DISCO’S OUT … MURDER’S IN!: HE LOVED TO HATE
illustration by nathan morse
The history of punk gangs in L.A. is still a secret history—something that persists in the credits of obscure 7”s, in the archives of Flipside or the Whittier Daily News or in the memories of the probation officers and the punk rockers who were there. But most of the L.A. punk bibliography agrees that at some point, the art-freak-weirdo scene of the 70s metastatized into hardcore punk, which brought with it hardcore violence that left victims brain-damaged, paralyzed or dead—and which eventually, as this book and others put it, “ruined the scene.” The new book Disco’s Out … Murder’s In! is the first-person account of a self-described “ultra-violent punk rock gangster” who helped ruin the scene: Frank the Shank, eventual underboss of the infamous-even-now La Mirada Punks, known city-wide as LMP.
Authors Heath Mattioli and Dave Spacone were on the periphery of L.A. hardcore as kid—about the same age as Frank, whose first show was X at the Whisky when he was barely a teenager and who’d witness his first murder before he was a freshman in high school. They’d meet him decades later at a funeral for a friend, the all-too-appropriate place where the idea for this book was born. Through six years of interviews and research, they pieced together the story of Frank, LMP and by extension the story of the punk gang era in Los Angeles. Although it seems like a lifetime, it really only spans a short stretch the 80s as Frank hauls himself out of a poisonously broken home, cuts his hair to get into punk—and meets the punk rockers famously in possession of The Car, a murderous Lincoln Continental that starred in the 70s b-movie of the same name—and soon finds his peers, his purpose and his passion in the La Mirada Punks. Of course there’s no happy ending—but there’s no happy anything, really. Instead, as Frank and friends noticed then and note now, it’s the ultraviolence of A Clockwork Orange with a homegrown punk soundtrack and an unhealthy dose of nuclear-holocaust nihilism. Mattioli and Spacone speak now about life and death in LMP. The release party for Disco’s Out is Sat., Nov. 14, at Werkartz. This interview by Chris Ziegler.
Who was Frank the Shank?
Heath Mattioli: Frank the Shank was a kid from an L.A. suburb about 20 minutes outside Hollywood—a confused and impressionable kid who was deeply abused.
Dave Spacone: A youth—like many—who turned to punk rock for its volatile mix of excitement, nihilism and danger.
Heath Mattioli: Frank unfortunately transformed into a monster, thinking the world was probably going straight to hell via nuclear holocaust. Why not take people out ahead of time?
Dave Spacone: And if you crossed him or his gang … bye bye, my friend.
Heath Mattioli: I met Frank once briefly at the height of his transgressions— or as he calls it, his ‘career.’
Dave Spacone: I knew him from a safe distance back in the day. Then we reconnected with him on the backside of his ‘career,’ where he was a much calmer and balanced person.
What was a day in the life like for Frank and members of L.M.P.? What did they want? Where did they go to get it?
Dave Spacone: Start the day: figure out a way to get money and get loaded. This entailed all sorts of gangster business, big and small.
Heath Mattioli: Off to Hollywood to swindle and see where the neon nights took them. Scam on chicks, spread fear, go to gigs. They really never looked much past that day.
How did these punk gangs in general work? What made them different from other gangs? And from other punks?
Dave Spacone: Gangs center around neighborhoods, correct? All over the world. Punk gangs center around neighborhoods. What makes them different? Their commonality and what binds them together is their love of music. Gangs forever have always had dress codes. So punk rockers—because of music—in punk gangs had dress codes. Also they adopt from the gangs around them. Remember, in the suburban overlap of Los Angeles, every neighborhood’s a gang neighborhood, and if it’s not a gang neighborhood, it’s connected to one. So you feel that. With that comes the natural king-of-the-hill mentality. We mention this in the book: other gangs control territory for profit. The punk scene was something to be controlled basically for the thrill of it.
