I got the song books because I could finally understand all the words and sing while dancing to them (live or recorded). X songs are profound, witty, full of black humor and harsh realities.
Tell me about Tomata a little bit. I didn’t want to say anything at the memorial because I’m very ambivalent towards Tomata. Tomata allowed me into his life, but at arm’s length and I’m sad about that. I don’t try to get close to many people because I prefer being by myself. Tomata had some very close friends and I wish I could have been closer. I was invited to their parties, which I loved and that was a big thing. I wsn’t not a party person (I eat too much), but the Screamers had the best parties. I loved being at their house. They knew and attracted all kinds of artists and creative people. They were real hardcore artists: people who really lived this lifestyle. They weren’t just the trendies. They weren’t just groupies. They were people who showed up everywhere and really had a loyal following.
Tomata talked to me and he was so funny, but he never opened up like he did to others who spoke at his memorial. When his women friends spoke of him, and I think there were one or two guys, they talked about having him over for dinner and long talks and long letters. He never opened up that way to me, but I tried, and especially the last year right before the Forming show because we did a lot of email. I would have loved to have sold my photos at the show, small prints and he never told me he was doing that with his paintings. He knew I was having problems dealing with the gallery. I think he didn’t want to jeopardize his being allowed to sell his paintings. I felt totally betrayed by both him and the gallery that I had not been given the same option that he was given. The gallery said, “Well, you wanted to do these collages.” I’ve been to their art shows and I’d never seen them selling a ten or twenty or thirty dollar picture. If that had been an option, I would have done that. I would have made a few dollars. I know people want the pictures and I would have gladly made them available. They could’ve had wonderful Iris prints that would last forever. I had access to making them ’cause I had worked at a professional Iris studio. It would’ve been a whole different way of approaching the show.
Tomata never said anything to me about it and I felt very betrayed. Later the curator told me, “Well, you know he needs the money.” Well guess what, so do I. You try living on $2,000 for the month (if we’re lucky) when your rent is $1,000 and there’s 2 of us and we barely make it, month after month. I’d love to spend less, but we don’t eat out, we rarely buy clothes, CDs, go to the movies or live shows — we live minimally. I’d invite people over but canned sardines and home dried fruit and vegetables are what I have. I can’t always afford to make it to the farmer’s market and I’m primarily a raw foods vegan. So that’s what the ambivalence is about, and yet not everybody’s gonna be my friend.
I had so much in common with Tomata. So many things that his friends talked about: art, film and music. I would have loved to have photographed him more often. I would have shared my books with him and other things. So I was ambivalent. I have a hard time finding people to spend any time with because I’m not interested in the latest fashions, but if you want to talk about old movies, film noir, silent films, Broadway, Viennese art or other things that Tomata loved. I would’ve loved to talk to him about it and it just never happened, so c’est la vie. That’s the way it goes.
What about some of the parties? Yeah, parties. The best in my life, ever! No fancy foods or party planners, but the best because such creative, interesting people for me to photograph! All the people who made punk happen! This was a great party that Slash threw for Devo when they first came to LA. This is a shot of Tomata and Don Waller, writer for “Back Door Man,” baring their arms for the shot. Don has a rose tattoo with a sword through it. Tomata’s got a Kewpie doll tattoo. People didn’t have tattoos in those days unless they were bikers or punks.
“Slash” put on shows at Larchmont Hall plus a few shows at Samioff’s loft and a few parties, which were all great fun. I went to the Screamers and Germs parties and hung out at Exene’s and you can see from the photos it was about people having fun. You could meet people and talk, or drink, or get high, or take pictures, or dance, or I’m sure a few other things, too. To me it was just a place to relax and have fun, and be yourself, and listen to music. People had 45s they would get from the import store like Bomp or the Capitol Records swap meet, and you’d hear music you couldn’t hear anywhere else and talk about the latest shows that were coming up. I took wonderful photos at a birthday party in Waddles Park, in West Hollywood, for Tomata and Liara, who passed away from a heroin overdose. She was Chase Holiday’s sister. Chase lived at the Wilton Hilton and was one of Tomata’s closet friends. I think this was ‘79 or ‘80, and to see all these punks out during the day was quite a trip. But it was just a lot of fun to see them wearing their black suits and punk clothes. The Screamers had an incredible Valentine’s Day party. They lived upstairs in a house and it was a big rectangle where the middle was missing. To get from one side to the other you had to walk around, not diagonally. They taped hand cut paper hearts onto the walls and other hand-made decorations. People displayed their tattoos. Their claw foot bathtub was full of balloons and I love this one of Liara wearing her 50’s pink prom dress standing in the balloons. Chase painted a heart over her face and homemade dress. Moicol Sinatra came as a woman. Brian Tristan came half woman half man, so he’s got make-up on half his face. I don’t know how he did half the dress, and then the pants on the other thing or what, ‘cause I don’t have the bottom part of this photo.
I have some Polaroids where everybody just picked up an instrument lying in one bedroom. They had an accordion and a violin, and whatever. They spontaneously made music. Marcy Blaustein showed her tattoo and I think took videos. Brad Dunning, who was in “Vanity Fair” because he’s an interior designer to the stars, was playing an instrument. A shot of Jeffrey Lee Pierce, of Gun Club, holding a rifle and wearing kind of camouflage clothes. People came in costume for this Valentine’s Day party and it was very unique. We listen to musical that ranged from Billy Holiday to the Sex Pistols. People didn’t have stylists who dressed them. They would just go to the thrift store. They would share each other’s clothes, and just show up with wild clothes and make-up. It was very creative and very fun, and it was the crème de la crème: the people who were performers, writers, fans, artists, photographers and lots of great energy.
The Screamers threw a party for Blondie in ‘78. I heard the police closed it down in the wee hours after I left. I have pictures of Debbie Harry, Chris Stein, Dee Dee sitting on Tomata’s lap (they’d been friends in NY), many of the early movers and shakers in the burgeoning scene, Berlin Brats, and of course Rodney and Kim Fowley.
Did you go up to see the Sex Pistols when they played? Of course! I am surprised so many people ask me that. How could I be an early punk pioneer and not see the Pistols?? Pul-eeze! I shot them!!! The Pistols, January 14, 1978. Trudie and Hellin returned from the Pistols show in Texas. Hellin tells the story how she’s the one who hit Sid and that’s how his bass hit his face and he got bloody. We all decided to ride in a little VW. Ever heard of a thousand clowns, how you have the small car and all these clowns come out? There must have been five of us in the car. I was sitting in the front and I think someone sat on my lap as we drove up to San Francisco. I didn’t talk to the people at Warner’s. I think there was so much press about it that I felt I’m wasn’t going to get anywhere with them because they are gonna go with the big established photographers. I stood outside on a cold, dreary day, waiting in line. I had a really narrow (literally a few inches wide) camera case that I stood on. I fell off any time anybody bumped into me.
So it was real hard to take pictures. I managed to get in backstage and, of course, Trudie and Hellin and other LA punks were already there. I ran into Richard Creamer,an established rock photograher I met when he photographed the Ramones. He said, “Jenny, you should be doing this, this is your group” and I said [sarcastically], “Yeah, Warner Brothers is going to give me a photo pass.” But I appreciated the acknowledgment from him. I never even saw them backstage. I went to a party where Hellin and Sid locked themselves into a bathroom and my flash wasn’t working. So I’m at a party with Sid Vicious and my flash is not working. It worked fine the next day! But that night it didn’t work, and that was my last opportunity to photograph Sid.
