Remembering Brendan Mullen

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Public radio journalist Anthea Raymond shares this remembrance of Los Angeles music icon Brendan Mullen, who died on October 12, 2009.

photo credit: Brendan Mullen holding Brendan Mullen, photo by Gary Leonard, all rights reserved.

Brendan Mullen was a booker's booker - and then some. During the late 80s I was one of the producers of KCRW's InTown Tonight, a live music and culture show that aired on Sunday nights, and the gig allowed me to watch every move Brendan made as he filled the Club Lingerie's tiny stage with the best of R&B, rock, and country. In June of 1989 we got a chance to book him as a guest on InTown Tonight's summer preview show and we were thrilled. He showed up a little late, a little tipsy. But he lived up to his legend: a Scotsman holding his own against our British host.

When he died last month at the age of 60, I ripped my house apart looking for a recording of that particular show. I was hosting KCRW's Morning Edition the day after his death and wanted to play a clip, but I couldn't find it. It was a small thing, but it upset me that this tangible trace of Brendan was gone as well. What a relief, then to walk into the memorial for Brendan at the Echoplex on November 15th. I saw plenty of flyers and photos and film clips, along with plenty of tears and smiles.

Gary Leonard, the documentary photographer, was there as well, taking pictures of the show and the crowd. He too was glad so much of Brendan's life - from the physical to the intangible - remains.

Gary was kind enough to share some photos of the memorial, as well as some memories of Brendan.

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Memorial photos by Gary Leonard, all rights reserved.

Gary Leonard: He was more than a promoter. He did this club but then he wanted to talk about history. And he spent the final years of his life doing just that. We shared that passion because that's what I do, too: record history in the hopes that it will come out and they'll get it right.

Anthea Raymond: You're talking about Brendan's books on the Germs and the L.A. punk scene.

GL: And the several books that he was supposed to come out with. He was working on a book about the 80s. I would have liked to have seen that book come out. The last time we spoke we talked about digging into my archives for it.

AR: Back during the memorial I heard you say Brendan was important, but that he couldn't have existed without a much larger cultural movement that was happening in Los Angeles.

GL: There was a creative culture going on all over the city, in Chinatown, in the Valley, and it was a DIY culture --- do it yourself. You could see it in the record stores, Zed Records in Long Beach, and Bomp Records in the Valley, and Rhino. So he was part of something bigger. Billy Shire, Steve Samioff, Gary Panter, people who were doing graphics in magazines and record companies. Brendan was part of that.


AR: So how'd you meet him?

GL: I met him in November of 1980. You don't forget [when you met Brendan]. It's funny. That accent and how he would just go off. Like what Keith Morris was doing tonight, telling a story the way Brendan would tell a story. And you just didn't forget it. And you immediately liked him. You know I mentioned to Kateri [Butler, Brendan's companion] that I loved Brendan. And her response was: he was lovable. And I thought, "That's the right answer." I guess I wasn't alone.

AR: Did you shoot any of the shows at the Masque?

GL: Well, I shot the ten year reunion. They opened up the Masque and held a concert there. So yeah, I did. It's funny how everybody qualified what they said tonight. They were not cool because they didn't go to the first show. Or they didn't perform. They just went to a show. You always felt that somehow your credentials as being part of the scene were being called into question. I met Brendan later on. But we became friends and he became a big part of what I was photographing and what I was following. And he's a huge part of my archives.

AR: Him personally or his shows?

GL: Both. I always made it a point to take any chance I could to spend time with Brendan and take his picture. I remember a shoot for the book 24 Hours in Los Angeles. We went to a supermarket. He was dressed in kilts and a Scottish outfit. That stands out because it was so odd, in such an odd setting.

AR: Did you shoot at Lingerie too?

GL: Every night. And obviously it wasn't every night. But it was such a big part [of the city]. Particularly during the time that he booked the club. I remember hearing the name and thinking "Lingerie. Club Lingerie. What kind of name is that?" And I remember hearing it at the Zero, which was another place, an after-hours club where a lot of scenes converged. And once you start talking about the different places, you realize it wasn't about the Masque or the Lingerie. It was about a cultural movement, of people who were disenfranchised and who were finding one another. And I heard that mentioned tonight -- a fraternity, a brotherhood, a sisterhood or sorority. And Brendan just seemed to know everybody. And in my case he just always made a good picture.

AR: You say you were documenting the alternative music community that came out of punk as a way of documenting L.A.. Was there anything important or unique about the aesthetic of that community that stays with you today?

GL: I'm not sure it was the aesthetic. It was the late 70s, early 80s. And you had the bicentennial happening in the city and the Olympics were coming in the 1984. I knew that the cultural establishment was trying to make the city a showplace for the rest of the world. And these kids were doing something that was greater than anything I saw in the establishment.

AR: Do you think it helped that Brendan wasn't from this country?

GL: I'd never thought about that. Maybe. But isn't that what L.A.'s always been about? It's always been a mix. There are those of us who were born here. And there's a few of us. But people from out of town found each other, came here to make something happen.

AR: OK, when we talk about what Brendan Mullen gave to Los Angeles, how would we describe his legacy?

GL: He was a catalyst. Look at the numbers here [ED: at least 600 people] and the influence that he had. Hopefully his papers will be going to libraries. I'd like to see them in the Huntington. And what will be his legacy? That he did what he did. That there was a Masque. That there was a Lingerie. And out of that there was a culture that inspired others to go out and be creative.

photo credit - memorial flyer photo by Scott Lindgren / Courtesy of Empire Of The Image

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