Heath Mattioli: And just violence for the sake of violence. These kids really didn’t think they were gonna be around tomorrow. Most of these kids weren’t given any love, you know? That’s a big part of this—the fact that all these psychopaths found each other in the name of ‘punk rock violence’ is just … L.A.! Nowhere else in the world! It is a hybrid of gangster. In L.A., there’s a lot of hybrids. This is one of them. That’s the thing that separates them from regular gangsters—the commonality of going to the shows, the dress codes, the music— and they weren’t selling anything! With other gangsters it’s guns, drugs, prostitution … these guys might have done something on the side, but it wasn’t for profit. It was just for the name—to be ultraviolent. ‘We aren’t gonna be here tomorrow, there’s gonna be a nuclear holocaust and we’re gonna kill you before that happens because we’re just mean guys!’
Dave Spacone: And the music was the soundtrack. Come on—are there happy punk songs? Anybody who’s ever even been connected to punk … you’re listening to it in your car, this new music form, and you just wanna step on the gas, don’t you? The music came at just the right time, but also just the wrong time. It may sound a little kooky, but it was a soundtrack to get psycho. The classic themes of gangs are they need to protect themselves from somebody, but they have an extra component of wanting to also revolt against something. What are all revolts? Tantamount to revolution in some way shape or form, and revolutions are violent. This was gonna get violent, like it or not!
Frank at one point says something like, ‘The records told us to destroy society, so we were destroying society.’
Heath Mattioli: They took that message personally! These kids wanted the ones that hated themselves! Hated their parents! The ones that were totally confused! This was a perfect fucking outlet—other kids to identify with! ‘Look at that dude! He’s a fucking mess, I’m a fucking mess … fuck yeah, punk rock! Let’s join a gang and fuck you up!’ Wherever you came from, if you were working class or lower-middle class or low class … it was just something to put your finger up to and jump in.
Dave Spacone: And it was new, way-out and different to dress that way! You got to dress pretty damn cool. And you had a component in England that had their way of doing it. And then the skins of England came—the ois—and they start dressing like that. This was exciting, and not only exciting but it had an aesthetic. Look how kids dress today. The punk rock aesthetic is bigger than ever! You can buy it at Hot Topic! It’s still bitchin! But imagine it back then.
Heath Mattioli: That’s another reason we wrote this book—to let people know how dangerous it was to be a punk rock kid in Los Angeles. Nowhere else was it as dangerous to be a punk rock kid.
Dave Spacone: In Los Angeles, don’t we always do it bigger? Isn’t it always on steroids? Always more entertaining? Always more flair? Always more dysfunction and violence?
Heath Mattioli: There’s that saying: ‘New York invented it, London made it fashionable, L.A. made it better!’
What kind of place was La Mirada then, and how did it affect who the L.M.P.s were? Why were so many punk gangs coming from the suburbs and not Hollywood where the first L.A. punk bands had started?
Heath Mattioli: La Mirada, the East Side and as well as parts of Whittier—they called it ‘Shittier’—was low to even lower middle class families.
Dave Spacone: Mostly white families, but also Mexican as well. Second and third generation Chicanos with old-time L.A. ties.
Heath Mattioli: L.M.P.’s got advice from the gang leader’s father, who was an East L.A. veterano.
Dave Spacone: They called him ‘The Godfather.’ He filled them full of street smarts.
Heath Mattioli: Most punk gangs came from the suburbs because their families had split the city years earlier. Hollywood was just a place for the down and out, the spun out and the disfranchised.
Dave Spacone: Those families were chasing the better life dubbed the ‘suburban’ dream. A few punk gangs did actually come from Hollywood, though—L.A. Death Squad being the most noteworthy. LADS were strong allies with LMP in the early years.
Frank’s first show is an X show at the Roxy, and his last in the book is probably the hardcore party where everyone gets stabbed. What is happening musically over the course of the book? How does punk change around—and because of—LMP?
Heath Mattioli: Punk rock music and the L.A. scene evolved constantly, battling back and forth with England who eventually moved on. Punk rock wasn’t built to last.
Dave Spacone: Punk bands seemed to be playing harder and faster to keep up with the violence—or vice versa. Eventually most petered out. Punk folds up its tent because it couldn’t go on forever. LMP continued.
Were you prepared for the level of mayhem you’d confront in this book?
Dave Spacone: Absolutely—we grew up on the sidelines picking up all the street lore. We knew their exploits well. It’s what kept us away from the flashpoint.
