Punk Daze (1977-1983) by John Brian King

Punk Daze (1977-1983) by John Brian King

I grew up in Westchester, an area of Los Angeles near the airport that was so dull and listless that we kids called it Deadchester. At the end of 1976, I hated my first semester at Westchester High School so much I thought about dropping out, but I was fortunate to have a friend who went to an “arty” private school in Santa Monica and he helped me get into the school on a full scholarship. It was then that I began practicing photography in earnest.

The punk scene in Los Angeles was unbelievable. The first punk concert I went to was a benefit for the Masque Club in Hollywood in February 1978, and from then on I was a regular at the three major punk clubs in Hollywood: the Whiskey A-Go-Go, the Cathay de Grande, and the Starwood (owned by Eddie “The Sheik” Nash, the man allegedly behind the Wonderland murders with porn star John Holmes). My favorite local bands were X, Suburban Lawns, Black Randy and the Metro Squad, The Weirdos, the Minutemen, Fear, and The Germs.

After my high school graduation in 1979, I took a year off and worked and boozed and went to more punk shows, living with my friend Cedd in his dad’s house – his dad being the crazy talented painter Ed Moses, who as our landlord patiently put up with our parties and bad behavior. The highlight of our living in the tiny house was a big punk party that we had that was crashed by asshole surfers – our friend Pat Smear from The Germs grew so annoyed with one of the surfers, he took my BB gun rifle and smashed it across the surfer’s nose, splitting it wide open. There was blood everywhere and we hustled Pat out of the house before the cops showed up.

A friend of mine got me a photographer press pass when Public Image Ltd appeared on the TV show American Bandstand (we were all listening to PiL’s Metal Box religiously). The performance on stage (not really an actual musical performance, since bands on American Bandstand always pretended to play to their prerecorded music) was pure anarchy, with John Lydon jumping into the audience and pulling befuddled disco idiots onto the stage to dance.

In 1980 I went to CalArts, thirty miles north of Los Angeles, where I studied photography, art, design and film. I lived in a shitty campus dorm room with my friend Mike Glass (sadly, now dead) and hung out with artists who drank and smoked and fucked and listened to Einstein on the Beach and did every possible kind of drug – it was heaven. My mentors at CalArts were the photographer Judy Fiskin and the conceptual artist John Baldessari – I knew then, as I do now, how incredibly lucky I was.

After I graduated from CalArts in 1983, I moved into my first apartment in Los Angeles, near Wilshire and La Brea. Over time the art and punk music world became, for me, more commercial and empty, and I lost my passion for photography. My life shifted to other desires – literature, design, film – but slowly, over the decades, my love for photography grew once again.


JOHN BRIAN KING – Born in Los Angeles, California. Graduate of California Institute of the Arts: BFA in art and design, majored in photography. Curated the first art exhibition of serial killer John Wayne Gacy’s “clown”paintings and produced the S&M performance “Nailed!,” featuring the late artist and writer Bob Flanagan. Conducted a videotaped interview with murderer Charles Manson at San Quentin Prison (featured in Nikolas Schreck’s documentary Charles Manson Superstar). Designed the film titles for over thirty films, including Boogie Nights, The Ring, and Punch-Drunk Love. Author of the nonfiction book Lustmord: The Writings and Artifacts of Murderers; editor of George Bataille’s The Trial of Gilles de Rais, Richard von Krafft-Ebing’s Psychopathia Sexualis, and J. Paul de River’s The Sexual Criminal. Writer and director of the 2014 indie feature film Redlands. Photographer of books LAX: Photographs of Los Angeles 1980–84 and Nude Reagan.