July 4, 2004: Intro Punk History

Sex Pistols, Johnny Rotten and Steve Jones, Winterland, Jan 14, 1978
Sex Pistols, Johnny Rotten and Steve Jones, Winterland, Jan 14, 1978

From one of the VERY First Punk Photographers, 1976 – 1980. “Hey baby, it’s the 4th of July . . .” 2004 and I’m lying on the dance floor, with a nearly 300 pound former punk drummer and smaller security guard rolling about on top of me. I’m thinking, of all the punk clubs and shows in all the world, why is it I’m in the middle of the action, or rather, under it, again?

Hey baby, it’s the 4th of July . . . ran through my head as I woke up and later heard at Alex’s Bar in Long Beach, with my head glued firmly to their jukebox, finally seeing Seattle’s Briefs on Shawn and Mark Stern’s label, BYO Records. I shot the Stern brothers, who also share my birth last name, when they were in the Extremes at Hong Kong Cafe and a special photo shoot at the Pacific Design Center aka the Blue Whale in West Hollywood. But another member, Chris, with whom I hung out with cos I didn’t even know the Stern brothers then, stole most of those shots, but that’s another story, but I digress (get used to it, that’s the way I tell stories, rarely linear). I kept missing the Briefs the past two years, cos no money nor time to see them. I was dancing stage left, audience right, getting off on them, and now I’m flat on my back on the floor, unable to get up til these two dudes get off me first. How did a nice jewish girl with art degrees, a shy neurotic girl take some of the most iconic punk rock photos and hang out with and see some of the greatest early punk bands of all time?

Before I get into all that, let’s back up a few months.

Susan Dynner, the director/producer of Punk’s Not Dead, told me the Autry Museum of Western Art was planning an evening of punk and did I want to show my photos? I contacted the museum, begged them to let me digitally project some of my shots taken from 1976 – 1980. I spent a frantic week preparing the presentation on June 18. That night I was told the Avengers were playing Spaceland in Silver Lake the next night, June 19 (my mother’s 84th birthday). I hitched a ride with my close friend, musician and top punk archivist, David Jones and his friend Sotiris.

I hung out with Alice Bag and her husband, Greg, and Billy Bones of the Skulls and his wife, Christina. The Avengers’ lead singer, Penelope Huston, was warm and friendly, as was their guitarist and vocalist, Greg Ingraham, whose daughter Danika performed with them. Everyone looked great, as though it truly were still 1977. The Avengers put on a blazing show in spite of the stifling heat generated by the packed room and Penelope’s blistering performance. Billy told me the Skulls were going great guns and playing locally, with a European tour behind them and Japan next. I wanted to go to the Warped Tour, but Billy encouraged me to come down to Long Beach. He said Alex’s Bar was really cool, and it was exactly the kind of neighborhood bar every punk would die for (true!).

The Skulls were great, with a sensational guitarist, Kevin Preston. Billy introduced me to the Briefs – what a treat! A friend turned me onto Hit after Hit a few years ago, and now I was hanging with the band. But I kept watching this great big dude, getting more and more obnoxious as the afternoon turned into evening. I was dancing on the audience’s stage left, pushing people out of my way until I got tired of it. I moved to the other side of the stage where I had more room to myself to dance. I noticed the big dude on stage and thought, the guards are gonna make him leave the stage. Which the guy did by stage diving onto me before I could move back far enough. I spent much of the afternoon lying on sofas because I hurt my back from years of living hard and fast, schlepping heavy camera equipment, sitting hunched over a computer, bad nutrition, drugs and just a rough life? But what a life!!

I toured with the Clash in England, June and July, 1980. I shot them during their first West Coast tour in 1979 and subsequent shows in 1980. In June of 1980, I got off the plane at Heathrow, got on a train to Bristol, just showed up, got a photo pass, stood on the stage (after tripping on wires, it was dark, and puncturing my leg, but kept on shooting, blood dripping and all) and then hitched a ride with them back to London. Ended up with one of their top road crew, the third and last road Clash crew member I hooked up with. All I wanted to do was sleep, which I hadn’t done since I left Los Angeles earlier that long, long day which turned into night, the days change to night, change in an instant (X’s Los Angeles ). Ironically, after the Clash played the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium (March 3, 1980), that same Clash crew member had thrown me out of backstage. People kept asking for free Polariods and I was so broke I wasn’t even eating. I dared ask for $1 and was thrown out. Which just goes to show how one moment a tall black man threw me out and the other moment he wanted to fuck me. I was fucked in either case, but that’s life and no complaints!

