The Hollywood Underground circa 1985-1990: “Scenesters: Music, Mayhem & Melrose Ave.”

By on December 13, 2017

Scenesters: Music, Mayhem & Melrose Ave. A Documentary 1985-1990 — now streaming on Night Flight Plus — captures an era, beginning in the mid-’80s, when scenesters, tastemakers and movers ‘n’ shakers filled the rock clubs and spilled out into the streets, helping to define what it meant to be part of the Hollywood Underground scene in the pre-grunge era.

One of those scenesters was Desi Benjamin, who decided he wanted to chronicle the time in L.A., in his own words, “when goth, rock, punk, glitter, garage and dance all collided for that brief moment.”

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Guns N’ Roses at the Troubador (photo by Richard King)

This was when it was possible to see a band like Guns N’ Roses playing at a small club like the Troubadour and later the same night pile into a car with your friends and head to downtown L.A. to see Jane’s Addiction at the Scream.

Then you’d all end up having a bite to eat at four o’clock in the morning at Canter’s on Fairfax, or Ben Franks’ or the so-called “Rock ‘n’ Roll Denny’s” on Sunset.

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Perry Farrell with Inger Lorre of the Nymphs

There were dozens of other lesser-known bands who also had their days in the sun and their nights in the limelight, of course, including (in no particular order):

The Joneses, Junkyard, the Nymphs, Celebrity Skin, Tex and the Horseheads, the Hangmen, the Little Kings, the Pandoras, Izzy Stradlin & the Ju Ju Hounds, Jetboy, Lions and Ghosts, L.A. Guns, the Guttercats, Broken Homes, Burning Tree, Motorcycle Boy, Black Cherry and (just trust us) many, many more.

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These bands stood apart from their rock precursors who had already strutted and fretted their guitars while wailing away the hours upon their own stage, and Benjamin probably remembers them all.

Don Bolles also remembers this era as “…the Eighties on 11,” while Dave Navarro of Jane’s Addiction says it was “…my favorite time probably of my life musically in Los Angeles.”

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Read more about Scenesters: Music, Mayhem & Melrose Ave. A Documentary 1985-1990 below.

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Jane’s Addiction with Angelo Moore of Fishbone (photo by David Hermon)

Desi Benjamin roadied for Guns N’ Roses (years before they were a huge band) and Faster Pussycat, humping their gear to the venues in his mom’s car, before he became a promoter.

His success at that led to him promoting his shows at some of Hollywood’s famed “pay-to-play” rock clubs, like the Whisky, the Roxy, and the Coconut Teaszer, all of them located on the Sunset Strip west of Crescent Heights (the Teaszer was where Guns N’ Roses — calling themselves the Drunk Fux — played Benjamin’s birthday party).

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Red Hot Chili Peppers at The Scream

There were other rock clubs off the Strip too, where the bands in East Hollywood’s “Hollywood Underground” scene made their own scene east of Crescent Heights, at parties and rock shows thrown at haunts like White Trash A Go Go, the Club Lingerie, the Cathouse, Raji’s, the Anti Club and downtown L.A.’s the Scream.

Benjamin’s love for the music and knowledge of the club scene eventually led to him becoming an A&R scout for Virgin Records (1989-1990), and a manager of bands and artists, which led to some of them (Mark Curry, Face to Face) getting their own label deals.

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Benjamin also worked as an A&R exec at Island and SBK/EMI Records, and he even ended up being profiled in Penelope Spheeris’s documentary The Decline of Western Civilization, Part II: The Metal Years.

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Desi Benjamin in Penelope Spheeris’s The Decline of Western Civilization Part II – The Metal Years

Growing up in Cheviot Hills — a neighborhood in West L.A. some six miles southwest of the Sunset Strip — Desi Benjamin’s story didn’t start off all that different from hundreds of others of rock-obsessed sixteen year olds.

He came of age too late to get into the Starwood, but L.A.’s punk scene had simply gotten too violent, and a lot of the bands were getting banned, by then anyway.

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There was a vibrant new wave and artsy rock scene, but he wasn’t drawn to their skinny ties and colorful neon clothes.

He liked reading about the hard drinkin’ and partyin’ rock bands who found their ways into the pages of Circus, Hit Parader, and Kerrang!, and he eventually saw many of the so-called “hair bands” — London, Stryper, Ratt, Quiet Riot, Mötley Crüe and Great White — who were playing at the Troubadour in West Hollywood, after the first wave of metal had gone stale.

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A bass player, Desi Benjamin met up with like-minded musician friends via the Recycler, the way a lot of them met up, pre-internet.

His friendship with London’s Izzy Stradlin led him to following Stradlin over to a new band on the scene.

He still remembers the date of his first Guns N’ Roses show: June 6, 1986.

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Unlike many documentaries, Desi Benjamin’s nearly 80-minute documentary Scenesters: Music, Mayhem & Melrose Ave. A Documentary 1985-1990, doesn’t focus too much on himself, though.

Instead, he turned the camera back on his fellow “scenesters,” which is how nearly everyone’s identified onscreen.

The bands they were in — and, in some cases, the stores where they worked during the day, mostly clothing boutiques and record stores on Melrose Avenue with memorable names like Retail Slut, Let It Rock, Soap Plant and Vinyl Fetish — are also listed.

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In the end, Benjamin says, “It was freeing to be young and rock ‘n’ roll — we changed the fashion and its rules, ran the town, set the scene and remade Melrose Ave our street. It was OUR time, scenesters in Los Angeles.”

Watch Scenesters: Music, Mayhem & Melrose Ave. A Documentary 1985-1990 and other music documentaries over on Night Flight Plus.

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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.