Lucie Monk Carter
As teenagers in the ‘eighties and ‘nineties, Rebecca Hamilton (left) and Bennet Rhodes (right) both found solace in the heady punk culture of Baton Rouge’s Chimes Street.
First they sent the cops, Then they sent the Christians... But it was the developers that did it in. —Bennet Rhodes
Rebecca Hamilton and Bennet Rhodes both spent their formative years hanging out on Chimes Street near LSU, soaking up the sounds of a new form of music called punk rock.
Decades later—with the Northgate area all but neutered by urban development and chain restaurants—the two are collaborating on a documentary, Red Stick Punk, about the ‘seventies and ‘eighties, when Baton Rouge had a vital punk scene.
Before they began working together, Hamilton and Rhodes were separately documenting Baton Rouge’s punk era, which Rhodes dates to roughly 1970 through the early 1990s. “I had been carrying a notebook around,” said Hamilton. “When I ran into someone from that scene, I would make a note about what they’re doing now related to music or what they were doing back in the day. The notebook was just sort of ideas for the documentary.
“Around 2013 some people I knew from that time passed away, which happens to every generation. There comes a point where people your own age start to pass away, and it makes you think about everything that goes away with them. I started to feel a greater sense of urgency to tell our story.
“I love music documentaries, especially docs on punk rock. About 2012 or ‘13 I thought, ‘Our story is better than this. We have a story to tell.’ A friend told me, ‘You need to talk to Bennet.’ I wanted a filmmaker who gets it. We set up a meeting and we talked for half a day.”
Hamilton, now the Louisiana State Librarian, felt isolated growing up in Erwinville in West Baton Rouge Parish.
“I went to Port Allen High School, but I had a friend who went to Baton Rouge High,” she said. “I gravitated to Chimes Street, even though I was underage. We’d go with friends and sit outside behind the Gumbo Place and listen to the Dayglo Abortions.
“I have flyers for shows I was too young to get into. I would pull them off telephone poles if I had to. My room was wall-to-wall flyers. My dad wasn’t happy. My nose was pierced, and I colored my hair with Kool-Aid. Magenta was always my go-to color. I got the nose ring, a small hoop, in 1986 and finally removed it in ‘96. My dad would make me put a round Band-Aid on it when we went out together.”
Photo courtesy of the Estate of I.B. Fugd Up
Rhodes, a documentary filmmaker and musician, went to University Laboratory School, where he began making short films. After class, he’d stroll over to The Street—Chimes Street, where bars like The Bayou gave local punk rockers their first gigs.
Chimes Street was also home to Leisure Landing Records & Tapes, which played a seminal role in the growth of the movement according to Rhodes, who regrets that the store had closed by the time he was an habitué of The Street.
Julee Doiron, who worked at the store from 1979 through 1983, said the employees had pronounced musical tastes in every genre from classical to punk. One of the most important services the Landing offered was ordering imports.
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“It was well known that you could find anything at this store, no matter how obscure,” said Doiron. “And if we didn’t have it, there was someone there who knew all about it and could easily order it for you. The musical knowledge of the employees is one of the major things that made the Landing one of the most special record stores to ever exist in the region.
“Leisure Landing was not just a retail store—it was a culture of celebrity status.”
Anne Baldridge Salafia agreed. “One day I answered the phone and talked to a guy from Chicago,” said Salafia, who worked at the Landing in the 1970s. “He was looking for a certain Gong import. ‘I knew that if any record store in this country had it or could order it, it would be Leisure Landing,’ he said.
“And that was thanks to Bill Mallory. We had a reputation. Our experts were walking encyclopedias.”
Photo courtesy of the Estate of I.B. Fugd Up
Rhodes said the moment when punk definitively arrived was early 1978 at the Kingfish Club in the Southdowns Shopping Center. “In January the Sex Pistols played there, in February the Ramones, and in April Ian Dury. They all came to the Kingfish.”
Novelist and memoirist Tim Parrish, who is assisting Rhodes and Hamilton with the documentary, cites the Sex Pistols performance as a seminal moment in his own music career. A native of North Baton Rouge, Parrish had fronted the bands the Human Rayz (founded by Louisiana Music Hall of Famer Bill Davis, the creator of Dash Rip Rock) and the Lower Chakras; bought records at Leisure Landing; and attended local punk performances. He memorialized the scene in his essay “Rockadoozy DIY,” published in the Missouri Review back in 2003.
“That opened up the world beyond apolitical rock to me,” he said of seeing Johnny Rotten, Sid Vicious, and a crowd he described in his essay as adorned with “heavy unisex mascara, safety-pinned faces, [and] studded leather.”
Salafia attended the Sex Pistols and Ramones concerts. “Baton Rouge was one of only seven stops on the Pistols’ American tour,” she said. “The television stations came out to film people waiting in line to get in. It was electric!
“The Ramones came by the record store, and we gave them each a red Leisure Landing T-shirt. When I saw Johnny [Ramone] in Greenwich Village a year or so later, he told me how much they loved those T-shirts. In fact, Dee Dee Ramone wore the shirt in the video for ‘I Want You Around.’ And both Johnny and Dee Dee wore the shirts in the movie Rock ‘n’ Roll High School.”
Photo by Lena Camperlengo
In August 2015, the “Red Stick Punkumentary” movement was launched at a jam-packed reunion show of the Lower Chakras at Chelsea’s Café under the Perkins Road overpass. Rhodes shot video of the performance by the Lower Chakras, who reunited for their first gig since 1994.
Hamilton and Rhodes started a Facebook group and later a GoFundMe campaign to raise money for documenting the era. Hamilton also donated her collection of flyers and posters to the State Library.
“We are making great progress behind the scenes with every spare minute we have going towards this project,” added Hamilton in April 2017. “The fruits of that labor will be visible to our supporters within the next few months.”
Parrish, who founded and still teaches at the MFA in Creative Writing program at Southern Connecticut State University in New Haven, spent a week in Baton Rouge interviewing, as Rhodes filmed, former employees of Leisure Landing as well as Don Spicer of Our Favorite Band and Jett Rink and the Solar Skates; and Johnny Palazzotto, music aficionado and manager of the band The Times.
“We have enough footage just from that week to make a pilot or short documentary about the beginning of the Baton Rouge scene,” said Parrish.
The first local punk band included Leisure Landing employee Bill Mallory on bass and vocals, John Lillie (also interviewed by Parrish) on drums and vocals, Bobby Swayze on guitar, and Doug McPherson on multiple instruments. They called themselves the Shitdogs, a name guaranteed to keep their name out of the newspaper. (Local reviewers solved the problem by calling them the Dogs.)
“They actually all sang and switched instruments,” said Parrish. “It was very cool. They were much more diverse and weirder than straight-ahead punk rockers.”
Doiron recalls that Mallory, who died in 2008, was a local superstar. “He had wild, bushy, curly hair. Not only did he work at the Landing, not only was he a music encyclopedia, not only was he very adept with LSD, but he was also in the Shitdogs. He had legendary status.”
It is partly the desire to memorialize figures such as Mallory that Hamilton, Rhodes, and Parrish want to complete their documentary. In a project overview they wrote, “To many, it’s hard to imagine that Baton Rouge had anything to do with the history of punk. Yet we did. … It is time that we record and tell this story to raise awareness about an overlooked moment in our city and state’s history and to build an archive for future generations.”
Visit gofundme.com/e2v5ju48 for the latest on Red Stick Punk.