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Local punk champion, Masque founder Brendan Mullen dies

October 12, 2009 |  4:31 pm

Brendan Mullen, the founder of the Masque punk rock club in Hollywood that helped launch that vibrantly anarchic music scene on the West Coast in the late 1970s, died Monday after suffering a massive stroke two days earlier. He was 60.

Mullen died at Ventura County Medical Center, his companion of 16 years, Kateri Butler, said Monday. The couple had been traveling through Santa Barbara and Ventura celebrating his 60th birthday, which was Friday.  “The doctors are completely perplexed,” Butler said. “They can’t figure out why he had a stroke -- he had none of the indicators, his cholesterol was perfect. One of the neurologists summed it up best when he said, ‘Sometimes, your number is just up.’ ”

At the Masque, Mullen created an underground space that served as a crucible for the musicians and fans who felt alienated from mainstream society. Anger, frustration and self-deprecating humor flowered in the assaultive music that had been roiling in New York and London as L.A. bands including the Weirdos, the Germs, the Dils and the Screamers turned up regularly at the Masque for some of their earliest performances.

“He was the first promoter of punk rock in this town,” veteran promoter Paul Tollett of Goldenvoice Presents said Monday. “Everything started with him."

Once those seeds had been planted, other bands quickly followed, and the Masque became home to X, the Go-Go’s, the Dickies, the Plugz, the Flesh Eaters and many more.

“Many bands existed before June ’77, when I moved into the space and got a free month’s rent to clear out 15 years of debris from the Don Martin School of Radio Broadcasting, the last business which operated in the basement,” Mullen wrote in his book “Live At the Masque: Nightmare in Punk Alley,” published in 2007 on the 30th anniversary of the short-lived club that closed in 1979. “For the record, I never claimed to have ‘started punk in L.A.’…I’d prefer the Masque epitaph to be ‘Where the SoCal scene originally came together.' ”

Mullen was born in Paisley, Scotland, near Glasgow, grew up in Manchester, England, and moved to the U.S. in 1973. After the Masque closed, he went to work for more than a decade at Club Lingerie, which became celebrated for Mullen’s eclectic bookings that ran from punk to pop to jazz to blues. He also helped Johnny Depp and his partners open the Viper Room in 1993.

“What a tireless worker on behalf of his musical passions,” the Times’ former pop music critic Robert Hilburn said Monday. “He played an absolutely essential role in making the L.A. punk-rock scene one of the great musical scenes ever in America.”

In addition to Butler, Mullen is survived by three sisters: Pauline Mullen, Una Earley and Nuala Rainford. Plans for a memorial service are pending. In lieu of flowers, the family has requested donations to the Musicians Union or the Recording Academy’s MusiCares musicians’ assistance program.

Note: We'll have a full obit in Tuesday's print edition and later at http://www.latimes.com/news/obituaries/

-- Randy Lewis

*Update: An earlier version stated that Mullen moved to the United States while he was still a teenager. He was in his 20s when he arrived in 1973.