John Doe and Tom DeSavia Look at the Unmaking of L.A.'s Punk Scene in the Mid-1980s

It had been a war of attrition, where the punk rockers or those associated with punk had not fared well.” So writes John Doe, singer and guitarist with the legendary L.A. punk band X near the end of More Fun in the New World: The Unmaking and Legacy of LA Punk.

It’s a grim assessment of the years from 1982-’87, but it’s not the sole takeaway from the tome penned by Doe, who played guitar and sang for the band, and co-writer Tom DeSavia. The book also reveals how the era inspired a whole generation of artists.

More Fun in the New World (Hachette Books) explores how the Los Angeles punk scene grew, changed and hit hard times. Doe and DeSavia will be reading from and discussing the book at the Historic Core’s Last Bookstore on Wednesday, Sept. 4. They’ll be joined by musicians including Angelo Moore of Fishbone and Keith Morris of the Circle Jerks.

Doe and DeSavia initially didn’t think they needed to write this book. In 2016 they had published Under the Big Black Sun, which covered the first five years of the L.A. punk scene, chronicling how it emerged and found its voice (both books are named for X albums). The duo thought they had done enough.

When they agreed to do a follow-up, they thought it would be dark, detailing the years of burnout and the tragic deaths of a number of musicians. It was only thanks to their creative partner Krissy Teegerstrom that the book changed into its final form.

“It was about the community falling apart, getting on drugs, going on tour, hardcore taking over, things like that,” Doe said last week in a phone interview. “She had a realization that we could talk about the legacy of that time period. I kind of make this point toward the end. If it wasn’t for bands like Green on Red and Rank and File, I’m not sure that [punk bands] Bloodshot and Americana would have been as developed.”

The book has 31 chapters, and Doe and DeSavia penned 13 of them. The others were solicited from people who were active in the era, among them Morris, Dave Alvin of The Blasters and Black Flag singer Henry Rollins. Additional chapters came from people inspired by the scene — offerings from actor Tim Robbins, street artist Shepard Fairey and skateboarding icon Tony Hawk provide a vivacity and excitement and reveals another side of the musicians’ stories.

Doe said that many of the stories surprised him. Hearing about some of the struggles people went through, he said, helped him get a better understanding of a chaotic time.

Loving Regionalism

For DeSavia, More Fun in the New World offered a chance to get the full story on a period that he believes was lost to a kind of revisionist history as years passed. He also described the book as a sort of love letter to musical regionalism. As the era progressed, he points out, shared entertainment currents such as MTV led to a more homogeneous culture.

“Regionalism used to be a thing. You had coastal bands,” he said in a separate interview. “The L.A. scene, through what we’re calling the 10-year wave of L.A. punk, was a west-of-Mississippi thing. These bands maybe didn’t tour nationally.”

The local perspective also shines light on how the country as a whole was changing. In one chapter Doe remembers X touring the Midwest and witnessing dying industry and the busted unions of Ronald Reagan’s America.

“We noticed the decline and decay of the U.S. and a general shift in the mood of its people,” Doe writes.

The book alternates perspectives and styles, and the chapters vary in format — there is straightforward prose mixed with Q&A sections —including one with Moore of Fishbone — and everything in between. Jane Wiedlin of The Go-Gos even works in some song lyrics.

Each outside contributor offers a personal account, mixing tragedy with bouts of absurd levity. Yet Doe and DeSavia said it wasn’t easy getting everyone on board.

“We had to twist a few arms to get some people to write,” Doe said. “For a few people who didn’t initially want to, but we thought were important to have in the book, we used, ‘Someone is going to tell your story. Wouldn’t you rather tell it?’ That was a great incentive.”

By 1987, much of the momentum in the L.A. punk scene had faded. In addition to the death of bands and individuals, the hair metal movement was on the rise and all over MTV. Doe said that X was approaching a hiatus, and DeSavia, who grew up in the ’80s seeing punk shows, added that, “It was like you lost an election.”

The era passed, but it was not forgotten, and the authors believe its influence lives on. Now they’re out to make sure that people know and understand precisely what happened.

More Fun in the New World is out now. Doe and DeSavia will be at the Last Bookstore, at 453 S. Spring St., on Wednesday, Sept. 4, at 7 p.m. X will perform with Squeeze at the Orpheum Theatre, at 842 S. Broadway, on Sept. 13.

nicholas@downtownnews.com