If you're like me, then a big portion of your life before you were able to legally get wasted in public was making regular pilgrimages to makeshift all-ages venues. Back then, it was the only way to bum a smoke, see a band and maybe get some culture all in the same place. Very few of these DIY venues still exist in OC and, unless you're willing to spend cash to see a show at Chain Reaction
, they ain't cheap to get into. One such venue, AAA Electra 99
, shut its doors this month and is currently in need of a home. After 15 years, the co-op art gallery is looking to switch locations to Costa Mesa
as soon as it can find a space willing to house it's museum of artistic insanity.
You may remember our cover story a while ago
by former Weekling Derek Olson
that featured the chain-smoking, goodhearted, wonderfully eccentric owner Richard Johnson
, who founded the gallery in 1997. Granted, he's had a love hate relationship with the Weekly
over the years (more of that in the cover story), but the 45-year-old has definitely mellowed with age. For Johnson, a taxi cab driver by day, the venue in Anaheim was initially supposed to be a temporary space until he could find a venue in a city that didn't seem to hate his guts.
For years, Johnson earned his reputation as a punk rock pain in the ass for local government--first on the Balboa Peninsula, then in Costa Mesa near John Wayne Airport before relocating to Anaheim. Whether it was his gallery full of weird art, the occasional bondage party, or his mocking of city officials and local celebrities like Mamie Van Doren who tried to persecute his business, the gallery always brought with it a certain amount of controversy. After moving from the Costa Mesa location, the Anaheim co-op art gallery became a gritty, artistic haven in a city Johnson once called a "cultural wasteland." Twisted sculptures (anyone whose seen the "Chicken Baby" piece hanging in the front office knows what I'm talking about), paint-slathered canvases, dusty couches and of course the storied game show piece Spinning Head of Big Prizes were all part of the crazy ambiance.
It's not just a money issue that is forcing the venue to shutter. "This place has been on the verge of going under since the day it opened, that's nothing new," Johnson says. He does say that the venue's official members--whose status is confirmed with a $5 xeroxed membership card and a popsicle stick with their name on it-- say they really want to get out of Anaheim as well. And on top of all that, Johnson says the cozy relationship he's developed with the city government that used to despise him makes things a little boring.
"I can't be having the mayor of Anaheim coming down to hang out or take me out to lunch and be all friendly with me, where's the thrill if they're not always trying to shut us down?"
Johnson also has another AAA Electra 99 space in Las Vegas that continues to do gallery showings and events.
The venue marked its last official show with an appearance and book reading from incomparable punk icon Alice Bag along with bands Punk as a Door Nail and the Garden on Aug. 14. But it's still open here and there for the occasional movie screening/ bullshit session. But Johnson says he really wants to find another OC space to continue the venues original mantra of "Any Art Accepted."
"It would definitely be sad to see it go," Johnson says, this place is pretty symbolic to a lot of people, whether they come and go or haven't been here in a while, this place is part of OC's history in a weird sort of way."