Slash: A Punk Magazine from Los Angeles, 1977–80

RECENTLY, a few books have tried to tell the story of LA punk rock in the late ’70s. There are firsthand accounts, such as John Doe’s Under the Big Black Sun, and there is the exhuming of artifacts. Slash: A Punk Magazine from Los Angeles, 1977-80 represents many things, especially a fantastic achievement of restoration. Slash was a striking, tabloid-shaped publication put out in tiny monthly runs. The rock writing it contained was hilarious and intense. This book rescues and reproduces pages from the magazine, smartly framed by essays from all the surviving coconspirators. Among the smudged newsprint of Slash are the comics of Gary Panter, the rants of Richard Meltzer, interviews with forgotten pop anarchists of the period, and the photographs of Melanie Nissen.

Nissen’s black-and-white portraits reveal LA’s punk scene at the height of its promise and passion. It’s not without sadness that we now see these young faces, all pilled up, charismatic, and confident. Tomata du Plenty of the Screamers, the word-of-mouth legend that few would have the fortune to experience. Darby Crash and the Germs, little boys and girls really, with no notion that their chaotic amateur rock ’n’ roll would one day be heard worldwide, though Darby himself would be dead by twenty-two. A radiant Belinda Carlisle in rolled-up jeans and a handmade Germs T-shirt. The lanky-limbed members of Devo in their underwear.

The magazine, like the scene it documented, was impulsive and experimental, constantly in the process of reinventing itself. Each month the style of the cover—including the dominant color scheme and the logo—completely changed. Cover images included Peter Tosh smoking a joint; the Cramps in a faux-jungle setting; Panter’s cartoons; and a well-attired grump leaning in from the shadows to flip off the reader. Each cover was the aesthetic summation of all the polemical impatience trapped inside. Slash continued unflaggingly in this unruly fashion until it ceased publication, abruptly, in late 1980, after its agitator-in-chief, Claude “Kickboy Face” Bessy, left the city (and his band, Catholic Discipline) for England. To many, this marked the death of the LA punk scene. Fortunately, this book brings it back to life.

Cover of Slash, Jan/Feb 1980.