We Got the Neutron Bomb: The Untold Story of L.A. Punk by Marc SpitzWe Got the Neutron Bomb: The Untold Story of L.A. Punk by Marc Spitz

We Got the Neutron Bomb: The Untold Story of L.A. Punk

byMarc Spitz, Brendan Mullen

Paperback | November 13, 2001

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Taking us back to late ’70s and early ’80s Hollywood—pre-crack, pre-AIDS, pre-Reagan—We Got the Neutron Bomb re-creates word for word the rage, intensity, and anarchic glory of the Los Angeles punk scene, straight from the mouths of the scenesters, zinesters, groupies, filmmakers, and musicians who were there.

“California was wide-open sex—no condoms, no birth control, no morality, no guilt.” —Kim Fowley

“The Runaways were rebels, all of us were. And a lot of people looked up to us. It helped a lot of kids who had very mediocre, uneventful, unhappy lives. It gave them something to hold on to.” —Cherie Currie

“The objective was to create something for our own personal satisfaction, because everything in our youthful and limited opinion sucked, and we knew better.” —John Doe

“The Masque was like Heaven and Hell all rolled into one. It was a bomb shelter, a basement. It was so amazing, such a dive ... but it was our dive.” —Hellin Killer

“At least fifty punks were living at the Canterbury. You’d walk into the courtyard and there’d be a dozen different punk songs all playing at the same time. It was an incredible environment.” —Belinda Carlisle

Assembled from exhaustive interviews, We Got the Neutron Bomb tells the authentically gritty stories of bands like the Runaways, the Germs, X, the Screamers, Black Flag, and the Circle Jerks—their rise, their fall, and their undeniable influence on the rock ’n’ roll of today.
Marc Spitz's writing on rock 'n' roll and popular culture has appeared in Spin, The New York Times, Maxim, Nylon, Blender, and Uncut (UK). He is the author of How Soon Is Never?; Too Much, Too Late; and Nobody Likes You: Inside the Turbulent Life, Times, and Music of Green Day and coauthor with Brendan Mullen of We Got the Neutron Bomb...
Title:We Got the Neutron Bomb: The Untold Story of L.A. PunkFormat:PaperbackPublished:November 13, 2001Publisher:Crown/ArchetypeLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0609807749

