In the winter of 1981, I responded to a back page ad in Flipside, an independent zine covering the Los Angeles punk scene. The ad read: “Videographer needed to document local concert.” I’d spent several thousand dollars on a Panasonic video camera and was looking for ways to recoup the investment. I called the number and spoke with Boris, a man with a heavy Slavic accent. He told me to meet him on Wednesday night at the Stardust Ballroom, an aging big band venue at the corner of Western & Sunset in East Hollywood.
My job was to videotape several hours of punk rock performances and I would be paid $300. It sounded simple enough. I’d been a drummer in high school with a love for prog-rock bands like Genesis and King Crimson. I didn’t know much about punk. I’d heard the Sex Pistols and the Clash. I figured punk was just another outlet for teen angst and rebellion, the essence of all rock ’n’ roll.
The band list that night included the Circle Jerks, Fear and Black Flag. This was an epic LA show, though I didn’t know it at the time. Boris met me outside the venue. He wore a dark sharkskin suit and his face was pockmarked with acne scars. He introduced me to El Duce, a local punk legend who would be my chaperone. El Duce was a menacing singer for the “rape rock” band The Mentors. He was a bald Latino with a ratty beard, sanpaku eyes and a hairy belly protruding through a tight t-shirt. He was rude, crass and prone to spitting on women. (One of his songs included the lyrics, “Bend up and smell my anal vapor, your face is my toilet paper.”) Boris said, “As long as you stay near him no one will bother you.”
I followed El Duce into the lobby past a mass of white teens wearing t-shirts and jeans. People gave El Duce a wide berth as he flashed the finger and made fart sounds with his lips. I noticed several skinheads beating the crap out of a longhair near the concession stand. I too had long hair. I turned on my video camera and started taping. My camera would be my invisibility cloak, my instrument of anonymity.
El Duce disappeared into the crowd leaving me without a security detail. I entered the performance space as the Circle Jerks played “Live Fast Die Young.” Singer Keith Morris thrashed on stage screaming indecipherable vocals into the microphone. The music was frenetic with distorted guitar…