The Illuminati of rock and roll: Remembering Pat Fear, a real-life Robert Anton Wilson character

It was recently the birthday of one of my lifelong best friends, Bill Bartell (1961-2013)

Bill aka “Pat Fear” was a walking, talking anomaly, a living Robert Anton Wilson conspiracy theory, a wisecracking character out of a Firesign Theatre sketch, a Discordian trickster imp of the perverse. His credit card even said “The Illuminati” under his name (for real, I swear!). Bill also went by the names “Kixx”; “Sitting Bill”; “Pat ‘Slowhand’ Fear”; “Billy Jo Gun Rack,” etc., etc., and these are just the ones that he used on records! I can’t even imagine the secret pseudonyms he used “off stage.” I also can’t actually believe that he is not still alive. It seems like some kind of shitty cosmic joke. The world that doesn’t get to know Bill is a sad world.

Bill did so much for our culture, mostly by ridiculing it. He was a super mega ultra fan of so many disconnected things. He lived to tear down so many idols. His band White Flag was formed originally solely just to piss off Black Flag (one of his favorite bands). Bill pissed many people off, which was his life’s mission or so it seemed.
He was just SO good at it!
Bill’s side project, but really his life’s work as it was so open-ended was a grouping called Tater Totz. This project dealt with Bill’s obsessions. As it grew, many people from his obsessions wound up on Tater Totz records. Who? Man, so many! Always Redd Kross of course, but also members of the Runaways, Germs/Nirvana, Partridge Family, Sonic Youth, Lovedolls, Tesco Vee, El Vez, The Zeros, The Posies, Jimmy McNichol (!!??!!), Hole, Sator, Starz, Zeros, Melvins, Shonen Knife, Go-Go’s, Adolescents, Pandoras, Roman Coppola, Circle Jerks, Frightwig, Chemical People, Sin 34/Painted Willie, myself and just about everyone else who came into Bill’s orbit. The main focus of Tater Totz was Bill’s Yoko Ono obsession, followed closely by his interest in Os Mutantes, the Beatles, Blue Oyster Cult, even a mashup of John Lennon and Queen. Their greatest moment, in my opinion, was when they showed up at a Beatlefest convention and did all Yoko Ono songs, driving the Beatle nerds to violence and riot! They literally chased them out of the building and down the street like the villagers did to poor Frankenstein’s monster! Part of this is on YouTube and can be seen here on Dangerous Minds (link at bottom of this post). Bill, of course, immediately put it out as a double seven-inch bootleg EP called Live Hate at Beatlefest, one of the best titles ever, obviously.
Bill Bartell also single-handedly turned the entire world onto Os Mutantes, a bizarre Brazilian band from the 60s whose first LP his sister, an exchange student there, brought back to him in the Sixties. Bill went around throughout the 80s with a Walkman with Os Mutantes on it and plopped the headphones on to everyone he met.

This is in fact, how I met him.
He also did this to his buddy Kurt Cobain who, when he got famous, and toured in Brazil, went on the news and asked where Os Mutantes were, and said that his friend Bill who “has a mustache” told him about them. He then held up a drawing he did of Bill. This, from the then biggest rock star in the world! Os Mutantes, who had broken up for decades have publicly stated that their resurgence was totally due to Bill and they came from Brazil on their own dime to play at his memorial in LA.
More after the jump…

Posted by Howie Pyro
11:06 am
Got $4000 Germs-burning a hole in your pocket? Buy signed (pitiful) royalty checks of Germs members!
08:59 am

Let’s say you’re an ageing ex-punk who’s made it in the world of high finance. You’re on top of the world, but still something is missing. You’ve got the McMansion and the porsche and the cabin cruiser, but you still wear your FEAR shirt on the weekends up at the lake and there’s always that Germs-burn on your inner wrist which serves as a constant reminder of your rebellious roots. You still feel connected to those glory days, but time has built a wall between you and your lost youth. If only this great wealth could somehow help you reconnect…


Allow me to direct your attention to three pieces of punk rock memorabilia currently for sale on eBay that would be considered absolutely priceless if it weren’t for the fact that they have an actual price: $3,998.00.

Germs’ royalty checks. Click on image for larger version.
These three royalty checks were made out by What? Records owner Chris Ashord to Paul Beahm (Darby Crash), Teresa Ryan (Lorna Doom), and Georg Ruthenberg Jr (Pat Smear) for sales of the first Germs’ single “Forming”, which was released in July, 1977. They are endorsed on the reverse side by the band members.

Endorsements. Click image for larger version.
What’s most remarkable about these artifacts is the fact that the royalty checks are made out for $3.00, $2.57, and $2.56. One is reminded of the Opti-Grab lawsuit scene from The Jerk in which Steve Martin’s character is reduced to writing hundreds of settlement checks for “one dollar and nine cents.” A $2.56 check seems hardly worth writing, but considering the value of that check now, there’s at least one eBay seller that’s satisfied that the payments were made in a timely manner. 

Money can’t buy you authenticity, but these checks do seem to prove the street-cred of early punk bands like The Germs. No one was in it for the money, and here’s the evidence! These items prove that, at least once-upon-a-time, there were some things more important than money—and you can have that proof to hold in your very own hands today for only $3,998.00.

After the jump, the hit What? Records single from whence the Germs got filthy rich. Listen to it and ponder, “What happened to Don Bolles’ check?”

Posted by Christopher Bickel
08:59 am
‘The Decline of Western Civilization’ trilogy gets a DVD/Blu-ray release - WITH LOADS OF EXTRAS!

