Punk Elegies: An Interview with Allan MacDonnell

INTERVIEWS

Allan MacDonell got his start writing for Slash Magazine. Slash was one of the first Punk zines, and its wide distribution gave Punk a previously unheard of visibility. Allan’s first book Prisoner of X: 20 Years in the Hole at Hustler Magazine is critically acclaimed, and Rolling Stone Magazine has called his most recent memoir, Punk Elegies,“Luridly entertaining.”  Punk Elegies is an honest glimpse into Los Angeles’ First Wave of Punk. TEENAGE NEWS cannot recommend it enough. 

TEENAGE NEWS: Does the memoir genre interest you? Was there any book that served as a guide when it came to organizing your writings?
Allan MacDonell: Mostly I read fiction. As a kid, like a preteen, I was drawn to fiction like Charles Dickens and Jack London. You take a book like David Copperfield or those Jack London stories about late 1800s San Francisco, and they read a lot like literary memoir.

TEENAGE NEWS: When you wrote Punk Elegies how did draft it to avoid emotions that muddy up the truth and your story? [We hate most memoirs because they let their emotions get in the way of a good story and the truth].
Allan MacDonell: I know what you mean about all that extra cheese in the memoir world. I think the best decision I made was to shit can the notion of having a redemption narrative. The idea that the writer is now a better person than when all these atrocities were happening, or has learned some pivotal life’s lesson due to the events in their book, I hate that.

TEENAGE NEWS: Did you write the book in chronological order?
Allan MacDonell: Once I decided roughly which stories I was including, I worked chronologically. Before that, I jotted down events and people from the time period as they popped up, and they were in no tidy order.static1.squarespace

TEENAGE NEWS: Do you think LA magazines like Slash and Flipside propped up the First Wave of Punk or did the First Wave of Punk prop them up?
Allan MacDonell: Slash played a big role in drawing people to the Masque and other venues where the bands were playing. Slash had strong art direction and great photos; it made everything look pretty great. As far as L.A. is concerned, I think Slash was there a little before a lot of people in the First Wave showed up. Flipside arrived a little after Slash, but lasted much, much longer. Some people might argue Flipside was more influential than Slash. One of Flipside’s strengths was in reflecting the evolution of the bands and the people coming to see the bands.

TEENAGE NEWS: Why did Slash Magazine go outta print?
Allan MacDonell: The primary guy who started it, Steve Samiof, was a serial entrepreneur. It seemed that just when he could have really cashed in on Slash, instead he went and founded an art and culture magazine, Stuff. The guy who took over at Slash was more interested in putting out records than magazines.

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TEENAGE NEWS: What has everyone owning a keyboard done for writing, and alternative journalism?

Allan MacDonell: Too soon to tell, but maybe one day the ease of Internet publishing will have an impact equal to putting cameras in phones. That’d be great.

TEENAGE NEWS: Can you talk about your dislike of “fans?” Did fans help to kill the First Wave of Punk in LA?
Allan MacDonell: This whole contempt for “fans” that’s voiced a few times in Punk Elegies basically just serves to show that I am a snob. It’s an attitude that I co-opted while reading a Lydia Lunch interview in 1978, and I have been unable to shake it.

TEENAGE NEWS: How was Punk in LA different from Punk in San Francisco?
Allan MacDonell: San Francisco punks were more politicized, in general, and they made better cold-weather wardrobe choices.

TEENAGE NEWS: We are big fans of Black Randy… Can you talk a little more about the end of his life? Was he still performing? Did he tour to promote “Pass The Dust, I Think I Am Bowie?” When was the last time you saw him?
Allan MacDonell: The last time I saw Randy was in the mid-1980s. I’d started working for Hustler. Randy was selling office supplies over the phone and living in the spare room of a couple who figure in Punk Elegies. I was off drugs and wasn’t drinking, which didn’t interest him much, and he went to bed early, around nine. Black Randy never really toured. The Metrosquad played New York once that I know of for sure and appeared in a 1982 movie, “Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains.” The general consensus is that these attempted extensions of the Randy brand were fiascos.brandy

TEENAGE NEWS: How long did it take you to write Punk Elegies?
Allan MacDonell: It took me two terms of unemployment benefits, a couple of years apart.

