X Exene Decline Filming, Club 88, March 1980, Jenny Lens MFA
I was born and raised in LA. I was a shy, introverted adolescent in the wild sixties of Vietnam protests, free love and sex due to the pill and no STDs, no AIDs, women’s liberation and civil rights. But the hippie generation were as messed up as any, far from being all about peace and love. I felt so alienated and lost, felt so fat and discriminated against, so I retreated further into art and books, rarely went to live shows, but always loved rock. I was the bookworm, making art and missing out on fun teenage years. That would come later with punk.
I was so bored out of my mind in school until I finally got into college and made lots of art. My work was acclaimed early on and I could have had a successful gallery/museum career. I earned a BA in Art from CSUN and Master of Fine Arts from Cal Arts, in the crafts area. I love and miss making things with my hands cos I’m a touchy-feely woman. My work was sensual and organic, the product of a passionate woman, struggling with my identity. It really hurt when people were surprised at my work: how could this fat girl have such passion, such creativity, so many skills? They were threatened by me and I was even more alienated. If that’s what my fellow students and teachers felt, how could I deal with the head games necessary to survive in the gallery world when, as X sings, it’s who you know.
I spent many hours looking at art history since the invention of the camera, which is considered the beginning of modern art. Over 150 years of art history dismissed in colleges. They rather we study boring cathedrals, the difference between Romanesque and Gothic bullshit. I loved studying various art movements, wherein artists, poets, composers, performers, writers, et al collaborated, none more so than Ballet Russe. There’s the Impressionists, Fauves, Symbolists, German Expressionists, Arts and Crafts Movement, Art Nouveau, Art Deco, Dadaists, Surrealists, Futurists, Bauhaus and so many more. Within each I listed (and I’ve omitted many) there were sub-groups and factions. How about Kiki, the acclaimed muse? Lee Miller and Man Ray? Anais Nin (whom I met and photographed) documented her many encounters with artists (oh to have time to read her diaries again, this time the expanded versions). And early cinema, another great love of mine! And the glory days of Tin Pan Alley and Broadway. I couldn’t sit on my fat ass and make more art and teach at a college. Been there, done that.
I wanted to live! I wanted to be part of the entertainment world — I was so in love with Broadway and movies. I was tired of working by myself. Where was my artistic community? Where were the men? Ah, sex ‘n’ drugs ‘n’ rock ‘n’ roll. That was the life for me, but I never knew it. I literally stumbled into it, but once on that path, no looking back for four glorious wild years!
I knew punk would revolutionize our culture, not just rock music. I picked up my camera, didn’t know how to put film in the camera, knew even less about rock, record companies, magazines. Nothing, nada, zilch. I moved into Hollywood and walked the walk and talked the talk, living a total punk lifestyle for four years. This is documented in my stories, so I won’t be redundant.
I became burnt out on constantly being ripped off by record companies, magazines, managers and performers. The scene moved to the south bay and downtown LA as Hollywood closed its doors and my fave bands either broke up or toured. I was shooting a lot of speed and got out while the going was good. I returned to college (ever the professional student) and studied electronics, computer graphics and got married, a very bad mistake. I earned a Certificate in Computer Graphics from UCLA Extension. I became a computer trainer at colleges, universities, computer training centers, etc. I wasted many years trying to learn and do desktop publishing, 3D and other programs. I earned an ABA Paralegal Certification from UCLA Extension cos I want to protect myself from the leeches in the world. But I stupidly thought I could work in law firms, oy, what was I thinking? I loved learning law, but my fellow students and teachers hated me. Cos I asked too many questions and offered too much help.
After years of a few wonderful people encouraging me, I finally returned to my photos. I divorced my husband, whom I supported for years, became a raw foods vegan and finally lost lots of weight. Then the universe opened to me. The more I get into my photos and get out, the more validation and support I receive. I am thrilled beyond words.
I regret losing twenty years — I feel like Rippa Van Winkle, but at least now I’m working at it. I didn’t mention the pain — it still hurts to look at my photos. To realize I didn’t know how many friends I had, how many incredible and rare shots I have. I could only think about the bad times in punk, and there were many. But I realize now the good times far outweigh the bad times. I set out to document a cultural revolution and I am obligated to fulfill that mission.
I am also doing this because I am so sick and tired of people who weren’t even there re-writing our history and not contacting us. I’ve talked to others about this and many agree. So I’m making it easy to find us, to see the photos, the archival material, talk to those who cherish and honor what we made. The truth is so much better, so fascinating, so thrilling. I hate Hollywood biographies (Helen Morgan Story and Jeanne Eagels immediately come to mind) that change everything cos the writer thinks his version is so much better. I know, I’ve talked to a director about an important punk icon who insists on making things up cos he likes his version better. Fuck him and fuck everyone with that attitude. Our stories, and there are so many, are amazingly fascinating and quite unbelievable, but they happened and there’s plenty of substantiating evidence! That’s also why I’m doing this: I love hearing what people remember.
If you were there or dug up something from LA, New York, England or wherever, share it! This is not about LA punk. It’s about the early days of punk. I am so tired of LA either being omitted or omitting punks from elsewhere. I can’t tell this story from just one point of view.
My photos, the photos from so many others, and our archival materials rip open the lie that LA was not as important as New York or England or that we all operated separately. Like most important cultural movements, it occurred in several places at once, cross-pollinating and blossoming into the most vital rock movement today, influencing all our visual arts and every day life. Some say it’s harder to be punk because it’s been co-opted by the mainstream, but I don’t agree at all. That’s what this site is all about. So check in often and write me if you have substantiating evidence.