DISCO’S OUT … MURDER’S IN!: HE LOVED TO HATE
Heath Mattioli: Listen—we knew we could open a cold case here in Los Angeles by writing this. Frank got all the OKs by all the players that are still around. We’re not gonna get into too much of how we’re able to avoid prosecution for them, but they could be hauled in for questioning and they’re aware of that. That’s on them. When Frank agreed to do this and other players agreed to be part of it, they knew the possible consequences.
Dave Spacone: That gang’s still around today. All the players we spoke of and that we list in the end of the book—the ones we have access to, the ones that aren’t locked up—we had conversations with them as well. We got permission to have conversations with them as well. There was a lot of politics involved.
This is a very shadowy and undocumented part of L.A. music history. If it’s known at all, it’s known as part of the reason why the punk scene in L.A. changed. But until now, few if any people have talked to ‘the other side’ who ruined it. Then Jack Grisham of T.S.O.L. did his American Demon book in 2011, and in 2013 ANP Quarterly did a feature on L.A. punk gangs, and Craig Ibarra’s recent A Wailing Of A Town book talks directly to someone who was in plenty of fights at punk shows. Now you have your book. How is new information on this time going to change the history of punk music—and music—in L.A.?
Dave Spacone: It’s not gonna change the history, but what it will do is actually tell the history—give the history a rich narrative. What we’ve always thought is a very L.A. narrative. A place where people made their own rules—often quiet violently. Maybe punk rock in L.A. is gonna have to examine itself and ask itself hard questions: ‘Why did we do this?’ We knew we were gonna take the elephant out of the room and stampede him through the public.
Heath Mattioli: We’re forcing people to look at it now. I believe all these other stories came out because ours leaked. The young contingent of LMP is still active. They get on the internet and they war with other gangsters on these punk rock sites—so odd. They put it out there. I think people knew we were doing this. It got around and people tried to answer to it, which I think is a good thing. It’s gonna force these people to get that story out there and talk more about it. The question you asked is a big question. All we can do is give you Frank’s perspective. I don’t know how everyone else will tackle this, but I know 100% this will spawn other books. Again—we are making the movie and hopefully the television series as well. There’s so many more stories that need to be told than we could get in the book.
This isn’t a romantic book and Frank isn’t one of these Hollywood anti-hero types—it starts grim and gets grimmer. What makes telling such a brutal story worth it?
Heath Mattioli: Like Steven King said, don’t come to the page lightly. This story needed to be told. There is a million perspectives from the musician, the singer … ‘Look at the life I lived backstage with all these women and the drugs!’ We’re only hearing that perspective from punk rock. There’s not a story from the trenches. We know it wasn’t a … leisure kind of a book. We knew it was gonna be exhausting for the reader. But why hold back and why try to … romanticize it or be flowery about it? It wasn’t like that. It was a dysfunctional subculture. These kids were a mess! Let’s show it and tell you how it really was!
Dave Spacone: If you’re our age or were around at the time, you knew that hardcore in Los Angeles was really hardcore. These things have to be out there! It’s the absolute merciless and horrific nature of it that makes it have to be told. And also—nobody really know what ended punk rock in L.A. This is what did! No musician, as Heath said, can ever give you that perspective. That’s why it took us so long. We wanted to do it painstakingly.
Heath Mattioli: We started this process after Frank telling the stories to us and other friends telling stories to us and saying, ‘Hey, let’s tell the story of the punk rock gangs in Los Angeles.’ All of them! We were gonna go to the leader or whoever was the mouthpiece for the gang. Then we realized … that was too much. This one person’s perspective to us was more important. Obviously a lot was left out of the book. But we feel if these other punk rock gangsters could take their colors off—so to speak—for a minute, they’d recognize it’s the same story.
So for you, Frank’s story is really the story of the L.A. punk gang era?
Dave Spacone: Correct.
There’s that part in the book where Frank says: ‘Everybody was pointing fingers at the kids who lived brutally. Bands were upset over losing friends to the crusade, but still kept feeding it with their lyrics and sound, then wanted to cry about it? Every single band wound us up like A Clockwork Orange, yelling something violent and negative on every single record.’ I’m sure you both remember decades of ‘Violent music causes violence’ campaigns, and the answers from the musician’s side that of course it doesn’t. But here’s a very violent guy explicitly saying, ‘No, violent music actually did make me violent.’ Was punk music responsible after all for creating punk gangs?
Heath Mattioli: As a kid, Frank didn’t get it. He thought these musicians were with him! One big tribe! Then all of a sudden in Flipside and other magazines, here comes Keith Morris or Rollins or whoever complaining about the violence in the scene and not identifying with it. And Frank, obviously lacking depth as a youth, is so confused: ‘Whoa, wait a sec—now they’re attacking us when we’re paying for their tickets? And they’re preaching this stuff to us?’ He didn’t have the depth to look into what they’re saying. Maybe they weren’t necessarily saying ‘Go fuck this dude up! Fuck the system! Kill your parents!’ But … how could you do that to kids, at the same time? They need to be responsible for what they were doing and not just put their hands up in the air and say, ‘I was AGAINST violence!’ Well, read your fucking lyrics—no, you weren’t! That was a problem for Frank as a kid.
