So there I sat, three or four Budweisers and a vodka tonic deep, freshly powdered and squirming in a booth at the Cathay de Grande as Fred swapped pheromones with the unwitting accomplice to the crime I was about to commit. Other girls might have fought fire with fire — there was no shortage of leather-clad tattooed loveboys in the room — but I tend to prefer a more direct approach.
I wouldn’t call it premeditated unless the two seconds between my final gulp and my vampiric rush to the dance floor qualify as planning. It was, however, a long time coming — in teen years. A girl can only absorb so many blows to her confidence before she retaliates, the velocity of which equals her insecurity multiplied by her weight, divided by the other girl’s number rating and squared by her man’s douchery.
He never saw it coming. When the bottle made contact with the top of his skull, the sound was crushing and high pitched like a car accident. The release was transformative. With only the jagged top of the neck left in my hand, I calmly turned returned to my booth, wrapped a cocktail napkin around my gushing thumb and reapplied my lipstick. (In the process of punishing Fred, I managed to nearly sever an appendage.)
Michael Brennan, the Cathay’s owner, was a tall, dark-haired fellow with a good side you wanted to stay squarely on. He told me to exit the building or face charges. Someone’s girlfriend generously offered to drive me home to the Palisades from Hollywood and my relationship with Brennan remained amiable even after the club closed and surreptitiously became Raji’s. My first love ended under a shower of glass shards. It was time to cut my hair.
In the ’70s, most women on television had long hair. By most women, I mean Marcia, Jan and Cindy Brady. Oh, and Laurie Partridge, duh. Mrs. Brady (Florence Henderson), on the other hand, sported an iconic short mullet-shag, the trendy mom look of the period, while Alice the housekeeper was kept safely unattractive with a frumpy, outdated coif. Everyone loved Alice but no one wanted to fuck her. Well, the plumber, Sam, maybe, but we all secretly knew he was her beard.
Despite being a faithful devotee of The Brady Bunch, I secretly hated the Brady girls, privileged and prissy as they were. I preferred Mary Tyler Moore and Marlo Thomas (That Girl) who coincidentally wore their hair in the same flip style. They were also brunette, like me. Mary was smart, sensitive and had the best apartment in TV Land. Marlo Thomas had the best boyfriend. They were confident, independent, attractive and well-mannered. I wanted what they had. Mary was also a journalist, a career path I would later take.
All the male stylists were gay. Super gay. And their clients were famous. Super famous. The female stylists were polite, no-drama Asian gals. The sun poured in through the front windows and bounced around the chrome and white surfaces like a spotlight on a diamond. The beauty business is a breeding ground for insecurity and self-doubt and the need to look flawless is all-consuming when you spend 8 hours a day drenched in unforgiving light.
I was tweezing a client’s brows one afternoon when I saw a petite female hastily vacating a Volkswagon Beetle just outside the salon. She flung open the door, made herself known to the receptionist and plopped onto a bench in the waiting area behind me. A stealth glance at the mirror in between plucks allowed me to get a better look. I noticed that her creamy-white legs were dotted with bruises of varying sizes and stages of healing and she appeared disheveled in her hi-top Chuck’s and thin sundress. She seemed out of her element yet utterly, even enviably, comfortable in her own skin. It took me a minute to realize it was Madonna. My only familiarity with her was via a poster that hung in Social Distortion guitarist Dennis Danell’s bedroom and the incessant fanboy gushing he and Mike Ness displayed whenever they were near it.
The California sun is a many-faced God and summers spent beneath it tend to overstimulate the pituitary gland. All that vitamin D and bare skin can make a teenage girl behave recklessly. (Case in point: the Manson girls.) For me the sun was intoxicating, and intoxication usually had regrettable consequences often with regrettable men. The only thing I ever regretted about my time spent with Anthony Kiedis was not fulfilling his request for a kiss.
A ripped Naugahyde booth in the moldy basement of a long-gone Hollywood restaurant was no place for a young lady from the westside to be spending time in 1981. Not at midnight, not with the antiseptic burn of cocaine in her throat, not with her vengeful heart doing paradiddles against her ribcage and especially not with a potentially lethal weapon in her grip. When you’re 18 years old, punk and in love, it feels good to tighten your grip around the smooth neck of a beer bottle. And when the decreasing proximity between your boyfriend and a blonde named Stacy has reached critical status, broken glass seems like an efficient way to set limits. Especially with the wail of a live saxophone urging you from the stage.
I used to be critical of punk musicians who continued to perform well past their youth. Seeing my favorite bands ravaged by drugs and gravity made me cranky. Unless they were producing new music it seemed like a money grab or worse, a pathetic plea for relevancy in a world that had already reinvented them. As embarrassing as clawing for attention and small change can be, nothing’s worse than selling-out.
I remember going to see Social Distortion at the Ventura Theater around 2011 and being devastated by the band’s descent into commercialism. I mean, I was well aware of Social D’s trajectory and kept tabs over the years, but seeing it live and in 3-D brought next-level disappointment. As someone who’s seen Mike Ness plunge the depths of addiction and climb out of the wreckage, I just couldn’t reconcile the gilded production of a mature Social D with only one original member (albeit the most important one) and a pimped-out tour bus (a far cry from the brokedown palace that legendary manager Monk Rock held together with spit and chewing gum in Another State of Mind).
Truth is, I was a far cry from the girl who once spent her nights slam dancing (not to be confused with “moshing”) her way from the Cathay de Grande in Hollywood to the Cuckoo’s Nest in Orange County and everywhere in between. That was the real issue. I was irritated by my own irrelevance and the specter of my middle-aged “curves” being shoved into a vintage house dress. I was grieving.
What a difference a decade or two can make. Last week I came across a few recent interviews of John Doe and Exene on YouTube and the bells in my aging brain sounded. Actually, it may have been the tea kettle, but nonetheless I got it. I got why X was still touring (sans new material) despite John’s jowls and Exene’s thinning hair. I understood that, though they’ve settled down, the rebellion and creativity that studded their chi was authentic and eternal and not only still relevant but crucial—especially now.
In the process of coming to terms with my heros getting old I was able to reserve a tiny bit of respect for my own journey to geezerville and the velocity thereof. The same people who helped me navigate my early twenties are guiding me through my senior moments. God bless Exene and her lack of fucks. The world’s still a mess and it’s probably still in her kiss.
At 19, with seven years of hair growth laid to rest in a dumpster behind a West Hollywood salon, my self-image was forever altered. Where my long hair had provided me last-ditch popularity credentials (at least where boys were concerned) my new hair accomplished the opposite. My new hair declared me the prodigal outcast, headed back to the fringe without apology. My new hair talked back to the mirror. My new hair had balls. As I descended the carpeted staircase of our upper middle class home, I could hear my mother in the kitchen sharpening the tools of her suffering. I anticipated some resistance, but didn’t imagine there would be tears. I wasn’t entirely sure her tear ducts still functioned. Such is the cruel truth about daughters and mothers. And there we stood, facing each other across the avocado-green tile counter. Two petite women with very little hair, equalized by our self-loathing, unified in our disdain for each other, humbled by the power of a haircut.
1. a historical account or biography written from personal knowledge or special sources.
As Punk and in Love progresses, I plan to release tasty excerpts, whatever photos I can dig up and general observations about men, music, hair, men in music, punk rock, etc. While the book is loosely chronological, it’s divided by subject rather than time period and chapters will alternate between “men/music” and “hair.”
If you’re wondering who I am and what business I have writing a book about punk rock in the ’80s, kindly read this. You may still be left wondering, but hopefully you’ll decide to hang around, anyway. Or not. Whatever.