It was a weird experience because I was standing outside the Winterland and it was a dreary, rainy San Francisco January day. If you’re standing waiting for hours, which is very boring, by the time you finally get in and the show starts, your energy is a bit dissipated. Especially if you’re gonna work real hard taking pictures in that boisterous crowd. So it was not the best experience of my life. It’s not that I’m too good to stand in line, but I have things to do. I have to prepare my camera equipment and supplies for the show and a reserve of energy.
It takes a lot of energy to shoot a show, deal with security, fans pushing you out front and backstage scenes, carry heavy equipment plus concentrate on taking photos — how much film is left before I need to change the roll, how many rolls left, should I stand here or move over there, show I focus on the group or zoom in? I was really glad to finally see the Pistols, but it wasn’t at all the circumstances I would have wanted. Wouldn’t it have been cool if they played at the Whisky? To show up unannounced before they went to San Francisco. The people in the know would’ve known and would have shown up. But no, no, no, let’s just get on this big bandwagon with Warner Brothers and go to San Francisco. At the hippie showcase of America, the Winterland? They had the small club, Mabuhay Gardens and the Nuns. Somebody stole our thunder. This was our party — we were the ones who were the fans and performers, and to make it so inaccessible to the very people who worked hard to breathe life into punk . . . no wonder they broke up, ‘cause imagine what they must’ve been going through. I totally understand Johnny Rotten’s comment: “Do you ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?” He’s often said he was talking about the Pistols themselves, but the hardcore fans were cheated as well.
Did you know the Avengers at all? Very little . . . I think Penelope and I were very shy. She came across as snobby to me, but people said that about me because I’m so shy. I think she just kept to herself. [Penelope is just great and very active politically and musically]. I didn’t see her that often because they were based in San Francisco. They had their own photographer, Jonathan Postal, and I always felt they didn’t want me around. I don’t remember the Avenger’s music. It didn’t do anything to me. But I loved photographing her. I have some great pictures of her backstage. She’s wearing a man’s shirt with pink stiletto heels that I’m sure she’s silk screened, with a leather jacket thrown over her shoulder. I never really saw them that much.
I preferred the Nuns. They were funny and I got along with them really well. I gave Jennifer Miro a shot of her looking like a punk Dietrich meets Marilyn. It was displayed in the Mabuhay Gardens window, the San Francisco punk club in North Beach. She was so proud of that photo and grateful to me. Yet my camera didn’t work correctly and I had to use high contrast paper, which gave her facial bones great contrasting highlights and shadows and drama, which I could not get from a commercial printer. That’s how I did the Patti Smith pictures — the guitars are glowing because the negative is ruined and I had to use high contrast paper but it made it very dramatic — very 1930’s glamour photos. The Nuns and the Dictators are a bunch of Jews (and a few gentiles) singing about Hitler. Jennifer dressed like an updated stylish Nazi goose-stepper but it was all in fun. It was dark humor, following Mel Brooks’ precedent-setting “Springtime for Hitler” from The Producers” (which was a popular 1968 movie among some punks) [this was written before The Producers became a GREAT musical.]
Okay what about that incident, the infamous incident?
The Screamers party that’s mentioned in the “California Hardcore” book. I was at a party at the Screamers and photographer Mischa Brocke [I can’t find his name in the net. He’s Israeli] was there. He was a big fashion photographer who shot album covers for big stars and was hanging out with the punks for awhile. So there were fashion models there. Somehow I was thrown onto the bed and I was wearing black tights. I was not into wearing garters (I’d had enough of that when I was younger). They were pulling down my tights and they took a Hostess pink snowball and they were trying to stuff it up my butt. I held onto my tights and got away. I kept saying “This is a party, I really don’t want a snowball up my butt.”
I wasn’t drunk and I wasn’t mad. A bunch of fashion models trying to be pun, but were just being pathetic. I laughed it off. What I missed was the spaghetti fight in the kitchen between KK and someone else. This was documented inaccurately in “California Hardcore” because no one puts anything up my butt without my permission! Melanie Nissen took photos at that Screamers party with Posh Boy, Robbie Fields, and myself. NOW how could I have a snowball up my ass and be making out w/Robbie? Stupid, snarky story was in Slush magazine, which reportedly Brendan created. Robbie and I were lying in the closet. I lost a large ivory pendant, a carved dragon with a bat above it that I got in San Francisco in Chinatown. Someone found it in the closet. Tomata returned it to me. I pinned a lot of things to my dress or hung trinkets from my ears. I made a necklace out of guitar picks, and put around my wrist a cock ring from the Pleasure Chest. I don’t like a big things around my neck. I only wore a chain of charms around my neck because anything large would interfere with my camera straps (I often wore 2 cameras at a time).
I always wore a lot of jewelry and makeup. At Farrah’s goodbye party, there’s shots of Hellin Keller and Mary Rat with me in the middle and I’m wearing a little teeny camera charm around my neck. I ran into Julian Wasser, who’s been a photojournalist for years. He shot rock n’ roll if he had a paid assignment. I showed up wearing lots of make-up and all these earrings. He asked, “How long did it take you to do that?” He didn’t “get” it was fun. I didn’t usually do that much make-up because I sweat, hate having to carry around make-up and re-apply it. I was far too busy for that. But I always wore a lot of the earrings and the jewelry because it was so much fun to dress up any way I wanted, very dramatic and excessive. Clothes I couldn’t wear anywhere else.
I don’t remember a lot of other regular life details due to shooting and staying up so late for so many shows and parties, drugs, long hours in the darkroom or whatever. I don’t recall going to a restaurant or eating, going to the store, cooking, doing the laundry — I really can’t remember doing these tasks. I didn’t sleep a lot and towards the last year or so, ‘79 to ‘80, I did a lot of drugs. People might tell you I was doing drugs when I wasn’t. I always talk so fast that people often thought I was on drugs. DD Faye told me I drove her crazy because she thought I was on speed. People thought I was high in college when I hadn’t even tried drugs.
What about the Dils? Did you know the Dils?
I photographed them and I didn’t know them well at all. The Kinman brothers — Chip and Tony. I didn’t know them. But I thought they were so cute!
What were some of the other bands that you were friends with? It wasn’t really about being friends with a band, but hanging with people who also happened to be in a band or like the Go-Go’s, eventually were in a band. Another Germs story. There is a gas station across the street from the Whisky on San Vicente with an apartment building immediately south of it, and that’s where Joan Jett lived. I was standing on the sidewalk near the gas station and Darby was talking to me. Darby had a chipped front tooth and was spitting at me while drunkenly talking. I’d move back a little and he’d move forward, so I’d move back a little. I thought he was unaware of spitting and didn’t understand why I was moving back and I thought it funny. We’re not talking intentional British gobbing.
The Germs were performing at the Hope Street Hall towards the end of 1980. Darby was running around trying to get drugs, any drugs. It was like that line from “Decline” where he keeps saying, “Does anyone have a beer?” I knew tons of people doing drugs, and everyone had very specific preferences. Some only wanted uppers, others only downers, some being more specific than that. Darby told me he never went on stage straight. That’s when I knew he had serious problems. If you can’t find enjoyment performing, why are you doing it? He has to be high to get on stage — most people get high from the adrenaline rush. I understand stage fright, but go out there and do it. The people who came to Germs shows worshipped Darby and were not going to throw things at him. I just thought his fear of being straight on stage was really sad.
