More Fun in the New World

The Unmaking and Legacy of L.A. Punk


By John Doe

By Tom DeSavia

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This sequel to Grammy-nominated bestseller Under the Big Black Sun continues the up-close and personal account of the L.A. punk scene—and includes fifty rare photos.

Picking up where Under the Big Black Sun left off, More Fun in the New World explores the years 1982 to 1987, covering the dizzying pinnacle of L.A.'s punk rock movement as its stars took to the national—and often international—stage. Detailing the eventual splintering of punk into various sub-genres, the second volume of John Doe and Tom DeSavia's west coast punk history portrays the rich cultural diversity of the movement and its characters, the legacy of the scene, how it affected other art forms, and ultimately influenced mainstream pop culture. The book also pays tribute to many of the fallen soldiers of punk rock, the pioneers who left the world much too early but whose influence hasn't faded.

As with Under the Big Black Sun, the book features stories of triumph, failure, stardom, addiction, recovery, and loss as told by the people who were influential in the scene, with a cohesive narrative from authors Doe and DeSavia. Along with many returning voices, More Fun in the New World weaves in the perspectives of musicians Henry Rollins, Fishbone, Billy Zoom, Mike Ness, Jane Weidlin, Keith Morris, Dave Alvin, Louis Pérez, Charlotte Caffey, Peter Case, Chip Kinman, Maria McKee, and Jack Grisham, among others. And renowned artist/illustrator Shepard Fairey, filmmaker Allison Anders, actor Tim Robbins, and pro-skater Tony Hawk each contribute chapters on punk's indelible influence on the artistic spirit.

In addition to stories of success, the book also offers a cautionary tale of an art movement that directly inspired commercially diverse acts such as Green Day, Rancid, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Wilco, and Neko Case. Readers will find themselves rooting for the purists of punk juxtaposed with the MTV-dominating rock superstars of the time who flaunted a "born to do this, it couldn't be easier" attitude that continued to fuel the flames of new music. More Fun in the New World follows the progression of the first decade of L.A. punk, its conclusion, and its cultural rebirth.


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We never thought we’d be writing a sequel to Under the Big Black Sun.

When John and I set out to write our first book, which chronicled the birth of punk rock in Los Angeles, specifically spanning the years 1977 to 1982, we went into it with a purpose: we were intent on making sure that if we were telling the story of the roots of L.A. punk, it be told by multiple voices of folks who actually lived through it. It was important that it didn’t become a tale from just John’s perspective but rather an overview of a time that was noticeably becoming, at best, a victim of revisionist history. Its origin and ensuing years had been thinly documented on any global scale, especially compared to the concurrent New York and UK musical revolutions.

When we first pursued a deal to write what would become UTBBS, our goal was very simple: pen the history of the West Coast punk rock movement. Once we actually signed a deal to publish the tale, we realized that in order to make it cohesive, it would be best to devote the narrative, historically, to those first five years. The perfect year to end it seemed to be 1982, just as punk rock was really entering the consciousness of the US mainstream.

I wish I could tell you with confidence that we knew what we were doing when we undertook writing Under the Big Black Sun, but blissfully we didn’t. We asked a handful of participants to write chapter-length essays on specific topics, tales that suddenly would—to our surprise and delight—evolve into mini-autobiographies that painted the feel of a city, a scene, and its inhabitants. These writers—a select group of varied architects and chroniclers of the punk scene—individually and collectively led us into this fabled underworld, where drugs and sex and violence lived side by side with art, camaraderie, desperation, quests for fame, quests for self-destruction, and, of course, self-expression. As we collected these chapters we quickly discovered that—with a little added narration and color commentary—an actual story was forming.