Dave Spacone: Let’s also look at how old he is. Do you really expect some kind of in-depth introspection from such a dysfunctional wild youth at the time? What do kids do? They find something to blame for it.
Heath Mattioli: But at the same time … [the musicians] need to take responsibility for the lyrics! They should be blamed a little bit! You can say Frank was wrong and he didn’t have the depth, but these guys were pandering to these kids cuz they knew they were selling tickets!
Dave Spacone: We want you guys—the journalists, the readers—you cut up that blame pie. We’re not gonna go on record and say it was on them. There’s so much to share. That makes this a wondrous story and a nightmare.
Heath Mattioli: It’s the media! It’s politics! It’s everything that was happening at the time. I just don’t want them to get off unscathed here—the musicians.
Dave Spacone: And here’s the thing. There’s this big myth that there’s these ‘HB-ers,’ these ‘jocks’ came in and they were really football players and you know something? That pisses Frank and all these guys off. The gangs started way before that. And the musicians had no clue and wanted to assign blame to them, and they couldn’t imagine that youth from their scene that they started had banded together and started doing this at shows. Hence what Heath’s talking about—they didn’t feel like they needed to take any blame for this. The HB-ers, the jocks—no. That was a myth. Punk gangs formed to protect themselves from jocks, from longhairs, from cops … all these guys beat on you! Funny enough, some punk rockers were big guys! Strong guys! Crazy guys! Maybe they look like jocks to you, but no.
Heath Mattioli: People like Jack Grisham from TSOL—he owns it. He’s like, ‘Hey, man, I was a dysfunctional motherfucker and you put a mic in my hand. I was part of the problem.’ Instead of putting his hands up like, ‘I didn’t want anything to do with it!’ He knows he was inciting it. Going back to the HB-ers … I feel people who live in the inner city felt like anybody who came to their city was ‘beach punks.’ If you lived near the beach or 15 miles or 20 into the South Bay or even La Mirada or Cerritos or Lakewood … oh, I guess you must all be beach punks. They all got lumped together.
Dave Spacone: Without a doubt. Take all those ‘burbs and everybody had a distinct personality and a distinct edge and a way at doing things. But the commonality of it all—South Bay to East L.A. down to La Mirada and north to the Valley—is everybody lived next to gangs. So everybody developed their own style and just went for it.
Then there’s that part where Frank, a guy who acknowledges ruining the scene, is actually complaining how the scene is ruined for him—full of ‘posers,’ ‘jocks’ and ‘hippies.’ He even says, ‘Our music and message didn’t matter.’ What was the message? What happened to punk that made Frank feel like it wasn’t the same for him anymore?
Heath Mattioli: Any subculture has this. Even ‘burbs and areas like Silver Lake: ‘Oh, it wasn’t like it used to be!’ Everyone can identify with that. Part of it was that more jocks started coming in—people that the year before were saying ‘What the fuck is that?’ and next year they’re the punkest of all the punks. There’s two parts to this. Frank was complaining people were getting beat up that he’d been hanging out with the week before—it got so big and his own gang had so many chapters and there was new recruits within these gangs, it was hard to keep up. And the music changed at the same time. That punk rock sound changed, the look of these frontmen changed! And of course they changed because they’re artists and artists don’t stagnate. They move on with culture and what’s happening. Frank didn’t wanna move on!
He starts out getting into punk because it’s new and like nothing he’s ever seen—but then he wants it to stay frozen that way?
Heath Mattioli: That’s right.
Dave Spacone: Let’s remember too what an absolute wondrous thrill it was for him, which is hard for us to relate to—that much violence. But the music, as Heath said, he wanted that to stay forever. And artists grow. We mention in the book—Black Flag starts doing like jazz metal—
And Frank is totally against it.
Dave Spacone: All of a sudden—and I went to some of these shows—Discharge comes and they look like Mötley Crüe and do a glam record. TSOL all of a sudden gets a new singer and starts sounding like the Cult. Frank and a lot of guys just went, ‘What the FUCK?’
Heath Mattioli: We probably can’t relate to this completely but I got as close as I can to it over the years with Frank to understand what it’s like. Frank, first off, was a good-looking guy. Charming and sweet, believe it or not. But he had that other side of him, man. And he was a fucking god. He walked in anywhere he wanted in L.A.—to have that feeling, that energy, that tingling around you that no one’s gonna fucking touch you, you can get any fucking girl you want, you’re gonna kill anyone who gets in your face and you got 20-30-40-50 guys right behind me. Imagine that! I don’t think I’ll ever get that.
And he’s maybe 16 years old.
Heath Mattioli: Correct. So how and why would he wanna move on from that? But then these girls who six months ago were looking at him and winking at him are now giving him the look of ‘Ew!’ They’ve moved on. And in the punk rock magazines, everyone is moving on.
There’s that night where they go see cowpunk band Tex and the Horseheads, and it’s like … the times passing them by.
Dave Spacone: Yes. Let’s do an entertainment parallel—these guys fancied themselves like a mob, correct? Remember the end of Goodfellas? All of a sudden it was over. And he was an ordinary guy. That’s exactly how these guys felt. Walking into Tex and the Horseheads show—their style was tired and the ladies didn’t care. The gangs aren’t around anymore. It’s over. That’s a hard thing to face.
That makes the book hard to read, too. You wonder—what was it all for? Once the high times were gone, what did they have left? And at what cost?