More Fun in the New World: The Unmaking and Legacy of LA Punk
By John Doe, with Tom DeSavia and friends. Da Capo Press, 317 pp, softcover
Before we celebrate the way L.A. punk changed the lives of everyone from broken-home runaways to Academy Award–winning actors to modern-art icons, let’s start with the outrageous stuff.
More Fun in the New World: The Unmaking and Legacy of LA Punk is a collection of essays by those (John Doe, Tony Hawk, Peter Case, Mike Ness, Charlotte Caffey, and more) who witnessed the rise and aftermath of one of alternative music’s most fabled scenes.
Impossibly, the craziest revelations come from the unlikeliest of bands: the Go-Go’s. Before becoming America’s sweethearts on the back of their platinum-shifting Beauty and the Beat, the five-piece was part of the same scene that gave the world X, the Germs, and Black Flag. (Trivia buffs know that Go-Go’s singer Belinda Carlisle briefly drummed for the Germs—arguably the most punk of all L.A. punk bands).
In the chapter titled “Sliver of Glass”, Go-Go’s guitarist Jane Wiedlin recalls being on tour in Washington state during the summer of 1981, when “Our Lips Are Sealed” became one of the most played songs in America. With a border crossing into Canada on the horizon the next morning, the Go-Go’s headed off to a Pacific Northwest house party.
“When we got there we found out everyone was in the backyard doing opium…up their butts,” she writes. “Being the Go-Go’s, we naturally joined in, squatting around a campfire with about fifteen kids, all of us with opium shoved up our asses. I kept waiting and waiting for something to happen, but I couldn’t feel a thing. So I asked for more. And more.”
Which, as one might expect, left her all-caps “HIGH AS A FUCKING KITE” when it was time to cross the border, and things only got worse when the band arrived in Vancouver for a show that night: “I was still so nauseous that my roadie had to put a big trash can next to me side stage to throw up in during the concert.”
Lest one think that was an isolated incident, Wiedlin goes on to recount how, unable to cope with sudden fame, the Go-Go’s chose to spend every waking moment either drunk or high or both. The guitarist recalls showing up on the tour bus early in the morning with a six-pack after spending the night smoking crack with a bunch of skids in a swank Atlanta hotel, snorting Mount Everest–size mounds of cocaine, and drinking enough to float a battleship. Other popular drugs with band members were ecstasy, mushrooms, LSD, Valium, and even heroin (for some).
That “some” was mostly Go-Go’s bassist Kathy Valentine, who later, in her moving and considerably more sombre chapter “Deliverance”, revisits her first dance with heroin: “I remember vividly that I snorted something the size of a matchstick tip, thinking, ‘Oh, it’s not much—I probably won’t feel it.’ I was wrong, and that one fateful decision changed the direction of my life.”
The endless lost weekends in More Fun in the New World don’t stop there. In his chapter “Another State of Mind”, Social Distortion’s now-clean Mike Ness chronicles how he started using drugs and alcohol in his teens. “I didn’t want to do what kids my own age were doing—I had no interest. I did my first shot of dope…at that point I’d need to drink five hours to get drunk, where just $10 worth of heroin—I weighed 140 pounds then—did everything it was supposed to do. I was addicted immediately.”
“Hollywood Shuffle” has Circle Jerks frontman Keith Morris remembering the ’80s as follows: “For me this was the period of the beerbonic plague when I was on a cocaine leash and drinking a case or two a day.”
But the great thing about More Fun in the New World is the way it makes clear L.A. punk led to more than the two-day hangovers of those who were wasted in the mosh pit.
Tim Robbins details how seeing Fear, Black Flag, X and the Circle Jerks taught him that he could set up his own DIY guerrilla theatre shows when he was starting out as an actor.
Street-art giant Shepard Fairey credits acts like Agent Orange, Suicidal Tendencies, and Black Flag not only with saving his life as a pressure-relief outlet (“I was miserable, mean, desperate, and about to blow”), but also with shaping his visual aesthetic. (“Punk had a very democratic, unintimidating, visual language and opened my eyes to the do-it-yourself empowerment potential of art.”)
Get past Terry Graham’s strangely sour-grapes recounting of his time behind the kit in the Gun Club, and you’ll walk away with a treasure-trove of trivia on the band cited as essential listening by Jack White. Devote 20 minutes to Jack Grisham’s angry and fabulously surreal cautionary tale “The Ongoing Cost of a Low-Grade Immortality” and you’ll think twice about ever starting a band, even if it has the potential to be as great as the shape-shifting T.S.O.L.
The ultimate message of More Fun in the New World is that it’s possible to take something raw, original, and entirely outside the mainstream and use it as a soundtrack for a dream that’ll sound insane to everyone but your fellow weirdos. As X bassist John Doe writes in the final chapter, “This time in American art was about more than just the music; it was about individuality, diversity, and self-expression. About what not giving a damn what people said, and doing stuff anyway.”
Chances are you weren’t there. More Fun in the New World will make you feel like you were. But, thankfully, without the screaming hangover.