Jane Wiedlin, guitarist and songwriter of the groundbreaking Go-Go’s, was the first person to submit her chapter for what would become the inaugural volume. Jane’s chapter, “The Canterbury Tales,” is an unflinching, unapologetic, honest, funny, and sometimes brutal account of living in Los Angeles during the evolution of punk culture. It made both John and me take pause and realize that we might actually be able to tell this story as it should be told. The illuminating essays began rolling in, written by musicians Exene Cervenka (X), Dave Alvin (The Blasters), Henry Rollins (Black Flag), Charlotte Caffey (The Go-Go’s), Jack Grisham (T.S.O.L.), Teresa Covarrubias (The Brat), Mike Watt (The Minutemen), Robert Lopez (The Zeros, El Vez), Chris D. (The Flesh Eaters), and Pleasant Gehman (The Screaming Sirens) as well as journalists Kristine McKenna and Chris Morris. Suddenly we had a book; the chapters sequenced effortlessly into an engaging tale better than anything we had hoped for.

The book met with immediate positive reaction from both press and the public; the response surpassed our wildest expectations. Under the Big Black Sun spent seven weeks in the top ten on the Los Angeles Times hardcover nonfiction best-seller list, and even nabbed a “best spoken word recording” GRAMMY nomination for its accompanying audiobook, which featured every participating author reading their own chapter.

Still, we never figured we’d be writing a sequel.

It was toward the end of the promotion for the first book that the story suddenly felt unfinished, and it began to seem logical to tackle the next five years—closing our tale in the confines of a decade of musical revolution. We are grateful that the unexpected success of Under the Big Black Sun gave us the opportunity to really explore the concept of finishing what we started. With this volume we hope to contribute to the currently limited—but growing—historical documents that exist on this era. Without rewriting history, the prospect of completing the “real” story—which essentially can be summarized with “and then hair metal won the L.A. Sunset Strip civil war”—seemed depressing, if not historically accurate. Certainly the world knew the victors—punk rock didn’t die, but it was seemingly relegated to the fringe, forever represented by the few who had established sustainable touring careers or moved on to some sort of mainstream notoriety.

It was a casual conversation with our mutual friend Krissy Teegerstrom that really set forth to define what this book would become. It gave us a story arc we felt we could wrap our heads around while trying to tell this tale of the second half of Los Angeles’ original punk rock scene. It was Krissy’s impression, after reading the first book, that the first-wave pioneers had thrown seeds and that those seeds had taken root. Watching the discussions that would unfold, she was overwhelmed to discover the influence this scene had—not only on musicians but also on so many aspects of contemporary art and lifestyle. She was the one who suggested we not craft this story as the end of a once-important regional music scene but rather let it evolve into more of a historical study of the scene’s importance to international culture.

Personally, after the last book I found the majority of comments I received were from folks who related to my story of discovering punk at the end of its first five years, citing identical personal revelations. As much as any of the prose, many specifically made note to me of the book’s dedication, where I thanked the members of X for altering everything my young brain thought it knew about music and art. This was—not surprisingly in retrospect—an experience shared by so many. It didn’t matter if you were from L.A. or what gender you were or if you came of age in the 1970s or the 2000s—if you got a taste of the poison, it seeped in and became part of a shared DNA.

In a chapter of the first book devoted to regional punk rock art and photography, I wrote that the style of the time—captured primarily in show flyers and spearheaded by the likes of art pioneers Raymond Pettibon or Robbie Conal—most likely inspired the work of twenty-first-century icons like Shepard Fairey and Banksy. In a very kind post scripted upon the book’s initial release, Fairey wrote, “I was incredibly honored when DeSavia describes the importance of flyer art and the ubiquitous flyer culture of the time and accurately points to how this untraditional art form seeped into the creative minds and souls of artists—both music and visual, and inspired the likes of me and Banksy. That’s very true; I’m not sure if he’s heard me mention flyer culture as an inspiration in interviews, but if the connection seemed obvious to him intuitively, he was correct.”

Krissy’s suggested narrative began to reveal itself as thus: along with the participants of the time featured within these pages, we asked a few select folks to write about their own bond with the music and the time, often from the experience of how it affected their own art and helped them define and celebrate their individuality. The first person we reached out to with this concept was Shepard. He is an unapologetic and vocal fan of the time and a torchbearer of the ethos of punk. Fairey enthusiastically drafted a chapter detailing his inspiration that came from punk culture and the courage it gave him to pursue the then-misunderstood/oft-criticized street art culture that helped define and establish its prominence. We’re completely honored that Shepard, along with legendary pro skater Tony Hawk, acclaimed film director Allison Anders, and renowned actor Tim Robbins, contributed essays to this volume on punk rock’s influence on their art and individuality.

