Sometimes it feels like, at this point, punk rock history has been so sliced, diced, Osterized, eviscerated, rehashed, propped up, and picked apart that one rarely sees the point in yet another tome purporting to be the true and accurate tale of a scene that is so nebulous and means so many different things to different people. The same is equally true of Los Angeles’s punk scene, one historically both so cohesive and fractured that a single-volume accounting of what has gone on here seems nearly impossible to pull off without missing something or hurting someone’s feelings. There have been a very small handful of exceptions, of course, but for my money, books highlighting specific aspects of the scene have thus far worked better than those with a more holistic approach—Fucked Up and Photocopied, with its focus on flyer art said volumes more about the creative spirit at punk’s core than American Hardcore managed with thirty times the word count.
In the three books under discussion here, photographer Louis Jacinto leans more toward the former, narrowing the focus to some of the L.A. scene’s less celebrated corners, keeps the historical soap boxing to a minimum, and lets his iconic photos do most of the talking. The Bags has the highest word count of the three. Roughly half of its pages are comprised of Alice Bag recounting her thoughts on punk rock, the early L.A. scene, being a Latina vocalist, and the formation of her now-legendary band, all presented in bite-sized snippets that succinctly and intelligently make their point and move on to the next topic. The remainder of the book is dedicated to Jacinto’s treasure trove of color and black and white photos showcasing both candid backstage moments and live performances and The Whisky, Hong Kong, and downtown’s LACE Gallery (the latter, I believe, are from the infamous opening of the “Gronk/Dreva” art exhibition that ended with the place getting trashed).
Gronkpatssiparty similarly focuses on a single subject, in this case a 1978 Halloween party/art show for artists Gronk and Patssi Valdez, both members of East L.A. art/performance/multi-hyphenate collective ASCO. The camera’s attention, however, is directed not at the artists or their art but at the diverse crowd of attendees, who pose in costumes (and in one case, a total lack of costume, save letters stenciled on skin) with assorted libations in hand. The real treat here for fans of obscure L.A. punk bands, though, are photos of the last performance of The Snappers, a short-lived group comprised of Robert Becerra, Jesse “Fixx” Amezquita (original guitarist and bassist, respectively, for East L.A. punk legends The Stains), Michael Ochoa, and Gerardo Velazquez, who met Edward Stapleton that night and went on to start synth-punk sensations Nervous Gender.
Of the three books, Punkrocklosangeles is the broadest in scope, featuring live and candid pics of The Bags, The Screamers, Nervous Gender, The Know, Gun Club, X, Alleycats, Elvis Costello, Patti Smith, and The Go-Go’s, with accompanying short blurbs about each to provide context. While there are some overlaps—Punkrocklosangeles features a few shots that can be found in the other two books—all are chock full of photos not usually found in the plethora of punk histories currently cluttering shelves, photos that both capture the bands in their prime andthe L.A. punk scene at a time when the rules had yet to become rigid and history was still something to be destroyed. –Jimmy Alvarado (Onodream, www.onodream.com)