Interview with Pleasant Gehman, originally conducted in March 2005
"Because of punk rock, I never think that a creative project or wish or dream of mine is something I can’t do." - Pleasant
For people with more than a passing knowledge of the early L.A. punk scene, Pleasant Gehman almost needs no introduction. She was there at the beginning and was involved on an incredible number of levels, as you will see. She left quite a few things off her resume, not the least of which is that she co-wrote and edited (along with my old Bags bandmate, Craig Lee) a long running feature at the L.A. Weekly entitled "L.A. Dee Da," which was a kind of post-punk society gossip column that helped to keep the club scene lively in the 1980's.
Now that I've conducted several of these interviews, I'm struck by the recurring chorus of "just get off your ass and do something!" It occurs to me that getting up and doing something, rather than just thinking about it or waiting for someone else to do it, was a big part of what the early punk scene was all about. As Pleasant notes, few of us had experience at the time - we learned as we went along. If you wanted to be in a band, years (or even months) of musical training was no longer required. It was the same with writing, photography, fashion...and the same holds true today. Just look at this website!
Read Pleasant's interview and you might be inspired to "live your own life"...or get drunk and make out with your friends in the ladies room.
Special thanks to Jenny Lens, Theresa Kereakes and Zeroxed, who allowed us to post their artwork/photos and recollections alongside this interview.
1. What was/is your contribution to the punk community?
My contribution to the punk community- well, I made many contributions, though at the time, I would have just termed it “living life!" Like every other “original” punk in L.A. at the time, my everyday life was almost like an art project… it was going out every day and night looking like a fully made-up and coiffed work of art and weathering the stares, insults and sometimes physical attacks that came as a result of appearance as a metaphor for commitment. Because back then, if you looked odd or different, it wasn’t just a fashion statement, but a threat to society! We blazed the trails for the next generations of misfits, artists, rockers and eccentrics. In a lasting way, I left some kind of a mark with my fanzine Lobotomy (edited by myself and Randy Detroit, a.k.a. Randy Kaye). Lobotomy was published sporadically from 1978-1981, and it was pretty hilarious. We did it drunk usually, pasting it together on the floor, typed, handwritten, whatever!
We would get bombed with our favorite bands and then review or interview them…not just local or New York bands like the Germs, Mumps, Weirdos, Teenage Jesus, F-Word, X…but also bands like the Damned, the Jam, Blondie, Generation X, Cramps, Go-Go’s…we even interviewed director David Lynch! Then, it was fun; now, it would be unheard of, what with dealing with publicists, handlers, etc…. now, the few remaining issues are collector’s items. Actually, it’s going to be a book soon - someone approached Randy and me about putting all the volumes together into a fine art coffee table style book.
Another contribution was my well-documented “punk crash pad,” Disgraceland which not only served as the Lobotomy office, but for years sheltered wayward musicians and scenesters - from 1978-88. Some of the folks that crashed there: Billy Zoom from X, Blasters Bill Bateman and Dave Alvin, Howie Pyro and Nick from New York punk band The Blessed, Belinda Go-Go, The Rockats, The Gun Club, Tupelo Chainsex, artist “Mad” Marc Rude, members of Fishbone, TSOL, Thelonius Monster, D.O.A… you name it! We got written up in everything from Rolling Stone to Flipside… and then, we got evicted! For a certain period of time, our house was more famous than the inhabitants!
Also, in the early ‘80’s, I had an all-girl “cow-punk” band (never did like that label) called The Screaming Sirens and we made a lot of records, toured a lot, and were in a lot of crazy-ass exploitation movies, like Roger Corman’s “Vendetta,” “Hollywood Boulevard,” “Reform School Girls,” and a plethora of women’s prison movies! Later in the 80’s, I co-wrote and. along with all the Screaming Sirens, starred in a movie based on the mid-80’s L.A. punk and underground scene, called “The Running Kind.” It was all filmed in local clubs, like Raji’s, the Lingerie and the Zero-Zero, and featured locals like El Duce, Tex and the Horseheads, Keren “Rag Girl” Miller, Drac, Bobby Brat, Iris Berry, deejay Ron Miller and many others in cameo roles.
