Gidget Goes to Hell at MOCA

"Sue Tissue" - Mark Vallen. Pencil on paper. 1979. © Published as a Slash magazine cover, '79.

"Sue Tissue" - Mark Vallen. Pencil on paper. 1979. © Published as a Slash magazine cover, '79.

Strange Notes and Nervous Breakdowns is a screening of punk films at the Geffen Contemporary MOCA of Los Angeles; part of the museum’s Under the Big Black Sun: California Art 1974-1981 exhibition.

The film program explores the late 70s L.A. punk scene through films and videos like Gidget Goes to Hell, featuring the Suburban Lawns.

Director, producer, and cinematographer Jonathan Demme shot the short film of the Suburban Lawns performing their offbeat number Gidget Goes to Hell for a 1980 broadcast of Saturday Night Live.

Demme went on to direct films such as The Silence of the Lambs (1991), and Philadelphia (1993), while the Suburban Lawns - like most of L.A.’s great punk bands - slipped into America’s memory hole.

I saw the Suburban Lawns perform numerous times and finally met them in 1979 while working at Slash magazine. They dropped into Slash’s shabby West Hollywood office for an interview with editor Claude Bessy, where it was decided that I would create a portrait of the band’s lead singer Sue Tissue for an upcoming issue of Slash. Bessy played sommelier and brought out a god-awful bottle of cheap white wine to celebrate, passing out little white paper cups for everyone to drink from. When it came time to raise our cups in a toast, I noticed there was a generously proportioned dead moth floating in my wine. This rather summed up the period.

Strange Notes and Nervous Breakdowns also includes a screening of Never Mind the Sex Pistols, Here’s the Bullocks, a documentary that chronicles L.A.’s punk movement with live performance footage of the Avengers, Screamers, Weirdos, Dead Boys, and Talking Heads playing at late 70s venues like the Masque, Starwood, and the Whisky. The free film screenings take place on Thursday, January 12, at 7 p.m. If wine is offered, take my advice and do not drink from the little white paper cups.

Under the Big Black Sun: California Art 1974-1981 runs until February 13, 2012.

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