Punk Stories and Photos, April 9, 2014. Written for a local rag who misquoted me. Here’s what I really wrote:
Jenny Lens, MFA was born in West LA and raised in the Valley. I went to the Teenage Fair at the Hollywood Palladium in the 60s, and the Renaissance Faires, 1960s-70s, but otherwise didn’t get out much. Then, like now, I don’t like to drive. I surprised my high school classmates because I often quoted rock song lyrics. They assumed I wasn’t into rock ‘n roll. My worst high school enemies were the surfers: the skinny, blonde, bronzed boys and girls who looked down their noses at me. They were the cool kids. I was the lonely girl, who was only noticed because I was very creative and outspoken. The writer, Steve Erickson, and I shared a student award for creativity, voted by our classmates. My work was always exhibited or else I was wearing it. I made my own clothes, jewelry and more.
While earning my BA in Art, cum laude with Honors, at CSUN (1972), my wood design teacher told us to buy a camera to photograph our art. I told my parents that’s what I wanted for my graduation present. I earned my MFA in Design at Cal Arts (1974), with Honors and a scholarship. I didn’t want to be a solitary artist. I loved Broadway musicals and rock ‘n roll. I came across Patti Smith’s “Horses” in November 1975. I saw her at the Roxy in January 1976. Patti changed my life.
That spring, 1976, I began to read a local fanzine, “Back Door Man.” A small handful of very knowledgeable, passionate music fans covered most every genre of popular music. They came from North Torrance, West Torrance, Carson, and other South Bay areas. Many of their friends and followers lived in Palos Verdes, Redondo Beach, or as far north as the Valley (like I) or East to Glendale and further. The Runaways debuted in editor/publisher Phast Phreddie’s parents living room in West Torrance, 1975. I missed that because I wasn’t in aware of the scene yet. You could not hear this music on the radio, nor read in major rock magazines, so how was I to know?
I read everything I could about punk. I bought the Ramone’s LP the day it was released, Spring 1976. I stood in front of the line and sat under Dee Dee Ramone’s feet the first night at the Roxy, August 11, 1976. The next night I brought my camera because I was obsessed with his cheekbones. I met them after the show. Now my life really changed.
I photographed the Ramones all over Los Angeles and followed them up to San Francisco. Back in LA, when they performed at the Golden Bear in Huntington Beach or the Smokestack (later the Fleetwood) in Redondo Beach, I saw a group of kids dancing when others were standing still. I met them backstage. Many of them lived on the westside (and hung with the Back Door Man crew) as well as the eastside of LA. They all later became an integral part of punk, some becoming musicians, writers, or noteworthy members of the small circle of early and devoted punk fans.
I got into rock ‘n roll photography because I had degrees in art, grew up on Look and Life magazines (THE great mags w/THE great classic photos, mostly black and white), plus tons of art history and most of all, old movie history books. My inspirations were old movie stills. I love music and really wanted to be a Broadway photographer but I don’t like snow. I was searching for fellow artists and found punk in LA. I also loved photographing punk shows and parties because I have a lot of energy, especially at night.
However, as a child I spent a lot of time at the beaches; always became red as a lobster and in pain. I knew about the skateboarders (boring!), surfers (boring!) and music at the beach (sunburn!). Not my scene. I felt and looked out of place. Even with sunscreens, I still burn terribly in bright sunlight. The nighttime, so dark and exciting, was my time.
A small group of early punks were at the beach, 1977. I think for Joan Jett’s birthday (September 22). Surfer guys were screaming “Lesbian” and giving her a hard time. My friend Mark Martinez knew Joan from the Sugar Shack (a teen hangout in the valley). He whispered in my ear and said “I bet those are the same guys who get all hot and bothered seeing the Runaways. They have no idea who she is.” Plus there’s always been territorial issues with surfers at the beach, especially regarding vals. Plus I didn’t like to drive. So many great shows going on in West Hollywood and Hollywood, so I rarely made it westside.
The Santa Monica Civic Auditorium had a policy prohibiting cameras. I recall being escorted to my car to lock up my camera during Patti Smith, May 12, 1978. I came back and cried as I saw her with the American flag, singing “You Light Up My Life.” That song was a big hit for Debbie Boone at the time. Plus I saw other people with cameras. The guards didn’t throw them out. Where are their photos? Imagine if I could have taken THOSE photos! Mine would be seen!
I was able to photograph the Clash onstage at the Santa Monica Civic, March 3, 1980. I had a habit of driving bands around, starting with the Ramones and ending with some of the Clash’s crew. I was close to Baker, one of the band’s main crew. I recall the guard giving me a hard time, even with my name on the backstage list. The Civic was not friendly (neither was the Forum in Inglewood). Big venues were a nightmare for me. I’m not big on crowds either.
The Ramones, with the Runaways opening, played at the Santa Monica Civic, January 27, 1978. I have no photos of that show, although I knew and photographed both bands many times. I photographed Joan Jett at the Carousel, during the after-party at the Santa Monica Pier. Not a happy memory, because I am happiest taking photos. Sometimes I can’t even remember shows unless I’m photographing. I just get too upset. I’m still that way! I love taking photos!
Contrast the SM Civic to the Whisky. I could get into the Whisky free, any time, no questions asked. I had no problems getting backstage. I could stand on the stairs where I took some of my most classic rock ‘n roll photos. I could dance and photograph on the floor near the stage, upstairs in the balcony, or some really fun times backstage. That’s why the Whisky was always “my home away from home.” No other club was his welcoming to me as the Whisky.
