Courtney Love and Trudy from the Gal Corral - from the collection of Michelle Juliette Carr


What started as an all-ages coffee bar and acoustic venue in 1989 turned into a must-play showcase for local and out of town bands. Jabberjaw’s roster included L7, Bikini Kill, Iggy Pop, Elliott Smith, Hole, Beck, and many others. In its nine-year run, Jabberjaw was beloved enough to inspire a book and is the subject of a documentary film currently being made. Lucretia Tye Jasmine sat down with Jabberjaw co-founder Michelle Carr to jabber about the club’s legacy.

No backstage, no booze, all-ages. Coffee for one dollar, five-dollar cover. Jabberjaw, at 3711 Pico Boulevard in Los Angeles, opened in 1989 as a coffee bar and turned into a legendary music venue when the owners built a stage that you almost walked onto as you entered the door. The next thing you know Jabberjaw was the space to play for bands that did not want to pay-to-play.

Club co-founder Michelle Juliette Carr came to Jabberjaw with proper bona fides. She once competed in a strip contest with Courtney Love at a gay bar (Carr won); was plucked from Club Fuck! by designer Jean Paul Gaultier to model his bullet bras; and met Jabberjaw co-founder Gary Dent in 10th-grade homeroom, when she wanted to look like a cross between Joan Jett and a member of the New York Dolls.

Michelle Juliette Carr and Delilah – from the collection of Michelle Juliette Carr

Born in Hollywood, Carr grew up in Van Nuys. A rich inner life helped her deal with a difficult childhood. “I wanted to create my own world,” she recently told me.

And that is exactly what she did when she created Jabberjaw. She combined her love of old movies starring glamour queens, Andy Warhol’s The Factory, and Max’s Kansas City with the vibe at LA coffee shops like Onyx and the Pick-Me-Up. It was while hanging out at the latter coffee shop that she had the idea that became Jabberjaw. Though she was underage, she had a fake ID, so she could go anywhere, but a lot of her friends didn’t; she noticed that they would hang out at those coffee shops instead where they met the first wave of punkers, such as drummer Don Bolles and guitarist/vocalist/pianist Pat Smear. She later joined the band Possum Dixon, but realized she was more attracted to creating spaces, so Jabberjaw became her priority. “That was my jam,” Carr said.

“Can you imagine a landlord renting out their space to a couple of 20-year-olds with no credit history? Or no nothing?  These days? Can you imagine that?!”

She started saving money when she was in high school because, she said, “I just knew I wanted to do my own thing.” But caretaking for her mom, who had cancer, meant Carr couldn’t leave home when she graduated. So the energetic Aries worked weekends at a vintage shop on Melrose and Fairfax and, on weeknights, inventoried airplane parts in Burbank. Among the first in her family to enroll in college, Carr took psychology and business classes at Valley College.

Pat Smear with a friend in Jabberjaw, and cats Taffy Mabeline and Dicky Dallas – from the collection of Michelle Juliette Carr

“LA was a different time and place back then,” Carr recalls. “Rent wasn’t astronomical. Starting my own business didn’t seem unrealistic to me. You’re always told your whole life, ‘work hard and you can do whatever you want.’ So I just really believed in that.”

At first, Gary Dent was skeptical as they trolled Los Angeles looking for cool places to open a coffee bar. But Carr impressed Dent’s father, a retired GM assembly line worker, with her business plans and savings. The elder Dent said he’d loan her the money and match Carr dollar for dollar. It was then that Gary took her seriously, jumped on board and they became business partners. She and Gary opened a business account.

“When Gary and I would hit the road in his Galaxy to go to thrift shops for Jabberjaw I would be all jacked up on my morning coffee and would just excitedly chatter away about our plans,” she recalled. “One day, Gary said, ‘God, how much coffee did you drink – you are being such a Jabberjaw today!’ And it struck me. JABBERJAW. That’s it! Let’s name it Jabberjaw!”

Jabberjaw flyer – from the collection of Michelle Juliette Carr

Fans of John Waters and the “hilarious vulgarity” of Pink Flamingos, they wanted their coffeehouse to feel like a wild living room out of one of his films. They found inexpensive mid-century modern furniture, learning how to rehab 1950s Formica dinette sets (spray with 409 and scrub with a Brillo pad). They frequented Nacho’s in Pacoima, an auto upholstery place, for seat cushions, and used “Frankenstein espresso machines, really cheap,” and a Bunn-O-Matic.  It was all kitschy and colorful levels of space.

“That’s really what brought people there,” Carr says. “It wasn’t the best coffee in the world, and it certainly wasn’t our sound system.”

The goal was to create a space for “outsiders and weirdos and creatives,” says Carr. “John Waters did the same thing, except his medium was film.”

Carr and Dent opened Jabberjaw on September 31, 1989. Her mom, who died the next year, attended the opening.

Journey’s vocalist, Steve Perry, went to Jabberjaw. And Iggy Pop went to a secret show: Nirvana’s pre-release of Nevermind.

“The place was packed to the gills. The whole backyard was packed. There were people on the street. Courtney and Jennifer Finch…jumped up on the counter and crawled up into the loft that was above the coffee area. There were people standing on the counter, and hanging out the windows.”

Michelle Juliette Carr with Gary Dent and Rob Zabrecky – from the collection of Michelle Juliette Carr

When Elliott Smith played at Jabberjaw, it was such a hot summer night that he played outside, on the patio couch, and people sat at his feet on the dirty floor, smoking cigarettes and looking up at him as he played acoustic. He was “tortured, and achingly, hauntingly beautiful…It was very special that we got to see him in that context, especially when he went on to the fuckin’ Oscars.”

