The Bangles: California Girls
The new band, now complete with Debbi on drums and Vicki and her friend Amanda on guitars, began as Crista Galli (“a small bone at the back of the head” explains Vicki). They then renamed themselves Aishi. (“We couldn’t stand having a band name that you could pronounce easily” Vicki says. “Aishi means ‘life’ and ‘positive vibes.”‘) Then came the Muze and the Fans and Shanti and Those Girls and finally – but, luckily, not permanently – KooKoo and the DooDooHeads.
“I never doubted that the band would work, which makes me totally irrational,” Vicki says.
“I was a little worried at first, knowing that they wanted to be rock stars,” says Jeanne Peterson of her daughters. “I was concerned that there weren’t too many young women who were doing that.”
By 1980, Vicki was an English major at UCLA, sharing an apartment in Hollywood with Debbi and another woman who had joined their band. The Los Angeles music scene, for so long saggy with bad disco and axe-happy metal bands, had just snapped back with power pop and punk. Vicki was itchy. If there ever was a time for KooKoo and the DooDooHeads (or whatever they were calling themselves that morning) and the Peterson sisters’ fuel-injected folk, she felt this was it.
“There were all these bands, like the Go-Go’s and the Knack, that were focusing attention on L.A.,” Vicki says, “and I was afraid that it would all leave me behind.”
If the Petersons are creatures of the bleached-out San Fernando basin, where cultural myth is made of two kinds of transmissions – automotive and airwave – then Susanna Hoffs is a product of the part of L.A. where birds of paradise and palms flourish in the front yard and screenplays spring eternal in the back.
Joshua and Tamar Hoffs came to the west side of L.A. in the Fifties, by way of Harvard and Yale and a brush with beatnikism; back then West L.A. was a sort of greener Greenwich Village, peopled with postbohos and bookworms planning to build a better world. The Hoffs children – two boys and the slight, sloe-eyed, dark-haired Susanna, who says she was born in 1962 – were raised in what Susanna calls “this atheist, intellectual, creative world” where emoting well (credit psychoanalyst Joshua’s influence) and formalizing the results (credit screenwriter-director Tamar) were encouraged.
Susanna started with ballet at age five, continued her dancing while a student at Berkeley, switched to theater, aspired to movies, changed her major to painting, considered dancing again and then decided to find a band. For someone less ambitious than Susanna, this might have been seen as aimlessness; for her, it was more a case of casting about for the right place to make her mark. “Susanna’s always been very focused, even as a child,” says her father. “She has a certain dedicated, serious approach to her life, like a doctor or a lawyer might.”
“You can’t,” says Susanna, “depend on accidents to make your career.”
In 1981, after graduating from Berkeley, Susanna was determined to play music. To find band mates, she ran a classified ad in a Los Angeles weekly. She also answered one that had been placed by a woman whose roommates had just kicked her out of their band. Although she wasn’t compatible with the woman who placed the ad, Susanna did hit it off with her roommates, who happened to be Vicki and Debbi Peterson.
“It was amazing,” says Vicki. “It was pretty much an instantaneous thing with Susanna.”
“It was weird,” says Susanna, “because I’d say, ‘I love the Grass Roots, I love the Hollies, I love Love with Arthur Lee.’ It was just so weird they knew all those groups.”
They shared a past-tense taste in music, a knack for harmonies and the staunchness and discipline to get what they all wanted – their music on the radio. So immediate was their rapport that they formed the band the night they met. Admittedly, there were some nerve-jangling moments early on. “It was really scary,” says Susanna. “I remember talking to Vicki in the kitchen about a week after we decided to form the band, and I suddenly got these butterflies in my stomach. It was like I’d married a stranger. She was talking about her background and everything. It was so different from mine that although I really liked her, it was just a strange sensation.”
But not strange enough to stop them. Which is how the three of them ended up in Susanna’s garage in 1981, playing their tapes, talking and laying plans for taking on the world.
They started as the colours (“with a u,” says Debbi, “very British”) and soon changed that to the Supersonic Bangs, inspired by an Esquire article about Sixties youth culture and its fetish for extravagant haircuts. That name lasted for about fifteen seconds, then it was shortened to the Bangs. “We liked the double-entendre of the name,” says Susanna. “You can read a lot into it. There was something kind of gutsy about it.”
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