A KILLING IN PUNK ROCK
I’m too young for the original wave of punk that swept Los Angeles. I was twelve when we moved to downtown LA, just off of First and Normandie. The Masque had already closed. The Hong Kong Café gone. The first punk show I went to was all the way down at Cal State Long Beach to see the Vandals (with Stevo on vocals! as the flyers said) with the Cadillac Tramps opening for them. I don’t think I’ve ever eaten at Oki Dogs, although I have been by it a myriad of times. It’s just some place. By the time I was in my teens the only clubs booking even remotely punk shows were the Whiskey and the Roxy, and even then it was largely supplanted by the metal scene. Sure, Black Flag and the Circle Jerks were still putting out albums, but you never really got to see them unless you traveled out. I saw more LA bands when I was in college fifteen hundred miles away then I did when I lived less than 10 miles from where it all started.
Which makes DISCO’S OUT … MURDER’S IN!: THE TRUE STORY OF FRANK THE SHANK AND L.A.’s DEADLIEST PUNK ROCK GANG by Heath Mattiolo and David Spacone such an interesting window into that time frame, those early 1980s as punk is starting to gestate, as bands like the Germs, Black Flag, TSOL, Wasted Youth were headlining all over Los Angeles, and the hardcore scene was just starting to break wide open. This isn’t another Darby Crash hagiography, or a biography of X. This is the story of your average teen on the streets in Los Angeles in 1980 who becomes involved in pun rock and gangs. To be fair though, Frank the Shank is far from your average teen. The La Mirada teen with a Detroit gangster father and possible mob ties tells a tale of paternal violence and abandonment that only fades into the background of Hollywood nights of violence, debauchery, and murder. People die. People are killed. As befits his name, shankings happen. Drive-bys occur. Indeed, violence permeates the very language from the opening: “A section of the slam pit abruptly came to a halt and fanned out.” Murder may indeed be in, as the reader is given a tour of the LMP, the La Mirada Punk gang of those early-80s on a rampage of Hollywood nights – drinking, drugs, neighboring street gangs, abandoned Hollywood Hills mansions, and home lives that are simply out of control. No one is safe, and no one seems to care. The litany of stories of the teens in and out of juvie, in and out of mental institutions, and merely disappearing merges together into a cacophony of concert bashings, stealing, drugs, and general mayhem. It’s a snapshot of, to quote a Wasted Youth song, “youth gone wild.”
Mattioli and Spacone distance themselves from the work much in the way that so many pastiches of Sherlock Holmes do, with the “found manuscript”, that they ran into old friend Frank and the stories, the photos (and the book is filled with personal snapshots and snippets of newspapers and punk concert footage), all poured out of him. The book is after the intro told entirely in the first person of Frank in a vivid, you are there style, but it lends a certain mistrust to the entire endeavor. How much is real? How much is the ravings and boastings of the now middle-aged Frank regaling old friends with over the top stories? How much is merely imagination? Part of that is Frank’s voice. There is a certain Bert Easton Ellis to it, some of the odd vulgar mannerisms of Patrick Bateman in AMERICAN PSYCHO with its asides on Orange County and Venice Beach bands and their followers, and weird insinuated Hollywood gossip. Let’s name no names, but wink-wink, nudge-nudge, you know who we mean. And the murder of a pimp with his body popped into a dumpster, although twice removed from Frank carries the veneer of purple prose fiction. The unrepentant, until the very end, tone only magnifies the feeling of a put on. It’s almost an A CLOCKWORK ORANGE ending with its growing up and growing out of it tone, none of which is set up in the reminiscence.
But does that truthfulness matter? Only in the suspension of belief in this instance. Whether true or false, Mattioli and Spacone have crafted a compelling work. For someone who has lived in LA, and been a second generation punk, the details ring true. I knew people like Frank enough to think, maybe it all is true. And to wonder indeed. Take the trip down Hollywood Boulevard.
DISCO’S OUT … MURDER’S IN! was released in November 2015 from Feral House with a great Pettibon cover. Check out their website: http://feralhouse.com/ and spend some time with Frank the Shank.