Interview with, Gabi Berlin originally conducted October 2005.
Gabi Berlin's interview came about completely by word of mouth, which is very cool. Rover mentioned Gaby in her interview, Jenny remembered Gabi. Gabi somehow checked out the website and got in touch with me and I asked her to answer my questionnaire. She was kind enough to oblige. Gabi also photographed the early days of the L.A. punk scene. I've seen a couple of her photos and I'm hoping she gets around to sharing more of them with us.
I want to take this opportunity to point out that Gabi lists Karla Maddog among the overlooked women from the punk scene. Maddog deserves a special place of honor in any history of the L.A. punk scene: a black, butch lesbian drummer - and one of the best drummers, male or female. Thanks for giving Maddog some well deserved recognition, Gabi.
1. What was/is your contribution to the scene?
Photographer, fan, friend, hippie haircutter…….One night I was too tired to go out. My friend and roommate at the Hollywood Towers, Michelle Gregg, would have none of it. “You must attend,” she said. That stuck with me. We had to support our bands. And be seen. On hot summer nights with the Santa Ana winds as our only transportation, we would “Make the
Scene,” as Rodney used to say. I loved the scene because of the photo opportunities.
I shot photos constantly. But when my favorite bands played, I was into it. Sometimes I would hand my camera to a friend standing on the sidelines and say, “take care of it”. I have no photos of the Germs because I was usually dancing and smashed. So stop asking. Somehow, my camera always came back. I think that says a lot for the closeness and trust of the early scene.
The guys from Flipside begged me for photos and I gave them some, although I rarely got credit. Mostly, I was too lazy to spend a lot of time printing up pictures and on some level, I knew I was taking them for posterity. So I just kept taking photos and stashing the negatives. I’m ready to share now, though, and promised Brendan and Terry Bagdad some for their books. Jenny and I were just discussing how these reams of negatives are interesting because they document the details and chronology of long forgotten events.
Oh, and I also cut hair. One night Rover and I were harassing these guys about their long hair. Somehow, we got a hold of some scissors and started cutting their hair off. The next weekend they showed up again with some friends and wanted us to cut their friends' hair off! Off with their hair!
2. What band, artist or show had the most impact on your life?
My friend Johnny Yenn took me to Hollywood for the first time. Walking down Cherokee Blvd, I heard strange music coming out of a sidewalk vent. We went around the corner and found a staircase leading down into a basement. As I walked towards the lights and sounds, I saw a man leaning over a medical tray. There seemed to be some kind of body on the tray. The music was loud, driving and strong. People were jumping up and down to get a better view. There were 2 or more guitars. A guy with a sideways bowl of shiny brown hair stood stock still, and a wild strange boy was leaping about the stage. Later I found out it was the Deadbeats. I was transformed. I felt as if I was made of air; I was invisible, but on fire. I had my camera and began snapping. I ran out of film and begged more off a guy I later knew as the great
photographer, Michael Yampolsky. It was like a secret world: like fairies, underground.
3. What was the role of women in the early punk scene?
The women whose voices were heard the loudest were the bravest ones. Women in punk were pushing barriers put up countless times by men and society. Maybe the right to dress in clothes not seen in Seventeen or Glamour was not as important as the right to vote, or work, but they are still personal freedoms being threatened today.
We were the leaders of a society just beginning to burst out. Every era has their style leaders. The late seventies were the beginning of a new era. We were experimenting with art, music and fashion. We never thought the advertising industry would be using our look to sell crap in the year 2005. But they are. We didn’t know it at the time, but we would influence the collective unconscious for years to come.
Women like Poly Styrene, the Slits, Maddog, Jenny Lens, Alice Bag, Rover, Zandra Rhodes, any of the women on this website, and all the others who made up the scene were either bruised enough not to care or just tired of living a lie. They rushed ahead with their Art, no matter who told them to slow down and behave. And I know people tried to. I got that at home and school. I didn’t know any women rock photographers, but that didn’t stop me from taking pictures. I read fanzines and magazines that showed women dressing, singing and behaving as they pleased. I saw women performing on stage at the Masque and the Whiskey. Yes, we were threatened. Rover could have been killed by those marines, or those freaks who threw that bottle. But I don’t think any of us stopped to say, “Maybe I should try to conform." We knew we were right.