The Masque in the Hollywood was legendary. Bigger, out of town bands played both the Whisky and Starwood and not the Masque. The Masque’s stage was near the ground and much harder to photograph, plus the mosh pit was the whole floor. Have you seen footage online? It was mad! I’m in a legendary Screamers footage. I had so much fun! I much rather be dancing than taking photos at the Masque, although I did create some classic Germs and other photos. I photographed the Sex Pistols’ drummer, Paul Cook, sitting at the drum kit of the Skulls. Plus my photos of Steve Jones hanging outside.
I have tons of photos from the Whisky, Starwood, Roxy, and Masque. I only have a few from the Santa Monica Civic. Plus the sound sucked big time at the SM Civic. I don’t recall which show, but I was out in the lobby with a lot of my friends. They agreed the sound sucked. I saw Bob Marley, Bruce Springsteen in 1976 and later, Alan Price and some other bands whom I did not photograph but enjoyed. But I always enjoy a show much more when I’m taking photos.
Club 88 at 11788 Pico and Granville, on the border of West LA and Santa Monica, was a favorite westside club for the punks. I rarely photographed there, because again, the stage was low on the ground. It was a place I came to party. I photographed X during the filming of “Decline of Western Civilization,” shown at LACMA, in conjunction with the Academy of Arts and Sciences (Oscars) on April 18 this year. Which I attended.
My photos of X are iconic. Probably the most famous and most published photos from certainly that movie, if not all of Penelope Spheeris’ three Decline films. Exene chose my photo for the cover of a CD she produced. Exene solo and some of my other X from Decline images are on covers of books, magazines, documentaries and CDs, especially from westside record company, Rhino Records. Rhino store was in Westwood, and their offices westside until Warner Brothers bought them out. Plus my X Decline photos are popular amongst photo collectors.
Two special westside private events to remember: Iggy’s fan club creators from San Francisco called me. They were on their way to hang out with Iggy in his rented Malibu seashore mansion. They wanted me to take photos. I had just gone to bed after a marathon around-the-clock printing session in my walk-in closet darkroom. I only wanted to sleep. However, I couldn’t pass up this op. Imagine my surprise sitting next to him, while he sang and played on his piano.
I was invited to photograph a demo session for Chuck E Weiss, produced by Rickie Lee Jones. Her boyfriend at that time, Tom Waits, plus Dr. John, Libby Titus and others joined us all at legendary Shangri-La Studios in Malibu. This photo of Chuck E Weiss and Tom Waits is very popular. Note the 1970’s ubiquitous pinball machine under the fern, next to Tom Waits. No punks were pinball wizards.
I was invited back by studio personnel, but I laughed it off. Hanging out in a recording studio is boring. Listening to the kind of music produced there was not my idea of fun. Big big names, but not my kind of music. I wasn’t in this for the money or fame. I wanted to document up and coming punk groups and have fun. My life was very hard and this was the most fun I’d ever know.
I was into punk because it was fun! The early hard-core music was not on my radar. I enjoy being around people who didn’t shove each other in the mosh pit. I often photographed people based on their creative clothes, dancing, love of partying and posing, in a time when this was rare. The fans who migrated to the Hollywood shows often were colorful, vintage clothes from thrift stores or something they created themselves. The fans near the beach wore beach clothes: T-shirts and jeans. Hard-core meant motorcycle boots, which would destroy me because I wore sandals and am not tall.
The color photo of women was taken at the Second Slash Magazine Benefit, Larchmont Hall, August 8, 1977. All the women are from Redondo Beach or Palos Verdes. However, the blonde in the pink fuzzy sweater, aviator glasses with requisite tan chose to look like Farrah Fawcett-Majors and other major cultural icons of that era. Hellin Killer (in the far left background, two-toned short hair), Mary Rat and brunette Trudie fled from their sun-drenched beach homes to the nighttime with pale skin, thrift-store dresses and independent attitude.
I have many happy memories as a child walking the old Santa Monica boardwalk. Pacific Ocean Park was a treat. As an adult, I rarely made it to the beach other than for a few shows or parties when my Hollywood friends went westside. The westside didn’t seem as inviting or welcoming as the city.
Since 1995, I’ve lived westside; since 1997, lived 2 miles from the beach in Santa Monica. I enjoy taking a bus or walking to or from the Third Street Promenade. I’ve always loved it and am so grateful I can live here. But westside wasn’t the center of punk rock for me then or now.
The draw of Hollywood as an entertainment center has enticed people for over a century. I walked to the Whisky or Roxy or drove to the Starwood, and then drove my film to black and white and color labs. I often didn’t get to bed until 4 AM. Sometimes I had to get up early to teach the next day. I didn’t feel like adding to the drive, going to the beach or further south, unless there was a compelling show. Everyone I cared about played in my hood. Worked for me.
During the early days of punk, the hub was Hollywood and West Hollywood. There wasn’t much of the scene in the westside, the eastside or downtown. That came towards the end of the 70s and certainly more into the 80s. The hard-core scene drove punk out of Hollywood because too many kids damaged the venues. Other music, like rockabilly, synthetic and power pop became more popular genres of music in the city. Hard-core found its home on the westside, further east, downtown and Orange County. By then I was out. I had my fun and moved on.
Great great times whether at the beach or in the city. Punk rock was a cultural revolution: one I was determined to document and share with the world.
I’m grateful my photos resonate with so many, no matter where or when they were born.