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The punk rock portraits of the Screamers’ Tomata du Plenty
02:37 pm

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.



More after the jump…

Posted by Martin Schneider
02:37 pm
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