Disco’s Out... Murder’s In!: By Heath Mattioli & David Spacone, illustrated by Raymond Pettibon, 224 pgs. By Jim Woster

Apr 19, 2016

With a story that everyone knows, it’s often useful to hear it again from a peripheral point of view. John Scalzi’s science fiction novel Redshirts, for example, tells the story of an intergalactic starship from the point of view of the crew members who seem to exist solely as laser-cannon fodder.

Most histories and memoirs of the ‘80s Los Angeles punk scene address its pervasive violence. Disco’s Out … Murder’s In! tells the story from the violence’s point of view.

The narrator of this as-told-to memoir is Frank the Shank, a member of the gang La Mirada Punks (LMP). Like other punk gangs of the day, LMP consisted largely of neglected suburban kids enjoying the run of a neglected Hollywood. These were actual “gangs,” with initiations and hierarchies and knives, and several times while reading the book I was reminded of Brooklyn in the 1950s.

Stan Ridgway has said, “In the beginning, punk was anything goes, and then the hammer came down.” Punk gangs thrived during the time of hardcore’s hammer. As Frank says in the book, “Weakness no longer had any business in punk rock. If you were shaky, you got picked on or picked off. Expression was periphery, power was principal.” And I now understand that when Los Angeles cops saw a group of punks in the ‘80s, they likely saw organized crime, not music fans—though if that was the case, a gang task force should have investigated more discriminately than truncheon-eager officers seem to have done. Regardless, hardcore punk sounds more bully-friendly after reading this book.

Disco’s Out … Murder’s In! was published by Feral House, for readers who like well-designed and -constructed books to hold and collect. Feral House’s ethos is sort of a lurid nihilism—as indicated in this instance by the title’s exclamation point—and the book, which comes wrapped in plastic, frequently veers into a true crime (how true, I don’t know) pulp-ness:

…Manny jerked my steering wheel, putting us on the Long Beach 710 heading south.

“Let’s roll a crack dealer.”

What could I do but smile…. Manny chambered his Ruger .22 when bad news tapped me on the shoulder, calling for us to exit.

[Later] I felt my car take another hit as we rounded the corner to safety. I punched it to the freeway exit, leaving the war zone behind.

But Frank, who—it’s easy to forget while reading the book—was an adolescent when he was in LMP does acknowledge that, “Too many people died at the hands of punk rock violence.” Has that ever occurred to you? It hadn’t occurred to me. –Jim Woster (Feral House, 1240 W Sims Way #124, Port Townsend, WA 98368, feralhouse.com, [email protected])

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