More Fun In The New World: The Unmaking and Legacy of LA Punk by John Doe with Tom DeSavia and Friends (Da Capo Books)

More Fun in the New World: The Unmaking and Legacy of L.A. Punk

When I first read John Doe and Tom DeSavia’s first book, Under The Big Black Sun, I thought it was going to be a John Doe autobiography, and was pretty bummed that the book was a collection of chapters written by everyone from Jane Wiedlin to Henry Rollins on the early years of Los Angeles punk rock, with seemingly minimal input from Doe. Now that time has passed I’m fine with the book not being very Doe/X-focused, and can appreciate it for the breadth of stories and experiences it contained.

Three years later, Doe and co-author Tom DeSavia are back with another book using the same format, this time focused on what came next for Los Angeles’ punk rockers from 1982-1987. As with the prior volume, the point is once again to show that there was no “one story of punk”; rather it was a loose conglomerate of people making intense art fueled by their own intense lifestyles. Again, the stories run the gamut of experiences, from The Go-Gos (represented by chapters from Jane Weidlin and Charlotte Caffey) losing their minds in a haze of drugs and insecurities on the road to world domination, to Keith Morris (Black Flag/Circle Jerks) couch-surfing and sneaking into clubs in a desperate attempt to keep the party going as long as possible. This time out the authors extend beyond the world of music, with chapters from Sheppard Fairey, Allison Anders, Tim Robbins, and Tony Hawk all showing how the original germ of punk’s influence was starting to spread out of the clubs and into other disciplines.

It’s an exciting read, with a variety of interesting voices getting to tell their side of the story. My only complaint this time out is with a spelling mistake in Charlotte Caffey’s chapter (the band is “The Rezillos”, not “The Rizzillos”) – in a book on punk history, someone should have caught that.

Under The Big Black Sun: A Personal History of L.A. Punk by John Doe with Tom DeSavia and Friends (Da Capo Press)

I always imagined John Doe had a book somewhere in him waiting to be written. His band, X, were among the more literary-minded groups of the Los Angeles punk scene, and he met his future (now former) wife, and X co-leader, Exene Cervenka at a poetry workshop. Now that his book, Under The Big Black Sun, has finally arrived, I’m perplexed by it. The book’s purpose was, in the words of co-author Tom DeSavia, “for the true story of LA punk rock to be told” (note: it’s L.A. not LA – at least they got it right on the front cover), but it didn’t give me much new perspective outside of a better understanding Mexican culture’s influence on punk, and the consistent reverence for unrecorded electro-punk innovators The Screamers. If you read We Got The Neutron Bomb, Get In The Van, American Hardcore, or any other books where Los Angeles’ punk scene is a player then you’ve pretty much heard it all before, and heard it told more coherently. Instead of a John Doe or X biography, Under the Big Black Sun collects passages written by L.A. punk musicians, writers, and scenesters, with only about 20% of its slim 250 pages written by Doe. I get the intended point: There’s no “one story” of Los Angeles’ punk. It was a multi-dimensional scene where characters as different as Jane Wiedlin (Go-Gos), Jack Grisham (T.S.O.L.), and Mike Watt (Minutemen) could all play important roles. However, with so many other prominent voices, Doe gets reduced to a bit player in his own book, which reads like a collection of sample chapters from a dozen different autobiographies. The good news is that, based on the chapters here, most of those autobiographies would be tremendous! Sign me up for Jane Weidlin, Jack Grisham and Chris D. of the Flesh Eaters. Watt’s would be good too, though his rambling jazzbo style would probably make my head hurt over hundreds of pages. Taken chapter by chapter, Under The Big Black Sun is wildly entertaining, but doesn’t really add up to a satisfying whole. Oh, and X’s drummer of almost 40 years, DJ Bonebrake, is called DJ Bonebreak in a photo caption – a mistake somebody should have caught.