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Heavy Going : Metal Rockers Stake Out Their Own Turf on Hollywood Boulevard

August 09, 1987|DAVID WHARTON | Times Staff Writer

Down on the corner, a fat man in turquoise slacks blows "Amazing Grace" on saxophone. It is dusk and the air is cool along Hollywood Boulevard. A punk rocker and his girlfriend stand outside George's Burgers, waiting for nightfall.

Like always, Nikki Payne and Stoney are holding court on the sidewalk in front of Greco's New York Pizza. This is home to Hollywood's Heavy Metal kids, with their long hair, black T-shirts, silver crosses and spiked bracelets.

Payne's portable radio screeches rock 'n' roll, filling the open-air restaurant with wailing electric guitars and head-banging drums. Screaming lyrics evoke images of blood-and-monster scenes, a "born-to-be-wild" attitude and cultish obsessions. It is this heavy metal music that draws these youths together and lends them an identity.

The Heavy Metals are one of Hollywood Boulevard's largest and most visible subcultures.

"They seem to crawl out of the cracks in the sidewalk," was the way one one shop owner put it.

Most of them are young, in their late teens or early 20s. Some drive in from the suburbs to walk the boulevard at night. Others live in nearby apartment buildings. Many, police say, are runaways surviving on the streets.

If only because of their striking appearance and loud music, the Heavy Metals appear to outnumber other street habitues: the punks; the bikers at International Burger; the street people and the soldiers with shorn heads on leave. No one is certain why the Heavy Metals chose Hollywood Boulevard as a home.

"It's like a magnet. It's like a religion," says Payne, 23, nervously combing and recombing his hair. "Hollywood is like a circus and we're the clowns. Heavy metal has ruled supreme over Hollywood Boulevard for a long time."

Stoney nods in agreement. The 20-year-old chews bubble gum and sucks on a Sugar Daddy.

"Heavy metal," he says. "Longhairs."

On a warm Friday or Saturday night in summer, hundreds of Heavy Metals will appear on the boulevard, police say. Their music drifts into the street from all directions, from radios, from record stores and the doorways of clothing shops.

Los Angeles' top rock 'n' roll clubs are miles to the west on the Sunset Strip. But most Heavy Metals aren't old enough to get into the clubs, or don't have the money. So they come to Hollywood. Here they can listen to the music that has been called satanic and that reportedly obsessed Richard Ramirez, the man suspected of the "Night Stalker" killings.

A dozen stores on the boulevard sell the fashions that go with this music: skull earrings, fluorescent spandex zebra-striped pants, the omnipresent black T-shirts bearing band names like Ratt, Iron Maiden, Def Leppard and AC/DC.

Perhaps the main reason why they are there is that Hollywood Boulevard is "crazy enough to accept us," said one girl in a shiny red suit and spike heels. Either at Greco's or cruising the street, comrades are instantly recognized. A friend over 21 can be found to buy liquor. Drugs are available.

"You've got heavy metal. You've got black metal, which is the satanic stuff. You've got speed metal," said Richard Medina, 17, who had come from Echo Park dressed in a Ratt T-shirt. "There's no hatred or competition between rockers. You see another rocker and you say 'yeah.' "

"We don't feel like outcasts here," said Maya Dozier, 16, who is wearing the obligatory spiked bracelet.

On a busy night, with Heavy Metals twisting through crowds of tourists, the boulevard can become a neon-lit singles bar where young men with waist-length hair court tattooed young women.

"The girls pick up the guys and the guys pick up the girls," said Becky Thomas, 23, cruising in maroon spandex pants and a Led Zeppelin T-shirt. "We love Hollywood Boulevard. It's the meeting street."

Payne and Stoney watch all this as it passes by Greco's. Ozzy approaches, tall and beer-bellied, with dirty jeans and a torn leather jacket. Payne and Stoney greet their fellow devotee, but Ozzy stares blankly ahead, shuffles past.

"Ozzy's been doing drugs since he was in the third grade," Payne says, and Stoney nods in agreement. "People put him down, but he's one of the most gifted guitarists I've ever met. Like they say, there's a thin line between genius and insanity."

As the night wears on, a black-and-white patrol car drifts past Greco's every 10 minutes or so. Sometimes the car slows and the officers peer inside. Several times a year, the police sweep the area after curfew, looking for runaways.

"The Heavy Metals you see walking around . . . a lot of them are runaways," said Detective Bill Berndt. "They live hand-to-mouth."

They stay out until 3 or 4 a.m. After that, they find somewhere to sleep; there are a few deserted buildings just north of Fountain Avenue and a construction site up by Franklin Avenue that provide shelter.

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