Also, in the early 1980’s to the early 90’s, I was the band booker for both Cathay De Grande and later on, Raji’s. I know that’s a bit later than the original 70’s punk days, but I had some killer bills put together…. like getting Social Distortion to play the Cathay De Grande and my favorite show I booked at Raji’s, which my boss almost cancelled - it was Nirvana, Babes In Toyland and L7. Dobbs, the manager, had a cow: he was like “I don’t want that kind of punk shit!!!!” I was all, “Dobbs, you’ll thank me when it sells out!”- and he did! That show put Raji’s on the map.
2. Which artist, band concert and/or show had the most impact on your life?
As for what or who had the most impact on my life, it’s sooooo very hard to say, though a few really stick out. Tomata Du Plenty, Gear and KK of the Screamers not only fascinated me, but were like my mentors…Gear even taught me how to screen calls! Through example, Fayette (Hauser) and Tomata taught me a lot about living your life as a work of art…and Tomata and Lance Loud of the Mumps were both like my mentors. I always looked up to Exene’s work ethic and aesthetic… and was fascinated by her and Farrah Faucette Minor, aka Jane O’Kane…. I
adored Lydia Lunch - her attitude and outlook…. My roommate and practically my Siamese Twin was Brian Tristan, aka Kid Congo… Alice and Pat Bag (Patricia Morrison) were like style icons to me, even though I didn’t try to emulate them, I thought them both to be incredibly
beautiful, same for Belinda and Jane Go-Go! And Jane and I got into a lot of trouble together!
Same with me, Helen Killer and Trudi…Kristian Hoffman of the Mumps was and still is one of the most talented people I've ever known. He also taught me so much invaluable rock and roll history! Artist Brad Dunning, who is now a really famous interior designer, always had an incredible sense of style and composition, in addition to being a pop culture maven… Darby Crash and Pat Smear, whom I met pre-punk as “Paul and George,” were not only influences (if you asked my Mom, she’d say “bad influences!”) but partners in crime - we had so much fun
tearing shit up! These are all individuals….if I started listing shows or records it’d be as long as a novel! Suffice it to say I have many, MANY fond memories and impactful moments!
3. What was the role of women in the early punk scene?
Well, even though in (the) punk days I never would have considered “the role of women” in the scene, we played a HUGE role…. There would only have been half a scene without us! Some were in bands (Diane Chai, Sue Tissue, the Bags gals, the Go-Go’s, etc.) Some were fans, photographers (Melanie Nissen, Jenny Lens, Theresa Kereakes, Ann Summa, Anna Statman, etc.), visual artists (Delphina) actors (Mary Woronov), film makers (Penelope Spheeris), writers (Dee Dee Faye from Back Door Man, Lisa Fancher, Philomena from Slash, Lydia Lunch, Exene), clothing and jewelry designers (Exene’s sister, Muriel), store owners (Jenny from Straight Jacket), club promoters (Michelle Myers, Jan Ballard), band managers and/or bookers, some were just like, punk icons, like Hellin Killer and Trudi, Gerber or Mary Rat…..you name it, chicks did it!
I don’t think most of us ever even cared whether we were women or not! There were a few gals who had traditionally “feminine” jobs- Connie Clarksville and Malissa, for example, were both hair-dressers; Chloe Peppas (she used to live with the Screamers) was a make-up artist… but nobody was really counting gender roles back then, at least I wasn’t!
4. What is the legacy of punk in your life?
The legacy of punk in my life is indescribable. I can’t imagine NOT having gone through that period. Punk has pretty much informed everything I do. Luckily, when I discovered punk, I was a teenager- I hadn’t been entrapped in “the system”…or into believing I had to have a “legit” job… I was always a very imaginative and rebellious child, anyway- my teenage rebellion was an extension of my core personality. I fit right in with all the other misfits!
Because of punk rock, I never think that a creative project or wish or dream of mine is something I can’t do - and that’s because of punk, that whole lifestyle and time period. It taught me that old cliché: where there’s a will, there’s a way: For example… If you don’t have money or experience for launching a particular project, you’ll get both somehow! Get your experience along the way, it’s the “work/study program!" As far as cash goes, instead of using it, you can barter, you can trade, you can use your own imagination for a solution or just use someone else’s dollars! As far as experience goes, if you have the need or desire to do something, just don’t be afraid to start doing it! Learn as much as you can before you start, and learn the rest along the way! Don’t ever let someone tell you, you CAN’T do something. You can’t start a band ‘cause you don’t know how to play? Bullshit! You can’t play ‘cause you don’t own equipment? Borrow some! You can’t write because you don’t type? Learn! You can’t write because you don’t have anything to write about? Think - then make a list! You can’t be an artist because no gallery will have you? Put on your own exhibit! Punk taught me to, as the saying goes, “Just Do It!”
