The Gold Standard: Jonathan Gold’s Live Music Writing
A hole in the collective hearts of Angelinos appeared unexpectedly July 21st with the sudden passing of beloved food writer Jonathan Gold.
For decades, Gold eloquently chronicled the Los Angeles’ diverse food offerings in the L.A. Times and L.A. Weekly, unearthing and celebrating the city’s vast culinary and cultural riches found throughout far flung immigrant communities overlooked by the press.
Less known, however, was Gold’s love of music: he studied classical cello, played in bands Overman, Tank Burial and Guitar Army, was The Weekly’s music editor and penned stories for Spin, Rolling Stone and others. Here are a few outtakes of Gold’s inimitable prose on live performances.
The Germs, “Darby’s Last Stand,” | December 3, 1980
From The Germs Live at the Starwood: Dec. 3, 1980, Rhino Records, 2010
First of all, do you know how much you bleed when you’re smashed in the head with a bottle in the slam pit of the Germs reunion show? The correct answer is: a lot — enough so that the blood soaks your shirt and sloshes into your shoes and causes the cute chica a couple of feet away to start screaming until her boyfriend or whatever suggests that maybe you should have your wound attended to. At which point, you’re … “Dude, the Germs!”
Because it’s been almost a year since they played their last real gig, at the Fleetwood down in Redondo Beach, and that one was more like a cage match than a show, with knots of the newly shaven ready to wail, a dozen-on-one, on anybody whose hair was a millimeter longer than Marine standard.
The crappy PA made the band sound even more like battle noise than usual, and the hammerheads from Huntington Beach — the H.B.s — perfected their charming little trick of stomping empty beer cans into flat, hard discs, which they would then send whizzing around the room like tracer bullets. And if you weren’t going to leave that show, where even Don Bolles got stomped for being a hippie before the nimrods realized that he was the drummer for the band they had come out to see, then you sure as hell aren’t going to miss the end of this one at the Starwood for something as trivial as tending to some blood.
The first date of the Big Day Out tour is held on the periphery of a house track south of Surfer’s Paradise. The concert site absorbed seven inches of rain the day before, and the ground is swampy, cratered with squishy footprints, and ripe with an animal aroma some charitably call “fertilizer.” The mud is further ground into adobe by the force of 26,000 slam-dancing feet, and by the time Soundgarden goes on late that night, it is ankle-deep and black as tar. It’s like the La Brea Tar Pits out there–you keep expecting to see a pogoer swallowed whole by the muck.
Through the rear window’s venetian blinds on the motor home that serves as Soundgarden’s dressing room, you can see into the next trailer. We watch the Ramones begin to rehearse silently. Marky tapping out the rhythms on a drum pad, CJ and Johnny playing the vicious downstroke riffs that are at the core of the music. The Ramones don’t seem to know anybody can see them, but Soundgarden can’t help watching, involuntary voyeurs to the most primal process in rock’n’roll: 1-2-3-4, 1-2-3-4. Later, everyone troops out to watch the Ramones’ set, which is awesome. Neither Thayil nor Shepherd can resist sagging to the splits and doing a little air guitar during “Teenage Lobotomy,” but somehow what went on before was more private, more powerful; it belongs to them.
There were two triumphant sold-out shows at the Celebrity Theater in March; although they were sloppy, N.W.A outperformed Ice-T for the first time. The audience knew the words to the songs well enough to rap along. During “Dopeman,” Ice Cube brought a cute white girl on stage from the front row….Later, the mob shouted “F-Fuck the Police!” in unison.
Ten minutes later, a melee broke out on center stage and the cops were called in even as Eazy strutted among the turmoil, grinning, finishing out the set. There were stabbings that night.
….There are precedents for this sort of thing — Starsky and Hutch, Iceberg Slim’s novels Pimp and Trick Baby, Leroy and Skillet, over-the-top blaxploitation pictures like The Mack and Dolomite — although nobody ever assumed that Redd Foxx or Rudy Ray Moore had any moral authority over the nation’s youth. Take out the cussing and it turns out the gangster crime-spree narrative of “Gangsta Gangsta” is nothing the network censors would blue-pencil from an average episode of Wiseguy. The lyrics of Satan-metal bands like Slayer are unquestionably more violent in L.A.