November 9th, 2007 | Interviews

joe mcgarry from an original photograph by dawn wirth

Terry Graham is staked out in Glendale, awaiting the 30-year reunion of the Masque. He calls up Shirin as she is down in her basement, fiddling with a guitar.

I have to admit something. My first boyfriend was a drummer, and he was a Libra, too. So, I am letting you know.
Oh my God. So that’s really why you don’t want to talk to me.
So I want you to be sensitive to my needs, too. I did research on you last night. I read that you read an article about punk rock in the Village Voice in ’76 and then you went out and bought the first Ramones album. The Ramones are one of my favorite bands. What did you hear that turned you on?
I spent the ‘70s completely clueless like everybody else. I was into metal and progressive rock. Even though I didn’t really know it, I hated it. When I heard the Ramones for the first time, I hated that, too—in fact, I thought it was the worst shit that I had ever heard. There was something about it. It was just so overwhelming—it just sort of ate my guts out like some horrible disease. I knew it was the coolest thing in the world. By the second or third listen, I was just like—this is it, this is it!—there goes my hair—there goes everything I have been listening to for the last 15 years. It’s all trash. I mean, I think a lot of cool stuff came out in the 70’s. But at the time, ya know, when you’re in the middle of it and radio is so awful—and it’s all a bunch of post-hippie, post 60’s crap that made me sick. Because those people felt like they ruled the world and anything that young people listened to was obviously stupid because it didn’t happen in the 60’s. And I hated that attitude.
How old were you at this point?
I was 19.
Were you looking at a dead-end future or what?
I was in Dallas. I was planning to leave—I went to college for one semester there in Denton. I had goals, ya know—but at the time, it was completely—there was just nothing happening. Back then, if you wanted something to happen you had to leave wherever you lived and go to the big city. It’s still kind of true. You had to go. And I was all to anxious to get out. And my mother was cool with it. She said, “Here’s a couple hundred bucks,” ya know?
So it was like you read something and heard something that put a fire under your ass—
Well, I was going to go to film school. But I had no idea that UCLA and USC—I mean even then they were really expensive and hard to get into. So, I still had that Ramones album that I had brought out with me from Texas. Then all of a sudden. One Sunday night I heard Rodney on the ROQ on KROQ and I realized, ya know, there are other people that are listening to this here. And I was so excited about it. I didn’t really give a shit about going back to school. I just wanted to experience whatever this was because I thought, ya know, this is kind of like a revolution here and I am not going to miss it for anything, and I don’t give a damn if I don’t, ya know, go get a great job, have my 2.3 kids, and then retire when I’m 60. I just didn’t care.
So you were throwing this on a…dream, maybe? Was this a dream? Because punk hadn’t really broke in L.A.
Yeah. It wasn’t a dream. It was just kind of…like completely going on your instincts, ya know. Just whatever felt good—felt right. That’s why I moved. All of a sudden, I started meeting people in Hollywood that were into this, and I realized this is just the coolest little scene and nobody knew about it on the outside. Those of us who were already in it—
Who was the first kid that you met?
I met this girl named Dawn Wirth who took a bunch of photographs. She had a camera and she took a bunch of pictures of me. I thought, oh, this is cool—I move to Hollywood and people are taking pictures of me. I like that. And all those pictures are going to be in my book, which is coming out early next year—
Oh, wait, plug? What is it called? What is it called?
It’s called Punk Like Me. [laughs]
Why did you decide to write a book? Aren’t there enough books about punk? Really?
Well, it’s just a bunch of photographs. And I like that—I think that’s great. What I’ve never seen is one person’s story from the inside out of this whole scene and then all of the years I spent with Gun Club as well. Nobody’s ever going to write a book about that, I don’t think.
Ultra Violet did one about the whole Warhol New York thing. But, whatever—who cares about New York?
Yeah, well, just the Hollywood scene gets misunderstood in a way—what I wanted to do is right something that is, like, funny and entertaining and not serious—full of its own shit. And also, it’s a personal story, you know, of how I moved out here and discovered this revolution and kind of what happened, ya know—
Wait, wait! Let’s talk more, rather than talking theory—it gets so abstract, I don’t fucking know about that—what else, I want to hear all about the gossip. Tell me more. I’m imagining this.
