Suburban Lawns: Long Beach post-punk

NewImageIn 1978, CalArts students Sue "Su Tissue" McLane and William "Vex Billingsgate" Ranson founded the post-punk band Suburban Lawns. Joined by Richard "Frankie Ennui" Whitney, Charles "Chuck Roast" Rodriguez, and John "John Gleur" McBurney, they became a staple on the Los Angeles New Wave scene. In 1979, the video that Jonathan Demme directed for their track Gidget Goes To Hell (below) aired on Saturday Night Live. (Su Tissue later appeared in Demme's 1986 film Something Wild.) That broader exposure resulted in a record deal with IRS who in 1982 released Suburban Lawns' excellent self-titled album, the only LP the group released. It featured this excellent song "Janitor." From Wikipedia:

The lyrics of "Janitor" were derived from a real-life conversation between Sue McLane and friend Brian Smith. According to Smith, the two were conversing in a loud room when they first met:

"She asked me what I did for a living. I said "I'm a janitor," and she thought I said "Oh my genitals." [Richard Whitney] overheard this and wrote the song."



    1. One of my favorite lyrics from that song:

      Underwater, does it matter, anti-matter?
      Nuclear reactor, boom boom boom boom.

      Those were the days!

  1. Wow, two big favorites of mine in two days (yesterday was Monitor).

    I’d love to know what became of Sue Tissue. Her solo piano album is pretty interesting.

    I saw them live in Tucson in 1982, and they were really good, super tight, and Sue Tissue was sooooo peculiar. God, I loved them.

    I wish this would get properly re-released, and the “Baby” EP, too.

  2. I really loved the Suburban Lawns. Didn’t really know anyone else that was into them tough. To this day whenever someone mentions a nuclear reactor I hear these lyrics:

    All action is reaction
    Man the manipulator

    Does it matter
    Nuclear reactor
    Boom boom boom boom

    1. Ha! Beat you by 4 minutes, Gmon. Do I remember correctly that after a while they changed their name to The Lawns?

      1. Not that I was aware of but back then I had very little information about bands. I mostly learned of new bands just by buying albums with covers that appealed to me. My first albums by Cocteau Twins, Echo and the Bunnymen,  Suburban Lawns are just a couple that come to mind. Worst blind purchase that comes to mind was the Comateens. Horrid…  

  3. I’m a fan and yes, Su’s solo album is actually quite wonderful to listen to. I believe there were efforts to locate her recently but she declined to talk to anyone about the past.  

    1. That’s actually from the fantastic early 1980s TV show Night Flight, where I first heard a lot of great New Wave/post-punk bands:

        1. The host of New Wave Theater (the guy in the rain coat) was Peter Ivers. He was clubbed to death in LA in 1983 and the murderer was never caught.

    2. That’s from New Wave Theater, which David correctly pointed out appeared on night flight.

  4. I saw them at Magic Mountain in the early 80s. (When is someone going to release a DVD collection of all those gigs by the way!?) Flying Saucer Safari has one of the best guitar solos ever. I would love to know what Su is doing these days. 

  5. I saw them in Eugene in a little good time rock’n’roll bar in late 1981 or early 1982.  Su Tissue appeared in a form and face obscuring outfit.  It completely eliminated any ability to judge her by her appearance as a woman rather than by her performance as a singer.  I have wondered about what was the thought (if any) behind her costume.

  6. Do these posts about excellent post-punk make up for the usually shitty music coverage at BoingBoing? Yes, I think they do. 

  7. Quit spying on my vinyl collection – I just happened to pull this one out last week, while looking for something else & ended up with ‘Janitor’ in my head for the next few days.

  8. This is one of the vinyl albums I saved because I assumed I would never find it on CD or iTunes.  So far I’ve been right.

    I also wonder whatever happened to Henry Badowski from around the same time (also kept the vinyl of “Life Is a Grand”).

  9. Suburban Lawns were a favorite of mine!

    And Su Tissue as Peggy Dillman was my favorite character in “Something Wild” and had the single best line, delivered very flatly, “He’ll get in trouble with those guys.”

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