The late, great Bobbi Brat, unsung heroine of LA punk
Her style and attitude were legendary in the mid-'80s punk scene, and her bands could go toe-to-toe with L.A.’s best, but today, Bobbi Brat remains largely unknown.
Bobbi Brat was the quintessential L.A. punk singer. She left the San Fernando Valley at 18 to live in abandoned buildings in Hollywood. She was a biker, a fighter and a Hello Kitty fanatic. In her time, she was a star of the scene, having two infamous bands, Red Scare and the Bobbi Brat Band. She died unexpectedly in 1988 just as her career was picking up steam. She was 26.
Born Debbie Brown in 1962, she grew up with her mother and half-sister, Kathy, in a condo in Agoura Hills. Kathy remembers Bobbi as a “super tomboy-ass kicker” who worked at a gas station and wore her hair like Elvis. She was a big fan of horror movies and kids shows, and loved swimming and skateboarding.
“She had saved all of her money from working at the gas station and bought this car without telling my mom,” said Kathy, “and I remember her showing it to me one day. She had parked it around the corner, and it blew my mind. I was like, ‘You have a car?! What?!’”
She moved out of her home at 18. The car became the singer's ticket to Hollywood and L.A.'s growing punk scene.
At 19, she met Ohio expat Rudy Matchinga at the Oxford House, a punk crash pad in Hollywood. Bobbi and Rudy wanted to start a band, and with fellow Oxford resident Lad Bak (a Czechoslovakian drummer) they put a simple ad in the Recycler for a “punk guitarist.” Valley kid Gene Lipin was the third person they tried out in the Oxford’s mattress-lined garage.
1982 was the heyday for L.A. hardcore bands like Black Flag, TSOL and the Circle Jerks — the music was fast, brutal and nowhere near the sound Red Scare crafted.
On stage, Bobbi was tough and charismatic. Lipin said she had a way of connecting with the audiences in downtown and Hollywood’s punk dives, even if it was by trading barbs. Her sister Kathy, was too young to attend most of Red Scare’s shows, but Bobbi still made sure to stay connected to her.
“There was one time, I was probably like 15, and my sister called and said, ‘We’re playing at the Whisky! Come sing back-up!’ And I was like, ‘What?!’” she said.
Today, Kathy Brown runs a tribute website for Bobbi.
1984 was a big year for Red Scare. They put out their only record, "Then There Were None," released on Upstart Records. Today, it’s out of print. The band haphazardly booked a national tour that summer. Lipin and Matchinga remember the van breaking down constantly, members were “being stacked on top of each other,” trying to sleep in laundromats, campgrounds, and stairwells. The band broke up after they got home. Nevertheless, Lipin looks back on the tour as one of the best times of his life.
Bobbi started a country-influenced bar band. First, it was called Bobbi and the Boneyard Brats, and then just The Bobbi Brat Band. The band was starting to enjoy its first taste of success when, in 1987, Bobbi had a tubal pregnancy — where an egg becomes fertilized in a fallopian tube.
Doctors discovered what they thought was a blood clot during Bobbi’s tubal pregnancy, so they inserted a tube into her stomach to drain it.
Bobbi and the band kept going. They played their regular slot at the Coconut Teaszer, and according to the club’s booker Len Fagan, they were getting offers from record companies, but Bobbi was performing with a hole in her side. Here's a live recording from that era:
Over the course of 15 months, Bobbi hadn't improved at all. Doctors resorted to surgery. “Once they did, they realized they had made a mistake," said Kathy.
"The doctor described it as finding crystals everywhere. There was cancer everywhere. That was kind of the beginning of the end,” she said.
During this time, Red Scare had reunited. They'd started to record a new EP with a wholly different sound. Bobby was only able to record vocals for half the songs.
“We did go to visit her probably weeks before she passed away, and that’s when the reality kicked in," said Lipin, the guitarist. "She was in an apartment with a [hospital] bed in the apartment. The hair was gone, she was emaciated. Prior to that, she kept her look and her attitude, but at the end it was a slap in the face.”
Bobbi Brat died on November 30th, 1988. She was 26. Kathy wasn’t at her side when she died, but through a happy accident years before, she was able to grant Bobbi her last request: to be buried in Westwood Village Cemetery. You can find out how to visit the grave here.
Why Westwood? Kathy said it's an early memory from Bobbi, during happier times when she visited the cemetery with her boyfriend.
"They hopped the fence of that cemetery because she wanted to see Marilyn Monroe’s grave," said Kathy. "She said, ‘If I ever died, this is where I’d want to be buried.’ This was 10 years before she died! And so then we were just hell bent on her being buried there. In that weird space that you’re in at that time, you just want the best, ‘the blackest casket.’ Now you look back, and did any of that matter? But somehow, you wanted to do right by her in that moment.”