What about that photo of him? I have a photo of him, towards the end of his life, with stitches all the way across his neck. First there’s the photo where he’s got the thick bandage on his neck another of Hellin’s hand, who removed the bandage so I could take the picture. I was in shock because I couldn’t imagine what or why he had stitches across his neck. I have this thing about privacy and I wouldn’t say to someone, “What did you do to yourself?” Or just say, “Oh, are you okay, or what was that about?” I would never ask because I just don’t like to intrude on people. So that’s why I don’t really know what that was about.
How did things change between 1976 and 1980?
In the beginning it was small and easy to get into the Whisky, the Roxy and the Starwood, where the people at the door knew you. Or you’d get on the list because you knew the band or record company management or someone who’d bring you in. You could drive a truck through the audience the first time I saw Devo or Cheap Trick at the Starwood. I have pictures of Darby, Hellin, Trudie, Pleasant, and the late Craig Lee dancing on the floor at the Starwood when Devo’s playing. You can see their Devo pants in the background. So it was easy accessibility and lots of room to dance. If you wanted to go backstage and tell the band you had fun and wanted to get in the next night, no problem.
It was all in the spirit of loving this music that wasn’t that popular. We loved rebellious music. We wanted to dance, dress up, have fun and let out our aggression without hurting anyone.
Everything coalesced in 1977. That’s when things really exploded. Things changed in 1978. The Pistols broke up, which a lot of people thought was real pivotal. I didn’t look at it that way because the sun did not rise and set on the Pistols. There still were other viable bands: Ramones, Blondie, X, Patti Smith, waiting for the Clash to tour and others that hadn’t come around yet. The Masque experienced all kinds of problems with the fire marshal and the police. It was a great place for bands to rehearse and play and hang out. It was a stupid thing for the police to come down on.
The scene was literally underground and we were such a minor part of what was going on in LA, plus it was in the seedy part of town. It’s not like we brought property values down. But we became the focus of the people in charge, although we weren’t hurting anybody, and they ignored the real criminals. By 1980 Hollywood wasn’t the home to punk rock anymore. Bands were going down to the South Bay and I hated that. That’s a long schlep. I lived in West Hollywood, across from Tower Records, a couple blocks east of the Whisky and the Roxy. I had to drive to two Hollywood labs to drop film to be developed and I was tired after driving from the South Bay. I didn’t want to fall asleep on the freeway. I liked walking to and from the Roxy and the Whisky. The night air was great. I didn’t like the drive plus the audience were surfers, bikers, rednecks and skinheads — the people who I hated because they hated me.
Mark Martinez has a great story. We were at either Venice or Santa Monica beach for Joan Jett’s birthday, ‘77 or ’78 during the summer. Joan is out there wearing her leather jacket, looking tough, a little butch. She ain’t no beach bunny, okay? Guys were swearing at her saying, “Fuck you dyke,” or something. Mark said to me, “I bet those are the same guys who wet their pants and get excited watching the Runaways. They probably don’t even know that’s Joan Jett. I bet they’re Runaways’ fans.” So you’d get this mentality that punk was against; this random stereotyping that you’d see someone and you’d tell her to fuck off. Why? Let her be; she’s not bothering anybody. You’re surrounded by this rigid mentality in the South Bay with surf punks and red necks from Orange County. They’re exclusive, very macho, testosterone driven. It was something to do on a Saturday: get drunk and bash the Hollywood punks. They didn’t care about the music. I certainly couldn’t get close to take pictures, and I certainly didn’t want to. A lot of the pogoing and head banging got to be real thrashy. What is that with the body slam? You couldn’t be on the floor because guys would just come ramming at you. It wasn’t fun to dance or shoot anymore. The Go-Go’s went to England and they changed. When I heard “Our Lips Are Sealed,” I thought, “Who’s that?” That was not the band that I ever heard. People changed, the music changed, became less accessible, further away. Nicole Panter talks about the difficulty getting gigs for the Germs in “The Decline of Western Civilization.” I love the way Nicole very casually says, “There was always the threat of an imminent riot.”
Things changed, I knew it would and that’s why I took the photos when I did. I think it’s physics. Everything mutates and changes. I was burnt out. After four and a half years of parties, staying up all night, dropping off pictures, not making any money, having to beg to get on the guest list plus drugs took their toll on me. At one point before the Go-Go’s went to England, Belinda asked me to take pictures, but I didn’t have any money. I was nearly homeless shortly after I returned from England. How about an offer from anybody, “Here’s fifty bucks, go buy some film and develop prints.” I wouldn’t have made any money from that offer, but I least I wouldn’t be putting out my own money as I had time and time again. Nobody would ever think of paying for photos, and yet they went out to eat, they’d go to a show, they’d be drinking beer, they caught the latest movies, and they bought the thrift store clothes and makeup. I had a wardrobe of five dresses and I was tired of sacrificing and being shit on. I was just burnt out and tired. Groups got signed, often helped by my unpaid but published photos of them, but did anyone ever suggest I take photos for their recordings and publicity and be paid by the record company? No way. Nothing burns you out faster than being shit on, going broke while so many around you are doing better because of your work.
Did you shoot X in England? July of 1980: I wanted to go to England because it was X’s first tour, the Go Go’s first tour, the Clash were playing. I could raise a little bit of money and it was cheap. X weren’t well received because people didn’t know who they were. They played in these little dives and the pictures really weren’t that good. I didn’t hook up with the Go-Go’s. I didn’t see them over there except at a party. But I photographed the Clash and I rode around with them to a few places. I mostly just went there and slept. I spent a month sleeping in England. I was fried and needed to get away. The English were very, very nice and it was very beautiful and I would love to go back there. I did a photo shoot of X that did not turn out well. Exene often didn’t wear make-up, usually only onstage or for a photo shoot. Debbie Harry showed up at Bomp Records store and didn’t wear make-up. Even I put some on today for your videotaping: a little bit of eye shadow, a little blush, and the lipstick is probably gone, but you need it for the camera if you’re a performer. And there are reasons why you wear make-up: it brings out the cheek bones, it highlights the eyes and the mouth, and it just brings out something that you need, otherwise you look very washed out in photography. That’s a fact since day one of photography. You can’t get around that you need make-up. The camera adds ten pounds and you lose all the features. Exene didn’t always wear make-up and I wanted to do a photo shoot. So when I was in England I called but spoke only to John. I said, “I want to do a photo shoot and can you please ask Exene to please wear some make-up, just a little bit to bring out her cheekbones, her eyes?” because she looked great with make-up. Exene was a wonderful make-up artist. John replied, “Oh yeah, she always wears make-up, no problem.” So of course she showed up with no make-up. She just looks all washed out in the pictures.
What amazed me about the British was they all said, “Reagan’s going to be your next president.” I was shocked because I didn’t realize how conservative the United States had turned. Margaret Thatcher was already Prime Minister. It was a shock to me because nobody talked here about it, as much as we were involved or were aware of politics and current events in punk. Is was a real awakening because Reagan had been the California governor and he was awful. When I was growing up, California was the number one state in education. When people moved here from the East Coast, they were set back a year because we had such high educational standards, and we had such good facilities for mentally ill. When he was governor, they closed Camarillo, the mentally ill hit the streets, and all of a sudden our educational system was not number one. I couldn’t believe how anybody could take this man seriously. That tells you how my priorities are different than most voters because they didn’t care about that. They cared about other issues. They believed in the trickle-down theory that everyone would get rich. Greed. It was powerful enough to keep Republicans in power.