ISBN - 13:9780609807743

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Read from the Book

Chapter 1 GREG SHAW: The lull in pop culture in 1970-71 was maddening. The decline in radio play from the likes of the Yardbirds to someone like Gordon Lightfoot was ghastly, and it drove me and a lot of my friends into oldies. I started listening to practically nothing but rockabilly, doo-wop, old country, bluegrass, and jazz. There was no college radio, no fanzines, no indie record labels, and no local bands, for the most part. There was nothing! It was very depressing. There were few if any local bands. Nothing amounting to a scene. There was Christopher Milk. And Sparks. HEATHER HARRIS: Doug Weston banned Christopher Milk for life in 1970 after lead singer Mr. Twister [aka Kurt Ingham] wreaked havoc during the Troubadour's Monday "Hoot Night." Kurt wrecked a bunch of microphones and was pouring hot wax all over himself and running out into the audience and biting people . . . . he was overturning tables and spilling drinks into customers' laps . . . before Iggy Pop ever got to L.A. , and don't forget . . . this was right at the beginning of the mellow solo singer-songwriter era . . . the audience gawked in horror. HARVEY KUBERNIK: If that wasn't punk rock personified, who or what was? KURT INGHAM: Christopher Milk stood for theater and drama as opposed to droning introspection, and sure enough, our hideous platform boots and make-up clashed with denim and fringe buckskin jackets. We were 86'd from the Troub for life. RUSSELl MAEL: Sparks was not involved in any particular music scene in L.A. pre-glam since we were living in England through the early '70s and saw it all from a more British perspective. We felt alienated from L.A. since what we were doing had more in common with what was going on in Europe. Most people assumed that Sparks was from some unspecified European nation. We got no local support at first. We'd play the Whisky for the four waitresses who worked there. We didn't recognize the apparently extreme nature of our band's music at the time. We thought we were kind of like the Rolling Stones live, but I think we missed the mark in that respect and didn't know how pretty quirky and offbeat we really were for a pop band. Listen to A Woofer in Tweeter's Clothing today and imagine what the audience would think if you were playing those songs on the same bill as Little Feat! ZORY ZENITH: Shady Lady was the beginning of the L.A. underground-well, not the beginning, but the beginning of the glam part of it. I was like this 19-year-old Keith Moon prodigy drummer, the first to play clear plastic drums, and I'd just answered a musician wanted ad and found these very weird guys who lived about a half a block from me. They had super long scraggly Alice Cooper-Rod Stewart cropped hair and they were wearing skin-tight satin pants with snakeskin boots. I thought, "Wow, this is pretty cool." I thought they might have been from England or something, so we started rehearsing. After we signed with Robert Fitzpatrick we lived all over the fuckin' hills. We got signed by Sceptre Records, but Sceptre didn't come through on their part of the deal. We rented three or four houses during a coupla years that Shady Lady was happening. There were lots of parties there. That's when I first met Rodney. Shady Lady ended because John Christian, our guitar player, was on too many drugs, but by that time I'd already met Zany and Y-Garr and we got the Zolar-X concept up and running. GREG SHAW: Rodney Bingenheimer was practically the first person I met when I arrived in L.A. He was enthusiastic, friendly, full of news and gossip, and he knew everybody. He also had very good taste; the bands he liked tended to be the best ones. Though inarticulate and not well educated, Rodney is in fact a lot sharper than he gets credit for. HARVEY KUBERNIK: My mother worked for Raybert Productions, which did the Monkees. I met Rodney Bingenheimer at the Monkees' press conference when they made their world debut in '66. He was short, with a bowl cut like Davy Jones-in fact he was once a stand-in for Davy Jones. At the time he had a column for Go magazine, but he couldn't type. To this day he doesn't type. We've all had stints being Rodney's typist. RODNEY BINGENHEIMER: Before Go magazine, I had a column in What's Happening magazine, called "It's All Happening." I always used those phrases: "What's happening?" "It's all happening!" I had another column called "If It's Trendy, I'll Print It." When I wrote the Go column, I couldn't type, so Edie Sedgwick did it for me. She was working at Charlie Green and Brian Stone's office. They managed Sonny and Cher and Iron Butterfly and Buffalo Springfield. PAMELA DES BARRES: Rodney Bingenheimer was my peer. He was one of the first guys I met when I hitchhiked over the hill to Hollywood in 1966. And he hit on me, of course, but we actually wound up just being friends. He helped me out of my Valley-ness. Took me all over the place and introduced me to every-one. There was certainly no one like him at Cleveland High in Reseda. HARVEY KUBERNIK: A guy named Al Hernandez had the first copy of Space Oddity on the West Coast. And believe me, you went to somebody's house if they had that album. RODNEY BINGENHEIMER: Al Hernandez was totally into Bowie real early and had turned me on to the Space Oddity record. He had pictures of Bowie all over the walls of his house. He was probably already the biggest Bowie fan in the U.S. at the time. PAMELA DES BARRES: Rodney got into Bowie very early, before almost anybody else in this country. ANGELA BOWIE: The first time David met Rodney was on his radio tour of the U.S.-pre-Ziggy Stardust-the first tour when he just took his acoustic guitars and entertained key people as a solo folk singer in a dress and sang songs from Space Oddity and The Man Who Sold the World. RODNEY BINGENHEIMER: In 1971 I was working FM promotion at Mercury Records doing stuff for Uriah Heep, Rod Stewart, and the Sir Douglas Quintet. The Man Who Sold the World was out, and so Bowie came over here to promote it. He was unknown. He had very long hair and he was wearing a dress. RICHARD CROMELIN: I interviewed Bowie on The Man Who Sold the World promotional tour. I think the piece ran in the L.A. Free Press. There was no doubt in my mind that it was just a matter of time before he'd be recognized as a major rock artist. Bowie was extremely charismatic, and musically I thought it was a strong album. DAVID BOWIE: Alone in L.A., Rodney seemed like myself, an island of Anglo "nowness." He even knew British singles and bands that I wasn't aware of. Rodney single-handedly cut a path through the treacle of the 1960s, allowing all us "avants" to parade the sounds of tomorrow dressed in our clothes of derision. RODNEY BINGENHEIMER: When I took David around to radio stations, they were put off. These stations in Santa Ana and Long Beach didn't know what to make of this British guy in a dress. MICHAEL DES