Smith died in Los Angeles, reportedly by his own hand, in 2003.

Jabberjaw began as a coffee bar with acoustic acts, but after Don Bolles suggested expanding the format with L7, the first electric act at Jabberjaw, the coffee bar became more of a live music venue.

“Jabberjaw became the only place to go play,” even attracting musicians outside of LA, so that “various cultures infused Jabberjaw.” Bands from out of state stopped skipping LA and started driving and flying in to play the club. People were intrigued by each other’s differences. Midwesterners were fascinated by the City of Angels but Angelenos were fascinated by the Heartland. Pre-internet word-of-mouth created a legend with substance.

“It was because of the space,” Carr says, “It was very visual – colorful and fun. It wasn’t a black box club or a dingy space. It was all ages. What happened was amazing and natural,” Carr says.

L7 was high energy and fun, she tells me, and “Beck charmed us into letting him do a little set before a band would play.” Bikini Kill wanted the boys in the audience to leave so girls could go to the front. Nirvana played a benefit there for free, and Hole rehearsed at Jabberjaw. Queer punk bands such as Vaginal Davis’s band, Pedro, Muriel & Esther, played.

Jabberjaw was, says Carr, “All the stuff people are going on and on about today about inclusivity and diversity and safe spaces, except it just was, it didn’t need to be labeled…Actions speak louder than words. You don’t have to spout it off. Just fuckin’ live it and set the example – just do it. We lived our lives the way we wanted to, and that was revolutionary. ”

Jabberjaw possible locations – from the collection of Michelle Juliette Carr

Despite bomb threats and the LA riots, Jabberjawers were casual; the show had to go on! They hired locals. “That was the only way to make change…Be friends with everybody,” said Carr. The attitude was DIY punk, but the club wasn’t pigeon-holed. “It wasn’t just one scene.”

“When I was looking for a space, I wanted it off the beaten path. I wanted it to be an old building. I wanted to be able to stand in front of the building and look around and not see one fucking gross strip mall. I wanted it to feel like a new area, interesting. A place you wouldn’t normally go, but also that we could afford. I wanted the space to be big enough. We found that space.”

Even though the space brought in enough money to stay in business, Carr still had to hold a full-time job and gig the entire time she ran Jabberjaw, working at the Le Luz de Jesus art gallery, as a Go Go dancer at Silver Lake’s Club Fuck!, as a textiles and vintage clothing curator for Jet Rag in Los Angeles, and as a dancer in music videos for The Cramps and White Zombie.

Michelle Juliette Carr and Gary Dent – from the collection of Michelle Juliette Carr

“Can you imagine a landlord renting out their space to a couple of 20-year-olds with no credit history? Or no nothing? These days? Can you imagine that?!”

Gary Dent did not want to close the venue, but Carr thought they were “flying too close to the sun.” Their wings melted in 1997, when during a 2-night run by the Make-Up, a drive-by shooting took place outside the club, forcing the band and audience to barricade itself inside. Carr said, “That’s it,” and shut Jabberjaw down after eight years.

“The place was packed to the gills. The whole backyard was packed. There were people on the street. Courtney and Jennifer Finch…jumped up on the counter and crawled up into the loft that was above the coffee area. There were people standing on the counter,”

The book It All Dies Anyway: L.A., Jabberjaw, and the End of an Era, (2015) is organized the way the club was organized: Carr wrote the introduction, but the book is filled with stories written by those who frequented and/or played the club. Carr wanted to “set the stage for everyone else’s oral history essays. That’s what Jabberjaw was to me. Yes, Gary and I owned it. Yes, we set the tone. But it was through everyone else’s investments that made it what it was.”

A documentary film is in the works about Jabberjaw, by Lucky Drifter Productions, some of the people who hung out at and played at Jabberjaw. They’re “doing their thing in that perfect way,” without archival compulsive selfies. They’re creating stop-motion animation, interviews, and miniatures of the architecture, and recreating the night Nirvana played. It’s a different world now because everything is so expensive and gobbled up by bloated capitalism.”

It’s soul-less, she says, and like a machine. “There’s no time for culture to naturally percolate,” Carr says. “I’m angry…It’s impossible to create space. Only the wealthy can do it. And they are not doing anything interesting or natural,” so it’s all a regurgitation. “Every day I try to navigate my way around it without becoming totally bitter and hateful.”

She says to actualize an idea requires energy, ideas, connections… and money. She and her current husband want to open a bodega with a café. These days, most places just charge more, but they want to charge less. The Golden Poppy Café would be rooted in Californian values such as open-mindedness and freedom and egalitarianism, “all the reasons people have historically come to LA.”

Michelle Juliette Carr – from the collection of Michelle Juliette Carr

When asked how she stays happy, Carr answers, “That’s a loaded question for someone who is morbidly depressed.” We laugh, morbidly. But joyfully, too. She tells me that having perspective, an absurd sense of humor, and “trying to find the beauty and weirdness” in everyday situations help.

“That’s my trick. And going out and getting hammered at least once a week.”  She says that depressed people gravitate to creative projects because “it gives you a sense of agency.”

On one of the occasions we met, butterflies called “Painted Ladies” were migrating, and she’d been out looking for them. As she described the surprising beauty of the butterflies, I thought about how she cultivates startling beauty, creating space for it. After we concluded our conversation, she went flying off to find more butterflies.