Who got rich in the ‘80’s? Landlords. My $150/month West Hollywood apartment was being torn down. Rents went sky high. We had a gasoline problem with Carter but that was a big thing between Iran and the Republicans, too . . . was it a coincidence, the prisoners came home the day Reagan was inaugurated? Bush was formerly in charge of the CIA. I love Carter and I love how he’s involved with Habitat for Humanity but he’s been given a bad rap. As a result of the Republican’s treachery, we got Reagan and things got expensive. Photographing entertainers changed. Julian Lennon and Michael Jackson controlled photos. You couldn’t release a photo without approval. What is that about? It got very hard to take pictures and, of course, very hard for underground movements to flourish because things cost more. If you could live cheaply, you could do art. It’s real hard if you’re just trying to pay your rent and it’s ten times more than a decade earlier, so things changed.
When were the last live concerts you shot? By the end of ‘80 I was really broke . . . I was just so broke. I have lots of X from the Whisky in May ‘80 when they released “Los Angeles.” Also “The Decline of Western Civilization” in May at Club ‘88 on Pico in West LA. I have lots of pictures from that and England. The Germs at the Hope Street Hall, December 1979. I took shots of Siouxsie and the Banshees at the Whisky but didn’t have money to develop the film. I didn’t have money to shoot the Stranglers. I was so burnt out and broke from shooting all the time and rarely getting paid.
Did you take pictures and see the Runaways a lot?
I started shooting at the end of their career. I have amazing shots of Joan Jett hanging out. My most famous is Cherie Currie wearing the merry widow corset and fish net stockings with a hole over one knee, with the garter belt, singing “Cherry Bomb.” Cheap Trick opend for them at Santa Monica Civic. “We Got the Neutron Bomb” used a backstage picture of Kim Fowley and Cherie Currie. He’s holding her and he’s tall and thin and she’s tall and thin, she’s got legs out to here, and it’s just a cute picture. I have pictures of them at the Whisky. I only photographed them maybe three times, Joan Jett lots of times. She went over to Exene’s apartment and I have her backstage and at parties.
How do you think . . . originally there were just a few people…how did the whole thing just kind of develop? I was reading “Entertainment Weekly” and they finally published online an article about the Ramones. Imagine this: they had an interview with Joey, September 2000, about the Ramones being eligible and now inducted into the Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame and some other things, but it wasn’t published online or anywhere until April 2001. He’s dead and now we get to read his comments. Thank you very much. People could write in their comments. I went to the Ramones’ website as well and there’s a lot of people who mourn his passing who were influenced by the Ramones.
It really took a lot of time and it moved very slowly in the late ‘70s. There was this thing about disco, which Joey talks a lot about in his interviews, about how punk was anti-disco. It was such a contrast to disco and the record companies put thousands of dollars into disco. I went to a party at what used to be Marion Davies’ house on the beach, the Sand and Sea Club. Arista Records had a party and they had women dressed as mermaids and I met Dudley Moore. I didn’t bother to take photos. I kept a newspaper article from the Herald Examiner, describing me. It said not everybody is a disco fan: Jenny Lens, a photographer with a “purple day glow basketball frizz hair,” and they quoted me, “I’m not really into this disco stuff.” What they didn’t write was I there for the party and knew the publicist. The party cost probably six figures because they were putting huge amounts of money into disco. Punk was like “hmmm” . . . and they really didn’t know what to do with it. I’ll never forget this episode. I sat with Bryn Brinthall [I don’t know how to spell] at ABC Records, who first originally distributed Sire, the Ramones’ record label. She went very far as a publicist. Then ABC disappeared and Sire became part of Elektra, which is part of WEA, (Warner’s, Elektra, and Atlantic). Bryn went to Elektra and eventually became a bigwig at Geffen. She sat with me on a sofa outside her office at ABC and asked me what did I like about the Ramones.
Well, a) I thought it was good she asked my opinion but b) how could she not know or feel the answer? This is a woman who has gone to the top in the industry and she didn’t get it. They didn’t know what they had and they didn’t know how to promote the groups. I always would say, “I love how Joey grabbed the microphone and held onto it for dear life, and he’d just dance.” I have all these pictures of him holding the microphone and his leg is in the air kicking and his fist is in the air. I never saw people work the microphone stand. They’re funny, the songs are so funny, they’re so politically aware and you could dance to them and they’re just so much fun.” How can you sit still, they’re the Ramones?
I’d grab onto a chair or pole or stair railing ‘cause I’d close my eyes and dance and if I didn’t grab onto something, I’d spin into someone or knock them on the floor. Belinda said she’d see me upstairs at the Starwood and I had a paper fan, ‘cause I told you I’d get really hot and sweaty. I’d hold onto the balcony rail with one hand and use my other hand to work my fan and I’d dance. I would do that all the time, and people always could see me ‘cause I’d have my fan when I wasn’t doing the pictures. Punk grew slowly, but other people related to it because expressing passion through music and dance is as old as mankind. We come out of the womb, get hit on the butt and we scream. It’s an affirmation of life. Dancing is one of the most primal urges. Everyone can dance. You don’t have to be taught. There’s no right or wrong way. Listen to birds singing, the wind in the trees and next thing you know, there’s Native American Indians celebrating the Rain Dance. Every culture, every religion, every society has always had music and dance.
Punk made people move, get up and scream as a response to our society. America wants people to be non-thinking because if we thought about it we wouldn’t vote for George W. or Ronald Reagan. So we need to mellow them out. Let’s make them forget their worries and sing “Stayin’ Alive.” What is that about? I don’t know . . . you just take a lot of coke and dance disco? Punk was very threatening to the organized disco, with its set of dance steps, repetitive music and off the rack clothes. America tries to put down any kind of information or activity that’s informational. We don’t want people to think and we don’t want them to have a good time, either. Because if you keep them depressed and worried about things, they won’t take to the streets and riot about things like taxation without representation, expensive housing, emphasis on physical beauty, low wages for skilled workers, minimal benefits. We don’t want to have another American Revolution. Punk was volatile and revolutionary and only survived because it spoke to so many. But it took years to spread because you couldn’t hear it on the radio and so few bands were signed, and if signed, were promoted correctly.
You can’t silence art. It’s going to bubble up to the surface because it’s a basic human need and people pick up on the banner. Kurt Cobain talked so much about Darby when interviewed. There are so many people in the world and eventually you are going to find several hundred thousand throughout the world that just really love punk. Just not quite as many people as who love Britney Spears, but of course the movers and the shakers are the ones that get things done. I’m sure the internet helped because you can hear the music and connect with others who share your passion.
