Goin’ Wild in the Streets: Remembering the Circle Jerks’ “Group Sex” photo shoot

By on April 15, 2016

For a few short years at the end of the 70s and the beginning of the 80s — from the fall of 1978 until the fall of 1981 — the Marina Del Rey Skatepark was the ground zero intersection of both punk rock and extreme skateboarding.

Today, we thought we’d take a look back at the Skatepark because it was also where the cover photo for the Circle Jerks’s Group Sex album was shot on a hot summer night in 1980.

Since we don’t have a video clip of that particular evening, why not enjoy the Circle Jerks’s appearance on “New Wave Theatre” from 1984… (Watch our Best of New Wave Theatre right now on Night Flight Plus).

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If you’ve seen 2001 award-winning documentary Dogtown and Z-Boys, or Lords of Dogtown, the fictionalized feature film starring Heath Ledger that was released in 2005, then you know how one group of competetive extreme skateboarders, the Zephyr Skate Team, nicknamed “Z-Boys,” who were sponsored by Jeff Ho Surfboards and Zephyr Productions, located on Main Street in Santa Monica, changed skateboarding forever by associating it with their aggressive, risk-taking style.

The founding members of the Z-Boys had started their competitive skateboard team sometime in 1975 (the shop had already sponsored a surfing team) and they would soon become the biggest names in the sport of competitive skateboarding — we’re talking extreme sport legends like Jay Adams, Tony Alva, and Stacy Peralta, who was not only a champion skateboarder, but he also directed the documentary Dogtown and Z-Boys.

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(photo © Glen E. Friedman)

Peralta, like many of the locals in the area, had started out surfing, catching waves just south of Marina Del Rey at a little break they called Toes on the Nose, or “Toes” for short.

In the summer of 1977, some of the Z-Boys began going over to their friend Dino’s house in North Santa Monica to visit him — he had convinced his parents to drain their large backyard pool because he was dying of brain cancer and wasn’t able to use it anyway, and he just wanted his friends to be able to come over and ride their skateboards in the “Dogbowl” so he could watch them having fun.

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(photo © Glen E. Friedman)

In another year, sometime in November of 1978, the Marina Del Rey would open their doors, giving local skateboarders — recreational and occasional skaters and even quite a few pros like the Zephyr Skate Team too — a place to go to to skate that didn’t require climbing over fences and having one of them keepin’ an eye out for the cops while the others skated.

The Skatepark — located across 2 1/2 sprawling acres near the on- and off-ramps of the Marina Freeway — had three large swimming pool-like bowls, which were designed (with tile, coping and a special plaster surface) to replicate skating in an empty swimming pool.

The Marina Del Rey Skatepark had additional man-made surfaces as well, including a 10-foot deep half-pipe with a capsule end, two medium-sized and one smaller, shallower bowl for beginners, and there was also a slalom course that was 230 yards long, perfect for freestyle skateboarding.

There were two people involved in running the Marina Del Rey Skatepark. One was a 24-year old surfer/skateboarder named Dennis Ogden who worked as a building contractor, and he had recently graduated with a degree in Construction and Architecture from Santa Monica City College. He developed and served as contractor for the venture, as well as directing public relations and daily functions for the business, including overseeing the pro shop, arcade, and snack bar.

The Surf Punks in Skateboard Madness

Ogden had design help from Ray “Woody” Allen, and together they worked toward making the Skatepark a location where production companies would come and shoot commercials, scenes of episodic TV shows, documentaries and occasional Hollywood features (a doc called Skateboard Madness was filmed there but didn’t come out for many years, after the park had closed).

You can also see scenes the Skatepark in scenes from Devo’s “Freedom of Choice” video too:

The Marina Del Rey Skatepark was chiefly promoted as a place where even if you weren’t a skater, you could come and hang out and listen to music being piped into the bowls through pool light speakers.

According to what we’ve heard, they typically played mix of classic 70s hard rockers like Ted Nugent and Aerosmith — a lot of the same music can be heard on the soundtrack to Dogtown and Z-Boys — but they would play punk rock tuneage by The Clash, Dead Kennedy and Sex Pistols right alongside tracks by many of the local bands would occasionally play shows there too on what were promoted as Monday Night Punk Rock shows.

