The Screamers were one of the essential components of the L.A. punk scene of the late 1970s and early 1980s, although they famously never put out a studio LP. They had one of the best band logos in the world, designed by comix artist Gary Panter of Jimbo renown.
The Screamers had plenty of prominent fans, one of whom was DEVO’s Gerard Casale, who testified as follows in Marc Spitz and Brendan Mullen’s We Got the Neutron Bomb: The Untold Story of L.A. Punk:
DEVO loved the Screamers. We thought the Screamers and Tomata du Plenty were fucking unbelievable. You see a band that you’re creatively and intellectually inspired by and envious of and we were like, “Why didn’t we think of it?” They were so way ahead of their time. It was almost as if what they were thinking about, what they were after was like “Firestarter” by Prodigy, but this was the summer of ‘77. They were using rudimentary synths and sequencers but with punk energy and aggressive lyrics and theatrical staging with German expressionist lighting.
A frontman is an important element of any successful band, and the Screamers’ Tomata du Plenty (real name David Xavier Harrigan) was no exception. Their live act must have been something to behold, as Steve Waksman relates in This Ain’t the Summer of Love:
[The Screamers] styled one of the most unusual and unnerving band sounds of the punk era based around [Tommy] Gear’s synthesizer, drummer K.K. Barrett’s strong quasi-mechanical rhythms, and the psychodramatic performance style of singer Du Plenty, the total effect of which was designed to foster and control levels of anxiety experienced by the audience.
Tomata had been banging around the Seattle scene in the early 1970s before relocating to L.A. After the Screamers broke up in 1981, he switched his attention to painting. Indeed, in 1983 Tomata’s watercolors were featured at a show at the Zero One Gallery (often styled “01”) in Los Angeles, a space that was the offshoot of a prior entity called Zero Zero on Cahuenga Boulevard. Tomata’s painting prowess somehow became the centerpiece of a somewhat confusing anecdote told by David Lee Roth on Late Night with David Letterman in early 1985.
Sadly, in August 2000, Tomata died of cancer at the age of 52. At some point in the 1990s he executed a series of punk rock portraits, for lack of a better description, featuring people from the L.A. punk scene as well as other rock and roll luminaries (and, randomly, the 19th-century French author Guy de Maupassant). Most of the portraits were painted on a page from some work of literature, such as Allen Ginberg’s Howl or Hubert Selby’s Last Exit to Brooklyn.
Here’s a CNN item on Tomata’s art. The exhibition they’re talking about in the segment was at a junk store called You’ve Got Bad Taste that Exene Cervenka operated for three years in the mid 1990s (they misspell Exene’s first name in the clip). Also appearing in the segment are Jane Wiedlin of the Go-Go’s and Ann Magnuson. You can glimpse Tomata’s paintings of Wiedlin, David Bowie, the Clash, and the Sex Pistols, but they don’t appear to be online anywhere in a large enough format to be reproduced here. This report came just a year before Tomata’s death.
“Magazine Love” by the Screamers:
Previously on Dangerous Minds:
David Lee Roth awesomely botches a TV interview with a rambling story about the Screamers