Seeds were thrown, for sure. What was essentially hiding in the shadows moved from a whisper to a scream in rapid-fire time. This late-twentieth-century cultural revolution—or artistic mutiny, depending on how you perceived it—aided in altering the way we looked at music, art, fashion, gender roles, authority, and almost all aspects of a post-sixties counterculture subtly and, ultimately, so significantly. In the eighties the former hippies—who generationally had laid the groundwork for what would become punk—represented a then enemy; a new establishment composed of bohemian free spirits was suddenly rapidly evolving into a bunch of Reagan-era “greed is good” stereotypes. The punks ditched the harpsichords for something decidedly aggressively melodic, if melodic at all. It was a less-discussed generation gap, steeped in both political unrest and economic uncertainty but ultimately one that historically created a wider chasm than that created by the clashing of Sinatra to Elvis. In the early days any of the minimal mainstream coverage of the West Coast’s music scene primarily focused on safety-pin stereotypes and the threat of violence it seemed to promise. Now that musical uprising is culturally celebrated in museum exhibitions and coffee table art books. Pretty groovy.

By 1982 the impact the West Coast was having was undeniable, evidenced by the records released that year: The Descendents’ Milo Goes to College, The Misfits’ Walk Among Us, Flipper’s Generic, Bad Brains’ eponymous debut, Bad Religion’s How Could Hell Be Any Worse, Angry Samoans’ Back From Samoa, FEAR’s The Record, The Circle Jerks’ Wild in the Streets, T.S.O.L.’s Beneath the Shadows, Rank and File’s Sundown, and X’s Under the Big Black Sun, to name a handful. Around the globe suburban kids were now becoming converted to the ways of punk, thanks to The Clash, who released Combat Rock, their fifth and best-selling album (eventually going on to sell two million copies in the US alone). Throughout the next five years the L.A. punk landscape was splintering into a dizzying array of genres that engaged and thrilled Angelenos. Regionalism was alive and well, and we had it in spades: the press identified the scenes as “cowpunk,” the “Paisley Underground,” or “power pop,” all sourced from the various elements that birthed punk in the Gold Rush State: country, the blues, fifties rock ‘n’ roll and sixties garage rock, Latin music and culture, and on and on. Bands as diverse as Lone Justice, The Long Ryders, The Bangles, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Blood on the Saddle, The Dream Syndicate, Fishbone, and many more started to dominate and redefine the local musical landscape.

Hardcore was growing stronger and more global. It split into curiously overlapping camps that embraced violent, political, and straight-edge cultures. It grew more sophisticated and influential in the hands of local bands like Suicidal Tendencies, D.I., The Adolescents, The Vandals, The Crowd, Middle Class, China White, The Stains, and Jody Foster’s Army as well as more established bands like FEAR, The Circle Jerks, Black Flag, Saccharine Trust, The Minutemen, and T.S.O.L. It was building what would eventually become punk’s strongest and most enduring following.

A West Coast punk-led spoken-word movement began to rival that of the East Coast through the voices of local poets and writers such as Wanda Coleman and Harvey Kubernik as well as the emerging literary voices of musicians Exene Cervenka, Henry Rollins, and Jello Biafra, and including folks like Doe, Dave Alvin, Chris D., and many more.

A new crop of independent record companies formed, joining and/or replacing the first wave of pioneering labels. And of course, the major labels came racing to the chum in the water, hedging bets on this untapped youth culture movement. All the while, bigger and smaller bands relentlessly toured the US, developing the live audience, venues, and indie/college radio circuit that would allow the later indie and grunge-era bands to make a truly significant impact on the under-thirty crowd.

Cutting-edge pop and rock, specifically new wave, firmly took hold of the mainstream, and it took hold fast. MTV had debuted in the fall of 1981, and with it came a tidal wave of this new alternative music—most of which were pop acts branding themselves to a young generation by adopting punk style. Yeah, video killed the radio star, but it also conditioned the USA for kids sporting then-shocking dyed hair or leather spiked chokers. Sure, parents didn’t like it, but they reluctantly had to accept it. An unexpected result was the beginning of the end for regional variations of new music because everyone saw the latest trends at the same time. New music, now in real danger of becoming a campy fad and stereotype, was profitable again. The end was nigh.

