BRENDAN MULLEN: AH, HERE COME THE PUNKS!
Brendan Mullen is the mad Scotsman who started the Masque, America’s only hardcore punk club, in an alley at Cherokee and Hollywood Boulevard in the summer of 1977. He speaks now just before going in for a session of raccoon make-up.
Did you really find the first Masque by falling drunkenly down the stairs?
Well, that’s a little bit exaggerated—not falling, and maybe just tipsy and stoned? I think I said that trying to be cute. I said a lot of shit-ass things then! I was just finding a place to have jam sessions, and once I got in there, the punks don’t wanna jam! I got into the whole punk thing because of rock ‘n’ roll, not despite it. To some people it was supposed to be the enemy, but I was able to love punk and get into it because of my experience of rock ‘n’ roll—this had great wonderful soul! Rock ‘n’ roll had been going through a meandering uninteresting period—I don’t believe the clichés about disco and whining about disco. The true enemy was country rock—Linda Ronstadt, the Eagles, Jackson Browne. Even though I wasn’t bored—not sitting at home whining and crying, waiting for someone to reinvent rock ‘n’ roll for me! There was plenty of other music. Punk was about politics—music—fashion—lifestyle—but the pull for me was just the music. I liked all the local bands and what they were doing, but at the time rock ‘n’ roll was going through a rough spot, as it does, and as does all music, and so I thought what was going on in R&B was great, and some of the European psych—I cannot dare use the word ‘prog’—and jazz and classical… instead of crying, ‘My rock ‘n’ roll is dead for me—ah, here come the punks!’ If you know what you like, there’s always stuff—I’ve never been bored by music in my life! If you think music is boring, go find some that’s not boring, or go make some yourself. That’s one of the weaker punk rock things—‘Disco, ehhhhh…’ If anyone says that disco thing—you weren’t there! Get out of the room! That’s cliché hack stuff they picked up as the correct thing to say, and then you namecheck all the bands you say you were into—
The same thing as a thousand people all saying they went to a Masque show that drew fifty?
I’m afraid to answer that—the last thing I want to say is that only those fifty people were valid. There was no real cut-off point! Punk was saying anyone could come in at any moment at any time—it’s like the old Gnostics. No rules, no dogma, no timespan on it. I think that’s great—and the show kind of reflects it, too! Without being corny, I wanted it to be a family thing—a lot of our friends have teenage kids they wanna bring, and the Echoplex is great for that. So this thing can cross over a whole bunch of generations. The younger end is so reverent—that’s one of the reasons I did the book. It’s easy to be cynical, but if you meet punk rock fans, you can’t be cynical or jaded. I think a lot of people really like the music—you couldn’t have predicted that would happen. People who like the music but not really the lifestyle—kids that say, ‘We live for the music—it’s our religion!—but we don’t wanna die!’ If you’re 16 or 17, you don’t wanna die, or most don’t, or die for music at that point—maybe later on—so there’ll be young ‘uns all over the place! But we’re not trying to lavishly recreate it—we just wanna have some fun!
Do you still have all your old records?
95% of them! And the few things I don’t have—if I really need a copy, I know who to call. There are all these collectors over my head, or occasionally some 21-year-old who blows me away! Like the Plugz—that’s a good record, and I DJ living rooms, barbeques, backyards, any place that will have me—and even if it’s a more rock ‘n’ roll than punk crowd, people are always like, ‘Dude! I forgot…’ That was the first independently produced and released album of any ’77 band.
What were the best L.A. punk records that never got made?
God, some of the biggest regrets—the studio sessions with the Skulls and the Deadbeats that I was doing, and I remember pulling the plug on a Deadbeats video shoot because some guy said, ‘Oh, it’s technically not up to par.’ And me saying, ‘Yeah, we’ll do it next week, and we’ll do it right…’ Well, guess what? Hindsight—there never is next week! Like an idiot! Looking back—the stuff we were told wasn’t up to it was as good as anything at the time. But I guess everybody wanted to try and make a great record, and there weren’t a lot of big experienced producers, unlike New York and the English. Here we had to start from scratch—Geza X and Pat Garrett of Dangerhouse, who was taking eight track recording lessons at night school. There’s still always stuff lying around, but I believe Greg from Artifix is down to the bottom of the barrel. I’d be surprised if there were any other missing tapes.
No lost Eyes LP?
That’s the reason I’m so excited—I want to hear Charlotte Caffey doing, ‘Don’t Talk To Me’! That’s the Masque to me—that original power trio. The Eyes stuff that’s out there is the Eyes Mark 2—keys and a different rhythm section. Those were two classically trained musicians—awesomely tight—DJ Bonebrake and Charlotte, who was a classical pianist. Serious musicians—I loved throwing them in the face of all these arbiters of hardcore. In the book, the crowd looks like the Echoplex on a Friday. The people look the same—some are punked up and others are ordinary rock schlubs. You go to any rock club and that’s what the audience looks like.
What first brought you to L.A.?
It sounds like cliché, but boredom with the U.K.—I left in late ’73, and went to New York, and then was in L.A. in 1974.
How come you didn’t you stay in New York and change the course of human history?