Penelope Spheeris’ brilliant Decline of Western Civilization is an infamous document of the early ‘80s LA punk scene featuring interviews and mind-blowing performance footage of The Germs, X, Fear, Circle Jerks, and Black Flag, among others. Her follow-up, Decline of Western Civilization Part II - The Metal Years, follows the mid-‘80s LA glam metal scene and features Alice Cooper, Aerosmith, Ozzy Osbourne, Dave Mustaine and Paul Stanley along with some amusing lesser-known hair-bands. It also famously features one of the most depressing interviews ever caught on film - a brutally pathetic poolside chat with alcoholic WASP guitarist, Chris Holmes. The third film in Spheeris’ trilogy, The Decline of Western Civilization III, is lesser known, but a fascinating look at the crusty squatter-punk scene of the mid-‘90s featuring musical performances by Final Conflict, Litmus Green, Naked Aggression and The Resistance.

Spheeris’ Decline of Western Civilization trilogy has been at the top of countless fans most-wanted DVD lists forever. I’ve personally been trying to replace my well-worn VHS copy since the dawn of the DVD format. Over the years there have been many hints that the films would get a proper digital video release. As far back as the late 90’s there was a website promising an “upcoming” release of the trilogy. As these films, particularly the first installment, have been at the tip-top of my must-have-list, I’ve followed the progress with an eagle eye. Spheeris has dropped hints on her Facebook page for years—at times promising a deluxe set loaded with extras. There were rumors that Black Flag’s notoriously difficult Greg Ginn was holding up the process. Though those rumors are unconfirmed and were never actually put forward by the Spheeris camp, it’s well known that Ginn has prevented film maker Dave Markey from releasing the Black Flag documentary Reality 86’d, as well as forcing him to remove the Black Flag footage from Markey’s other film The Slog Movie—which is itself sort of a low-rent version of the first Decline movie.

A lot of punk and metalhead DVD prayers got answered when, without fanfare or a press-release, a box set of the trilogy showed up for preorder on Amazon.

Continues after the jump…

Posted by Christopher Bickel
09:20 am
Masque Founder Brendan Mullen Dies From Stroke

Sad news as Brendan Mullen, founder of LA’s pioneering punk rock cub The Masque, passed away earlier today from a stroke.  Here’s what Variety had to say about this absolutely essential Angeleno (by way of Scotland):

Mullen emigrated from London to Los Angeles in 1973.  He created the Masque—a dank, soon graffiti-scarred 10,000-foot space at 1655 N. Cherokee, behind and beneath the Pussycat adult theater on Hollywood Boulevard—in June 1977 as a low-rent rehearsal space for local musicians.  (Mullen himself played drums in his own punk lounge act, the Satintones.)

It quickly morphed into the principal performance venue for the city’s then-nascent punk scene, mounting its first show by the Skulls on Aug. 18, 1977.  It served as a stage and a hangout for an honor roll of first-generation punk groups: the Germs, X, the Go-Go’s, the Screamers, the Flesh Eaters, the Weirdos, the Alleycats, the Plugz, the Bags.

The freewheeling Masque, where the charming and oft-acerbic Mullen hosted the proceedings, was a magnet for the antipathy of local merchants and daily scrutiny by police, fire, and licensing officials, and was soon cited by city authorities for various licensing violations.

Closed and reopened more than once, it moved to another space on Santa Monica Boulevard before shuttering permanently in February 1979.

Mullen is seen in the abandoned Cherokee Avenue club in W.T. Morgan’s 1986 documentary about X, “The Unheard Music.”

From 1981-92, Mullen booked shows at the Sunset Boulevard bar Club Lingerie.  His diverse shows included sets by talent ranging from veteran R&B, blues, and rock ‘n’ roll acts to hip-hoppers and avant garde rockers.  He also mounted dates at the downtown Variety Arts Center in the late ‘80s, and stage managed some of the L.A. Weekly’s music awards shows.

In recent years, Mullen prolifically chronicled the history of L.A. punk, and, not incidentally, his own role in the scene.

His books included “We Got the Neutron Bomb: The Untold Story of L.A. Punk” (2001, with Marc Spitz); “Lexicon Devil: The Fast Times and Short Life of Darby Crash and the Germs” (2002, with Don Bolles and Adam Parfrey); and the photo history “Live at the Masque: Nightmare in Punk Alley” (2007).  He also authored the Jane’s Addiction oral history “Whores” (2005).

Mullen is survived by his longtime companion Kateri Butler.

Beyond the above clip from The Decline of Western Civilization, there’s not much of Mullen online, but, as a nod to his significance, there’s probably no better day than today to share as well my second favorite video of all time (after this one).  It’s from The Unheard Music.  In it, X rips through The Doors’ Soul Kitchen with some onstage help from Ray Manzarek

Whatever your thoughts may be on Manzarek and The Doors (and believe me, my own thoughts on the matter have ranged wildly over the years), I return to this “torch-passing” clip over and over again.  Sure, it reminds me that no matter how many times I saw X as a kid, it was still never enough—could never be enough.

But it also tethers me to a moment in LA time I was privileged enough to have witnessed up close (too close, sometimes, depending on the act and the stage).

A moment that felt, in clips like this one, intensely connected to some larger arc of history.  Even on our most receptive days, those moments of connection to a place and time can be a hard thing to muster.  Indirectly or not, Mr. Mullen provided me with some of mine. 

My thoughts are with Kateri Butler and the family of Brendan Mullen.

Brendan Mullen In Swindle Magazine

Bonus: The Weirdos do Helium Bar

In Variety: Club Promoter Brendan Mullen Dies

In the LAT: Local Punk Champion, Masque Founder Brendan Mullen Dies

(with thanks to Ian Raikow)

Posted by Bradley Novicoff
07:17 pm