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We Got the Neutron Bomb : The Untold Story…
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We Got the Neutron Bomb : The Untold Story of L.A. Punk

by Marc Spitz

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It kind of makes sense to me in terms of music to make the 70s actually something like 1972 to 10 years later, and this book tells the story of LA punk over pretty much that timescale, from early beginnings in an underground yet open and accessible hard-partying, glitter-rock alternative to the more sedate singer-songwriter and country-rock mainstream of the day, through to around the 'point' at which the differing agenda of suburban kids eventually attracted to punk turns it towards what then becomes 80s American hardcore. It's inclusive, talking about the successful and the unsuccessful, the bands but also the club managers, the café owners, the audience, the neighbours, the landlords, the parents and siblings, the cops, the hustlers, the pimps, the serial killer, the passersby, the visiting bands, whoever is there or connected and whatever is going on there or around. It has that nice lack of clear boundaries both temporarily and spatially that makes it seem credibly authentic. Where punk starts and ends is unclear, what exactly caused it and what it caused for those touched by it is unclear. And that was maybe what punk was all about, living by that which is real but not clearly manageable, there but not always convenient, being authentic, warts'n'all, so Brendan was arguably using his lessons from that experience to inform how he went about this. In terms of bands it maybe can't all be here, but with The Runaways, The Mau Maus, The Screamers, The Weirdos, The Germs, Black Randy, The Bags, X, The Blasters, The Gun Club, Black Flag, The Circle Jerks, The Middle Class, The Adolescents, and more, it's hard to say the landscape isn't properly surveyed. I won't list all the clubs, or residences, or 'scenesters', but they're covered enough to seem equally as real and significant. Brendan Mullen uses the same technique here as in Lexicon Devil: The Fast Times and Short Life of Darby Crash and The Germs . He talked to as many people involved in the events as he could, using some older material, and some written, but all simply words from 'players' in the events relating their recollection and perception of it all. Then he's taken snippets of that and placed them in order to give a story that is mainly chronological, deviating from that occasionaly only to follow some thematic thread and/or add greater context, so you basically get told the whole story, people's first-hand view of events and developments, placed together, with the author's voice only being where he himself was there and has something to relate, putting himself in just like all the other 'characters'.

As the founder of the Masque, a basement in a building on the southwest corner of where North Cherokee Avenue crosses Hollywood Boulevard (here , the alley is now blocked with a gate), which he took over as rehearsal space and which mutated into an underground punk venue, Brendan Mullen was therefore not only close to all the people and events, but as much a 'mover' in all that occurred as maybe anyone else, and not just as an observing club proprietor, but actively engaged with the punks, socially, musically, practically, emotionally. I never met him but reading articles by him, reading obituaries of him, and watching him in some videos showed me that he was the kind of sharp, open and humanistic kind of person whose books would surely be worth reading. Incidentally the basement is still there and used to store records or media or something and the graffitti is still on the walls. There are photosets online and videos on YouTube showing it since, one with Brendan Mullen himself in the 80s, another very recently.

One interesting aspect of the technique is how the stories don't fully tie up, how things are remembered and even more so how they are interpreted by those recounting the events, especially as concerns agency and motivation, i.e. who instigated what and why, or who did what precisely and how exactly it happened. The result actually solidifies the history and gives it at least 3 dimensions, being seen from various angles and becoming fuller and richer, and probably as true as could be when you paint in what sense you can from reading between the lines. It also creates a nice space for standing back unjudgementally and starting to see all the people in context, all motivated by inner impulses and needs that elicit sympathy but also can all be seen as flawed in some way, and that is nicely left as not utterly clear; i.e. make up your own mind in what way, how much, etc. This is life in its gritty, messy, undefinable teeming beautiful mess, an openness to which was of course at the centre of that throwing away of norms and neatness that the arrival of punk embodied. It also points well to its own limitations and makes you aware that the actual reality is a far richer and enormous thing of infinite moments and interactions which can never be conveyed or unequivocally interpreted, many of which will never be told and/or are totally forgotten and lost to us all. This life was in the living and not the recounting, so the recounting should reflect that as best it can. And we're still alive.

