It’s Just a Joke Man! It’s Just a Joke Man! It’S Just a Joke Man! Pere Ubu-the Modern Dance – 1978
Two weeks ago I stepped into the Arthouse to take a peek at These Are The Days show, and was amazed as I walked around the facility fancying music flyers, vinyl singles, LPs, tattered Tee-shirts, and flaking fanzines on the walls and ‘neath glass cases. Punk poptones wafted from an adjacent room where a film installation called itself home. I thought I had vacated a Time Machine such as Rod Taylor in the H. G. Wells movie by the same name. Was I at The Museum of Natural History looking at Neanderthal dioramas in a primordial backdrop? I don’t think so.
I pondered prodigious ephemera from the Punk/New Wave scene of a bygone Austin ala 1978? Rushing (or sorta rushing) through my mind was the scary visage of the Ayatollah Khomeini, Jimmy Carter’s haircut, his silly brother’s Billy Beer line, and the Kool Aid party of doom. I stumbled about, partly in the here and now, and partly in the ELO electric groove of the late 1970s!
The show was put together by Matt Stokes, an artist from England who is more interested in, how say a music movement affects people’s lives and how it shapes that local culture. Social anthropology, my friend. Matt interviewed many people who had a role in the scene and they gave him materials that he displayed at Arthouse.
None of the ephemera is labeled but is rather displayed organically about the gallery in no particular chronological sequence; I knew enough about the scene to enable me to categorize particular bands or writings and associate them with the appropriate philosophical components of ‘The Movement.’ Through the years, I’ve manned Aristotelian methods of procurement that enable me to sort things into its proper box. Youngsters may not be so lucky, but should contact one of us ‘New Wave Historians’ for a fleshing out of the period.
When I first conceived of this show, after hearing about it from friends, or opening their emails, I imagined it to be more of a massive installation, perhaps an experimental sculpture of sorts. I thought of it as a New Wave Funhouse where you’d be on a joyous watery log ride, like at Six Flags, and you’d float past dioramas of Duke’s Royal Coach, punk puppets would pop out suddenly and sing their old songs, there would be footage on the waxy, stalagmite cave walls, as you drifted in and out, with holograms of faded events looming large…okay Goofy, I woke up. The actual show was more linear and two-dimensional, self-evident ya see than my pipedreams, but Matt did a good job of assembling these replicas of this bygone era. Never will all of these Punk/New Wave flyers, records, and fanzines be gathered together in one space again. You should definitely check this out!
Read Contempo Culture lampooning society and religion, terrific music reviews, & a jiffy interview with William S. Burroughs-King of the Grizzlies & Urban Buccaneer, best Art Cassettes around! Cap’n BrewKid’s Yankee Doodle Freak Flag poem springs outta the page again! Read Stewart Wise’s original interview with Patty Smith as if it was yesterday! Listen to The Reverend Neil Xs New Wave radio show on KUT! Can calibrate my groove to ‘is tunes!
Is that Skylab selling British Punk import singles over at Inner Sanctum…I believe it is! Doc at the Radar Station, here ye be. A Fairy Queen’s Paradise of X-Y-Z! Fanzines ‘neath glimmering glass? Foosball anyone, at the Posse East? There’s Doctor Stix telling jokes at Dukes at a Gator Family show! Fritz Brow zooms by on a mopad or flips a steak over the hot Raw Deal grill while wiggling and writhing in his kitchen to Devo’s Crack That Whip! A Touch of Evil emanated from the punk flyer?
I enjoyed Matt’s 16 millimeter film, but I primarily focused on the pasties *(paper, pastiche, & plastic) from the Austin scene, since I had played a minor role in this trip, and I knew many of the parties involved from these creative times. Look, there are many 45 rpm vinyl singles lined up on a shelf! A partial list of the bands with singles is: The Stains, Inserts, The Offenders, Dicks, Re*Cords, Terminal Mind, Pork, Radio Fre Europe, Big Boys, Huns, D Day, and Lester Bangs Y Los Delinquents. On another wall Long Playing Records are prominently fitted to the plaster wall as trophies to a remote, but mostly not forgotten time.
The punk music scored my circuit board as I drifted in and out of reverie or returned to observations of graphics in this moment…of experiences echoing through time where more than thirty years have passed by our confounded eyes.