Do you get a lot of email regarding your photos? I had a website that had my “Live at the Masque” pictures but I changed web providers and need to repost it. I need to do is go back into the files and update the html address and I haven’t done that. I was talking with Brad Elterman, who was a photographer who made a small fortune from the Runaways. He was thinking about putting together a photography show with some of his photos and some of mine. He knows I have all these pictures that people really like and we’re thinking about selling them. Maybe I’ll have a dozen or so that these are the ones that are on sale and I wouldn’t have all of them, but I could have a stack printed out, put them in the mail and sell them from my website. Even though I missed out on the big surge of buying on the online agencies, there still might be some opportunities. I’d love to do something like Black Flag, set something up with t-shirts and greeting cards, but licensing can be a real hassle. It’s a shame cos I have some incredible shots, but merchandising can be a nightmare, but I’m exploring options. I’ve often thought about that: postcards. Bob Gruen sells some of his pictures through a postcard company and I often wonder what kind of money he’s making when I see his work at Barnes & Noble. I am really tired of everyone making money from my photos but me!!
[Update: 2/2005: I get tons of hits and I’m not even promoting my website now. Brad concluded a HUGELY successful one-man photography show, his first.]
Do you know off hand how many CDs have used your photos? Well, I don’t know cos I don’t keep track. Plus I’m sure a majority are stolen images. My work has been used without my knowledge, consent, nor payment and often not even credited. From October, 1976 through today! Rhino did the D.I.Y series (I had photos in “We’re Desperate”, the LA scene, plus the Power Pop, New York, and British releases), “Faster and Louder,” 2 different “Ramones” series, X. “Germs” from Slash. The boxed X set from Elektra. Exene’s 3 CD “Live at the Masque.” And Rhino’s” No Thanks.” I like it when my name is under the bands that I really photographed a lot and enjoyed seeing. Helps me realize the beauty of my work. Sometimes I surprise myself cos I’m not that familiar with my own work!
The worse part is people tell me they’ve seen my work, and it’s news to me. I didn’t get paid, I didn’t get product. And everyone thinks I got rich from this. I’ve yet to make back my investment!
Were you a big Weirdos fan? Yes, and I really don’t know their music other than “We’ve got the Neutron Bomb,” but they were so entertaining. They were art students at Cal Arts. The clothes they wore, the music, John lying on the floor and it was good energy and the audience really connected with them and it was a lot of fun, but I couldn’t tell you what their songs were about. Let’s look at some of the photos in this box: Darby in color at the Masque where he’s got blood on his chest and Black Randy doing strange things. I found these Polaroids. Black Randy wrapped aluminum foil to look like a little skull cap and a little halo all wrapped up in aluminum foil. He had a red devil’s hat so who knows what that was about. A song where he was both the devil and an angel?
This is Sham 69. You mentioned the Boomtown Brats too . . . oh, British bands. You know the Go-Gos song called “London Boys?” Hubbah hubbah, oh yeah. The British guys were really cool, except understanding them was not easy because their accents were unbelievably thick. Once I was in a van with the Clash coming back from a show, the window was open, and Joe Strummer was behind me talking to me. I couldn’t understand a word he was saying between the window and his accent, and I thought, “He must think me an idiot.” I can’t even talk to him, couldn’t. Jimmy Pursey of Sham 69 — they were a wonderful band. Their tragedy was that the Skinheads liked them and yet they weren’t necessarily Skinheads themselves. It was a question of the timing. Just as things had changed here in the South Bay, it changed in England with the Skinheads. It was difficult for Sham 69 to perform and play, but they were very accessible and very nice. I really enjoyed their music and them. The Boomtown Rats . . . oh, I loved the Boomtown Rats; they were so cool . . .
Tape 2 (side 1) Jenny Lens: Alrighty . . . London Boys . . .The Go-Go’s nailed it: we loved London boys. They were cute, they were sexy, they were accessible and they played loud fast music. They were just so sexy. I was at Columbia Records and I was told that there was going to be a press conference for the Boomtown Rats. I hadn’t heard a lot of bands. The only music you could hear was on Rodney and I didn’t have the time or money to go buy 45s. So I hardly ever played music at home. I found out about bands through reading. I certainly had read about the Boomtown Rats. I called some friends of mine and we went to Columbia (across the street from the Century City shopping mall). We were pretty much the only fans. It was a little bit of press and mostly Columbia people and the Rats were really fun and accessible and glad to be able to fool around with us. They were staying at the Sunset Marquis and I have pictures of them hanging out at the pool.
They had the most memorable show at the Coconut Grove at the Ambassador Hotel. It had been closed for a while and it didn’t have all the big coconut, tropical environment that gave it its fame. It was the most beautiful show I’ve ever seen in my life. They had the most incredible lighting. I remember this one about a clock that Geldoff sang and he was moving his arms around like hands around a clock. The premiered “I Don’t Like Mondays.” They didn’t have the whole arrangement with the band yet. Only Johnny Fingers and Bob Geldoff performed and I preferred that version. It was just so moving and dramatic. It was an astounding event wherein a teenage Brenda Spencer, down in San Diego, shot at her school because she didn’t like Mondays.
This was the first time that this type of youthful behavior surfaced and now we see it all too often. I really loved the Rats. The manager, Falkna, signed their “I Don’t Like Mondays” 45, gave it to me and said, “I hope you like it.” Like it? I loved it. Can you imagine him saying that to me? That was so sweet. It was just what rock n’ roll can be when everything comes together, when the lighting is just dramatic with different colors and the songs just tell great stories and the music just moves you. It was just great.
I love the Rats. They also played at Fredericks of Hollywood, which I have pictures of and they have these Moose antler hats. Maybe they had gone to the Bullwinkle store because they had these weird hats. They were dancing and performing among the mannequins at Fredericks. I just hung out a lot with the Rats and I really enjoyed them. Then later Falkna became involved with Sinead O’Connor’s career. I drove Sham 69 around town and hung with them. I have pictures of them with Rodney at KROQ. That was a heart-felt song from the Go-Gos because so many of us hung with British punk bands. Maybe we couldn’t always understand everything they said because they had very thick working class accents but they were just wonderful.
Did you see X-Ray Spex when you were out there? I didn’t see too many bands. I saw the Modettes but that was about it. I don’t even know who opened for the Clash when I followed them around. The Clash, oh they were wonderful. I was in San Francisco and went to a Sausalito swap meet and I had a button of the Clash. I don’t think I had photographed them, maybe it was something I had bought or put together from a magazine or something. One of the vendors said to me, “Oh, I saw those guys here.” I questioned him, “The Clash are here at the swap meet?” and kicked myself for not bringing my camera. I met Johnny Green who was their head roadie.
Later my friend Cindy and I drove down to San Diego and I have a lot of pictures of the Clash. I got backstage and for some reason that I’ll never understand because Johnny Green had his girlfriend and future wife with him, yet he abandoned her and came home with me. There was a lot sex going on. It surprised me. Sex, drugs, rock ‘n’ roll is not just a saying. It didn’t matter your age, it didn’t matter your weight, it didn’t matter your sex. It was before AIDS and only herpes was the big issue. Cindy drove back while one of the roadies, Barry, was in the front, watching us making out in the back seat. Johnny and I didn’t have any clothes on. Then we reached the border check thing where you have to do a stop a little north of San Diego. We had to quickly cover ourselves. We were just really crazy and high on speed, a lot of speed. The next day his whole band was looking for him. They didn’t know what happened to him. He left late in the afternoon and he casually said to me, “Oh, just give me some names. I’ll put them on a guest list.” Okay, it’s 4:00 the show is at 9:00, who am I gonna call? There were no cell phones or pagers. People weren’t at home but hanging out. So I got hold of a few of my friends for the show at the Hollywood Palladium. My friend Mark Martinez was at that show. Somebody ripped the backstage pass off of his shirt, ripping it. The Rockabilly Rebels opened for them ‘cause I have pictures of that. I went to a party and my watch malfunctioned. It sped up an hour so I left, thinking it was later than it was. I followed them up to San Francisco afterwards and the word was out: I had to hide from his girlfriend. She was out looking for me although I don’t know if she knew who I was. I think that’s so funny! I also ingested a huge amount of crystal Vitamin C to stay healthy in spite of all the speed I was doing. I had the runs and remember hanging out in the bathroom with the Cramps, hoping his girlfriend wouldn’t find me. Ha ha! That was so weird.