Took great Clash stage shots but too shy to ever ask them for a group shot. August 2001, after Patti Smith hugged me, told me she dares other photographers to take better photos than I. I shot her November 11, 1976 in a San Diego hall that prohibited cameras. I gave my camera bag to Patti’s late brother Todd and retrieved it once we got back in. I developed the film incorrectly, ruining hundreds of shots. But I got two with Patti and guitar glowing, transcendent and magical.

Iggy asked me where I’d been when I showed him shots I took while sitting with Hellin Killer and Mary Rat on two folding chairs, no flash and a coupler that made for close-ups but cut the light in half when he played the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium in April, 1977. That hall also prohibited cameras, so I had to sneak it in and lay low. Iggy told me I took better shots than his photographer. I took the very first photos of X (as a group during their debut on September 17, 1977, but casually for months before) and the Germs in spring of 1977. Possibly first to shoot the Weirdos (April 9, 1977), among the first to shoot Screamers (spring 1977) and first LA shots of the Ramones (August, 1976), Damned (April 1977) and so many more (refer to my photo list.

I took the infamous NUDE shot of Captain Sensible of the Damned. The one of Blondie’s Debbie Harry on the floor of the world-famous Whisky, showing her white panties. The stuff that dreams are made of turned into a nightmare for me. That shot garnered world-wide press for Debby while I received no money for its publication and was banned from ever shooting Blondie again. The infamous nude shot of the Damned’s bassist, Captain Sensible. Made into a button in England, I never made one red cent from it. And so it goes . . .

I didn’t know how to put film in my camera August 12, 1976, the second night de brudders from Queens played LA’s Roxy. I was entranced by Dee Dee Ramones’ cheekbones. Before returning to see them again, I grabbed the camera I was given as a college graduation gift to shoot my art portfolio. I didn’t know it over-exposed most flash photos when the flash worked. I didn’t know anything about rock photography and even less about the music industry nor rock magazines. I was beginning a potentially brilliant career as an artist, with my work exhibited in art shows, galleries and museums. But the last thing I wanted to do was sit on my fat ass by myself making the same art over and over. I earned my Master of Fine Arts Degree from Cal Arts so I could teach college. I was an early participant in Judy Chicago’s landmark The Dinner Party. But Ii just couldn’t submerge myself in someone else’s visions. I had my own art to create. I left Judy for Patti. And who wanted to teach after spending my whole life in school? How about living first?

I was the talkative yet shy fat girl who sat on the sidelines and preferred SondheimInto the Woods is amazing and highly recommended! — and Joni Mitchell to rock. Or so it seemed. I saw the Beatles at Hollywood Bowl but was turned off by the screaming girls. I was in it for the music, but music had lost its power, relevance and magic for so many of us.

Glitter seemed so artificial, but the radio, as progressive as it was in the 1970’s, still stayed away from glitter other than Elton John’s flashiness and Bowie’s androgyny. Where were Iggy, the Dolls and the Velvets? But I couldn’t sit still anymore. Years of sitting in classes, dreaming of an art community, the theatre, men, parties, music, life.

When would those dreams become reality?

That’s what this website is about. Answering those questions, how, why I got into punk, why I took so many shots, where we came from, where we are now and where we are going. With the photos and quotes from those of us who were there. No poseurs on this site! Had to live the life or I don’t wanna hear about it. I don’t want to retread so many lies, distortions, and fantasized stories about what happened.

I’m hooked into tons of real pioneer punks and avid archivists who have access to the real stuff. Photos, flyers, recordings, movies/videos, memorabilia, fanzines, manifestos and our own words. Watch this site, contribute to it and find out for yourself what you either lived through if you were lucky or what you missed out but are reaping the benefits now.

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