I don’t know—time was running out on me! I’m young and crazy and London wasn’t happening—I was 23 and life passed me by! I’m over! Life was what happened to other people… In New York, I think I went to the opening of CBGB’s with this junkie girl—I was naïve, I didn’t realize—and she drags me to the bar and nobody is there but these like collegiate guys, and I thought it was supposed to be some exciting rock ‘n’ roll thing, and there were like four people there. No girls, a couple kind of nerdy guys—what’s up? And two days later I was out of NY. I went to Berkeley and came to L.A.—got offered a ride by some guy who just wanted gas money—and the people I met here I thought were interesting. And they were like, ‘You can’t leave—summer is coming up!’ I always had weird musical tastes that swung in and out of rock ‘n’ roll, and one of my life-changing experiences was Slade—they were playing the Hollywood Palladium and I might have had a bit of a snobby attitude: ‘I like serious music—Stockhausen and John Cage—and this is teenybopper music!’ Because that was T. Rex over in England—teenybopper! And I’m a man of good musical taste! So I didn’t listen to T. Rex til later… but I come to L.A. and almost turn into an anglophile, but I’m from there! Like something from the other side when you see it—Slade rocked the fuckin’ Palladium! And I was like, ‘I get it—this is fun! It’s not about the whole intellectual thing.’ And that led to getting into the glam scene, even though it was almost too late, and then from Slade to the Ramones—a Slade beat with Stooges chording, and then in 1974, I’m discovering T. Rex, and—this is embarrassing—but it’s better than teenybopper! I realized the depth of what he was doing. So I was around L.A. in 1974—sometimes I’d go to the Whisky, and I liked the Berlin Brats, and I tried to see that New York Dolls show that Elmer Valentine cancelled—they showed up an hour-and-a-half late and he wouldn’t let them play. ‘Unprofessional!’ I wasn’t just off the boat when I started the Masque—‘Some English guy comes in bringing punk from Britain’—it was nothing like that! Nothing to do with CBGB’s or the 100 Club or the Roxy in London. It was just me, a traveling fool, looking for a place to jam! And I was still doing the cerebral thing—that would confuse people because I liked rock ‘n’ roll, too, but call me an art fag and I’ll stand up and be counted—an art fag that likes rock ‘n’ roll too! I didn’t come to Los Angeles to be famous or be rich—I didn’t come to reinvent myself or run away—well, maybe I ran away a little, but I wasn’t hiding! I wasn’t gonna take on some punk moniker and be another person. I wasn’t looking for fame, hence fame never came. You have to have the megaloid drive and maintain your ego all the time and it seemed like too much work—I was too lazy!
Thanks for being so candid.
Everybody was a star in the fanzines and I got written up, like everybody else—but I wasn’t trying to reinvent myself! All I was trying to do was INVENT! To get started! Not re-do something! It wasn’t fame or riches—and you couldn’t get more Hollywood than the Masque. We were in the basement of the Cecil B. DeMille building, the first mogul—back when Hollywood was a one-horse town, it was the first multistory building on the boulevard.
Do you feel like punk had its real roots in Los Angeles?
They always marginalize—the West Coast is still a footnote, compared to what went on in London and what went on in New York. You could interview me for three hours and print it all [We did! – ed.] and that’s not changing. And most rock critics take that weasel point of view—they don’t wanna fuck with that! You have to name check the MC5 and the Velvet Underground if you know what’s good for you. I always maintained the culture—I get misquoted on this, but the culture that anticipated punk started in L.A. In fact, to quote a good line Iggy Pop said—‘Every time someone writes something nice about the Stooges, why don’t they say in the same breath the Seeds and the 13th Floor Elevators?’ And I was like, ‘Yay, Iggy!’ It’s almost like something I would have said.
What did you feel like as everything was happening? Like as you were putting together next week’s shows at the Masque?
That it was just dying! That it wasn’t catching on. Because looking back, it was so slow for everything to change… month in and month out, nothing was changing! Everyone was partying and having a great time, but take all the partying away and what progress is being made? And it took forever and ever and ever—it always felt over unless you were into hardcore, or what came to become hardcore. We were using the term around the Masque—the Masque was committed 100%! Trying to fill dark mid-week nights with punk—none of this punk-on-Mondays-and-let’s-see-what-happens!
Did you ever expect any of it to last?
It never would have except for one factor—the biggest cliché of our time—the WWW. That’s what recycled it all—the Internet. That cellular effect—the virus—and that’s what punk was. A little cell in every town—one band, one record store. The Screamers have a whole other life because of Internet piracy. The first wave of Internet punks—they adored the Screamers! Why? Because they made no records! They had mystique—something that they found on their own! For free! So all the cellular things could be connected instantly, instead of in some intermittent fanzines that all look the same—the same complaints, and nothing changes, and there’s a fat guy on the cover with his mic upturned and his shirt off.
What a visceral image.
We tried in the book to make a girls’ punk book. There isn’t a fat ugly guy with his shirt off and a mic upturned on the cover. The culture I came from—you were trying to get with the girls! To be nice… trying to get them into bed, or just be with them anyway! And then came the guys with their shirts off flexing their muscles in front of 14-year-old boys. Henry Rollins might be doing it right now!
Have you ever been to the Smell?
I went a couple of times—the Smell’s a pretty weird place! A great name—I wish I’d thought of it!
When was the last time you shut the door on the Masque?
That would have been ’79. When everything had run its course. They’d wanted me out of there within a month, but because I got the lease, it took them two years to get me out! But it was over from the beginning—that’s what people didn’t understand! It was doomed! A comet can’t just keep going! It doesn’t have the capacity… looking back, one might say it’s amazing we got away with so much.
BRENDAN MULLEN, ECHOPLEX AND SWINDLE PRESENT THE MASQUE THIRTY-YEAR ANNIVERSARY PARTY WITH THE PLUGZ, THE EYES, THE DEADBEATS, BILLY BONES OF THE SKULLS, THE CONTROLLERS, THE DOGS, THE SHOCK, THE GEARS, THE CROWD, THE FLYBOYS, AND THE STITCHES PLUS THE DIFFS (GERMS SET) AND WILD WEEKEND (ZEROS SET) ON SUN., NOV. 11, AT THE ECHOPLEX, 1154 GLENDALE BLVD., ECHO PARK. 3 PM / $18-$20 / ALL AGES. WWW.ATTHEECHO.COM.