The greatest thing about the whole thing that I discovered was that Hollywood was, like, this horrible ghost town. It was not built up. The tourists would come only during the day. At night, it was just bums and all these crazy people—
That’s like downtown right now.
Yeah, yeah. It was just this horrible, creepy place that has all this history behind it. But it was really like a graveyard. That was so perfect for a group of us to get together and have this whole punk scene—this whole underground thing, ya know—the newspapers—nobody even knew about it for two years. It was ours and ours alone. Ya know, I just kind of stumbled into it. And I was there 24/7—every single night at the Masque. Every show that was ever down by every band in Hollywood—I was there—I mean, I might have missed one or two—
How do you have money for this? I’m here and there are a bunch of kids—but I don’t have any money.
Well, we didn’t have any money either. Some people would work for a few days at a time—or I would get some day job, ya know, and make 30 bucks. And we would just live off that? I know people that would go to fancy hotels, ya know, and go up and down the halls and steal food that were on trays, ya know?
No! That’s so scary.
I know people that would go up to cars that were parked on Sunset and just see if they were unlocked and just take whatever was inside. Ya know, because there were no car alarms. So, ya know. You just made it work however you could. And then call your parents and ask, “Can I have another hundred bucks?” It was a little scary because, you know, it was just us out in the streets. And we weren’t like street kids because we were totally about this music, I mean we lived it—day and night. That’s why we were together. There was so much new music coming out between ’76 and ’80. It was overwhelming. We all just kind of lived together—
The Canterbury Apartments?
First we all lived in a place called the Plunger Pit. A little apartment that Trudie, Hellin Killer—it was pretty much just a 24-hour party place. But, usually, at 3 or 4 or 5 in the morning, ya know, we would all go to sleep. It was really cool because Hellin would always put on these Doors records on this old little record player, and she would just stack them up at the top and they would just kind of play, and another one would drop down, as we fell asleep.
That’s nice.
And then, the Masque which opened, of course, just off of Hollywood Boulevard—a friend discovered the Canterbury Apartments up the street. And then all of us moved in there. I lived with Jane Wiedlin—Jane Drano—when she started the Go-Go’s at the Canterbury and then I was in the Bags by then, too. I was playing drums for them.
How did you stumble upon the Masque?
I was actually giving a ride to Kim Fowley. This girl named Michelle Myers, she booked the Whisky—I was friends with her—she said we need to go pick up Kim Fowley tonight. And we need to give him a ride to a new little place behind the Pussycat Theatre—he’s like, I don’t know, 10 feet tall and I had this little Volkswagen and he was bitching the whole way down there, like, “God, what am I doing in this little piece of shit car? I hate it!” I was laughing about it the whole way—I thought it was great. And so we went to the Masque. It was kind of before it opened, and I met Brendan, ya know, and some other people. He said, “We’re going to have shows here, and we’re going to try and make it all legal.” Of course, he never did. The Masque was completely never legal. It was completely illegal from day one.
It was below a porn theatre in a basement, I heard.
We were just beneath all these guys jacking off to Linda Loveless or whoever else was on-screen. But the fire department would come down there every now and again. They were the ones being the hard-asses. There was only one exit and they wanted two. There was no way to build a second exit.
They could shut it down if they wanted to?
They could have. Well, they threatened to. And then, finally, they did. Brendan couldn’t hold shows there any more because it got a little bit rough—
Wait, wait, wait! Let’s not go to the end yet. We’re cutting to the chase. I want to know your first experience walking in there. Can you remember that?
We go around to the alley behind the Pussycat Theatre and there’s the doorway. I walk down this flight of steps, ya know, into this basement—and I thought, “God, this is either going to be really cool or really horrible.” And this basement was poorly lit. It stunk. The bathroom off to the right—the toilets were just busted up—they didn’t work. And I thought, ya know, as soon as I walked down there—“This is the most perfect place on earth. We can have shows. We can do anything down here. Nobody will ever know.” Except, ya know, for the old men upstairs jacking off. The first band at the Masque was the Controllers. I think that was the first band that ever played there. They were rehearsing down there already. And they were kind of the house band, ya know. They played there all the time. Played three songs with the Go-Go’s because I was kind of helping them before they found a drummer—
Did you have a drummer’s business card in your back pocket or were you casual about it?
