A California native, Allan MacDonell is the author of Punk Elegies, a memoir which tackles the sex, drugs, irreverence and optimism of the Los Angeles punk movement in the late 70s. His previous nearly 20 year tenure as editor at Hustler magazine produced his first memoir, “Prisoner of X,” about his days at the top of Larry Flynt Publications. He was also a defining voice of the archetypal punk fanzine, Slash, which had an iconic run from 1977 to 1980. Buy “Prisoner of X” and “Punk Elegies.”
Born in Aberdeen, Washington, Roger ‘Buzz’ Osborne was a founding member of the Melvins in the early 80s as the band’s guitarist, vocalist and songwriter. Often referred to as King Buzzo, he is also a founding member of Fantômas and Venomous Concept and his numerous collaborations include those with Cows and Tool.
A Los Angeles native and co-founder of the late 70s LA punk-rock touchstone Slash magazine, Melanie Nissen is foremost a photographer who captured the city’s burgeoning underground music culture in a now extensive body of iconic images. She has also headed several record company art departments, creating packaging for many legendary album covers. Website.
Prisoner of X
A memoir by Allan MacDonell, who ascended through the ranks at Hustler magazine to become the executive editor, and tells the bizarre story of climbing to the top of America’s porn magazine industry.
Allan’s a weird cat and an amazing story teller, and I’ve had the privilege of being his friend for over two decades. He always has an interesting opinion on everything, and I certainly don’t listen to many people, but I listen to Allan. Our wives have been best friends since before either of us were married, so we’ve ended up spending a lot of time together. I’ve heard bits and pieces of these “Punk Elegies” stories for years and they all seem to blend into one hilarious monologue. I’m glad he wrote this book. It’s a great, funny read and, in fact, I’m sending a copy to my mom. She loved his last book “Prisoner of X” and I can’t wait to see what she thinks of this one!
Buzz Osborne: You start “Punk Elegies” as a whiskey drinking preteen and end the book as a twenty-something druggie watching a bunch of bondage dudes getting fisted in a gay bathhouse in San Francisco. Any thoughts?
Allan MacDonell: Well, they say write what you know. In fairness to nine-year-old me, that kid was only sipping. He starts off the book as a common social drinker. But you know the story: recreational inebriation is a progressive endeavor. By 1977, it leads our “Punk Elegies” hero protagonist to a dank basement enclave under an alley off of a sleazy section of Hollywood Boulevard. It’s a place called the Masque. I meet about 100 or so like-minded “others.” We all spontaneously realize that each and every one of us is pretty great, and the world will soon be ours. Somewhere in there, LA punk is born. Not all our dreams work out. Things do go well enough that I observe myself lost in the maze of a pre-AIDS S&M flesh pit wearing only a towel around my waist.
BO: You still live in Hollywood where all of these things took place. Does it ever seem like returning to the scene of the crime as you travel these same streets more than 35 years later?
AM: I got lucky almost 20 years ago, and I bought a house up in the Hollywood Hills before my luck went away. But I visit that gentrification-defiant “Punk Elegies” grid along Hollywood Boulevard all the time. It’s like I’ve never left the scene of the crime. I’m continually conscious that I escaped a way of life that could have ended me. I’m also reminded that I miss the expectations of those days. A lot of the people were a lot of fun. We were looking forward to being fun forever.
BO: What ended up happening to these people in the book? You wrote it in such a way that I want to know THEIR stories too. I think that’s one of the triumphs of Punk Elegies.
AM: What ended up happening to a lot of these people is they ended up dying, hence one aspect of the title “Punk Elegies.” A batch of the survivors have maintained a punk rock identity for however many decades and are approaching their sixties as little old blue-haired ladies and gents. Another bunch succeeded in the wider world to varying degrees, with educations, careers, relationships, even kids. But I suspect that no one who was at home down there at the Masque has been fully absorbed into the mainstream.
BO: What do some of these people think now about those days you cover in your book?
AM: One impetus for starting “Punk Elegies” was a conversation I had with Masque-founder Brendan Mullen in around 2008. We both expressed a bittersweet nostalgia for a lost time. The hopes and possibilities had meant a lot to us. The disappointment was still fresh 30 years later. It was like brooding over some deep love affair that had gone sour. Talking to Brendan, I realized my feelings might not be aberrant. He gave me confidence to push through and try to excavate that world as it really had been for me.
“I miss the expectations of those days.
A lot of the people were a lot of fun.
We were looking forward to being fun forever.”
— Allan MacDonell
BO: You witnessed the very formation of the 70s Los Angeles punk scene. Do you still listen to any of these bands and if so, which ones? Does any of it seem important at this point?
AM: Some of the music I liked from 1977 still gives me a jolt. The first few singles from the Sex Pistols and the Clash, the Damned’s first album, the Buzzcocks and Wire and the Saints. Particular songs from the initial LA scene work for me too: “Don’t Push Me Around” by the Zeros. “Life of Crime” by the Weirdos. “Forming,” by the Germs. “Nothing Means Nothing Anymore,” by the Alley Cats. Stuff like that.
On the level of subverting society and changing the world, our little basement incubator doesn’t seem to have been all that important. But it was a key formative experience for me, as I suspect in one way or another it was for almost everyone who participated.
Beyond the people I knew, several distinct generations of individualist kids have defined themselves in successive punk rock waves. This shared experience seems to be very important to the individuals who identify with it.
BO: I loved the part of “Punk Elegies” about having contempt for musicians even trying to start a band or doing anything productive. I understand that concept well. Attitudes like that make it easier to continue the downward spiral into darkness. Do you agree?
AM: Even out in the sunlight, there’s a strong case for making ambition the eighth deadly sin. But the would-be rock stars I was contemptuous of in “Punk Elegies” weren’t musicians who wanted to do something productive. They were lames who wanted to be noticed by the Go-Go’s.