The early eighties fragmented our regional punk climate so much that our camaraderie of community began to crumble, while record deals and tours broke the gang apart. Punk began to splinter as the division between the hardcore kids and punk fans widened. As heavy and hair metal was taking hold, fans were drawing their lines in the sand.

Personally I was as excited about the prospect of this book as much as Doe originally hesitated: 1982 marked my first real foray into the punk scene, with my first X show at a club in Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley suburb. For John I believe 1982 not only marked the beginning of the dissolution of the community but also excitement as the spotlight was starting to shine on this disparate group of musicians, artists, photographers, and writers. The future was bright and the future was terrifying—depending on the day, I reckon.

Like Under the Big Black Sun, John didn’t want the book to be about X or X’s view of regional punk rock; he wanted it to be everyone’s story… or at least as many as we could wrangle and fit. He fought against the photos of him and Exene on the covers—not out of a false modesty but a desire for them to reflect the community that existed. The community that eventually fell apart. The community that would remain tethered over the decades, either in celebration or brought together by loss.

Like the last book, we are incredibly humbled that so many agreed to join us on the journey of telling this tale; like the last book, we regret that we couldn’t invite every single participant from the era. It has always been our sincerest hope that everyone who participated, supported, or was moved by this moment in rock ‘n’ roll history is compelled to take pen to paper and write of their own experiences.

We are obviously very thankful that our friend had shared with us her epiphany about the seeds that were thrown during these monumental years. This book is about those seeds and how firmly those roots were planted…

Oh, and sex and drugs and loud, loud music.

Plattsburgh, N.Y., 1978. The ceilings exploded as The Sex Pistols played in the shit hole off-campus apartment I shared with roommate and soon to be lifelong friend Frank Bednash. Frank had recently bought Talking Heads 77, Lou Reed’s Street Hassle, and The Pistols’ Never Mind the Bollocks. “GOD SAVE THE QUEEN” shouted out in that dingy apartment on Brinkerhoff, and our ceiling tiles, which were already precariously close to our heads, fell victim to weaponized heads and fists as they busted through the tiles above. My seventies hit parade aesthetic was shattered by the raucous, disrespectful, anarchic energy coming from these “punks” from the UK. Punk rock was a liberation, a smashing of the dull, the mundane, the formulaic.

Two years later I’m thrashing in mosh pits in Los Angeles, seeing bands like FEAR, Black Flag, Circle Jerks, and X and feeling, in those moments, FREE from the various loads of crap I was dealing with in the early eighties, including but not limited to Ronald Reagan, paying rent, and trying to get a job that didn’t suck.

These bands demanded attention. It was immediate, raw, and relevant to our lives. It made us physically ready for anything, inspired anger at things that we should be angry about, and eviscerated liars, frauds, and moral hypocrites. These songwriters were composing songs about us—our indignations, our loves, our fears. In the mosh pit, as crazy as it got sometimes, I saw more people taking care of each other than I saw people who wanted to hurt others. We were a disparate, anarchic community. There was a strange family in those sweaty clubs. There was nothing “hip” about it. Sure, there were scene-sters, but more often than not there was someone to call out the pretender, the fraud. This was an outsider movement. We were outside the culture. The real story was not being reported on. The media did not understand. They sensationalized it, made it as if it were some kind of teen dysfunction, some irrational acting out by privileged brats or homeless derelicts. On television episodics punks were depicted as mentally ill criminals.

I wonder if any of us thrashing around in a mosh pit in 1982 could have imagined the impending commodification of punk in music, fashion, and art. Expensive Warhol paintings of Sid Vicious and $4,000 designer jackets replete with safety pins and the anarchy symbol still float around us today as the men and women who made it all happen live in poverty. Punk was never going to make any of its musicians rich. It was almost as if making a lot of money was the opposite of being a punk rocker. Radio stations never played the bands I liked—the music wasn’t “palatable” enough for a mass market. I believe the absence of these bands from the airwaves speaks to their importance: their music was essential. These artists were there to bend our ears beyond the mind-numbing normality of “classic rock” and hit parades. They were there to liberate us from the “palatable.”

