“Memory pervades life. We devote much to getting or keeping in touch with some aspect of the past. Few waking hours are devoid of recall or recollections; only intense concentration on some immediate pursuits can prevent the past from coming unbidden to mind.” David Lowenthal, Historian – Quote from Introduction in The Sixth Floor Museum coffee table book.
Alternating clarity of memory, then fade to obfuscation. Neither to exaggerate or to romanticize, nor to under-appreciate or to minimize needlessly. We need just the right mix. Task at hand: re-remember (as truthfully as we can) the Austin New Wave/Punk scene (for me, 1978-1980 only). But why bother, you might ask?
I would say, it’s because enough people believe that something significant went down back then, which was 30 years ago. Enough time has gone by to render a judgment: Some Incredible Art was produced during that scene!
A stimulus for this collective harvest of buried memories is the newly created private Facebook group, Austin Punk Scene ’78-’83. I joined about a month ago, when we had around 160 members. I see today we are up to 224 members; my take away from this factoid is that enthusiasm for the concept of this group is running high. The initiator of Austin Punk Scene is Mike Hooker, who has been gathering sundry ephemera from the ‘Punk Era,’ with the idea of putting a reference-type of book together.
Vivid memories have been undulating forth (both readily and rapidly) on the FB page, with the equivalent of several encyclopedias of ‘punk perspiration’ having already been spilled forth. Mike is scanning many of these promotional punk flyers from those times. This mode of expression, the promo punk flyer, produced spontaneously for music shows (especially for Raul’s), is the primary format, and the best one, for ‘pragmatic pop art,’ a transient marketing tool utilized by bands to catch a maximized petrifying public buzz.
But there are other forms of obstinately extant Punk Art; we have film, some great photography, a few music videos, and naturally enough, examples of music, most of which still remain in a vinyl record format (both 45″ singles and 12″ long playing records), if you are lucky, or if you are approaching a precipice of archival dissipation (such as me, with Urban Buccaneer), you have the ancient format of Art Cassette, whose shelf-life is most likely an Unsolved Mystery. Well, don’t forget reel to reel tapes, which can be converted to a digital format, if you have access to the right equipment!
What’s happening here, is that people are racking the deepest recesses of their minds in search of what they were doing in 1978 or 1979, what friends they were hanging out with, or what music shows they were going to at the time. A photograph does a great job of prying open a mostly lost memory, sealed like an Egyptian Pharaoh in a tomb buried in mountainous desert sands. I really love a photo of the Alamo Hotel, taken by Craig Legg in 1981. The pic was originally a slide, but Craig took another photo of the Alamo image when it was projected up on a wall screen, and got a ghostly effect of a torn down haunted hotel image.
Some mind blowing Texas legends (or myths) swirl around this run-down shaky edifice, which was located at the corner of Guadalupe and 6th Street. The punk rock music critic, Lester Bangs, actually stayed at the Alamo for a while in 1980 (and maybe even pecked out a few sentences on his typewriter here), before Stewart Wise of Contempo Culture fame helped him get out of there, after which Lester resided at the domicile of same said Austin fanzine (Contempo Culture).
Before I drift off on another cloud of cerebral tangential cogitation, I’ll just keenly pipe in: contemporary (as to the pertinent anamnesis sought after) architecture will unleash both pleasant reflections and unsavory harpies, we once had thought were securely incarcerated in our fragile skulls!
I know we’re only scratching the surface here, but some other amazing Texas Tales of the Alamo Hotel might yet still linger in the spirited atmosphere, or even in soil, at 6th and Guadalupe. (Before I forget, I need to say), the Austin Punk Scene FB site does a good job of reminding us, a retracing of one extinct architectural site’s rich history may be a worthwhile task to pursue, even if it leads to nowhere.
Virtually, the same thing transpires with other important clubs, such as Raul’s, Duke’s Royal Coach Inn, Voltaires, and (most positively) The Armadillo World Headquarters. As we remember details about these clubs, we also begin to reconstruct much of the history of our favorite bands (from that era), such as the Huns, Re*Cords, Standing Waves, Terminal Mind, The Skunks, Radio Fre Europe, the Reactors, the Delinquents, the Ideals, the Gator Family, F-Systems and on and on (see Jeff Whittington’s genealogy chart, Austin Punk/New Wave – FAMILY TREE).
A photograph of the Armadillo, which I saw on its Wikipedia page, reminded me of so many really great shows I once saw there. I asked members of APS whether they had attended an Armadillo concert by Devo, given on 8/08/1980 to promote their third record, Freedom of Choice. This was Devo’s peak really, and contained their smash hit Whip It.
Moreover, Devo wore some odd looking Red Flower Pot Helmets on this tour. I was amazed by how many people responded to my post, some even saying they fell desperately in love that night! I won’t ever forget those gigantic black obelisks (right out of Kubrick’s 2001) on stage, with the obligatory rock concert fog machine bubbling!
What we have here is a failure to communicate! Just joking. Sharing memories makes us happy and helps us to live properly. We can get a better picture of a remarkable event in our minds when friends give us their take on what happened. Of course, all memories are subjective, but when a body of them is collected together, they gradually morph to more of an objective category.
This is the Essence of History’s Being, actually. History is nothing other than a composite of hundreds of recollections, that act as a last call testament to an Abstract Truth (NeoPlatonic), a verifiable event that has been deemed worthy of perpetuation.
If some Real Art did occur at this time so long ago, then we might wish to struggle with everything we have inside of us to preserve this Art. If enough people believe a Cultural Renaissance occurred, then this is enough to signal a clarion call for preservation.
My paltry publication, with a profuse streaming volley of volatile words, two-dollar adjectives, or waxing superlatives, can not nearly approach the astonishing achievements of these inspired (or perspiring) and inspirational Austin New Wavers/Punks, who burned with rabid energy for the message they so passionately wished to project!
I’ll clam up, Friendo, before you Tar and Feather my withering carcass. *(Here’s three examples of Austin Punk Art – music, film, and history writing). Preserve by spreading like wildfire as Johnny Appleseed once upon a time did.
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