Later I hooked up with Barry, who was in the front, and then another one of the roadies in England. Sue Sawyer, who was their publicist at Columbia, said, “Jenny, what is this thing about you and the Clash roadies?” and I said, “I don’t know.” I thought I was so shy, so I really don’t know. But I was wild, a lot of fun cos I have a great sense of humor, and always up for a good time, with no strings attached. You’d think with all that access, I’d talk to and photograph the Clash offstage, but I was so damned shy!! I love the Clash. I photographed them a lot at the Roxy, up in San Francisco, UC Berkeley down in San Diego, and in England. They were the best live band. The Clash were so phenomenal. The energy was just amazing. I took amazing shots in England. I took great black and white shots on the Santa Monica Civic stage but my neighbors broke into the photo lab and stole them. That truly broke my heart. I stupidly told them where the film was. Can you believe that? The stole them from the lab. The Clash were so phenomenal . . . and visually too. They just dressed really cool. I really loved them. I was glad that they got more successful so more people could see and hear them.
I liked the English bands a lot and the New York bands. Talking Heads was really boring and the only way to enjoy them was to take a Quaalude (uppers and hallucinogenics are more to my liking). I liked the Heads after I stopped photographing them ‘cause they added world music and their music got really lively and David Bryne’s lyrics got more intense and now I love the Heads. But I have a really hard time with the early releases. It was a little too spare for me. Blondie, wonderful! We had so much fun at Blondie. Debbie dance around and you could get real close to them and you could hang out with them backstage or at parties and things. They were so much fun. I love listening to their first album, and also “Parallel Lines” and with its cultural references. I’m not a person who ever read comics. “Mad Magazine” was it, but not Saturday morning cartoons and comics. But I love “Rip Her to Shreds” about the girl wearing Robert Hall sweater because it is so funny and campy.
Blondie had a lot of LA fans. I hate to use the phrase pure pop ‘cause that sounds so trivial but it was just pure and it was great. Even when they changed, when “Parallel Lines” became more serious, they were developing musically and lyrically and were so wonderful. I didn’t get to photograph them much . . . there’s some controversy over the picture I took of Debbie Harry on the floor. Have you ever seen that one — her legs are spread apart on the floor and you can see her white panties? I called their management to ask permission to print it. DD Faye wanted to put it on the cover of “Back Door Man” but I never wanted to print it. I was a nice Jewish girl and showing one’s panties is not ladylike. I called their management to get permission and was told to publish it, but they refused to believe I ever called. I was literally dragged out of the Hollywood Palladium by one of their managers, Peter Leeds. I wasn’t allowed to photograph them because of that photo. I could never figure out if the management objected or if Blondie objected. I’ve been told different stories through the years, but it got them a huge amount of publicity. Bob Merlis, who was head of Warner publicity and now he’s one of their presidents, had that picture, when it was in “Creem” magazine, taped on his door. I visited him and said, “Oh, by the way that’s my picture.” Got them a lot of publicity and it got me grabbed by the arm and pulled out of the Palladium. Okay, thanks very much. It’s a good thing their music was good otherwise . . .
How about the Dictators?
Loved them. Top 10, who was their guitarist, came across the backstage of the Whisky and put his hand out and said, “Jenny Lens, I love your photos, nice to meet you.” Well, of course I love a band that recognizes that I am contributing to their success. That’s all I want them to know, that I’m a fan. But more than a fan, I’m also contributing to their success. I’m on their side. That’s why when I get banished or can’t get photo passes or whatever, I’m hurt and puzzled because I’m helping you! I’m not a hired gun. Okay, Farrah Faucet Minor got into a fight with the girlfriend of lead singer Handsome Dick Manitoba. The Dictators were mostly New York Jews from Brooklyn or the Bronx. You don’t mess around with people from there. Farrah, the big loud mouth, was blurting out anti-Semitic remarks and got into a fight with his girlfriend, who was a tall, slim blond. They were duking it out and got 86’ed from the Starwood. I loved the Dictators. They were so funny and they liked me. I took a picture they used on their press kit. They were cool. I loved them and they were very unique and very interesting. They all looked so different and I liked that. They had every look under the sun. They had high energy and I saw them a lot and I really liked the Dictators because they were funny, nice guys.
Did they come out here a lot? I photographed them on their first west coat tour, maybe their second as well. They were on Elektra. I don’t know how hard is it to promote these bands. One of the things I didn’t realize when I first started was that magazines are supported by advertisers. So if you write a review of a record or a performance by a Warner Brother’s group, it’s not a coincidence that there’s an ad that page or next page of maybe that band or another band that’s on Warner Brothers. But if you have a band that is not signed, which most of the punk bands were, or you have a band that isn’t exactly heavy metal, progressive, disco and what else was there in the ‘70s, then how do you promote them? I don’t think it’s that difficult, but they just didn’t promote the Dictators. If they’re not getting radio airplay and they only come out and play the Whisky or something and they don’t sell out, then everyone loses interest (except their few fans).
You have to build artists and that’s true of any creative endeavor. You find that with television. You get a show that’s constantly moving around and then it’s yanked. I cannot understand an industry that puts tons of money into TV pilots and then doesn’t make it consistent or get behind it or whatever. I don’t understand a record company that signs groups and doesn’t get behind it or doesn’t just be patient and work with them. I don’t understand the stock market that expects companies to make money right away. They get all excited when you cut employees because you’re paying less, then you have more of a paper profit because you aren’t paying people. But how can you run a company if you don’t have enough people? So I don’t understand this mentality. Can somebody please answer how this works? I don’t understand it. I don’t understand why a record company didn’t get behind the Dictators or the Ramones and so many of these bands. What would have happened if Blondie hadn’t recorded “Heart of Glass” when they recorded it? Thank goodness it was a disco dance that wasn’t terribly disco. The hard part for me tin getting my photos published was because I didn’t know how it worked initially. I sent out so many great photos that never got published, were never going to get published and were never returned. I wish I’d kept the prints and slides myself. When I would get something published, you think the band would say, “Here’s a free record, show up, thanks for the publicity” . . . no! I’m real isolated ‘cause I don’t understand how people work.
Who was Cherie the Penguin? She was wonderful! I’m in touch with her via email. Cherie the Penguin allegedly lived with Lou Reed in New York. She lived with Tony the hustler. Tony was a very handsome man, was a hustler and I’m positive is gay. Most people lived off of sex and drugs. Apparently Cherie worked as an S & M dominatrix or something (I never knew personal details). I photographed her because she dressed in the most outrageous clothes. I didn’t know there were bras where the nipples cut out and crotchless panties and things. She would wear all these outrageous clothes and be half dressed and I was always taking pictures of her. I didn’t know that was part of her profession . . . not that it made any difference to me. She was just this outrageously funny woman who was a big fan and loved to pose. She was so much fun! She had some New York history. I think she knew Tomata from back east. Now she has this website where she’s really into exercise. She would just show up everywhere. One of those people that just you know. She and Tony were married for awhile and she has a daughter who’s her pride and joy.