5. What are you listening to now?
I listen to everything! Aside from early punk, which still sounds great and fresh to me, I listen to everything from old glitter rock to rockabilly, jazz, blues, sixties stuff to crazy new Arabic pop, Samba music, gypsy and klezmer stuff…. When we were doing Lobotomy nights at the Whisky, Randy and I would make mix tapes that had music like the Cramps, 999, Adverts, Annette Funicello, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Can, assorted Broadway show-tunes, The Damned, The Village People, The Weirdos, Christian kids’ records, The Avengers and, like, Wildman Fischer. I always liked a crazy assortment of stuff. For a while, I even collected “novelty” records. What’s funny to me is how much I (seriously!) like 70’s Disco, or even stuff like Duran Duran now!
6. Do you have any funny or interesting stories to share?
As for stories- there are soooooo many, I don’t know where to begin. I kept a diary for years and wrote in it every day. Someday it will be published- when I have the will power to actually sit down and edit it!!! My book “Escape From Houdini Mountain” (on Manic D Press) has a bunch of crazy early 80’s punk stories in it. They are all true, but most of the names have been changed to protect the guilty!
How about the story about me and Alice Bag in the ladies room of Larchmont Hall during an X show…. We were laying on the 1920’s fainting couch, swigging Southern Comfort and making out with each other, getting lipstick all over our faces - having a grand old time until Nickey Beat from the Weirdos (who happened to be Alice’s boyfriend at the time) came in and broke up the festivities. What a party-pooper!
7. Are there any punk women from the early scene that you feel have not been been adequately recognized?
There are so many “unsung heroines” from the punk scene…. The women of Slash magazine, Melanie Nissen and Philomena should have gotten more credit - I mean, Melanie is a hugely respected photographer, but both of them were really talented. Philly kind of got overshadowed by her husband, Claude “Kickboy Face” Bessy. She was always wringing her hands, going “Ohhhhh, Claude…” when he’d be tearing shit up - or passing out - in public. Another person who was massively talented, and is sitting on a goldmine of historic photos, is Jenny Lens. She was out every night, she shot EVERYONE. Great live shots and also candid stuff at parties. She should do a book - or a few. She has plenty of material! Fayette Hauser was always around, and she was like the den mother of the Screamer’s house “The Wilton Hilton”… I just finished reading “Midnight At The Palace”- the book about the Cockettes by former Cockette, Pam Tent, and Fayette was featured in it prominently. She was great, a creative force and a calming influence. I remember being fascinated by her - her fire-engine red hair, the fact that she’d “been around” - literally: in addition to being a Cockette and in the Haight Ashbury scene, she was also involved with the New York Warhol scene and John Waters - and working with Manhattan Transfer! She was an awesome role model!!! I always liked Theresa Covarrubias from East LA punk band The Brat. She was tough and pretty and seemed smart. Annette Zilinskas from the (pre-Bangles) Bangs and later from Blood On The Saddle had and still has one of the most heartbreakingly beautiful voices I have ever heard… and I will always remember Shannon Wilhelm (RIP) from Castration Squad as not only being incredibly gorgeous (she looked like a perfect punk China doll re-make of Vivian Leigh) but funny, articulate, and really irreverent and subversive. Same goes for Bobby Brat (RIP) of Red Scare, I could use all the same adjectives to describe her. Stunningly beautiful, a great front-woman for a kick ass band, and a really nice person… and a lotta fun and trouble when she was drunk! Penelope (Houston) Avenger was always incredible. She had sort of cult status, but I think she was way ahead of her time, she should have been a huge star. She coulda been like a female Billy Idol… but maybe she had the chance and didn’t want to “sell out” - who knows? She went on to do a lot of great folk-ish music of her own. I could probably go on and on, but I won’t.
8. What is something we should know about you that we probably don't know?
Something about me that most people don’t know… something that has NOTHING to do with punk rock is that I have been a professional belly dancer for the past fifteen years. I have been to Egypt to study it numerous times, I perform all over the world, teach classes and have danced in movies and videos and on TV. I have a stage name, though. It’s Princess Farhana (“Farhana” means “happy” or “pleasant girl” in Arabic). Have a look at my website:
The funny thing is, because belly dancing costumes are so heavy, every belly dancer takes extra measures to make sure they don’t shake off during a show… so safety pins are still a HUGE part of my life!