Interview originally conducted in November 2004
We continue our interview series of influential women in the L.A. punk scene with
Ms. Dinah Cancer.
I first met Dinah (then Mary) at The Canterbury during the early punk days, before she was in a band. We later played in Castration Squad together. Of course, she went on to pioneer the "deathrock" scene with 45 Grave. She cultivated this lifestyle (and it is a lifestyle with Dinah, not a fashion) before it became popular and even in CastrationSquad, which was supposed to have a more "militaristic" look, her style was always more ethereal and deathly.
1. What was/is your contribution to the punk community?
My name is Dinah Cancer. I'm a singer and performed with 45 Grave, Castration Squad, Cambridge Apostles, Vox Pop, Nervous Gender, Penis Flytrap and the new thing, Dinah Cancer and the 45 Grave Robbers.
2. Which artist, band concert and/or show had the most impact on your life?
It had to be the night that the Ramones and the Runaways played at the Whiskey a go go. That was 1978. I was hooked and found music that I related to. That was my first "big Concert" that I went to. After that I started to go to the locals show at the Masque in Hollywood and live at the Canterbury Apartments. That is when I met the core of bands that were playing out. I loved the Weirdos, the Bags, and the Germs.
The performers that I drew inspiration from would be Alice Cooper, Ozzy, Joan Jett, the Runaways, the Ramones, and the Damned. And from then on, I decided singing was my calling. It made me want to go out and put together a project and that was when I found Castration Squad (singing backup vocals). That was my first band. My stage name at that time was Mary Bat Thing. And also Mary Graves. Then 45 Grave and Vox Pop were born too. This was '79. They had such an impact on me. I have a very eclectic musical background and my tastes change daily as to what I listen to.
3. What was the role of women in the early punk scene?
Women have been underrated for years. In the early days, you had bands that were female fronted or had a female member. Like the Bags, the Avengers, the Alley cats, X and the Go-Gos (they were a punk band way back when). Then, there was a period or gap of bands that had lacked the female energy. My era, I played on mostly bills that were all male. Becki Bondage (Vice Squad), Kira (Black Flag), and Exene (X) were a few that had the notoriety. We girls fought hard for our spots. I was part of the 1980 - 1984 wave and it was tough. Either there were a lot around or none at all.
The punk scene has been and still is an All boys scene.
4. What is the legacy of punk in your life?
Graduated Fairfax high school, 1978. Went to first punk show: Ramones and Runaways at the Whisky, 1978.
Was filmed for the Decline of the Western Civilization.
Recorded "Riboflavin" in 1979 for the LAFMS, under the name 45 Grave.
45 Grave played first show: September 1, 1979.
At the same time, I was singing back up for the girl group, Castration Squad too. I was named Mary Bat Thing.
In 1980, 45 Grave recorded a single: "Black Cross/Wax" on Goldar Records. My name changed to Dinah Cancer.
1982: 45 Grave was playing on bills with the Misfits, the Damned, Specimen, Black Flag and Bad Religion.
1983- The song, "Partytime," made it into the movie, Return of The Living Dead.
45 Grave records the album, Sleep in Safety.
1984- 45 Grave went on US tour and broke up. A year later, did some shows with 45 G for a number of years.
1985-86- I was working in the movie industry, working as a double in horror movies such as Poltergeist 2, Fright Night 2, Necronomicon and more.
45 Grave released the 12" record, "School's Out" and the album "Autopsy."
45 Grave continued to tour until Rob "Graves" death from a drug overdose in 1990.
Last performance was at the Whisky saying goodbye to Rob and 45 Grave. And the release of the live album, "Only the Good Die Young", for Rob Graves.
1991- Dinah re-married and had two girls. The mom next door.
1996 -Joined Penis Flytrap and stayed until March 2004.
2004- Dinah and Hal Satan are asked to leave Penis Flytrap... politely. Dinah and Hal Satan are currently working on Dinah Cancer and the Grave Robbers: The ghost of 45 Grave. And the rumblings of the Castration Squad reunion too.
5. What are you listening to now?
My tastes run very eclectic and change daily as to what I listen to. It can be anywhere from ABBA, AC/DC, KISS, the Weirdos, Goblin. But I tend to stay with the music I cut my baby punk teeth on. Like the Bags, Avengers, Gen X, the Damned and the Germs.
6. Do you have any funny or interesting stories to share?
I would get in to trouble.... Heh Heh
7. Are there any punk women from the early scene that you feel have not been been adequately recognized?
Here are some names of some singers that I don't hear much about:
Texacala Jones (Tex and the Horseheads)
Dee Dee Detroit (UXA)
This I would have to think about. Also some of the early punk women like ALICE BAG!!!
8. What is something we should know about you that we probably don't know?
Over the years, I either met or worked with a lot of great performers and bands. Some of them, I'm still in touch with after 20 years. Some I have back in my life and some are not here anymore.
Someone asked if I could live my life again, what would I change? Despite all the ups and downs, I wouldn't trade any of it. My life made me who I am today. I'm still a singer / entertainer, a Mom (#1 job), a Business woman and a punk rock princess.
At the time when I was performing with 45 Grave, we were just playing music and we didn’t consider ourselves a pioneering movement.
We were playing with bands like Christian Death, Black Flag and TSOL to name a few. And it wasn’t until later that we were named as part of the pioneers of the Deathrock culture. I really didn't see how much I impacted a culture until I started playing out again and I would have people coming up to me and sing, "Do you want to Party?!"
I'm still pretty down to earth. I have my daily life and play in a band. I don't have a limo. Don't really want one. Now in a hearse, that's traveling in style.
The first prowlings of deathrock came in the early '80s before we were labeled as our other counterparts – the gothic movement. There were no Goths. The Deathrockers were splintered off from the punk/hardcore scene that was going on at the time. We played punk rock but we loved Halloween and we looked like vampires. So the phrase Deathrock was born. We had a deeper appreciation of the darker side of slice o’ life. It was our way of giving back to something we enjoyed.