How did people pay for things? We had a King Tut exhibit at LACMA. Somebody called me up with a ticket. I stood in line and saw Trudie and Hellin helping with the ticket line. I know they were outside of Farmer’s Market at Fairfax and Third and Beverly giving away cigarette samples. These were temp jobs. You’d just pick up enough money to pay your rent unless you lived at the Canterbury where it doesn’t cost anything. You needed just a few dollars to get by. Yeah we got by on our wits.
What about the Canterbury? I don’t know too much about that because I only went over there once. It was literally a place that you could pile your clothes and you could sleep. Shannon was getting ready to go to the Masque or something, putting her make-up on and I remember seeing piles of clothes in everyone’s apartment. It was a place where people had a roof over their head. Apparently the owner or the landlord had shot someone, was taken off to jail and it was open to squatters. It was really close to the Masque and I’m sure people were just squatting.
What street was it? Was it on Cherokee? Cherokee is interesting street in Hollywood. The Masque was west of Cherokee, south of Hollywood Boulevard and the Canterbury was north of Hollywood, but you had to walk a few feet east to cross over to it because the two sides aren’t straight across the street. The street ended and then picked up around the corner. I didn’t hang out there too much.
Piranhas, did you know them? I love a shot I took of Sheila and Shannon. They’re wearing white modified t-shirts with Piranha written in blood-red ink or paint. They’ve got white make-up with dark eyes and dark red lips. They’re defiantly and proudly staring at the camera. They were scary in the way that I really love. Women have been more inhibited and traditionally and are not allowed to be as aggressive and assertive as men because our society, media, workplace, family and schools punish independent women. They were totally uninhibited. It was something that they did themselves for themselves. If they didn’t do their make-up, it was Connie or someone they hung with. Those women were exciting to photograph. I don’t know if the Piranhas ever played anywhere or anything, but they just hung out. Like the Plungers, Trudie and Hellin. I remember Shannon at Blackies. I’d only gone to Blackies a few times (I think it was on La Brea). Shannon had a sharp, spiky cock ring bands around her wrist. Mine just had little pyramids but it wasn’t sharp. She was standing behind me and I was right next to the stage photographing somebody, and she saw people banging up against me. She was trying to protect me from these other people, and she would bang her arm into me and it hurt. I tried to get away from her but she kept following me. I mentioned something to her and she said, “I’m just trying to protect you.” I said, “Well, it hurts.” But she was either drunk or high on heroin and didn’t realize how much she was banging into me. That was the kind of stuff that they’d wear. So you’d just have to watch out for them and Sheila . . . the pictures I have of Sheila at the Roxy showed up with her face all scratched because she’d been in a fight where a girl ground her face into the pavement. There’s little bits of asphalt and dirt ground into her face. She’s got this little band-aid with make-up over the wound in my photos. Tomata and especially Tommy Gear were furious at her for ruining her face the day of the show. Sheila got into fights, but I thought that was funny.
What about the Bags? Did you see the Bags at all? I love Alice Bag. Alice is really, really a sweet person and really helped me once when I was in a jam. I met Alice through somebody early on. I went to her family home out in god knows where. Maybe it was in Silver Lake but to me at the time it seemed like it was the end of the earth. I didn’t know from anywhere outside of the valley, Wilshire Boulevard to go to LACMA and see old Garbo films — that was it. Her brother or somebody had a dark room in the bathtub and I developed and made some pictures there before I got my own dark room. I think she already was going with Nicky Beat. She told me that she was in a band. I never really saw the Bags other than at the Masque benefit in February. I photographed Alice for years. She was in one of those handful of people including Trudie, Hellin, Mary Rat, Cherie, Pleasant who dressed so wonderfully and showed up everywhere. She was so beautiful and so sweet, just a really good person and a voice. We went to Silver Lake to hear her at the benefit for Jackie Goldberg when she first was running for City Council. Knocked me out, Alice’s voice was so beautiful. But she didn’t want a professional performing career. She enjoys teaching and working with little children. I think it’s interesting so many punks are involved with social issues. I think there was always this underlying awareness of important current issues and wanting to be involved, being very intelligent, being aware of what’s going on in society and wanting to do something about it. So many became writers, performers, teachers, artists , etc. and did not just passively sat on the sidelines.
Did you know the Dickies? I didn’t go to every show. I had to develop film or print photos or shoot another show. Pleasant called me after seeing the Dickies at the Starwood. She breathlessly said, “Oh, you missed it. It was unbelievable . . . Leonard jumped off the balcony, fell over and broke both his legs.” They were really fun. “Tricia Toyota in a Pagoda” and “Godzilla.” I was real surprised when Chuck Wagon killed himself. I didn’t really know them well, but got along with Stan Lee and Billy Club, their drummer dating Belinda. He told me he thought of her as a young Kim Novak. They dressed up and it was always a real fun time. They were the first L.A. punk band to get signed. They got signed to A & M.
They had this 45 — the front side was a shot of a Christmas tree and a guy, and the other side they had what looked like the group hanging off of a cliff and behind you could see downtown L.A. The sun was setting but it was getting dark. There was a kind of a pink cast in the back due to our smog. I photographed the outdoors shot on the back sleeve and A & M credited Jules Bates who had photographed only the front. Stan felt badly about it, but they were touring in England and they didn’t get to see it before it got printed. The art director, Jeffrey Ayeroff, was responsible but little details didn’t bother him. He later became a bigwig at Virgin and elsewhere. He went far. That always pissed me off. That was always just the story of my life — it’s like, “That’s my photo” and everyone benefits but me. But I always loved that photo.
We went up to what was supposed to be Errol Flynn’s estate up at the end of Fuller. I have pictures of them climbing over a wrought iron fence, and then hanging out inside of a gutted swimming pool. They literally climbed over the side of this wall and they were just holding on — not that they were going to lose their life ‘cause there was some ground underneath them. It was great because you had a little bit of greenery that turned into metropolitan downtown LA with a smoggy pink sky. Again it was like the Screamers picture, so L.A., I really liked it, totally spontaneous. There were a lot of fun pictures taken as the sun set and the darkness covered us and my little flash on my camera. Nothing fancy, no extra lights like professional photographers. A lot of good pictures came from that photo shoot, although only that one was published.
What were some of the other bands that you did shoots like that? Few besides the Screamers and the Dickies. When I went to the Forming show, I had really mixed feelings because I saw poses that X had done, the Go-Gos, Weirdos, the ones with all the paint around them . . . and I just thought of missed opportunities. I never took the initiative because I was so shy. I think they would’ve done it ‘cause people didn’t say no when I asked. I just didn’t ask that often. I don’t know how that came about, with the Dickies, they might have asked me.
Was there a lot of anti-Semitism in the scene back then?