I had no card. I just met Alice Bag. They said they needed a drummer. I was already friends with her boyfriend, Nicky Beat. And I said, I used to play drums in school band and stuff. And she said, “Ok, that’s good enough.” So, I just started going to rehearsal, you know. And once people saw me playing drums they always knew, “There’s a drummer”.
Did the Masque become an epicenter for all of these kids to come out of the woodwork?
It did if you knew about it. It was so underground. You had to be plugged in, ya know. Go to a lot of clubs and find out what was going on. At that time, the music was changing so fast that, you know, that you were into heavy metal or pop sounding music. Or you were into punk. And the punk stuff—people hated it. They just hated our guts. We would walk down the street and they would say shit, especially on the weekends in front of the Whisky. You know, just a big name-calling—almost a fight a few times. They would just go there and just stand there one night—and then we would never see them again. I was down in front every show—so I don’t even know who was behind me. The Sunset Strip was totally different then. All the clubs were open to us. We could go play—we never had to pay to go in to the Whisky. I mean, I never paid.
Did you have a fake ID?
You know, the owner, Elmer Valentine was a really cool guy—an old school mobster. He just let us in. The strip, now—I don’t know what it is—it’s so closed off. It’s all industry—and just shit bands that nobody knows about or cares about.
But there’s lots of all-ages venues here now. There’s Pehrspace, the Cog, the Smell downtown. A lot of stuff happens at the Echo and the Echoplex. I would say a place like the Masque would be the Cog. Comparable.
Yeah—yeah—yeah! It is. It’s kind of the same, you know? You have a concentration right there. It’s really good for people to have that, you know, in a place where there are always going to be a lot of bands so they can see them. I like that. I think it’s great.
Was the Masque more accessible than the Whisky or the Starwood or…?
No, actually, it wasn’t then. That was the weird thing. The Whisky wasn’t even open for a couple of years right—right before punk. So, when it opened again, they didn’t care who came in because they made all their money off of advertisements outside of the building—they didn’t give a shit who was coming in because it had been closed. So, for a couple of years, it was really good because anybody could play there. All the punk bands in L.A. played there. But then, you know, they started smelling money—and as soon as they did that, it started to get harder and harder to play there. And as soon as that happened, we left.
What as your first gig like drumming for the Bags?
I threw up, I think, three times before I got onstage. The mistake I made—I thought, “I’m so fucking nervous, I better go have something to calm myself down.” So, I went and had this huge milkshake, which is the worst thing you could have. So, I stood outside the Whisky and threw up my milkshake. I just kept throwing up and nothing was coming out, ya know? So, I just went onstage and did it. I got paid 20 bucks. And it was really, really fun. I mean, it was the best thing I had ever done in my life. I thought, “There’s nothing like this. I don’t ever want to do anything else except play music.”
What was your first gig like at the Masque?
The first gig at the Masque was with the Bags, too, but that was totally different, too. The ceiling is so low, so the sound—you can’t hear what the band is doing—so you just go on memory. I just remember, you know, everybody is right there in front of you and the stage is only about three inches high. And that was totally fun. I liked that more than the Whisky because the energy you got from the people there was so great, ya know? All packed in there together. It was really hot because there was no ventilation, so we’re all sweating like pigs. People were going nuts—they were just going nuts when the Bags played. This guy crawled up inside my bass drum—you know, it was just crazy. People just flying around.
That wasn’t the gig—everybody talks about the gig where Tom Waits got beat up.
Yeah, the Troubadour. That was one of the few shows that I missed. I was walking up the street with Helin Killer from the Plunger Pit, just walking slow, thinking, “Oh, we’ll make it in time for the Bags.” And then all of a sudden we saw somebody coming at us, who said, “Oh no, it’s already over.” They had to shut it down. I didn’t even know the Bags then.
How did you meet Jeffrey Lee Pierce? After being in the Bags, you and Rob jumped ship. Somebody told me you were first called Creeping Ritual.
Yeah, that’s true. The Bags kind of ended, ya know, when Penelope Spheeris made The Decline of Western Civilization. The Bags were in it, but the band was so over by then—it just broke up. So, Rob and I hung out. We were just trying to see if there was some band somewhere. I already knew Jeff—I had known him for years. I used to see him at the record swap meet at the Capitol Records parking lot—they would have that once a month.
God—when there used to be record stores. That doesn’t really exist any more.