Heath Mattioli: Frank was forced to relive his horrific past when signing on to the project. Sometimes he didn’t like it and had to walk away. We on the other hand never wanted to hang up the phone or leave the table. [But] Frank definitely changed through this process.
Dave Spacone: He did the work. He dug deep and acknowledged his part in ruining the scene.
The book is subtitled ‘the true story of L.A.’s deadliest punk rock gang.’ In the book, Frank even says that other gangs were hesitant to kill, but LMP wasn’t. Is that what set them apart?
Heath Mattioli: Not all the gangs, but a lot had a killer or two in the gang. But that is what separates LMP. If we could tell you all the stories, we would. But we did wanna get that record out there—they did a lot of dirty deeds, man. A lot of stuff other punk rock gangs weren’t aware of: do whatever you want in the city, jump in a car, hit the freeway—
—and you’re gone?
Heath Mattioli: There’s no cameras, there wasn’t that many cops, they got away with murder many many many times. I can’t speak to other punk rock gangs. I’m sure they all had murderous people. But we didn’t go interview them and we can’t speak for them. Every gangster thinks they’re the toughest and the meanest, but without being biased here and not having interviewed these other guys, we have spoken with many people in the scene—really in the scene—and they’ll tell you the same thing.
You’ve got newspaper clippings and photos that document things Frank talks about. What due diligence did you have to do to make sure that you had the ‘true story’ part covered? And how did you do it? This is not a very publicly documented culture.
Heath Mattioli: We were here in L.A. in the 80s. We’d hear these stories back then. And all the blanks get filled in 30 years later. The story of the Car—I saw them driving by Knott’s Berry Farm one night! Years later we get the whole story.
Dave Spacone: The very first stabbing in the beginning of the book—the Pig Children stabbing is legend. We were friends with the girl that was dating the dude that got stabbed! And since we were tangentially connected to everybody and knew Frank, we knew who did it! Remember how small L.A. is? It was even a lot smaller back then, and if you were connected to punk rock, it was even smaller.
Heath Mattioli: The mod stabbing in Hollywood was another one people knew about. No details, but we knew the two gangs that were involved.
Dave Spacone: Everybody has bad guys. But the evidence as it piled up and doing our due diligence … back then, LMP was just extra deadly. That simple. They had such a legend and the more you talked to people, the more you found out LMP was behind it. ‘We got into a fight with LMP and we got some bats out of the car, but these guys came back over the wall with axes and meat cleavers!’ We didn’t have any problems after doing our due diligence to call them ‘the deadliest gang.’
This book reads like Frank just talking directly to the reader—is that how it was? What kind of work did it take to make this feel so immediate and raw?
Heath Mattioli: That was the challenge—getting Frank to go back to that moment in time and not write it from how he feels today in hindsight, but how he felt in that moment as a youth. A completely different perspective. He’d hang up on the phone with us—we’d get to a moment and there’d be a silence, and he’d be like ‘… I gotta go.’ We’d interview him mostly at night or early in the mornings, and he changed as a person, I’ll tell you that. That was the challenge: getting Frank to go there and be raw and completely honest as a kid. That’s why we chose to write it that way. Unapologetic—because that’s how Frank was. If we wrote a book from Frank’s perspective today, it woulda been a totally different book.
Dave Spacone: Frank is always gonna be a tortured soul. His relationship with God and finding God … it doesn’t wipe it away. Also remember something: gangsters are forever. Frank will forever be a gangster. So he is apologetic but at the same time, quite conflicted. That was the person he was back when he was a kid, and that’s who we got him to be again.
Heath Mattioli: He makes no apologies because as he looks at his ‘career,’ those were the rules. Now, OK—a couple innocent guys got killed. He wasn’t really a participant in the innocents, like the mod driving down the alley.
That’s one of the worst moments in a book full of bad moments.
Heath Mattioli: That’s the one that seems to affect him the most today, still. But Frank is a gangster forever—how it changed him as a person is he started as saying LMP was the backbone and punk rock gangs were the backbone of the scene. By the time we got to the end of it, he’d look us straight in the eye and say, ‘Man, we fucking ruined the scene.’ So he’s accountable. Frank’s a sharp guy. No pun intended.
Is this book going to solve any unsolved murders? Are you or Frank liable for prosecution now that this is out?