A fixture in the earliest days of the LA area punk scene, Janet Housden played drums with Redd Kross and was a member of several other bands, while also appearing in classic cult films. A great storyteller, she has weathered recent health storms and still retains her punk edge. She talks to PKM’s Robin Crane.
Janet Housden has been a creative force for decades in Southern California’s punk scene. She grew up alongside many of the South Bay scene’s iconic punk pioneers, including members of Black Flag, the Descendents and Minutemen, and played drums in the renowned Redd Kross (1982-83) and was a multi-instrumentalist in several other rock & roll bands.
In the decades since then, she has remained active in the Los Angeles creative community, playing in too many bands to keep track of, and acting in indie films Vrem (2015) and Omadox (2014). She recently reprised her role as drummer at the Redd Kross reunion show, the profits from which went to helping with medical costs related to her cancer treatments.
PKM: Any thoughts on why and how the South Bay developed its own punk scene (including Redd Kross) in the 1970s and 1980s, one that was separate from the larger L.A. scene? Were you one of the first instigators?
Janet Housden: The most obvious answer is that it was simply geography – the South Bay is kind of isolated. It was about a 45-minute drive to Hollywood from Hermosa, if I recall, and the culture was way different. It was mostly a surf town, and a lot scruffier than it is now. Now it’s buried under a pile of rich people from the East Coast, but back then it was kind of like a more mellow Venice – bikers, hippies, surfers etc. At the same time, it was SUPER redneck. Conformity was strictly enforced. I mean, people wanted to kill you, as in physically harm you, if you wore straight-leg jeans and cut your hair short. It seems insane now, but people in the ‘burbs were really threatened by punk rock from day one. It was a huge deal to come out as a punk. Oh my god, you wouldn’t believe the hate and fear. At the same time, the Hollywood people were pretty snobby and insular and weren’t super welcoming to the dirtbag weirdos from the South Bay, at least at first. Which is pretty ironic, considering that one of the main insults that would be flung at us in our neighborhood was “Go back to Hollywood!”
When I first got into punk, there were maybe ten kids around my age into it, if that. Ron Reyes and Dez Cadena, Frank and Bill from the Descendents, David Nolte from The Last, a girl named Michelle, who was in possession of a real DEVO suit (it’s a long and slanderous story) and WORE IT TO SCHOOL, and a few others. At that point only David Nolte was in a band, I think, and the Descendents were just barely an idea.
Other than that, it was just Black Flag, and eventually we met the San Pedro people – The Minutemen and Saccharine Trust. I mean, it was tiny. A few other neighborhood kids started bands, like Toxic Shock, who later became Slovenly, but I didn’t get into a band until 1980, so I wouldn’t say I was any kind of instigator.
PKM: How did you get your role in Desperate Teenage Lovedolls?
Janet Housden: I was just around. When they started filming, I was playing drums in Redd Kross, so I was a convenient choice. I don’t think they chose me for my acting skills!
PKM: As far as you know, is that how everyone was cast, just from being in the same creative and social circle?
Janet Housden: Totally. There are a few scenes where random passersby were recruited for a line or two, but otherwise it was all Dave Markey and Jennifer and Jordan Schwartz’s friends.
PKM: It’s such a revered cult classic. Have you ever been asked as a guest speaker at film festivals?
Janet Housden: I was part of a panel at a Lovedolls screening recently, but I don’t know if that counts. It was part of some Red Bull-sponsored event. It was…odd.
PKM: Do you know what the impetus was for the sequel, Lovedolls Superstar? Did David Markey approach you with it, or was it an idea that you and other cast members contributed to?
Janet Housden: What I remember is being at the premier of Desperate Teenage Runaways (the original title – long story) and once everyone saw the finished film, there was a fair amount of enthusiasm for a sequel, like “We should do that again.”
PKM: Your role as Patch Kelly in the Lovedolls movies is so iconic I didn’t even know you’d been in other films until I looked on your IMDB page – you were in three films within the past five years and two other films in the ‘80s after Lovedolls Superstar. Do you have any roles on the horizon?
Janet Housden: Nah, not unless Julia Noel makes another movie; she’s one of my friends’ kids who casts all her parents’ friends in her movies (she was originally James Noel, so I think that’s the name on the credits). I just do it for fun. I’ve never once had a real script to work with, or much direction so I have no idea if I can really act or not. Probably not.
PKM: Can you describe some of the ways in which the sound, the aesthetic, the vibe has morphed between Southern California’s punk scene in the late 1970s and today? I mean in ways that have been significant to you?
Janet Housden: Well, I have to say that with the advent of hardcore, the scene got much less diverse and much, much stupider. Also more violent. What most people think of as “punk” these days is actually the stuff that killed punk. I guess I’m still a little bitter about it, because here we are in the year 2019 and people just accept the fact that they can’t stand wherever they want at a show (almost any show, not just a hardcore show) without being shoved and hit. It’s repulsive – people think it’s “punk” to passively let random assholes assault them. Why pits are still a thing is beyond me. When that stuff started, I was really, really bummed out. It was strictly an Orange County thing at first, and then BOOM, it was everywhere and everyone thought that’s what you were supposed to do at punk shows.
