Slash: the LA punk fanzine that was too snotty to live

Few were interested in the grimily thrilling LA punk scene, but two fans chronicled every spew and snarl and now their work has been anthologised

The LA punk scene that flourished in isolation in the late 70 s was no place for hippies. Well away from the New York-London nexus of punk, in its own little incubator, the flourishing community created seminal bands such as X, the Bags, the Germs, the Weirdos and the Screamers, indicated by Jello Biafra as the best unrecorded band in the history of rocknroll.

They were mostly garage bands playing in divey venues where no one made any fund, running on drugs, liquor and exuberance. At a hour when FM radio was oppressively dominated by huge, mainstream bands including Led Zeppelin and the Bee Gees, the rage and abrasiveness of the punk scene was a jolt of energy. To stay in touch with a scene in which bands proliferated almost daily, you picked up a payphone, stopped in on friends, or heard from other punks at shows guys like journalist Steve Samiof.

In 1977 Samiof and Melanie Nissen founded Slash magazine, the scenes bible. It featured interviews with the bands and vicious, snarky reviews. The tone was to be prepared by star writer Claude Kickboy Face Bessy, who wrote in his 1977 cri de coeur , So this is War, Eh ?, Enough is enough, partner! About period we squeezed the pus out and sent the filthy rich old farts of rocknroll to retirement homes in Florida where they belong. The writing matched the visuals perfectly: Gary Panters irreverent punk comic character, Jimbo, and page after page of Nissens raw black-and-white concerts photos capturing the torn T-shirts, black makeup and after-party detritus.

Two punks enjoy a passionate moment. Photograph: Melanie Nissen

It truly was just three-chord stone. But it was a difference, a breaking point where like ELO, the Eagles, all that big, heavy production, then all of a sudden theres this raw, virtually bluesy music, says Samiof, who travelled from his home in Costa Rica to Los Angeles for the release of the new volume, Slash: A Punk Magazine From Los Angeles 1977 -8 0, then to New York for the Printed Matter NY Art Book Fair last weekend.

Nissen first met Samiof in 1975. We met at a party in Hancock Park and we only spoke for 10 minutes and that was kind of it. It started out of us having a relationship, and I think we were both various kinds of artistic and were interested in kind of the same things. And I think we wanted to do a project together.

Two years later, they teamed up with wisecracking waiter-cum-critic, Bessy, and with editor Philomena Winstanley embarked on Slash magazine. At Samiofs Pico Boulevard studio the small team worked round the clock to chronicle the punk scene since no one else seemed interested. When they took their first issue to the local record store, the manager took one look at the cover-up featuring a high-contrast photo of Dave Vanian of the Damned with the word Slash written in red, and told: We dont sell horror movie magazines.

Volume one, issue five had Debbie Harry on the covering. Photo: Supplied

Slashs editorial policy was to go to shows and talk to bands that were get no attention from the music industry. Often the liquor and drug-soaked interviews would take place at the Tropicana Motel on Santa Monica Boulevard, or at the beachside home of Claude and Philly.

One of the magazines proudest accomplishments was introducing the Screamers to the world with an impromptu concert in Samiofs studio. KK Barrett, the bands drummer at the time, is now a production designer on movies by the likes of Spike Jonze and Sofia Coppola. We were in the first publication before we ever played, Barrett remembers. It was kind of a big coming out and it was also a solidification of everybody looking for a scene to happen.

Smash the cistern: the Germs in 1979. Photograph: Melanie Nissen

Most of the bands were happy for the exposure any press afforded them, including Peter Tosh, who sat up all night smoking and drinking with them in his room at the Tropicana. Samiof remembers being reprimanded for illuminating a cigarette even while Tosh sparked yet another joint. The Ramones posed for photos in the parking lot, cracking open brews, smoking and yakking. Other punks are the most introspective: John Doe and Exene Cervenka, more than anyone I can remember, nailed the angst of living in paradise.

Still active in the record business, Nissen went on to design album packages for A& M Record and supervise art departments at Virgin, Atlantic and Warner Friend. Appearing back, she recollects the punk scene as an oasis, free of corporate structure, managers and contracts, where anything seemed possible.

Such freedom led to a feminist flowering in the community, including bands such as the Go-Gos, The Bags, X, and others. Before joining the Go-Gos, Belinda Carlisle was the only musician with any previous experience, having played briefly with the Germs. When Slash interviewed them most of them were in their teens. When they softened their abrasive edge and became new wave two years later, they took off, and other bands followed suit.

I wanna be sedated: Joey Ramone mugs for the camera. Photograph: Melanie Nissen/ Supplied

By the late 70 s, the music was changing. Punks second wave appeared, surf punks mainly up from coastal communities, pseudo-skinheads given to a testosterone-driven, faster, pounding voice. But thats not what caused the end of Slash.

Its not just that the relationship broke up, says Nissen, whose mom was diagnosed with cancer and dedicated three months to live. Other things happened in my personal life that I kind of needed to move on. But I think we were done.

After Nissen left Slash, Samiof followed and his neighbour, Bob Biggs, who had financed the Germs first single, took over with an eye toward building the magazine glossier. He subsequently turned it into a record label that produced X, Violent Femmes, Misfits, The Blasters and more recently Faith No More and Harvey Danger.

Hollywood punks posing backstage. Photo: Melanie Nissen

I dont want to sound like some kind of Buddhist whos living in the jungle in Costa Rica, Samiof tells moments before stepping outside to kill a rogue coral serpent on his front porch. But I only never truly cared about fund that much. The magazine stopped being interesting and the record business was everything “were in” railing against.

It turns out he didnt have to care about money at all not after he bought a Palm Springs house designed by architect Donald Wexler. It was the personal home of the mid-century master who died in 2015. Abruptly some years later it was worth three times as much money, tells Samiof, still baffled by the turn of events that led to him selling the house and retiring. Fucked off my whole life and then got lucky.

Volume one, issue 10 with Alice Bag, singer with the Bags, on the encompas. Photo: Supplied

It had been 20 years since he had watched Nissen when they were reunited at the book release. She confesses to feeling nervous at first, but once they get talking at least some of the old energy is coming. I have no desire to go back into the past and he doesnt either. But that doesnt mean you cant discuss. But it was lovely to watched him, she tells. I dont know if Ill assure him again.

Of the 30 issues of Slash crammed into a three-year circus of hollering inebriation and zombie-eyed partiers pogoing to a teeth-rattling basic three-chord blues, Samiof say its not something he stays in touch with. It was a small part of my life, but an important part, I guess.

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