4. What is the legacy of punk in your life?
If you want to do something, do it. Don’t ask for permission. It doesn't have to be perfect, just honest and from your gut. Punk taught me not to be afraid to fail. I can do anything if I stare at it long enough. Sometimes it comes out, sometimes it doesn’t.
My son is now sixteen and a hardcore punk. Some of the kids he brings home ask me about the old days. They love the stories of the Sex Pistols, The Germs and the Masque. I think it gives him a little more street credibility. He’s a second generation punk!
I think punk also gave me the confidence to stare someone down who’s messing with me. I learned to carry myself in a way that says, “Watch out. Don’t mess with me.” You learned that, walking alone in Hollywood. And a special circle of friends who were with me when I was finding myself and who will be in my heart forever.
5. What are you listening to now?
Mostly what comes through my kid’s bedroom walls. Stuff like: Leftover Crack, Angel City Outcasts, A Global Threat, the Muse. I just found Third Grade Teacher. It’s like Nico with Eno as a back up band. And Amina! She’s wonderful. Didgeridoo music, very calming. I also love Missy Higgins. Her music is strong, thoughtful, and heartbreaking. She needs to go more hardcore though.
6. Do you have any funny or interesting stories to share?
One night, Hellin Killer was running around trying to organize a trip to go see the Sex Pistols in Texas. I had a car, so I was in. Terry Bagdad, Hellin Killer, Mary Rat, Trudie and Lamarr from S.F. all crammed in my little blue Volkswagen. I don’t remember stopping to eat or anything. We made it there about three hours before the show began. We hung out in the lobby, kind of cowed by the strangeness of the barn of a bar. We
bought our tickets at the window and sat down to wait. I was kind of dozing off when the band walked in the front door. They were very surprised and glad to see us and asked were we were from. When we said L.A., Sid was amazed that we would travel so far to see them. Then he asked if we had tickets. When we said yes, he said, ‘But you didn’t pay for them?” When we said we did, he demanded the little old lady at the ticket counter to give us back our money. She looked terrified! And she gave us all our money back. Whew! That was gas money home. Then Sid said we were all on the guest list for the rest of the tour.
After the show we “stole” Sid. He drank a whole bottle of whiskey and crashed in the back of the bug. We knew they would be looking for him so we drove back to the hotel. The managers were really upset that we had taken him but let us stay for dinner. Afterwards, Johnny kicked everyone out of his room but Mary Rat and me. He behaved like the Prince of Wales, a very proper, gracious host. When we left he solemnly handed me his red beret to keep. I think it may have been because of the bag of weed I gave him that I was holding for Rock Bottom. Not being a smoker I didn’t realize the value of that much pot. When I got back, Rock threatened to kill me if I didn’t pay him that very night for the weed. He chased me around the Whisky until Geza X mediated and explained to Rock Bottom that if he killed me he’d never get his money.
7. Are there any women from the punk scene who haven’t been recognized?
Jenny Lens, of course. She’s the historian of our scene. She knew everyone, took photos constantly, and was everywhere. Maddog! She was the drummer for the Controllers. The first time I met her she had set her drums up in the parking lot of that record store across from the Whisky and was just drumming away. I actually thought she was a boy and I had a huge crush on her. I always thought she was the epitome of
punk. I still have your Ramones albums if you want them back, Maddog!
8. Is there something we should know about you that we probably don’t?
I’m really good at connecting with kids with autism. I call them my little wounded birds. Growing up in a violent household, and being the weakest, plainest, weirdest kid in school, I learned people were dangerous. Victims of violence and children with autism seem to have some of the same personality traits. Children of violence shut down into their own world. Children with autism shut down and struggle with verbal
expression. Usually, neither one talks much or wants to be around you. But put them in a warm swimming pool, with just me and the water hugging them, where once they learn to swim they can be free to play and laugh... it’s just the most amazing thing to watch.