Yeah, that’s been gone. You know, for however long it is. Twenty-five years. It’s too bad, because that’s also a place that we went after shows. To just hang out, until the sun came up, and then we would just go to sleep. Jeffrey was kind of an annoying asshole, but I still liked him anyway. Rob and I saw his band play—and we thought there was something really weird about him. So, we just went up to him after the show at the Hong Kong Café and said, “Jeffrey, if you need a drummer and a bass player, we’re available.” And then, like, a week later we were in the band.
Where did the name come from? Graffiti on the Masque’s wall? Gun Club… that’s so cryptic.
No, Keith Morris from the Circle Jerks—he was a friend of Jeffrey’s. He suggested it and Jeff liked it. So, he just thought, “Ok. Gun Club. That’s it.”
I’m still fascinated by the graffiti on the Masque’s walls. Was there anything ever written about you on the wall in the Masque?
Yeah, Alice Bag and I, you know—we had this little thing together—where we would get completely drunk on rum and then we would go to the Masque and makeout and roll around on the floor. We would write stuff to each other on the wall. And, when we were sober, we’d try to remember what we wrote but we never could.
Did you ever get wasted and read a line of Masque graffiti and it made perfect sense?
We were so wasted that it was hard to read. Yeah, I’ll bet that happened. There was some graffiti on the Masque wall—oh shit, I can’t remember what it was—something about hating your parents or something like that. And, even though I did not hate my parents, I kind of did hate what they stood for. That made sense to me. One night, when I was down there with Alice, trying to hump her.
By the way, speaking of sex, let’s talk about violence. I saw a picture of you stabbing Bruce Barf. Why would you stab him—wouldn’t a gun be more appropriate?
Uh, you know, I just didn’t like Bruce. I just had to stab him.
There was just so much blood! Who cleaned that blood up?
There was hardly any violence in the early punk scene. It was about fun, not violence. We were too busy laughing and having fun to get in fights. The only people to get in fights were idiots from the outside. Jocks, people like that. After two or three years they discovered it.
Let’s not focus on that. I noticed you kind of have shaggy hair in that picture. Did anybody ever hassle you about your individual style?
That’s what I liked about all the people that I met then. Everyone was comfortable with their personalities. If you really wanted to dress up, then that was fun, you know? If that was your personality and you could do it, well, then do it! But, if you weren’t into that, then you wouldn’t have to—it was ok. I liked the mid-‘60s look, you know, with the polka-dotted shirt, that kind of stuff.
I saw that with the sleeves rolled. And you were holding what I think was a Chinese umbrella! This is kind of a sidenote. I noticed that Flipside Magazine’s first subscriber was “Terry”. Was that you?
I did a couple things for them, but I never used my real name. In the early ones—like the first year. They were, like, the first cool fanzine we had. I knew all those guys that did it.
So where are we in time? Gun Club’s Fire of Love came out in ’81.
Yeah, the Masque was over by 1978. Brendan started the Masque II over on Santa Monica Boulevard, and I think that lasted a few months. There were a few shows there. By 1981, the whole scene was changing anyway. The Canterbury was just burning up—there were fires all the time—there were some horrible people that lived there. When I joined Gun Club, we didn’t really have anything to do with it. We got so popular in Europe that we were always on the road—in New York and stuff like that. Just left L.A., basically.
Did this test your loyalty or were you still grounded in the community?
Yeah, I was. You know, everybody I knew I still knew. But people just kind of split up. They move away. They stop talking. They get married. Nobody ever really got normal, so to speak.
I was surprised when I heard that the surviving members of Gun Club— Ward Dotson, Kid Congo Powers and yourself—reunited in late June 2006 in support of the documentary about Gun Club, Ghost on the Highway. And now we’re talking because there’s a book and reunion show for the Masque. How do you feel about this? Is it time for reckoning or are there things we will never know?
Usually reunions suck pretty bad. I think it’s best to leave it alone. Let it be whatever it is. The only reason we did that thing was because Kurt Voss, who made the documentary, took so much effort—and he really wanted that to happen. And Allison Anders, the film director, really wanted it to happen. So I convinced Ward and Kid—and it was really fun—but we will probably never do that again. That was the only time. If I wanted to start a band, then it would be something completely different. I want to start a band again next year.
What do you think it will be like?
It will definitely be a cross between Cream, the Birthday Party, and maybe a little Gun Club.