Oh, the hair! Archives of defunct newspaper revives 80s SoCal music scene from “pop to the pit”

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Motley Crue by Gary Leonard, courtesy LAPL

Redd Kross by Lucy Snowe, 1989, courtesy LAPL
Redd Kross by Lucy Snowe, 1989, courtesy LAPL

Some people move to LA for love. Wendy Horowitz did, too–except that the object of her affection was a band.

On assignment for High Times magazine in Boston back in the ’80s, she found herself interviewing, and falling for, the musical group from Hawthorne that calls itself Redd Kross. It changed her life: “They made me laugh. They were approachable. They really were like sunshine, shining into a cloudy sky.” Best of all, they were nothing like the brooding music scene that was in vogue in New York City at the time that Horowitz found unnerving. “I’m not going to get on my soapbox about how sick and tired I am of hearing about CBGB’s,” she said. So she packed her bags and headed west.

Fast forward to a year ago, with Horowitz newly in her capacity as a photo librarian at the Los Angeles Central Library downtown. Her assignment: to sift through the vast photo collection inherited by the library of the former Los Angeles Herald-Examiner, the grand old newspaper which folded in 1989. Among the collection’s 2 million photos was a motherlode of shots of bands. As Horowitz made her way through the alphabet, sifting for the originals from the PR shots, she was overwhelmed by the diversity of bands in the files: Circle Jerks, The Nymphs, The Go-Go’s, Jane’s Addiction, Eazy E, Guns N’ Roses, Los Lobos. And of course, Redd Kross.

In those dusty boxes, the fertile musical landscape that arose from the diverse geography of the region came to life: “It’s everything. It’s Paisley Underground. It’s bubble gum. It’s heavy metal. It’s thrash. It’s punk. It’s alternative. It’s from…. pop to the pit,” she said. That became the title of the resulting photo exhibition she curated, now on the walls in the history section of the library. There’s a catalog for purchase, too, with even more photos than are on display.

The Bangles by Michael Edwards, 1983
The Bangles by Michael Edwards, 1983 Courtesy LAPL

Horowitz and her boss, librarian Christina Rice, have clearly had fun bringing images of the musicians they love to the otherwise stoic walls of the cavernous main library. Traffic has been steady down to the ad-hoc gallery, but the utmost satisfaction, says Rice, is being able to say: “There’s a library in the world now that’s had Slayer up there on the wall.” The tousled glam shot of Mötley Crüe by Gary Leonard appears on every single LAPL library terminal to advertise the exhibition, fluffing some feathers among the more conservative library workers and patrons.

On Saturday March 14th at 6pm at the Central Library, you can hear veteran photographer Gary Leonard talk about what it was like to chronicle the music scene here ‘back in the day.’ The exhibition continues through June 28th.

Talk, exhibition and catalog information: From Pop to the Pit: LAPL Photo Collection Celebrates the LA Music Scene, 1978-1989

The photograph that’s disturbing the library’s home page: Mötley Crüe by Gary Leonard, 1983, courtesy LAPL
Van Halen at the Forum, 1984, by Paul Chinn, courtesy LAPL
Van Halen at the Forum, 1984, by Paul Chinn, courtesy LAPL
Demonstration for Quiet Riot, 1979, Ken Papaleo, courtesy LAPL
Demonstration for Quiet Riot, 1979, Ken Papaleo, courtesy LAPL