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Sometimes the bands came up from Orange County — where I was still living at the time — and it was a regular thing for a bunch of my friends and I to carpool up to shows in L.A. to see those O.C. bands that were driving up to play shows with L.A. bands, at clubs that are now mostly long-gone.

(Years later I would hear that those of us who lived in O.C. were living behind the “Orange Curtain”, although I think only people who lived in L.A. called it that.)

I don’t often share my own experiences into these Night Flight posts, and usually refrain from even using the first-person “I” in these write-ups, but in this one it’s important to note that I actually went to the Marina Del Rey Skatepark exactly once, with a bunch of my friends, sometime in the summer of 1980. I was nineteen.

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We’d all been invited to this particular show, as I recall, by a friend of ours named Lisa Fancher, who had started her independent label Frontier Records around the same time, and she’d only put out one record at that point, I think. She had an office in Greg Shaw’s Bomp Records on San Fernando Road, north of downtown L.A., and had worked with Greg at Bomp and worked at the Bomp record store too.

I knew some of the guys in the bands who were playing that night too: I’d gone to high school with Tony Brandenburg (who would late use the name Tony Cadena), who was the lead singer of the Adolescents (they’d released their amazing single “Amoeba” on Posh Boy Records but hadn’t yet put out their self-titled debut album, known as the “Blue Album,” which arrived on Lisa’s Frontier label in March 1981).

On this evening they were playing at the Marina Del Rey Skatepark ith an L.A. punk band, the Circle Jerks, who at the time I don’t think I knew anything about, and I’ve read that there were some other bands on the bill too: Venus and Unit 3, the Stingers and Dead Hippie, but I have no actual memory of seeing any of those bands at all.

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I’d also heard about this show at the Marina Del Rey Skatepark from Mike Ness — his band Social Distortion had played one of their first gigs there, in 1979 — and within the next year or two, I would get to know Mike and a lot of the local bands who would start hanging out at a bar were my friends and I hung out, called the Commonwealth Pub, in Fullerton (I’d eventually end up moving to Fullerton and living not too far away from the pub, although I think that was in 1981 or thereabouts).

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(photo © Glen E. Friedman)

This wasn’t just going to be just another punk rock show, however; there was also going to be a fake wedding held that night at the Skatepark, between a local L.A. scenester named Michelle Bell — she was better known as “Gerber” — and the Germs drummer Rob Henley, but I didn’t really know either one of them, only by reputation (I knew Gerber’s name because she wrote for Flipside punk fanzine, but I didn’t know her personally).

I do remember there was a cover charge, which wasn’t unusual, and it turns out that the money was supposed to be going towards an organization or something that was being called “Help the Marina Del Rey Skatepark,” because they were struggling financially at the time and the bands were trying to help out.

I don’t remember much about the evening, other than the Skatepark was packed, and we were all jammed together in the one of the bowls, and watching the bands playing a handful of songs each.

There was a photographer there too that night, Ed Colver, who has since gone on to much acclaim and is today considered one of the key photographers of the L.A. punk scene. Have a look at this page of some of his photo credits, and you’ll likely recognize a lot of the band he shot.

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The Circle Jerks — Roger Rogerson, Lucky Lehrer, Greg Hetson and Keith Morris — in the backstage bathroom at the Whisky, 1980, photo by Ed Colver

Colver had already shot the Circle Jerks before too, and after they’d played, Keith Morris told everyone to get into the bowl, as they were going to take a photo for their new album cover, which was coming out later that year (that album, Group Sex, would feature fourteen songs recorded in July 1980 at Byrdcliffe Studios in Culver City, California, which is now part of the Sony Pictures complex.

Two of the songs — “Wasted” and “Don’t Care” — were originally songs Keith Morris had co-written and performed with Black Flag (“Wasted” appears on Nervous Breakdown EP, while “Don’t Care” was recorded during an early recording session for what was supposed to be Black Flag’s studio debut).

“Wasted” from The Decline of Western Civilization

I remember some of the crowd were audibly excited about being in a cover photo for an album by the Circle Jerks, who certainly had a big following at the time, but mostly the crowd were looking up at Colver, who had climbed atop a ladder in order to get a good perspective, shooting downwards at the crowd. Some of the punks were flipping off his camera, but most of them were looking disinterested and just being typical L.A. punks.