The band I followed most in the early eighties and still see today was X. John Doe, Exene Cervenka, DJ Bonebrake, and Billy Zoom played incredible live shows—and still do—that went hardcore while bringing beauty, poetry, and heart to the party. They had a touch of Woody Guthrie in them, a people’s music sensibility that reached back to Appalachia and Mexican roots music as it set the standard, in my opinion, for L.A. punk rock. Everyone had “their band.” And FEAR, Black Flag, and Circle Jerks all blew my mind at one time or another, but I always circled back to X.

Around the same time that I was driving my grandmother’s push-button trans ’64 Dodge Dart to the Masque, Club Lingerie, or the Anti-Club, I was a theater student at UCLA, studying directing. I met comrades in arms there, fellow punk rockers named Arenberg, Hinkley, Campbell, Robinson, Olivier, Schlitt, White, Bell, and Foster. We wanted to bring that mosh-pit energy to the stage. We were done with realism. We didn’t want to do plays set in living rooms that had an imaginary wall where the audience was and an audience who we “cheated” toward yet never acknowledged. We wanted to bust that wall. We wanted to affect people—challenge their sensibilities, shake them up in a way that was worthy of the punk rock shows that were inspiring us.

I read a play called Ubu Roi written in 1896 by an eccentric (Dadaist? Surrealist? Provocateur?) and madman named Alfred Jarry. At the first performance of Ubu Roi in Paris the audience became so incensed at the content that a riot broke out, and they tore up their seats and threw them onto the stage.

This was the play to do. Although written in 1896, Ubu was punk rock. It was rude, satirically funny, and wickedly relevant. W. B. Yeats, who witnessed the first performance, viewed it as an event of revolutionary importance, saying, “After all our subtle color and nervous rhythm.… After us, the savage God.”

We did midnight shows at the Pilot Theater in Hollywood. It wasn’t as if this was a venue that was presenting new work or anything remotely related to punk rock. I was able to convince the owner, for a cut of the gate, to let me share the space with other productions that were in there. So at 10 P.M. we would take down the set of Grease or an evening of one-acts that were really not plays but actually unsold TV pilots, and we would put up our set, which we had purloined in a slightly illegal way in a late-night run to a scenic shop. We had no money to advertise, so to get word around that we were doing it, we did a preview performance at Janet Cunningham’s newly opened CASH Gallery, put up posters illegally, did “flash mobs” by piling out of cars in front of movie theaters that were showing films at midnight to perform quick acts of brutal mimed violence for the people on line. Before anyone could figure out what was going on, they were holding a flyer for our show and we were driving away. Ubu Roi became a hit: we played for six months, and The Actors’ Gang was born. The crowds were great—there was a sense of danger and excitement every night. We were coming at them full throttle, telling the story of Ubu’s vicious rise to power and his greed and avarice, bringing life to this wild play complete with scatological debrainings, slow-motion assassinations, green phalluses used as weapons, and a merciless teddy bear.

When audiences arrived at the theater on a darkened Seward Ave just off the strip from hooker land, they would notice a shady-looking man dressed in an overcoat and carrying a boom box. He was our “plant,” a character we called the Ubuist. He would lurk outside, switching radio stations alternating from punk rock music to Christian radio preachers to more punk rock to sappy pop songs—in general, making the waiting audience uncomfortable. (Semi-full disclosure: we had to mix-tape this because, unlike the preachers and the sappy pop, you couldn’t find punk rock on the radio.)

