No Teenage Wasteland

Remembering the ‘80s, when the Valley was the epicenter of the rock club scene

When I was 10 and fancied myself a blossoming classical pianist, my parents took me to my first “rock” concert: Chicago at The Forum. It was crowded and hot. The air smelled strange. I wondered if it was marijuana. It scared me.

April was the first of us to get a driver’s license. This meant that at 15, I’d see my first real concert—sans parents—again at The Forum: Supertramp. This time I definitely smelled pot. It still frightened me, but I didn’t let April know.

It was packed … and loud—so loud that the music vibrated in my chest like a heartbeat. I was hooked. It was a 20-minute drive back to Calabasas and $1 for gas.

Clockwise from top left: Tom Petty with Del Shannon at the Country Club in Reseda; Rikki Rocket from the band Poison; crooner Jackson Browne at the Country Club. The B&W photos on the left are by Sal Guitarez, the official photographer for the Country Club back in the day.

From then on, Sunday mornings brought a race to the Los Angeles Times Calendar section. Who was coming to The Forum? What about The Palomino Club in North Hollywood and Wolf & Rismiller’s Country Club in Reseda? At the time, those two were considered some of the best live clubs not just in LA but in the country. I wasn’t old enough to go. I didn’t have the money but still … Elvis Costello, The Pretenders, Emmylou Harris—so many great acts just miles from my house.

BOSS IN THE HOUSE Bruce Springsteen backstage during a Smokey Robinson concert at the Country Club in 1982.

Thankfully, there was disco—and the Valley was the zenith of teen discothèques, where you had to show ID to prove you were under 18.

The Calabasas High School crew hit The Ozone for dancing, sweating and watching—i.e. ascertaining who was doing what with whom. There I was, in spandex and red platforms, 2 inches taller than anyone else (my height being an attribute that generally left me standing on the sidelines or dancing with a girl). But after a car struck the captain of the football team in the parking lot, leaving him a quadriplegic, we never went back; too young for the tragic indoctrination into the real world outside our bubble.

We moved to Phazes in Canoga Park, its New Wave music pulling teens from the Westside fave, The Odyssey. I was happy to stay local. With its rumors of sex in the parking lot, the Odyssey was intimidating.

The Tapestry in Northridge was home to the avant-garde. Guys danced with guys and girls kissed girls—an androgynous clump of confused hormones. I wore fishnets with tight skirts, lace gloves and shellac-sprayed hair. The kids took drugs. I just wanted to look like Madonna.

If you were edgy, there was the Sugar Shack, the epicenter of teen nightclubs where the wild ones hung … and lots of adults. Rumors of KROQ’s celebrity deejay Rodney Bingenheimer’s presence continuously floated, but I never saw him. I didn’t know what he looked like, but decked in black velvet scrunchie and Krystle Carrington-inspired shoulder pads, I felt cool anyhow.

Then came the magical summer between high school and college, a holding pattern until the rest of my life began, unsure if my glass was half empty or half full, but with the freedom to explore. We started venturing “over the hill” to the ultimate club scene: The Starwood, Gazzarri’s, The Whisky, The Roxy and The Rainbow—a bar where we’d eat lousy food, hoping to spot a rock star. Rumor had it Rodney hung out there, too.

I’d eventually move to West Hollywood, get a music degree from UCLA and land at Epic Records. And so, the rest of my life began. Disco went away, so did New Wave, Glam and Metal. They’d all come back and leave again. The constant waves and changing tides of art and style were a metaphor for my life, as my love for live music rolled in and out through marriage, childbirth, divorce and all that came after. It wasn’t until the late ‘80s that I’d finally make it to the Palomino for a Long Riders’ show.

Changing demographics eventually stopped drawing big acts here. The Country Club closed in 1995; the Palomino soon after. Its neon sign now hangs in the Valley Relics Museum in Chatsworth.

Clockwise from top left: Wolf & Rissmillers Country Club in Reseda; James Brown at the Country Club in 1981; Poison’s Brett Michaels at The Whiskey; The Rainbow Bar and Grill on the Sunset Strip.

I finally did see Rodney Bingenheimer. He was small—from age, stature or perhaps just the weight of his big, burgundy velvet coat.

The other day I drove past the spot on Lankershim where the Palomino once stood—home now to a nondescript banquet facility. I could see ghosts of so many young me’s, in my Jordache jeans, heart beating to the music, dreaming of things that ultimately would never be. But now who cares? I’m lucky just to have been a music-loving teen growing up in the Valley.