Apparently, as I’ve subsequently read, Colver then brought Lisa Fancher the processed film and it was handed over to a graphic designed named Diane Zincavage, who worked with Frontier and Bomp, and she took Colver’s color photo, made it into a black and white stat print, and then put a cover overlay on top of it.

Colver later said he thought the pink colors made the album look “New Wave-y.”

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I’ve never been able to spot myself in the photo, but I did look it over pretty closely when it came out on October 1, 1980, just before I turned twenty years old.

It was only the second album on Lisa’s Frontier label, but the first run of 5000 copies quickly sold out, and its continuing success set the label up early on for iconic punk releases by the Adolescents, TSOL, China White and Suicidal Tendencies.

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The original photo by Ed Colver, courtesy of Lisa Fancher

Funny thing is, Lisa now says she didn’t go to that show but she says that it’s “funny how every single person in L.A. said they were at that show.”

She recently found the original negative of Group Sex stuck to another Colver photo she had. She thought it had been lost forever when she made prints, but now she has the actual picture. “You still can’t see everyone,” she says, “but there’s a lot more details.”

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The Circle Jerks at The Hong Kong Cafe, LA, ca. 1980

Unfortunately, as we said in the beginning, the Skatepark was struggling financially and they didn’t last too much longer. Soon there were changes afoot. At some point, co-owner Allen would move on from the Skatepark and start a successful TV production company and a weekly skateboarding series called “The Ray Allen Show.”

Ivan “Pops” Hosoi — the father of one of the local skateboarders, a legend named Christian Hosoi — stepped up as a manager of the Skatepark in order to make sure his son (who had quit school to devote all his free time to skateboarding) always had a place to go to practice new moves. By 1979, as an amateur, Christian Hosoi was being sponsored by Powell Peralta skateboards.

Within a short time, however, the revenue began to dry up and the owners of the Marina Del Rey Skatepark put it up for sale, hoping that another Skatepark operator would step in and take it over so that they could keep it as a place for locals to come, but they weren’t able to find a group and ended up selling the park to land developers who had their eye on the property.

I think to end this blog I’ll include this excerpt from Lexicon Devil: The Fast Times and Short Life of Darby Crash and The Germs (p. 204), which is credited to co-authors British-born nightclub owner, music promoter and writer Brendan Mullen, best known for founding the Los Angeles punk rock club The Masque; he also co-authored We Got the Neutron Bomb: The Untold Story of L.A. Punk), along with his two co-collaborators, Don Bolles (ex-Germs drummer, 45 Grave, etc. etc.) and writer Adam Parfrey.

However, this excerpt from the book is actually a long quote from Gerber, who describes what happened on that hot summer night in 1980 (and I think she’s mistaken a few times here too, about a few of the details, but who knows… it was a long time ago):

“I convinced the owner of the Marina Skateboard Park to let me have a wedding reception there — I told him Rob Henley and I just got married, which was, of course, a bare-assed motherfucking lie. I told every person I knew who had a band that I was having this party, and that everybody was playing; and they did! I think it was Social Distortion’s first gig. Almost every punk rocker that I ever knew was there. If you weren’t punk, you got charged; all the skaters got charged — a lot of them left without their hair, too! It was a big fucking thing. The Circle Jerks’ Group Sex album cover is from that party. You know the photo with al the people standing in a big pool? Smack dab in the middle of that group of people is me, wearing this beautiful vintage mourning gown! The pigs came, but I’d already OD’d on Tuinals and can’t remember if they shut it down or not.”

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Michelle “Gerber” Bell (left) with L.A. punk icon Helen Killer

“Before I passed out Tony Alva would skate by me all the time and I had blue hair, so he’d scream, ‘Punk rock sucks, Nugent rules!’ So we got into this big thing, and I was always telling him, ‘Alva sucks! You’re a piece of shit, you’re a fucking hippie…’ He loved that. Later I saw Alva at a party and decided I was going to fuck him. So I get in his car and we drive to Malibu under the pretense of interviewing him for Flipside. Yeah, right. So I fucked him senseless, and afterwards I chopped his hair off, and Krazy Kolored it. When he regained consciousness he took off surfing and left his kid brother there unsupervised and home alone… and he got the same treatment!”

About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, assistant editor for the When You Awake blog, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.