Eventually, when the audience was getting settled in, the Ubuist would enter the theater and sit in the back row, still playing his boom box, now annoyingly switching stations every ten seconds or so. He was the fan who had seen the show too many times and was there to take the cool out of the experience, to create a discomfort for the trendy who found their way there. By the sixth scene in the play, he was part of the show. His boom box now had Ubu’s voice in it, and he became complicit with Ubu as a tax collector preying on poor peasants. Toward the end of the play there is a decapitation, which would nightly prove too much for the Ubuist to take. He would stand up and protest the brutality, and the actors would then forcibly eject him and his boom box from the theater. This was always a great moment, but there was an ulterior motive involved: it was the Ubuist’s job to get to the liquor store before 2:00 A.M. so we could have cold beers waiting to get drunk with after the show. We were young, arrogant, and ready to fuck shit up. The Actors’ Gang of 1982 was inspired by, fueled by, and beholden to punk rock. Punk was at the core of our energy and commitment on stage. Most of the actors in the show were no strangers to mosh pits. We were not meant to be doing tame theater. We were going to sweat hard and push beyond our physical limits. We were going to give as much to our audience as we had received from X or FEAR or The Dead Kennedys. We wanted to bring a punk rock aesthetic to theater. We wanted to communicate in this new language—independent in spirit and bold in defiance yet possessed of a conscience. We have carried this sensibility with us throughout the decades. That endurance in independence, defiance, and conscience has as its genesis and owes its life to all the West Coast punks who shared their hearts with us and changed our lives.

One afternoon in 1984 I was sitting in the plush office of Lenny Waronker, the president of Warner Bros. Records, with Mr. Waronker and three of Warner’s Artist and Repertoire (A&R) staff. We were listening to tapes of the new songs that my band, The Blasters, had recorded for the upcoming album we were making for Warners. As a song I had written called “Kathleen” came to an end, a heavy, judgmental silence filled the room. Then the newest member of the A&R staff looked at me with a smirk on his face.

“Don’t get me wrong,” he said, “It’s a good song, I guess, so I’m not sure how to say this but, ahh… I mean, I’m sure it will go over great with your crowd and all, but… I just think, ah… that it sounds too much like The Blasters.”

I pulled a cigarette out of my shirt pocket, but I didn’t light it. I just twiddled it nervously between my fingers as my other hand gripped the arm of the chair I was sitting in. I could feel my temperature quickly rising and my face starting to burn with anger. I wanted to shout at the smug A&R man, “What the fuck did you just say, motherfucker? What the fuck do you fucking know about anything? You dumb-fucking fucking fuck?”

Instead of screaming at him with righteous indignation and hurling myself fists first into his face, though, I timidly looked at Mr. Waronker and the other two A&R guys for any sign of support, but none came. They just stared blankly back at me, waiting to see my reaction to the provocation. After a few awkward moments of inner turmoil and mental confusion I finally muttered the only diplomatic response I could think of: “Well, um, yeah, you’re absolutely right about that. Maybe that’s because we are The Blasters.”

No one laughed.

Yeah, we were The Blasters all right, but unfortunately I was the only member of the band present at this meeting. By this time in The Blasters’ relationship with Warner Bros., things had gotten so strained that I was the only Blaster ever allowed at any A&R meetings. During the year or so after we signed with the label most of the meetings between the band and the executives could be described as uncomfortable at best, with some descending into loud and ugly shouting matches.

The crazy thing, though, is that these primal-scream sessions were usually not between the Warner folk and us; most of the time it was The Blasters yelling at each other over something that had nothing at all to do with whatever the damn meeting was about in the first place. We’d all grown up together in Downey, California, and knew each other so damn well that arguing and fighting with ourselves was just how we communicated. We pushed, shouted, shoved, screamed, and punched each other whether we were seriously pissed off or simply showing sincere affection, so why should discussing artistic, career, or business decisions be any different? After one particularly incendiary showdown between my brother and me at a Warners meeting, over the pressing issue of whether or not the drummer on an old Little Willie John record kept time on the high hat, Mr. Waronker firmly decreed that I, as the band’s songwriter, would be the only band member they would ever meet with again to discuss creative issues. You can imagine how well that went over.


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On Sale
Jun 1, 2021
Page Count
336 pages
Hachette Books

John Doe

About the Author

John Doe is a middle-grade author and bat enthusiast from New Orleans, Louisiana. When he isn’t at his writer’s desk, he's likely volunteering at his local bat sanctuary or promoting conservation efforts. Bridge to Bat City is his debut novel.

Learn more about this author