TEENAGE NEWS: Did you write it before you found a publisher, or did you need someone to set a deadline and incentive? Do you think writing your third book at the same time helped you finish your second book?
Allan MacDonell: My incentive was to stave off the strong suspicion that I am an abject loser and no one will ever hire me. 61HVa4OYHML._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_The third book, which is not out yet, I wrote while the publisher was preparing Punk Elegies, which had been recommended to him by a friend of mine who works at Stories bookstore in Echo Park. Both the publisher and my friend had been suckered in by my first book, Prisoner of X: 20 Years in the Hole at Hustler Magazine.

TEENAGE NEWS: When did you realize you wanted to be a writer?
Allan MacDonell: In a junior-high English class. My teacher made me read something I’d written to be a wise guy in front of the class, to punish me. The other kids laughed and laughed. They were laughing at me, not with me, but I was hooked.

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Allan’s Eulogy That Ran In Slash Magazine

TEENAGE NEWS:  Did you hear Punk music before you “joined” the Punk Scene? How did Punk simultaneously sprout up in different places around the world during the same time?
Allan MacDonell: Punk music that was coming out in 1976 and 1977, the Ramones and the Clash and the Damned and the Sex Pistols and Pere Ubu and etc., was showing up around the same time as people started congregating in Hollywood alleys and doing what we were doing for fun. I read about the music in magazines—like Creem and Punk—before I heard the records. And the records, once you tracked them down, beat anything you could hear on the radio. On top of the music and new, likeminded friends, there was the sense that this global phenomenon you mention  was sweeping us all to greatness. My guess for why punk sprang up on different coasts and continents simultaneously is that we all had similar problems with reality and went for similar solutions. Learning how to crush pills between two spoons and cook them up was far more interesting than anything else I might have done at the time—like graduate from college for instance.

TEENAGE NEWS: Who were your favorite First Wave of Punk LA bands and who were your favorite SF bands?
Allan MacDonell: From L.A., my favorites are the Zeros, the Alleycats, the Deadbeats and Black Randy and his Metrosquad. From San Francisco, I liked the Sleepers. At the time, their singer was called Icky Ricky. I just went to Wikipedia on him, and he was a pivotal figure up there—an original member of Crime and Flipper. The Offs were another San Francisco favorite. A bed-breaking story about their singer, Don Vinyl, did not make it into Punk Elegies.

TEENAGE NEWS: Did you think Punk was going to last forever or could you predict Punk’s implosion?
Allan MacDonell: I truly believed I would never be compelled to do anything I didn’t want to do ever again. I should have known that feeling wouldn’t last.

TEENAGE NEWS: When did punk in LA end? What caused it to end; was it also the end of Punk Zines or Punk Venues?
Allan MacDonell: Punk in L.A. is still going on. There’s a band called Plague Vendor down here that I saw by accident. If Plague Vendor had been at the Masque in 1977, they would have owned the place. They’re on Epitaph records, a label started by a guy from Bad Religion, which is a band that might fall into the second wave of L.A. punk. So that makes an argument for a continuum.

static1.squarespace-1TEENAGE NEWS: Have you seen a Scene like the Punk Scene? Has there been one since, can one ever happen again?
Allan MacDonell: Maybe nothing precisely alike has followed along. Maybe subsequent youth movements have clearly discernable and fundamental differences from the 1970s version. But there has been no shortage of places and eras when kids have banded together to fuck themselves up and make noise.

TEENAGE NEWS: Were you involved with music after Punk?
Allan MacDonell: I play records day in and day out while I’m at my desk. I love music, many, many genres of it. I’m open to good music. I’m open to crap music. A friend once asked, “What’s your guilty pleasure?” When it comes to music, I have no guilty pleasure. The shit I like is therapeutic to me. I have no shame about it whatsoever.

