Punk music changed forever when it hit LA. Tempos became faster, bands became meaner, violence began to spiral out of control. Rose-tinted history remembers the revolutionary effect of punk culture—the DIY ethos, resistance to police harassment, widely influential music—but what's largely forgotten is the body count it left behind. Here, concerts became proving grounds for warring gangs who hailed from different corners of the city. The Burbank Punks Organization, Long Beach's Vicious Circle, the East Side Punx, and other crews who associated themselves with the budding music scene wrestled for turf and street cred through despicable acts of public powerviolence.
Most dangerous of all were La Mirada Punks, a gang that quickly grew in notoriety in the 80s. Hailing from an East LA suburb that was infested with gangs long before punk took root, this coalition of troubled kids was mentored by an old veteran of a cholo gang and bonded over punk's confrontational image and antiestablishment stance. LMP members attended shows en masse, but often seemed to be there out of bloodlust rather than any sort of musical appreciation. Whether it was stabbing an innocent bystander or humiliating a band's frontman by trapping him in a trash can for hours, tales of LMP's indiscriminate violence spread like wildfire throughout the punk scene in the mid-80s.
In Disco's Out... Murder's In!, out now through Feral House Publishing, the story of "LA's deadliest punk rock gang" is told through the eyes of the aptly-named Frank the Shank, the notorious chieftain in the LMP gang who was eventually arrested for murder. Slam pit stabbings, bodies found in the street outside concerts, and an exploration of a scene that was once infested with loosely-organized crime: this is a facet of punk history you won't get in the average band biography.
After spending nearly six years picking Frank the Shank's brain for all of the grisly details of his reign in the LMP gang, authors Heath Mattioli and David Spacone have published his tales in a 230-page account that's written from Frank's own perspective and includes artwork from iconic scene artist Raymond Pettibon. The result is an arresting first-person narrative that begins with Frank's first punk show (X at the Whisky a Go-Go), but quickly becomes more about beat-downs and murders than a love of punk music. Seminal bands such as The Germs, The Adolescents, and T.S.O.L. appear, but only to soundtrack La Mirada Punks brutal rampages, or worse, get bullied and bruised by the gang. In a way, the book feels like a lost chapter in the already-storied history of LA gangs that have been examined ever since the Prohibition era. Over the phone, Mattioli and Spacone spoke with VICE about the gangs' ugly and largely forgotten stain on LA punk's legacy.
VICE: Aside from the initial fear mongering in the news, there hasn't been too much written about the actual violence that occurred in LA's early punk scene. Most stories are from bands' point of view, and they mention these things in passing, but usually only to show that they themselves were uninvolved and didn't promote any of it. Do you hold musicians accountable?
Mattioli: Absolutely. They knew what they were doing, I don't believe that act: "Oh, we were backstage, got onstage, then we got in our van, and bailed [before something violent happened]. We weren't aware of this stuff." Many musicians have said that, and I think it's absolute bullshit. They just need to own it.
Spacone: They all seem to want to act like they're Pontius Pilate, and they can just wash their hands of it, but it's very clear they can't. Everybody talked about things that happened during and after shows. So to say, "Oh, I didn't know about any of that," is clearly misdirection.
What musicians did you ask about the violence going on in LA?
Mattioli: I don't want to mention names, but we were going after some back cover testimonials from some of these legends, and they just put their hands up in the air and said, "Hey man, I really wish I could say something about the book. It's well-written and all, but I didn't even know this stuff existed." And then there are other people, like [T.S.O.L. frontman] Jack Grisham, who had no problem saying he was part of the problem, and I respect that.
I really don't understand why they won't talk about it. I know [Henry] Rollins talked about being held up at gunpoint by some gangsters back in the day, and he detests violence. I understand and respect that, as well. But the other guys who said, "That's not what we were singing about"? These kids didn't have the depth to understand what they really might be singing about. I just find it a real cop-out. Maybe it's a byproduct of musician narcissism.
As you were tackling this largely unexplored territory, was it a challenge to steer clear of finger-wagging, and conversely, glorification?
Mattioli: Yeah, it was. And no matter what, with this material, it's going to come off like that. Everybody who actually went to shows, who actually lived in this punk rock world during the time, has a different story. At the same time, they all have a similar story.
Spacone: The events and the truth of all the matters are definitely sensational, sure. But you just have to tell it like it is and let you, the reader, interpret it how you're going to interpret it.
I found it interesting that the book reverses the stereotype that most punk violence was and is racially-motivated.
Mattioli: Yeah, these white supremacist gangs existed, but they didn't show their face [in LA]. They would have gotten their asses handed to them. The California gangs didn't get down with that, they didn't put up with that shit. There have been books and magazine articles talking about how [white supremacist punks from Huntington Beach] were running things and committing all the crime, but I think inner-city punk rockers saw this influx of people coming into the scene from Huntington Beach, and they developed a misconception that all this violence was coming from the Beach, too.