I can’t really comment on any current scene – it’s been a while since I went to any actual punk shows, except for the occasional nostalgia-fest reunion show (for the record, I think the nostalgia thing is boring and unhealthy – look to the future, people, don’t live in the past). One thing I noticed when I briefly played in The Waifs around ‘98 is that the kids got a lot cooler, but the music was worse, and the hair was stupider. I never liked mohawks or liberty spikes or any of that crap in the first place. I did go to a show recently with a bunch of normal-looking kids playing very slick and professional hardcore. And, of course, there was a pit. I hated it.
PKM: I’m dying to know which band you’re talking about but feel free not to tell me.
Janet Housden: A bunch of bands. It was a Burger Records show. I love Burger Records, but hardcore is the shittiest music ever. Okay, maybe not the shittiest, but I find it mostly boring and annoying.
PKM: Did I hear you were in Black Flag for a second or two?
Janet Housden: What?! Not that I know of! I think I would remember that.
PKM: You recently reunited with Redd Kross to play drums with them. How long had it been since you played a show with them before this?
Janet Housden: 37 years.
PKM: Wow! This was a benefit concert to raise funds to offset the medical expenses related to your recent cancer treatment. Is there an ongoing fund people can contribute to?
Janet Housden: Yes, the GoFundMe page is still functioning. I feel a little bit conflicted about it, because there are people literally being thrown out of their homes for unpaid medical bills, and I’ve got insurance, but still, the money saved my ass this year, especially since I have no idea what I’m going to do for money. Who is going to hire a 56-year-old cancer survivor with a checkered work history? The GoFundMe, which was 100 percent the work of Steve McDonald, saved me from going into debt, which is huge since I’ve got little to no income. Steve should get the Punk Rock equivalent of the Nobel Peace Prize, seriously.
PKM: Can you tell me about your chapbook A Penny for the Parking Fairy? Is it still available?
Janet Housden: I honestly have no idea what a chapbook is, but anyway a few years ago I wrote a short story for some reason – I’ve never written one before or since, but this story just wanted to come out. It’s a kind of mean bitter fairy tale about L.A. and the horrible, disrespectful East Coast transplants that have been invading my neighborhood for years, and also about how parking is such a huge daily struggle in this city. It’s also kind of about gratitude. Anyway, I don’t want to give away the whole plot, but I thought it was funny and would piss off some of people I hated so I got my friend and neighbor Al Guerrero to illustrate it and printed up a bunch. I soon realized that I don’t have the temperament to hustle my wares. I sold a bunch at first, but ran into trouble when the mean guy at Stories (our best local bookstore) would just fuck with people when they went in to buy it. (Note: they will be available for sale here).
PKM: Any book recommendations for me?
Janet Housden: My taste in books is incredibly random. I actually don’t read nearly as much as I should, and I’ve developed a weird habit of picking up trashy sci-fi and fantasy novels off the street and taking them home and reading them. I have no explanation for this behavior.
PKM: Do you have any funny stories from when you used to answer fan mail for hair metal bands in the 1980s?
Janet Housden: Yes! Here’s my stupid Ratt story: The singer of my band at the time worked for Ratt’s manager. This was right around the time they had their one and only hit, so they were getting a lot of fan mail. I was given the task of dealing with it (I really needed a job, rock musicians not being considered employable by normal people back then). The letters, as you might imagine, were mostly incredibly stupid, and occasionally heartbreaking. These poor, stupid kids (and face it, you had to be stupid to be a Ratt fan) would sometimes pour their hearts out in these letters, spilling details of their horrible home lives and general small-town hellishness. Of course, no one in the band was interested in any of this, unless some girl sent nude pictures or underwear. Why anyone would do that is still beyond me, but whatever. Mostly, the letters followed a formula: An affirmation of Ratt’s rock & roll credentials, a name-check of another horrible band, and some random aspersions, usually of a homophobic nature, on some random New Wave band. They would usually sign it with their “Metal” name. Then one day, a letter came in that was like the platonic ideal of every hair band fan letter ever, so I memorized it:
Dear Ratt: You guys rock. You and the Crue are my favorite bands.
Signed, Shredder Age 14
Bowling Green Kentucky
P.S. Boy George is a fag
I think it was the postscript that really captured my heart. I think it would make a great title for something. Anyway, for his troubles, Shredder received an order form for Ratt merch, just like all the other idiots. It was a depressing job. I don’t know if that’s really much of a “story,” but that’s all I remember about that job. I was fired shortly thereafter, surprising no one.
PKM: Are there any stories of particularly shocking sexism in the punk scene that stand out to you? Most of the musicians you were in bands with were men, right? And the audiences you played to were probably primarily male. Or am I wrong on that?
Janet Housden: Honestly, it was not too bad. The only time I remember being heckled for my gender was in Kansas City, opening for the Replacements. I think it was around ’86, maybe? It was fucking gross. The worst sexism I dealt with came from older people outside the punk scene – soundmen especially. Some of them were real dicks. A friend’s band, who shall remain nameless, had the wonderful experience of having a soundman at the Whiskey play farm animal sounds over her vocals. Because she was overweight, get it! Ha. Ha. Ha.
