A book about punk rock in late 70s/early 80s Southern California – absolutely impossible for me to resist. I did hold off for three years on Dewer MacLeod’s “KIDS OF THE BLACK HOLE” because, at first flip, it appeared to be a dissertation-level sociological study of suburban evolution in Reagan-era Los Angeles, threaded with warmed-over punk rock history – a history I’m well-familiar with, given that LA punk & its offshoots circa ‘77-’83 is my favorite era of music anywhere, ever. My initial take on this was not very wide of the mark, I’m afraid, though it was just interesting enough – and I mean just – for me to finish it all the way through. It’s not that MacLeod’s a poor writer per se, because he’s not. He just writes like he’s needing to turn this in as a paper to a professor who could never understand the paradigm-busting pleasures of Southern California punk rock, so the book is larded with all sorts of half-baked sociological theory in parts, when it’s pretty clear that what MacLeod really wanted to do was give you a slam-bang killer overview of the music he loved and loves.
So what you get is a conventional start-to-finish chronological story of how LA punk developed out of the glitter/glam mid-70s, exploded in Hollywood, branched out to Orange County and the Valley, got violent and faster, and then fizzled out. What bugs me is how much MacLeod relies on second-hand source material, like old Slash Magazines and the oral histories already written about this scene, and adds so little of his own recollections and stories to it. The interviews he quotes aren’t, by and large, interviews that he did, but rather interviews from Flipside, or Slash, or NoMag. I mean, that’s a book that you and I can write tomorrow, assuming a decent-sized heft to our personal 70s/80s fanzine collections.
I’ll admit, there was at least one new-to-me nugget in here that hadn’t popped up elsewhere. My pal Jerry from Orange County has told me some pretty hilarious stories of a goony early 80s punk rock gang from the small OC suburb of La Mirada called the “La Mirada Punks” – the “LMPs”. They made this book! Hooray LMPs! Chris D. and the Flesh Eaters, one of my all-time faves as well, also merit a couple of short paragraphs, which is a goddamn miracle considering how shut out they’ve been from previous texts. I truly wish there had been more insider dope and less haven’t-I-read-that-somewhere-before moments.
That’s not the worst of it, with all due respect to MacLeod. The book will start talking about hardcore punk pit fighting among bandana-wearing morons at TSOL and Adolescents shows, for instance, and then screech to a halt for an overview of gangs in America – “greasers” and Zoot Suit-wearers in the 50s and so on – to put it all in its sociological context. It’s boring, it’s unconvincing, and again, it reads like a college essay. Then the book gets back on track again with some cool Germs and Black Flag stories or discussions of the Great Punk Scare of 1981, before the cycle repeats itself. In no way would I recommend this book as your intro into LA punk history; for that, I’d follow a path through “Hardcore California”, “We Got The Neutron Bomb”, “Violence Girl” and the outstanding “Lexicon Devil – The Fast Times and Short Life of Darby Crash”. THEN, if you’re not satiated – I’m still not, by any means – then you should find a used copy of this one, and approach with caution.