La Mirada Punks were a diverse crew, but what bound them together?
Mattioli: I'll answer that: hate. They hated themselves, so they wanted you to feel a little bit of that. They didn't know that's what they were doing, but the psychological profile behind it was what it was really about.
Spacone: The hate was fun. Destroying things was fun. You had the hippie movement, kids getting together and trying to battle society, but it was much more fun just to battle each other. There's not a lot of introspection and articulation among dysfunctional youth, it's just all reaction.
There's that paragraph in the book that begins "1978 is finally over." That perfectly describes the bleak climate in the country at the time. Even if the kids weren't reckoning with it, it certainly set the mood for hate.
Mattioli: Definitely. The mood of the country was very important. Reagan era, nihilism in the air, threats of a nuclear holocaust—it all plays in.
Spacone: The world was an interesting place.
Mattioli: It sure wasn't a happy place.
I wonder how strongly the LMP gang actually felt about the music because in the end, Frank the Shanks says, "The gangs ruined punk rock."
Mattioli: I don't really see how punk rock could've sustained itself any further anyway, but the violence was rampant from 83 to 86. It was inevitable that punk was going to implode anyway, but the violence was a big push to get people out of the scene. Music was changing too. The artists couldn't stagnate, so it was about moving on, progressing with their sound, changing with the times. And a lot of these kids were happy with where they were, especially these punk rock gangsters. So they were a big push in the way punk rock ended. Frank knows many people who came up to him saying, "Man, I quit punk rock because of LMP."
Spacone: Let's also remember, after years of violence, you just lose participants—whether it's the people who got beat down or killed out of the scene, or those who just went away because they couldn't take it anymore. So yeah, the punk rock gangs ruined it. They made it evaporate.
Mattioli: And that's the question: Were these musicians moving on prior to this, or did they just say "Fuck, I want to disassociate myself from these fuckin' shaved-head crazy fucks"?
Yeah, you have Black Flag getting sludgier and weirder, most other bands moving away from the original hardcore blueprint. Do you think that's in any way a byproduct of the violence?
Mattioli: I would think so. It makes sense. The best way to disassociate yourself? Change your look, change your music, kill your fan base, and try to start another one.
Spacone: Plus, with how fast the music started, and then how it got faster, and then even faster. And how much violence can you take [in the music]? It just eventually goes away.
Pissed Chris and his brothers-in-arms (1984). Image courtesy of Feral House
What was it specifically about LA that produced all of this violence, hate, and speed associated with the music? Guys from the 80s DC scene got beat up a lot, but then they came to L.A. and saw an even more aggressive scene.
Mattioli: The fact that there were gangs in every neighborhood is what ultimately added to that. In no other place could this have happened. It was a very, very violent city.
Spacone: Let's look at the history of Los Angeles: This is one cowboy-ass place. That's what built it. And that energy runs through this city today. So if you look back at Los Angeles in the streets and whatnot, things are always sorting themselves out this way, so it's naturally just going to play into punk rock.
In a way, it feels like a lost chapter in the already-storied history of LA gangs, from the Prohibition era to the Bloods and Crips.
Mattioli: Definitely, and these kids [in La Mirada Punks] even had an old East LA veterano guiding them, and that's why they were able to get away with so much.
Spacone: Also, the LAPD couldn't effectively attack [the gangs]. They would attack punk rock at the shows. They only understood the violence as it transmitted into riots, so they just thought that bodies left around the wake were just an odd by-product. They didn't really know that these gangs existed.
The LAPD tried doing everything in their power to control actual punk shows, to the point where venues even banned specific punk bands, and this likely helped bolster the DIY ethos of punk. Without the police response, could you see the independent route being less of a necessity for bands?
Spacone: It only made punk rock, as a scene, that much more tenacious. So [trying to fight or control punk rock] kind of has the reverse effect where it actually helps it. No way you're gonna stop us from making records, from having shows, from having a scene, from looking this way. You can beat us down, chase us, club us all you want. It didn't matter, it was gonna happen. So they actually were gas on the fire.
Mattioli: [LAPD chief Daryl] Gates needed some kind of a trophy or answer to all the news footage that was being put out there. So anytime he could get ahold of a flyer, break up [a show], he'd put it on the news and say, "Yeah, look what we did."
Spacone: They were showing us, "Hey, we've got control of this, these crazy punkers." Little did they know.
Purchase 'Disco's Out... Murder's In!: The True Story of Frank the Shank and LA's Deadliest Punk Rock Gang' through Feral House Publishing.
Follow Patrick on Twitter.