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When the Go-Go's were punk

Brendan Mullen’s Masque club featured in new Showtime documentary

The Go-Gos rock that middle-aged punk look.
The Go-Gos rock that middle-aged punk look.

“They broke the building elevator trying to get a cow down into the club,” recalls former Pussycat Theater projectionist Dan Whitehead of the Masque punk club in the basement of the Hollywood Pussycat Theater, where the Go-Go’s played their earliest gigs in the late ’70s. “It was an old-style elevator with the large up-down handle once cranked by operator, and the car had lots of brass…. [The owners] were very angry about that, and even more upset when they couldn’t get a permit to restore it and wound up with an ugly, sterile, broken elevator.”

Whitehead — whose office was atop the Balboa Theater downtown, and whose employers lived part-time at the nearby Hotel San Diego and ran Pussycats in El Cajon, National City, and downtown — recalls “A murder happened in the club and, after the police left, the chalk outline of the body was painted with Day-Glo paint. It was still there the last time I was in the building in 1989, after the club was gone.”

The Masque features prominently in a new Showtime documentary about the Go-Go’s. Leased in 1977 from the operators of the Pussycat — who had also converted the old Hollywood Burlesque theater off Horton Plaza into the legit Off Broadway stage — the club was founded by Scotsman Brendan Mullen, who moved to California from London in 1973 to take a lease on the 10,000-square-foot, $850-a-month basement nuke shelter. Frequently raided by police, the venue hosted early gigs by Black Flag, the Ramones, X, the Dead Kennedys, and other seminal punk acts. The Masque was shut down in 1978, though it surfaced again in 1979, at another locale, before vanishing for good. Mullen later opened clubs including the Other Masque and Club Lingerie.

Local Black Market Magazine publisher Carl Schneider, who filmed a documentary about San Diego illustrator “Mad” Marc Rude, recalls “When I was working on the documentary, I interviewed Brendan Mullen, he had a few Marc stories but they never made it in the documentary. But knowing his history, and since I had all the equipment setup, I asked him if he wouldn’t mind talking about his involvement with the L.A. punk scene and about the Masque. He was really cool and was more than happy to do it, I got two hours of him talking about the early punk scene, as well as how he started the Masque. After that interview, I had thoughts about doing a documentary about Brendan, but sadly he passed away not too long afterwards.” Mullen died of a stroke in October 2009.

Joel Kmak remembers “[I] ran into Brendan many times through the years, nice guy. When I quit a band that within a month would become the Penetrators and joined the Hitmakers in December of 1977, my first gig with them was at the Masque with the Bags, Controllers, and the Germs. I have pictures. We went on at 3 am, because the Nuns were playing at the Whiskey, and Brendan wanted to wait for the crowd to come after that show was done.”

Until the Showtime documentary, many may have been unaware that the Go-Go’s started off as punk. “I was one of those 11-year-old kids who saw them on Saturday Night Live and bought the album immediately,” says Zachary Goode (Geezer, Secret Seven). “It’s interesting that everyone is still alive and looks pretty good: past and present band members, managers, everyone. Can’t say that about too many bands that started in the ’70s.”

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The Go-Gos rock that middle-aged punk look.
The Go-Gos rock that middle-aged punk look.

“They broke the building elevator trying to get a cow down into the club,” recalls former Pussycat Theater projectionist Dan Whitehead of the Masque punk club in the basement of the Hollywood Pussycat Theater, where the Go-Go’s played their earliest gigs in the late ’70s. “It was an old-style elevator with the large up-down handle once cranked by operator, and the car had lots of brass…. [The owners] were very angry about that, and even more upset when they couldn’t get a permit to restore it and wound up with an ugly, sterile, broken elevator.”

Whitehead — whose office was atop the Balboa Theater downtown, and whose employers lived part-time at the nearby Hotel San Diego and ran Pussycats in El Cajon, National City, and downtown — recalls “A murder happened in the club and, after the police left, the chalk outline of the body was painted with Day-Glo paint. It was still there the last time I was in the building in 1989, after the club was gone.”

The Masque features prominently in a new Showtime documentary about the Go-Go’s. Leased in 1977 from the operators of the Pussycat — who had also converted the old Hollywood Burlesque theater off Horton Plaza into the legit Off Broadway stage — the club was founded by Scotsman Brendan Mullen, who moved to California from London in 1973 to take a lease on the 10,000-square-foot, $850-a-month basement nuke shelter. Frequently raided by police, the venue hosted early gigs by Black Flag, the Ramones, X, the Dead Kennedys, and other seminal punk acts. The Masque was shut down in 1978, though it surfaced again in 1979, at another locale, before vanishing for good. Mullen later opened clubs including the Other Masque and Club Lingerie.

Local Black Market Magazine publisher Carl Schneider, who filmed a documentary about San Diego illustrator “Mad” Marc Rude, recalls “When I was working on the documentary, I interviewed Brendan Mullen, he had a few Marc stories but they never made it in the documentary. But knowing his history, and since I had all the equipment setup, I asked him if he wouldn’t mind talking about his involvement with the L.A. punk scene and about the Masque. He was really cool and was more than happy to do it, I got two hours of him talking about the early punk scene, as well as how he started the Masque. After that interview, I had thoughts about doing a documentary about Brendan, but sadly he passed away not too long afterwards.” Mullen died of a stroke in October 2009.

Joel Kmak remembers “[I] ran into Brendan many times through the years, nice guy. When I quit a band that within a month would become the Penetrators and joined the Hitmakers in December of 1977, my first gig with them was at the Masque with the Bags, Controllers, and the Germs. I have pictures. We went on at 3 am, because the Nuns were playing at the Whiskey, and Brendan wanted to wait for the crowd to come after that show was done.”

Until the Showtime documentary, many may have been unaware that the Go-Go’s started off as punk. “I was one of those 11-year-old kids who saw them on Saturday Night Live and bought the album immediately,” says Zachary Goode (Geezer, Secret Seven). “It’s interesting that everyone is still alive and looks pretty good: past and present band members, managers, everyone. Can’t say that about too many bands that started in the ’70s.”

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