So, what you get out of reading this book and his other may vary enormously. It could seem like a pointless, nerdy fan thing about just knowing as many details as you can, maybe not much different to gossip, basically like reading celebrity mags but about the punks you love instead of the movie/tv/pops stars, the usefulness at best being to learn about a new band or two or more; it could seem like an entertaining yet rambling mess of a bunch of aimless and irresponsible kids running wild and having a blast; it could look like a bunch of losers fucking shit up and wasting their lives and kidding themselves so much of the validity of their little clique that they manage to get everyone else's attention and make it into a huge social phenomena, loved by some, causing some to wade in to stop it with billy clubs; it could provide an interesting journey to see the impulses and developments of punk and to do your own thinking and feeling about what that means, why it mattered (or not), how much, and basically some insight into that eternal question of finding a balance between the orienting and protecting structure of the known and the safe and the definable and manageable on the one hand and the openness and unpredictability and joyride and danger and dirt and going with impulse on the other.

The book was mainly the latter for me, giving me cause to make comparisons with my own UK punk experience (there are surface differences, yet underlying similarities, particularly for me in how punk necessarily is taken from the sharper artistic forces that gave seed to it and appropriated by ordinary kids like myself with coarser issues who simultaneously undermine it while making it grow into something that will positively free up their space and broaden and deepen their boundaries in their own lives) as well as to look at the general broader humanity at the core of it beyond even that. In the end that that rejection of patterns of living is healthy, even essential, even while it might look irresponsible, is the point of view I already came to this book with, and others might need convincing, or disagree, but the process going on here under all the surface of the trivia of the day to day lives shown here gave me cause to focus on how that works, and where maybe it works 'from' in our human subjectivity. Whether I make something valuable out of that is down to me, and it's hard for me to say the book should have given me anything 'more'. That more would be less, as any punk understands. ( )
  davess | Feb 16, 2015 |
See what I wrote about Please Kill Me. Read this and the McNeill book together: Please Kill Me as Volume 1 and Neutron Bomb as Volume 2 for an engaging oral history of U.S. punk. ( )
  dagseoul | Mar 30, 2013 |
as one who was there, this a pretty accurate portrayal, albeit with the requisite leftist POV. Not so bad as to disturb the narrative, though. ( )
  dougarb | Oct 28, 2010 |
One of the great punk books that relies on first hand accounts rather than old magazine articles. Shows the value of LA to punk scene ( )
  ParryHotter | Aug 31, 2010 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0609807749, Paperback)

Taking us back to late ’70s and early ’80s Hollywood—pre-crack, pre-AIDS, pre-Reagan—We Got the Neutron Bomb re-creates word for word the rage, intensity, and anarchic glory of the Los Angeles punk scene, straight from the mouths of the scenesters, zinesters, groupies, filmmakers, and musicians who were there.

“California was wide-open sex—no condoms, no birth control, no morality, no guilt.” —Kim Fowley

“The Runaways were rebels, all of us were. And a lot of people looked up to us. It helped a lot of kids who had very mediocre, uneventful, unhappy lives. It gave them something to hold on to.” —Cherie Currie

“The objective was to create something for our own personal satisfaction, because everything in our youthful and limited opinion sucked, and we knew better.” —John Doe

“The Masque was like Heaven and Hell all rolled into one. It was a bomb shelter, a basement. It was so amazing, such a dive ... but it was our dive.” —Hellin Killer

“At least fifty punks were living at the Canterbury. You’d walk into the courtyard and there’d be a dozen different punk songs all playing at the same time. It was an incredible environment.” —Belinda Carlisle

Assembled from exhaustive interviews, We Got the Neutron Bomb tells the authentically gritty stories of bands like the Runaways, the Germs, X, the Screamers, Black Flag, and the Circle Jerks—their rise, their fall, and their undeniable influence on the rock ’n’ roll of today.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:15:20 -0400)

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