In his equal parts bewitching and harrowing memoir Punk Elegies: True Tales of Death Trip Kids, Wrongful Sex, and Trial by Angel Dust former Slash Magazine mainstay Allan MacDonell delivers a gorgeous, iconoclastic, wonderfully actualized, literary encapsulation of the 1970s Hollywood punk scene that excavates beauty from nastiness and vice versa on virtually every page. (A hilarious, edifying interview with MacDonell on the book and its origins can be found here.)
To celebrate the book’s release MacDonell was kind enough to rustle up the exclusive playlist below for Decibel…
“I’m Eighteen”—Alice Cooper
I’ve been listening to this song since I was 15 years old. The first time I heard “I got a baby’s brain and an old man’s heart / took 18 years to get this far / don’t always know what I’m talking about / feels like I’m living in the middle of doubt,” I thought, Wow, I wonder what life will be like if I ever get to be 18? Alice Cooper spoke to my aspirations like no one else really did, until Johnny Rotten showed up.
“Golden Years”—David Bowie
Glitter rock in general and David Bowie in particular inspired almost every punk pioneer (so called) I ever knew. “Golden Years” was released about a year prior to the Punk Elegies time period (1977 through 1980). The song was still current and on the record player during a party at Joan Jett’s place that went sour for me. My proud shame lives on set to the tune of “Golden Years” in an opening Punk Elegies chapter called “A Pretty Cool Guy.”
The first few hundred times I played the Clash’s debut 45, I knew in my bones and blood that “1977” was putting the world on notice that it was about to be irrevocably changed for the better. By the end of 1978, it seemed clear that the change had been revoked. So 35 years pass, and sometime around 2012 a friend gives me his copy of the original single. I put the record on, after not hearing it for decades, and I knew in my bones and blood that “1977” is putting the world on notice that it is about to be irrevocably changed for the better. I played the record again, and I started putting together a book called Punk Elegies.
“Don’t Push Me Around”—The Zeros
When people rattle off the L.A. punk roll call—Germs, X, Go-Gos, Weirdos, Screamers, etc. etc.—it takes a while for the Zeros to come up. Four Mexican American kids from closer to San Diego than Los Angeles, the band took its name from a Lester Bangs quote (“Don’t wanna be a hero. Just wanna be a zero.”) and adopted its musical identity, for this single at least, from the Ramones. Listen to these lyrics closely. They’re simple, yes, but offering very sound advice.
“Oh Bondage Up Yours”—Xray Spex
Before hollering out her “Oh Bondage Up Yours” vocal, Xray Spex singer Poly Styrene intones: “Some people think little girls should be seen and not heard.” That’s a sentiment not shared by anybody who dared to venture into the depths of the Masque. Any dolt voicing such a crap idea would have been swarmed and silenced by the “little girls” of underground Hollywood.
“Free Money”—Patti Smith
This Patti Smith song off of Horses about visualizing and manifesting a personally enriched reality is, like Bowie’s “Golden Years,” outside the Punk Elegies time frame. But Patti’s dream of stolen dollar bills swirling in for free and buying all the things that were needed and never had, and the promise that “our troubles will be gone,” was an eternal comfort and motivation throughout the Punk Elegies time span, despite how illusory the song’s assurances may be.
“I Slept in an Arcade”—Black Randy and the Metrosquad
Randy mentions me by name in this song; so of course I’m predisposed to listing it. Another friend and I had locked Randy out of my friend’s apartment so we could do drugs without Randy hogging them up. Randy had nowhere else to sleep that night; so after banging on my other friend’s door for about 45 minutes, he ended up sheltering in a 24-hour porno peepshow booth. “I Slept in an Arcade” took form while Randy tossed and turned, and the lyrics tar both my friend and me.
“I’m Stranded”—The Saints
The last section of Punk Elegies climaxes in a pre-AIDS hardcore S&M bathhouse in San Francisco on New Year’s Eve. How I ended up wandering this maze of naked and greasy homoerotic mayhem while dressed only in a towel is a complex, gripping narrative. Just know going in that the entire debacle was Black Randy’s fault and, like the Saints, I felt very much stranded and on my own.
“Nothing Means Nothing Anymore”—The Alley Cats
This 1978 release on the storied and maligned Dangerhouse Records label is evidence that, like the Zeros, the Alley Cats deserve a higher ranking on the typical know-it-all’s list of L.A. punk rock originators. Unlike the Zeros, the Alley Cats still play all the time. In 1977, guitarist Randy Stodola drove his truck from Lomita to Pomona and moved my then-wife and me all the way back out to Venice, where Slash magazine’s editors were congregating. That still means something to me today.
“Dum Dum Boys”—Iggy Pop
Here’s another song that came out just prior to all the Punk Elegies action. Despite—or maybe because of— being ahead of the curve, Iggy presages some of the consequences that play out in the book: His dum dum boys have grown up to be dead on jones, OD’d on alcohol, living with their mothers or, most incomprehensible of all, gone straight. Last week, a guy who had read Punk Elegies reached out through Facebook to tell me that Rock Bottom, sketched in rough profile for the “Girl A’s Secret Show” chapter, had been murdered in prison. Iggy missed that one outcome, but his song wraps up this playlist nonetheless.