TEENAGE NEWS: I saw your suicide note in an issue of Slash Magazine. Why did you do this, and were there any repercussions?
Allan MacDonell: That was an obituary more than a suicide note. Four or five months after I quit Slash, they didn’t have an editorial for the opening of the magazine. They asked if I would do one. So I wrote a mock elegy for my pen name, for the character I had written as in Slash. I think part of why I killed that aspect off is that I needed to divorce myself from the environment. It had moved on without me, and me hanging on was just too unseemly.

TEENAGE NEWS: What happened to the LA hippies and “freaks” when Punk started happening? Did they get involved in the Scene or had they removed themselves at this point? Can you think of any Hippies who became Punks?
Allan MacDonell: Probably half the 1977 punks had been baby hippies before they became glitter kids. Around 1990, I used to say, “What do you call a punk rocker who’s over thirty? A fucking hippie.” However punks and hippies started, over time they all turned into the same thing. Look at Crass.

TEENAGE NEWS: Did Punks think they could cause social change? Do you think they did?
Allan MacDonell: Punk’s most enduring influence that I see has been in design and style._slash-1-78

TEENAGE NEWS: How did Darby Crash’s death effect the Punk Scene as a whole?
Allan MacDonell: There were so many new people showing up to see so many new bands, that nothing would turn back that momentum or derail it. For me, though, and for the people who started when I started, his suicide was a sign that this shit truly wasn’t about having fun anymore, and you had to deal with that reality. Or suppress it.

TEENAGE NEWS: Have any of your friends from back in the day resurfaced at your book readings? Who?
Allan MacDonell: The guy whose parents’ house is looted toward the end of the book has been at a few readings. He’s vocal about recommending the book. Mostly what I’ve heard from people is silence.tumblr_nr91vvchkD1r313cko1_1280

TEENAGE NEWS: Do you have any tricks for beating writer’s block?
Allan MacDonell: Quit writing.

TEENAGE NEWS: If you could be the CEO of any company what company would you want to run?
Allan MacDonell: I’m not picky. I’ll take any one of them that gives me full dental and vision insurance.

TEENAGE NEWS: You quit Slash magazine because they wouldn’t pay you, but now writers can rarely expect to be paid… Do you think there is less value placed on writing? Why do you think this is?
Allan MacDonell: Too many people don’t read for pleasure. That’s the problem right there.

TEENAGE NEWS: Do you think the American Dream is dead?
Allan MacDonell: As sung by Walt Whitman? No. As sold by Don Draper? Pretty much.

TEENAGE NEWS: Are you religious?
Allan MacDonell: I pray a lot. Why or to what, I couldn’t tell you.

TEENAGE NEWS: Who are your favorite writers?
Allan MacDonell: I have dozens; everyone you’d expect. Every five years or so, some friend will give me a book by someone I haven’t read, and I’ll track down everything I can find from that writer. The two I went nuts for most recently are Alice Munro and Roberto Bolaño.

Slash-1-10-001TEENAGE NEWS: Are there any bands that you liked back in the day that you listen to now and think the songs haven’t aged well?
Allan MacDonell: Yeah, but it’s not fair to blast them. What if these bands take a look at me, and start spouting off all the ways I haven’t aged well? Actually, a lot of the music has aged well, presuming you liked it in the first place. The early Saints and the first Damned album and the first singles by the Clash and the Zeros and the Alleycats, a lot of the British stuff, Buzzcocks, Slaughter and the Dogs, Sex Pistols b-sides, at least three albums by the Ramones, a ton of stuff from back then is as great as it’s ever been.

TEENAGE NEWS: How would you describe yourself in three words?
Allan MacDonell: Sexy, smart, humble.

TEENAGE NEWS: What is one thing that you deal with every day that you would change?
Allan MacDonell: Being the age I am and not having fuck-you money.

If you enjoy what you read, support the in print version of TEENAGE NEWS available here:TEENAGE NEWS #2 https://www.etsy.com/listing/201876845/teenage-news-2-music-zine-features-john?

Post by August Bernadicou 

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