For a flash, I focused on the Sluggo Fanzine display case, and read a faded article on Nick West that explains his position on the media, as he defined it. In his latest issue, No Tocar (some time in 1980, I fathom), he focuses on ‘Psychotronic Warfare’, an apparent hidden agenda of the Soviets that acts as a counter-punch to American aggression, and then it summarizes an article on the mutilation of cattle that has mostly hazy attributions. Nick West describes his magazine as “cultural blips on a distant radar.”
Nick’s angle on the culture of that time was that the real dialectic, that might define dynamics in our culture, was between Science and The State, not between Religion and The State. This is an out of date model. His reason for believing this is that Science has replaced Religion in the context of spiritual values. Science is Religion now (1980 ya see). This makes sense. My own take: Nick West was a media guerrilla capturing subliminal messages, decoded by Sluggo, that had slipped between the cracks of the ‘generic media’. I began to wake from the slumbers of bubble dreams…
The video and film installations were everywhere! There were two old TVs, Magnavox I suppose, and two big film screens. One small TV had The Re*Cords (a very early, influential New Folk band) in the Capitol Rotunda playing Guyana Holiday acoustically while strolling the interior of the Dome; the accordion player Bert Cruz is interviewed for a nightly news broadcast, defending his art. Also, there is a video of Lynn Keller doing perhaps the best song of the entire ‘Movement’, Plastic Money, penned by Doug McAninch (okay Bert, Guyana Holiday is a masterpiece too).
One film loop projected on a canvas screen was black and white footage of Rauls (the vintage Punk club of Austin) with frenetic dancing and the pusillanimous pounding of bass strings flickering past your eyeballs. On the other side of the exhibit was a film of The Huns (the most Punkie of the bands) gigging in East Austin-footage of The Beatles and The Stones was mixed in, for some reason unknown?
My favorite was the footage of every day people from the late 1970s just on the drag (Guadalupe) noodling on the street. Random unrehearsed chaos. I saw The Varsity Theater, I recognized Tim Kerr, Gary Floyd of The Dicks, and many young punks who I didn’t know. Recognized Conans Pizza next to Rauls and saw Zebra Records where my sister Jenny had worked. This footage provided a natural gut-shot of Austin at this innocent juncture, unstaged, direct and simple…
The reverie kicks in again…stop studying Lester Bangs’ Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung, it’s not a bible! Stop analyzing the period like it was The Roaring Twenties! The period only ran from 1977-1980, then morphed to a new configuration!
There are three separate periods her, maybe five! Start looking at the Xyphoid Process Xeroxes again. Control Rat X was a Xerox Artist of the highest caliber! Triple chicken fried steak with greenie/tan gravy at the Stallion-can’t wait! If it’s in stock, we have it! Paranoid Of Banana Yogart, you know the drill!
Matt Stokes’ title for the exhibit is These Are The Days, but for me it’s Those Were The Days, such as in the Mary Hopkins song on Apple Records. For me, PUNK ROCK IS DEAD! The dribble coming out since 1980 is recycled garbage, nothing’ more! Men At Work is the most banal excuse for New Wave, that I’ve ever heard! Those were the gunslinger days of the Old West. Austin was Dodge City or Abilene Kansas (ala 1870) back then! No amount of an injection can re-vivify this pale, gossamer Frankenstein. & Lester is kaput…so is Willy Pickel! No one to carry the ball…Doke Walker is gone. The biggest genius of the scene was Brian Hanson…he died a long time ago…Radio Fre Europe and the film Speed Of Light-Future of Man, God rest his soul!
Austin had an open atmosphere at that time, not tethered by the media and sweetly free as a bird in the blue sky. Afterwards, The Austin Chronicle gobbled up the local culture, like the Giant in Jack and the Beanstalk, in its own image and pigeon-holed artistic output into icy, concrete molds of sterility. Bands were simply sucking-up to these media-master slaveholding bastards! This was unfortunate, but is the record, Post-Punk. Matt’s show REANIMATES those days, almost brings them back to life, but the dummy sputters, falters, then quivers on the floor, a lifeless manikin on cold concrete mortar. The day is gone, just a memory of bangin’ git-fiddles, sweaty blue spiked hair, runs to Swedish Hill, or taping flyers on dragstrip lightposts, keg parties and all-nighters. Get over it!
Thanks Ellen Gibbs for the Punk Albums photo and the Sluggo Glass Case snap! You’re a better photographer than me, Ellen!