L.A.’s first and finest punk rock magazine…
by MARK VALLEN
Slash Magazine grew out of the tasteless wasteland of Los Angeles in 1977, when a cluster of punk malcontents emerged who would challenge prevailing attitudes with as much verve as any group of nonconformists who had preceded them. Slash set trends not only in music, but also in street fashion and visual art. It offered tirades against the corrupt music industry and its stars along with endless rants in favor of turning the status quo upside down.
Slash provided coverage of local punk concerts and extensive interviews with LA punk bands like the Weirdos, Germs, X, Fear, and Black Flag. It also gave approving coverage to English bands like the Clash, Sex Pistols and the Damned – when hardly a single US paper would dare write about them. Slash was also the primary source of record reviews for punk and “new wave” records. I was an avid reader of Slash from the beginning, but in 1979 decided that perusing its inflammatory pages was not enough. One day I waltzed into their offices and got myself hired as a part time designer and production artist. Ultimately I was to contribute two cover illustrations to the publication, both of which are presented here (Sue Tissue & last edition).
Slash was founded by Steve Samioff and Claude Bessy on May Day of 1977. Bessy turned out to be the publication’s main writer and editor. Samioff grew bored with Slash and around 1979 he partnered with Bob Biggs, a bohemian entrepreneur who saw a goldmine in Slash. In 1980 Samioff handed the project over to Biggs, who terminated the publication and built a record label upon its ashes. I’m eternally proud to have created the cover art for the very last issue of Slash. an edition as hard hitting and full of integrity as the first issue. It’s hard to believe that in only four years of existence as a publication, Slash would have attained such far reaching success. It not only helped change the face of music, it trailblazed a path that eventually would have an effect on millions.
Claude Bessy’s words have been ringing in my ears for many years now, so I’m thrilled to be able to inflict his vision upon the rest of the world by posting some of his old Slash editorials on these pages. What’s remarkable about Bessy’s diatribes is that, while they reveal just how far we’ve come – they also show how little has actually changed. The screaming banality observed by Bessy in the late 70’s has now grown so pervasive that few seem to notice any longer. Ever so often I recall working at the Slash office, putting together the pages of the magazine – all the while hearing Claude typing in the other room, chuckling as he contemplated the effect his words would have on an unsuspecting audience. Sometimes he’d excitedly run out of his tiny room with a mischievous glint in his eyes, to share with me some of his poisonous barbs.
One of my favorite Slash stories concerns the reviewing of vinyl records. It was 1980, and the number of records and tapes sent to Slash by bands hoping to be reviewed was staggering. Most submissions were vinyl 45 singles self-produced by bands who then promptly faded into obscurity. One day we received a 45 sent to us from Ireland by an unknown band. Claude placed it on the turntable and we listened to it once, before he muttered something about “typical pop” and tossed the record aside. It fell into the Slash Black Hole of music not edgy enough to be considered punk. The name of the single was I will follow, and the unknown band was U2.
While working at Slash Magazine, I crossed paths with a number of artists, writers, musicians, and photographers – but few such encounters could top my being rude to one of the contemporary art world’s biggest stars. One day, as I was designing pages for the magazine, Bob Biggs popped in with a disheveled looking blond fellow. I immediately recognized the scruffy fair-haired man, but feigned blankness (not being a fan of the luminary). Claude Bessy had stopped pecking at his typewriter in the adjacent room, no doubt to better overhear something.
Biggs stepped up to me with his guest at his side, and with stars in his eyes pronounced, “Mark, I’d like you to meet David Hockney.” Barely looking up from my work, I said, “Should I know that name?” Biggs was more embarrassed by my insufferable attitude than was his famed UK artist friend, but the both of them retreated to a friendlier setting. Bessy emerged from his room sniggering and grinning ear to ear after having heard the encounter. I had apparently passed his test of not falling to celebrity worship, and from then on he considered me a friend.
Soon after Slash Magazine folded in 1980, Claude and Philomena left the country for good, eventually settling in Spain. The Hollywood punk scene had splintered and many of its innovators moved on to other things, though a few of the original torch bearers continue to exemplify the spirit of ’77. Punk rock exploded onto the world stage in the late 70’s like a cataclysmic act of God – and just in the nick of time. It saved some of my generation from the clutches of a mind-numbing conformity. But as it’s been said, “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” Slash was just one small stab at altering society and re-energizing a rebellious state of mind, a mission that is certain to be taken up by others… starting now.