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Tomata du Plenty, R.I.P. 1948-2000
Tomata du Plenty in the Screamers Well, at least Tomata lasted until the 21st century. As the singer for one of the most pioneering 1977 punk bands, the Screamers, Tomata deserved a lot more fame than he received. Who knows why the Screamers never released any records? Some say it was because they were waiting for the major label deal that never came, but whatever the reason, the world is a poorer place. With the highest hair yet seen (not Mohawk style--that hadn't appeared yet, but resembling a gelled six-inch rooster comb), the Screamers played the Mabuhay in the fall of 1977 and left behind a shocked, disoriented audience.

The Screamers were one of the first punk bands to ban the use of guitars--already having predicted the rise of 10,000 Ramones-style bands. Tomata himself had a unique performing persona: sweating profusely while clad in a sleeveless t-shirt, he bobbed up and down like a mad puppet on a string, staring insanely while shrieking his lyrics in clear, commanding tones: "Punish or Be Damned!" The backup instrumentation of synthesizer, electric piano and drums allowed enough space for the lyrics to be understood--more so than most other bands. Plus, unlike most punk groups, the Screamers had dynamics and witty arrangements. Maybe it's because the lead singer wasn't continually battling a macho lead guitarist. Furthermore, Tomata and Gear, the leaders of the band, were gay, although in the early punk scene gender mattered little; there were so few "committed" to the outsider/mostly-unemployed life--not a "lifestyle"--that anyone crazy enough to want to participate was generally welcomed, or at least tolerated.

When punk changed toward a more formulaic, testosterone-fueled "genre," Tomata left Los Angeles and took up painting, doing homages to counterculture icons such as Jack Kerouac, Jean Genet, Paul Bowles, Tennessee Williams and William S. Burroughs. In February of this year he had an art show at Vesuvio's, next to City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco. He also attended the 25th-year Mabuhay reunion at Club Cocodrie, now defunct--a recent casualty of the dotcom real-estate speculation boom. Satz (Satin Sheets) of the Lewd had been kind enough to share his apartment with Tomata til the very end, which took place Sunday, August 20.

Brendan Mullen, whom I remember mostly as a drunken, '57 Cadillac-convertible-driving Irishman back in 1977 (albeit the proprietor of the legendary Masque club), wrote a very detailed obituary in the L.A. Reader. Brendan himself has blossomed into a writer--and I invoke the William S. Burroughs sense of the word. While searching the L.A. Reader website for other articles by Mullen, I came across Lydia Lunch's obituary for Claude Bessy, the French editor of L.A.'s Slash magazine (which debuted a couple months before Search & Destroy in the spring of 1977), and was very moved; Lydia's corrosive pen can scar you for life, like acid ... Claude, like myself, had become disenchanted (to say the least) with the way punk was changing, and he moved to London in 1980, and from there to Barcelona in 1988. Can't say I blame him for either move ... Barcelona seems like one of the last "underground paradises" left on the planet, now that Prague, New York City and San Francisco are overrun by monied "entrepreneurs" and corporately-employed hipster-artists ... not that I blame them; who wants to be homeless?

--V. Vale
Photo of the Screamers by Judy Steccone

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