BARRES: Nobody had seen that shit before . . . boys dressed as girls. It really was absolutely shocking. HARVEY KUBERNIK: Everybody had a beard and they gave Rodney and Bowie shit. Bowie showed up in a dress, and in a Nixon world that didn't go down very well. It was analagous to the way some people react to gangsta rap today. U.K. glitter rock hits like T. Rex's "Hot Love" weren't gonna get heavy rotation next to "Suite Judy Blue Eyes" by Crosby Stills and Nash on this station's playlist. After a few awkwardly polite handshakes, Bowie and Rodney were aggressively vibed out of the building. lisa Fancher: Bowie and Marc Bolan had it easy. Jobriath was the real thing. He really was gay. He wasn't just wearing the clothes. When English glam started gathering steam, Elektra Records signed him for around $300,000, which was a lot of money in those days. Jobriath had some kind of career in New York, but he started out in Los Angeles. He was a fabulous dancer and singer who wrote his own material. He was going to be the next big thing. The American Bowie. Harvey Kubernik: Jobriath was supposed to be the rock and roll Judy Garland. I saw Judy Garland with my mother when I was a teenager. Jobriath was no Judy Garland. ZORY ZENITH: Elektra Records signed this new artist who was pretty much on the same wavelength as my band Zolar-X were. He snatched a lot of stuff from Bowie, but he was an incredible classical piano player and a decent singer and his whole on-stage thing was a pink skin-tight suit with a bubble helmet and Zolar-X eyebrows like Spock. He had a pompadour thing and makeup and he came out with a clear plastic bubble on his head and then he'd pull a pin out of the top and the thing would fall apart and rose petals came out. It was very bizarre. Musically we were in awe of Jobriath. We did a two-week run at the Troubadour with Zolar-X and him. About the second or third night into it I stopped by his dressing room and he was wearing this black tuxedo-cut satin suit and a red shirt. I said, "Jo, where's your suit?" and he said, "I just really want to concentrate on the album and the music right now, and we're sounding good, and you guys have the space thing wrapped up and it's ridiculous for us both to do that." Lisa Fancher: There was this unbelievable hype around him. He was on the sides of buses, full-page ads in Rolling Stone. But he was just so flamboyantly gay, and rock fans just weren't really digging it, so Jobriath was just wiped off the face of the earth. He was just stunned and depressed to be rejected like that. He died of AIDS in 1983. KIM FOWLEY: England dictated glam rock. England invented glam rock. If you weren't English, you were dog shit. RODNEY BINGENHEIMER: In America it was called glitter rock. It wasn't "glam." HARVEY KUBERNIK: Rodney had the records that you would read about in Melody Maker. He had stacks of the stuff. He'd play this music and you'd wonder, "Who is this Eno guy? Who's this Bryan Ferry guy?" RODNEY BINGENHEIMER: After Bowie left L.A., I went to London to meet this girl named Melanie McDonald who was gonna be my girlfriend. By now David was recording the Hunky Dory album, so we'd hang out. We went to see the Warhol play Pork. During the sessions my girlfriend got chummy with David's manager Tony DeFries and they ended up going off and getting married! During that same trip I stayed in Ealing and there was a little club there called the Cellar. It was like a pub with lots of teens. You could legally drink at eighteen in England. Downstairs there was amazing music: T. Rex, Slade, and the Sweet. I told Bowie about it, and he said, "You should open a place like that in L.A." And I said, "That's a good idea," so I bought up a lot of the 45's. When I came back to L.A., I was staying at Tom Ayres' house and we'd go driving around late at night in Hollywood and I'd tell him these fantastic stories about Bowie and London. And Tom said, "We should open up a club." TOM AYRES: Rodney and I opened our first club in Hollywood in a building that had formerly been a peep show. It was October of '72 and we called it the E Club. Bowie was one of our first customers. RODNEY BINGENHEIMER: E stood for English, I guess. PAMELA DES BARRES: At Rodney's E Club patrons could hear the latest glam pop sounds from England and catch a glimpse of real-life rock stars. Rodney had found his niche. It was like being in a small English pub, masked by mirrors and Hollywood artifice. TERRY ATKINSON: I was DJ'ing the night Bowie first came by the E Club. I knew he liked Elvis, so I put on the King doing "If you're looking for trouble, you're in the right place . . ." and the dance floor emptied. All of a sudden Bowie jumped up and did this incredible dance-striking all these poses alone on the dance floor, watching his reflection in the mirrors on the back wall. If they'd had a name for what he was doing back then it would have been voguing. The crowd was blown away. TOM AYRES: Later Bowie took me and Rodney into the men's room and said "You guys have done so much for me, what can I do for you?" Rodney pulls out this piece of paper and says "Be a member of the board of this club." While he was standing at the urinal taking a piss, Bowie signed it. Then he told us to put lots more mirrors around the dance floor. Things went real well at the E Club those first couple of months-except for one thing-the owner failed to come up with any money for us. So one night I said to Rodney "Let's get out!" RODNEY BINGENHEIMER: We did the E Club for a few months and then Barry Barnholtz said, "Why don't you do your own club?" And that's when we moved it. The E Club was a lot smaller. We had lines. People couldn't get in. Bowie came, Roxy Music came by. These amazing girls like Lori Lightning and Sabel Star made the scene. BARRY BARNHOLTZ: Rodney's vision foresaw this entire new wave of music that was picking up on and continuing that Anglophilic direction which had begun here in the '60s with the first British Invasion groups. Music had been a big part of my past. I had been involved in promoting concerts and bands at frat parties out in Victorville and Barstow. Now I saw an opportunity to get together with Rodney to open a club. I formed a business partnership with Rodney as the front man and Tom Ayres, the record producer, to help oversee the day-to-day operation of this new club, which I would finance. The new place would pick up where the E Club left off. We found the real estate together. TOM AYRES: We were driving down Sunset Boulevard and we passed this club called the Ooh Poo Pah Doo, which was kind of down on its luck. So on December 15, Rodney's birthday, we turned it into the English Disco and quite early on all the kids started dressing up and coming in.

Editorial Reviews

“When Gillian McCain and I wrote Please Kill Me, a number of people asked us, ‘What about the L.A. punk scene?’ We said ‘That’s another book.’ And now Marc Spitz and Brendan Mullen have finally written it. It’s about time.”
—Legs McNeil