Kids of the Black Hole: Punk Rock in Postsuburban California

Kids of the Black Hole: Punk Rock in Postsuburban California

by Dewar MacLeod

Published by University of Oklahoma Press

240 pages, 2010



Punk Rock Memories

Reviewed by Lincoln Cho


In his perfectly rendered look at the emergence of the punk movement in Los Angeles in the late 1970s and early 80s, Dewar MacLeod borrows the title of a song from the era and the area. The song “Kids of the Black Hole” was recorded by The Adolescents in 1980 and released on their debut album the following year. Both the reference and the title itself seems to perfectly capture the mood of MacLeod’s book while setting the stage for the story he’s telling in Kids of the Black Hole.

MacLeod, an associate professor of history at William Paterson University in Wayne, New Jersey, was part of the early punk scene he writes about in Kids of the Black Hole. Both scholar and survivor are perfectly represented here, with MacLeod writing from the trenches with the advantage of 30 years of distance. The very beginning of Chapter One sets the tone:

There was nothing going on. If you were young and looking for something to do, looking for stimulation or adventure, you might as well have been in Kansas as Los Angeles in 1977. But the young people who lived in L.A., natives and others who came from all over the country, expected something we might call culture, even in this town.

While the Los Angeles punk scene never enjoyed the notoriety of those of London and New York and historically has always been overshadowed by the surf music movement, MacLeod points out that there was more going on in L.A. in the late 1970s than a lot of people realized. He describes his own first encounter with the form with a sort of delighted poetry. He was 15; young enough that his friend had to drive:

We stepped into the Whiskey and found ourselves standing right in front, leaning on the stage .... Then the Ramones hit the stage. 1-2-3-4, and the sound just exploded against my face as Johnny Ramone thwacked his guitar not five feet from my head.

MacLeod introduces the “stars” that emerged -- The Germs, X, Black Flag and others -- but also the mood the city at the time and what it created:

L.A. punk music spoke to the city of L.A., to its vastness, its amorphousness, its racism and segregation, its inhumanity.

Kids of the Black Hole is a fantastic portrait of a story seldom told. | November 2010


Lincoln Cho is a freelance writer and contributing editor to Blue Coupe magazine.