Music store employees were by far the worst thing girl musicians had to deal with. It was literally impossible for me to buy drum equipment at the Guitar Center in the South Bay – I’d have to take a boy with me and negotiate through them (whilst whispering in their ear and pretending to be their girlfriend, which was especially awkward when it was my brother). Hey, Glen, if you’re reading this, fuck you, you fat fuck!
Sadly, some of the worst obstacles over the years have been other women, especially certain club bookers and a few musicians who were super-competitive with other women (and a few of whom sometimes get a ton of unearned feminist cred, which is maddening).
Have you read Viv Albertine’s book? She was the guitar player for The Slits, and she wrote a mostly-great autobiography, but there’s one part of it that I just can’t get over. She says something about how she was the first female guitarist that counted, because all the women that came before her (and I seriously doubt she has any idea of how many women that was) played like men. Wow. Just . . . wow. There is so much to unpack there, none of it good. I was so bummed when I read that. Why do women feel like they have to tear down other women?
I played in all-girl bands, bands where I was the only woman, and co-ed bands. Those were my favorite. Occasionally there would be some unpleasantness, but mostly it was respectful, or as respectful as rock musicians are capable of being.
Although there was one guy, in a horrible band I played in in the early-2000’s, who managed to shock me. We were taking pictures, and being the classy and dignified woman that I am, I opened my mouth and showed off the food I was eating, and this fucking dinosaur said – are you ready – “And you wonder why you don’t have a boyfriend.”
This was supposedly a “punk” band, but this guy was a 1960s leftover who was still pretending to be a teenager. Fucking lame. I’m embarrassed that I ever had anything to do with that band. Yikes.
That’s my problem with so many people into the retro thing – they’re really socially conservative under all the cosplay. I don’t understand why all these retro fuckers don’t just join a Civil War reenactment society or something. That goes for the garage scene even more than the punk scene.
PKM: What you were saying about that band you were in in the early 2000’s leads into my next question — you’ve been in several bands – which ones stand out as noteworthy to you, and why?
Janet Housden: They’re ALL noteworthy. HOW DARE YOU!!!!
Seriously, that’s a hard question. I guess I’d say Redd Kross, because that’s the band that most people know me from and the one that was the most fun, because people actually liked us and we were young so we didn’t have to juggle day jobs and the band. The reunion show in March was one of the best days ever, at least from where I was sitting.
I think my second choice would be The Shakes, because even though very, very few people have heard of that band (so few, in fact that other bands are STILL stealing our name) I think I did my best work there. Our last album was pretty good, if I do say so myself, and lots of people whose opinions I respect liked it too. Unfortunately, we could never keep a steady lineup together so we could never really gather any momentum. We were constantly starting over with another drummer or keyboard player.
Then there were The Lovedolls, who were really fun at first, but never made a good record, and The Superkools, who were an early-nineties punk /garage band who played a lot of good shows and put out a ton of crappy singles and imploded in the middle of a U.S. tour. That was fun. That’s the first band I played bass in. I also think The Omlits should get a mention because of the sheer insanity of it all.
I’ve been in a LOT of bands . . . .
PKM: Did the Lovedolls start with the movie and then you played shows as a band, or vice versa?
Janet Housden: It was totally a Spinal Tap-type situation. The movie came first, and we put the band together to play at screenings, and then we just sort of kept going. For maybe a little too long.
PKM: Do you remember when music became so important in your life? Did you have musical heroes growing up?
Janet Housden: Well, I’m old, and my parents were rabidly anti-rock & roll, so that made it attractive right from the get-go. I think I first dreamed about being in a band when I was five. The Banana Splits and the Partridge Family were my biggest influences. Kidding/not kidding. My first real musical obsession was probably Jimi Hendrix, which of course drove my parents up the wall — they could sort of handle the Beatles and the Beach Boys, but Hendrix freaked them the fuck out.
PKM: I know you are dealing with serious health issues, but do you have any creative projects in the works?
Janet Housden: I don’t really have anything in the works right now. For the last year, my focus has been on getting through the cancer bullshit, and preparing for the Redd Kross show. I hadn’t played drums for about 20 years, so it was a bit of a challenge. I was also pretty sick during a lot of the rehearsal time, and ended up playing the show with pneumonia! I sort of put everything else aside and just put all my energy into the show. Then the next day it was like “Today is the first day of the rest of your life. Oops.” I’ve been getting more and more into noisy, abrasive, free-form experimental music (which is a great cover if you can’t play your instrument – I suck at violin, but with a few effects pedals it’s the funnest thing ever, although maybe not for the listener!). I kind of want to start some kind of project along those lines, but I’ve always been more of a joiner when it comes to bands, so I have no idea if anything will come of it.
The other thing I’d like to do would be an ultra-militant political band because there are just so many things to scream about these days and therapy is so expensive. Since I’m not a singer or songwriter I don’t really know how to make that happen. Maybe put an ad up at Amoeba looking for people who want to scream “Fuck This Shit!” really loudly?