Interview with: Debbie Schow, originally conducted May 2007
Debbie Schow and I met briefly at Kim Fowley’s cattle call for Venus and the Razorblades, his post-Runaways project. Debbie had been involved in the local music scene before punk really took off in L.A. and she started photographing the bands and scene. Later, when Nickey Beat joined Venus and The Razorblades, he formally introduced me to Debbie. I remember her being unusually serene and elegant and I wondered what someone like her was doing hanging out with Kim Fowley.
Debbie was around to photograph the transitions from glitter to punk, then punk to post-punk. She is also a musician in her own right. She’s started to go through her archives of negatives and I’m certain we’ll be seeing more of her work in the future. For now, Debbie has graciously allowed me to share some of her photos of Wall of Voodoo, X and others, including a previously unpublished color photo of X at Union Station in Downtown L.A.
1. What was/is your contribution to the punk community?
Photographer. I was fortunate to take sessions, not just snaps, that I rather immodestly say do stand the test of time and hopefully are worthy of subjects and era. Occasional provider of a floor to sleep on, facilitator – I told Nicky Beat and the Weirdos about each others, a match made in….well, a good match made. Stuff like that, a designated driver of the over-indulged, art gallery (LAICA) promoter, writer.
2. Which artist, band concert and/or show had the most impact on your life?
John Cale, 60’s girl groups, Screamers, X, Blondie, Gang of Four, Television, The Damned was hilarious, Gun Club, Plugz, loved the Bags, Tindersticks (UK) now, Kim Fowley, because I worked for him and learned from him (even if it was what not to do.) So, so many, too many to mention.
3. What was the role of women in the early punk scene?
We were allowed to exist on our own merit; it wasn’t equal, it wasn’t fair, it was a start.
4. What is the legacy of punk in your life?
Everyday, inside, I’m still a punk. I live by punk morals: be honest to yourself, create, dive in, take chances, use your angst – positively.
5. What are you listening to now?
Not enough, I always want to hear more. World music, especially real Irish music as I lived there for almost 20 years post-punk, but most mainstream US pop music is still avoided, Have developed a taste for music I shunned as punk, be it jazz, classical, experimental, Gregorian chants, Morricone soundtracks.
6. Do you have any funny or interesting stories to share?
John Cale at the Starwood, was a real "Toto - I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore" moment, one of many you’ll have to write me personally about.
X in rehearsals for their debut album, with Ray Manzarek passing a flask of whiskey as we watched and discussed ideas for the album cover. It was punk rock, Los Angeles and, alas I never got to shoot the cover but did some great photos of the band.
The Sex Pistols show in San Francisco, the atmosphere turned ugly with a weird anti-L.A. vibe at stage front as the Avengers were playing. This John Denver look-alike and a vicious herd of drag queens started pulling my hair, kicking and punching me with no rhyme or reason...I tried to fight them off with my camera but was outnumbered. It was weird, it was very scary, they were all over me, like Hitchcock’s Birds with high heels and potentially calamitous when the JD type started choking me. Just as I was about to lose consciousness, out of nowhere came this garbled French accent: “get off-of-‘er you, you fiends!” It was Claude Bessy and his pals (with Philly nearby), who fought the swarm off me and brought me to safety. It would have been a dreadful, if iconic, way to die. But Philly saw what was happening, alerted Claude and he and the punk posse jumped in and saved the day, bless ‘ em.
At the end of the gig, as Sid Vicious was onstage choosing from various women, another weird story, the John Denver lookalike apologized and said it was voices in his head...and the others joined in the frenzy. I should note that more often than not, I got along with those in drag very well and counted several well-frocked cross-dressers among my friends.
The photo sessions by Melanie Nissan with the Screamers and Genny-Body from Backstage Pass that I was in, it was great fun to be in front of the camera...for a little while.
Jeffrey Lee standing on tables singing the blues and playing his heart and soul out in the early Gun Club days, watching their gigs and batting eyes at Brad Dunning, their first drummer and a sometime beau….awww.
Meeting Phil Spector.
My cat is named after the Screamers’ Tomata Du Plenty..she is Tomata’ Cleocatera Du Kitten, as she had rather a loud scream-yelp when found as a kitten..and has punk-cat attitude that would make her namesake proud.
The cattle call of early punk female talent that my one-time boss Kim Fowley held. Some of the best future punks showed up - very early days, you were there Alice - remember? You guys were great even then.
While touring the EMP “rock museum” in Seattle with a group of homeless kids I worked with, we came across a photos I took of Jane Draino from The Go-Go’s and other pics of mine that I was unaware were in the gallery’s collection. I pointed them out to the kids, thinking they would of course think I was so hip and cool. One of them exclaimed, “oh my God, you’re so old you’re in a museum!” So much for my hip and coolness, they then wandered off to find the rap section.
7. Are there any punk women from the early scene that you feel have not been adequately recognized?
Philomena Winstanley, she had a lot to do with the design of Slash magazine and aided a lot of bands and publications with design, friendship and advice. Her contributions went under noticed as she was so often seen just as Claude’s girlfriend and so much a part of keeping him together. When I lived in England she and Claude were both enormously kind to me.
8. What is something we should know about you that we probably don’t know?
Currently, slowly, slowly compiling website from the thousands of photos from then of X, Screamers, Wall of Voodoo, Weirdos, Television, Blondie, Ramones, Gang of Four, Plugz, Kessels, Magazine, Angry Samoans, The Last. Chances are if you are reading this and are of the era, you are in those negatives.
I lived in Dublin for almost 20 years with stints in the U.K. and fronted The Screech Owls, with several singles, eps, cds, here is a video on YouTube. Any old pals and others (if polite) please write and say hello, it would be great to hear from you! firstname.lastname@example.org