Coloring Outside the Lines: A Punk Rock Memoir: by Aimee Cooper, 132 pgs. By Todd Taylor

Apr 13, 2011

It’s not often that you’ll come across a Los Angeles-based, eighteen-month-long slice of punk rock life, circa ‘80-‘81, that is exceedingly nice and a breeze to read. And I don’t mean “nice” in a bad way. Aimee was a self-proclaimed, pixie-framed, happy punk rocker who didn’t obsess over clothes and never let punk rock “stars” eclipse her real friendships in her loose-knit punk family, The Connected. Aimee avoids gigantic pitfalls that several authors have tripped into when recounting “back in the day.” She worked at Slash Magazine – one of L.A.’s ground zeros for chronicling punk rock that was happening in California – as an unpaid receptionist. Although she was embroiled in the end of the first wave and the beginning of the second wave of L.A. punk, she does a great job of not sounding cynical. Actually, it’s the exact opposite. There’s no “you owe me, bow down” scenester of yore cashing in on their punk chips in the vague hopes of literary validation feel to this book. Nor does Aimee adopt the “You’ll never know. It was better and different back then” tone of hangers-on who haven’t had anything relevant to input for the past fifteen to twenty years. What pervades this memoir is a sense of awe, preciousness, and self-awareness. It’s less a dropping of names (although there are plenty of notables) than an earnest, easy-to-read recounting of a truly transitional time and place for a lady whose life was positively changed by punk music. It’s neat reading about the egging of Adam Ant during a parking lot appearance, to watching Johnny Thunders watch her play with a cat, to calling in reinforcements to avoid a fight in a hospital waiting room, to her inability to get a cool nickname. Plus, as I mentioned, Aimee just sounds really fuckin’ nice, like you’d like to just sit down with her and talk for several hours. She has a way of presenting life lessons in an extremely conversational manner.

Some of my favorite excerpts deal with humanity as it falls through the cracks when “serious” punk rockers are so busy documenting a scene and pruning their own careers to see beyond the tangle of their enormous egos. A fellow punk of Aimee’s – a friend of a friend – had been shot and killed in what looked like one of the first instances of a drive-by shooting of a punk for just how he dressed. Aimee was distressed, and since she worked at Slash, asked a more knowledgeable co-worker what to do. She was given a phone number, which she called, unaware that it was to a “rival” paper, the LA Weekly. She told them of the shooting. Aimee was then summarily approached and dressed down by Slash owner, Bob Biggs. It seems that Biggs wasn’t in the least concerned with the poaching of a punk on a street corner in a random act of violence, but more about the negative publicity surrounding L.A. punk rock in the following weeks. It just so happened that his wife, Penelope Spheeris, had a movie debuting shortly thereafter: The Decline of Western Civilization. (Penelope would weather the storm and make such classic punk hits as the remakes of both the Little Rascals and The Beverly Hillbillies.)

It’s also refreshing that Aimee leaves the badass, tough-as-nails bravado associated with reminiscence and “punk fiction” in the back seat. When she gets arrested and detained for trying to hitch hike back home, she avoids boredom in an unconventional manner: “I then took hold of the vertical stand supporting the bunk beds, and did what any incarcerated prisoner would do in my situation. I did my ballet exercises. One and two and three – pilé.” I think it’s rad that Aimee makes no claims to be the end-all, be-all punk rocker and that she often resorts back to life prior to discovering punk rock to put the book into a greater perspective.

I have only small quibbles with the book. There are many points where I wish Aimee would take the time to explain the situation a little bit more in depth – such as the riot scenes – in an attempt to resonate this book’s reach beyond Los Angeles or perhaps get a feel of why the cops took such an interest in suppressing punk rock at the time. Similarly, many of the chapters seem too short, that they are the skeleton keys to a much longer work that would put more flesh in the folds of her stories. However, these wants are small in comparison to how enjoyable the book is a whole. All in all, I highly recommend this enjoyable DIY effort.  –Todd (Rowdy’s Press,

PO Box 847, Elgin, TX78621. It is available from Interpunk for $11.25)