No, but it’s interesting ’cause I thought about this: Jeffrey Hyman, Joey Ramone, a nice Jewish boy, godfather of punk . . . I mean you’ve got Iggy but Joey was always the spokesman for the group. Dee Dee contributed a lot of songs and it he [always gave the count off for the songs]: 1, 2, 3, 4. Dee Dee and Joey to me were the heart and soul of the band. Johnny was very conservative, a real prick. One time Dee Dee invited me to go to dinner with them and Johnny wouldn’t let me get in the car. He was very cold. There’s a recent book out about Jews and rock ‘n’ roll although they missed a few people. I don’t know if Joey were in it. Joey was Jewish and you’ve got the Dictators and some of the Nuns, Chris Stein of Blondie and Tom Verlaine (maybe) and Richard Hell. Genny Schorr, Marina del Rey and Joanna aka Spock of Backstage Pass. The Stern brothers, Shawn, Mark, and Adam of the Extremes, Better Youth Brigade and BYO Records. Michol Sinatra. Hal Negro. And me. [Genny Schorr and I are trying to compile a list of Jewish punks in LA, NY and England. Send names to me!!] I certainly encountered anti-Semitism, but I don’t think it was that terrible. I think it was worse when the Skinheads came later. Other than Farrah, I didn’t really hear it. And I think I felt far more anti-Semitism other times in my life growing up in the valley when it was very white. The area that I grew up in was not Encino, was not south of Ventura, which traditionally the Jews were in Encino and Tarzana, Beverly Hills, the West side, but I was not a rich Jew. Being a poor Jew, I was in the valley and it was totally white-bread. A lot more anti-Semitism in my elementary school. I was so shocked when Farrah would stand there and say these things to my face. Anti-Semitism is something that’s in our culture. I just wasn’t used to having it shouted in my face.
I had a hat, which got lost when I moved — I moved a couple of times and things just didn’t follow me. I paid people to help me, but things just had feet. I got the hat at the Fiorucci’s on Rodeo Drive. It was a little shocking pink hat with little pink hearts all around it with a pink feather and it was really silly. It was my 30th birthday gift to myself. I wore it to an X show somewhere in downtown LA around the winter holiday season. Some people were saying some anti-Semitic remarks about it cause it looked like a little yamakah, a little Jewish scull cap. My friend Reggie told me, You know I never liked Jews until I met you. I experienced that all the time wherein people met me and then it was okay. Otherwise, it really wasn’t that overt because not everyone knows I’m Jewish.
That’d be it huh? What was your favorite concert? I’ll just really have to say Boomtown Rats at the Cocoanut Grove because that was just such an amazing show, and the Clash in San Francisco. I was up in the balcony and the pictures didn’t come out that well because I took them to a lab up there who messed them up and they came out so grainy, unlike any other shots, but they were so amazing. Certainly Patti Smith, the Ramones and X. I always liked the Mumps and the Weirdos who were a lot of fun. But absolute favorite two live groups were Boomtown Rats and the Clash. I like good lighting and I like a good atmosphere. I’m rooted in theater and I really thought that was always something that was overlooked. The lighting could be so dramatic. That’s the thing when I look at my pictures . . . I just wish that there were more where I could’ve used just the available light and you’d just get these incredible colors, highlights and shadows, stunning images but flash just washes everything out. Were they charged for lights or just think a few white lights are ok?
Who are some of the photographers who were inspired by you?
Inspired by me? I don’t know that as much as the photographers who inspired me. Melanie Nissen, who is very inaccessible. It’s very difficult to get her participation in a variety of these projects and I think she has some feelings similar to mine. She and Steve Samioff supported Devo in so many ways, from writing about them, hosting a party for them, putting on their first LA show at Larchmont Hall. Devo was signed to Warner Brothers yet no one stood up and said, let’s put a paid ad in Slash. There is a lot of justifiable bitterness and resentment by both Steve and Melanie regarding the way that the record industry treated them. Melanie is an incredibly original photographer whose work is consistently dramatic, unique, thought-provoking and of course enjoyable. Timeless. I bought some prints for 5, 10 dollars when she had an art show. She’s signing them, saying, “Thank you that you liked my photos.” Thank you they’re five dollars! The photography was a sideline for her. I don’t think she sent her photos out. I don’t know if they were published outside of Slash and a few records or CDs here and there. She was an art director who won a Grammy when she was at Virgin in New York in the ‘80s. Art directing, what she was doing when I met her with “Slash,” was how she’s made her bread and butter and she does a few commissioned photos. But she doesn’t promote her archives and doesn’t contribute to the many new CDs and projects and that’s a shame. That’s the book I want to see. Melanie’s photos are incredible.
Pennie Smith in England is a brilliant photographer. She created a book about the Clash called “Before and After.” I always saw her work in the British rock papers. Melanie and Pennie were the best photographers. I only saw their black and white work, very atmospheric, took my breathe away and caused me to stop and really take it in. Most everybody else was just schlock.
I don’t know who I inspired because I got out of the scene. One punk, Desiree, whom I met early on at the Ramones, told me she saw Patti Smith’s Babel at the Burbank Public Library probably around 1978. My photo of Patti is on the back of the book. Desiree said there weren’t too may women photographers and I inspired her to pursue her dreams. She told me she was so proud of me. I wanted to cry because Patti refused to credit my photo to Jenny Lens. She used Jenny Stern. She talks about women artists and how we are overlooked. So why did she rob me of my name on my photo? I will never forgive her for that.
I’ve definitely inspired many, many photographers, based on the emails I receive. It never dawned on me I would ever inspire other photographers. I just want to inspire people, but I never imagined getting fan letters from other photographers, especially younger who literally grew up on my work. I am studied in photo classes and other classes. Students make presentations to their classes based on my photos, my stories, but mostly, my story. How weird is that? I quickly realized, then as now, rock photography is not about the best photos. The photos that were published were the ones that hit the photo/art directors desk first. A lot of my photos didn’t get published because I didn’t send them out soon enough or if a tour started on the East Coast, by the time it got to the West Coast, the issue is either out or the layout is done. A lot of my really good images have never seen the light of day because I had to really look at this as a business. The business is about playing by the rules and I was doing so much shooting following my passion, rather than following the money by shooting marketable groups and getting my work out immediately. And when it became only a business I got out. I was broke and burned out. The scene changed and so did I. But it was the most intense, fun, wonderful time in my whole life. I am so glad I did what I did when I did it. Great memories! I still listen to so much of the music and see our era’s influence in every aspect of our culture. I got to enjoy all this so much earlier. I got there when it was really exciting! When I could make a difference, have fun and make art, something lasting and meaningful.
Punk was revolutionary and consumed us 24/7. So alive and vibrant. And so were we.
Punk as a lifestyle was invented/refined by us. We were ridiculed and harrassed on many levels. Everyone outside of punk thought I was nuts to enjoy it and waste my time photographing it. I could be making big money. But that’s not why I picked up a camera. So it wasn’t something in-between work and family, not something to do now and then, if we could manage. We lived those few, quick years before it changed into what it is now, rather integrated into every aspect of society. That’s why there’s so much interest in it and my photos in particular. I was there before it became marketable, a buzzword to be exploited, to totally misrep punk in all its Glory. That’s so much stinky shit out there. CD booklets, books, mags, doc, online articles. A great deal of it is pure crap, written by people who weren’t there. Who didn’t live like we did in my photos. I’m tried of the lies. So I am like a nun, so focused on this work. But too much for one woman. Need help!
Punk Pioneers, Rizzoli/Universe, Spring, 2008. Lots of photos!