by Art Chantry ( firstname.lastname@example.org)
i was deeply involved witht he new ‘garage rock’ revival during the late 1980′s and early 1990′s. largely through my friendship with dave crider and his label estrus records (yes, “ESTRUS”. shameful, eh?), i was able to toss my hat into that particular visual dialog.
to begin with, there is no real distinction between “punk” and “garage” rock. the main point of departure seems to be reverence. basically, the ‘punks’ use the spirit and populist politics of that musical genre to create their dialog. while the often maligned “garage” rock, seems to be more closely aligned with the apolitical and resplendent aesthetic aspects of american trash culture.
beyond that, there is almost no difference, but it’s enough to create cliques and enmity. frankly, the distance between goth and punk is far greater – yet there is a closer unity between the elites of each of those groups. most punk rockers HATED the garage rock scene, particularly during the “grunge’ years. you can still hear old grungers snarl “that garage shit wasn’t grunge.” pretty funny.
so, working on estrus records during the grunge years in seattle created some interesting political dynamics for me. the strange part was that all the same people bought and listened and even recorded with each other. you’d find garage bands on sub pop and grunge bands on estrus and popllama bands crossing over all over the place. yet,t he lines were still drawn – especially when money entered the picture. so it goes.
the esthetics of the garage music scene were rooted in american trash culture. think: the cramps. bands like the mc5, question mark and the mysterians, the seeds, the sonics, the monkees and the who were all godheads. but so were dick dale, the stones, the chocolate watchband and KISS. basically, if it was home grown and rough and ready, it was steady to go.
mod, rocker, metal, surf, hot rod, rat fink, bettie page, tattoo flash, psychedelia, beer, bikers, gary usher, famous monsters, vincent price, strippers, hootchie coo, rockabilly anything, wallet chains, gas station chic, sideburns, circus freaks, black panthers, r&b, ike turner (not tina), funkadelic, skate culture, pro wrasslers, mexican wrasslers, mexican rocknroll, japanese anything, brazillian anything, tikis galore, cheeseburger royale, flame jobs, pinstripping, tshirts, stickers, bowling, really really bad horror movies and vinyl records etc. etc. etc. and on and on and on. it was the ultimate american aesthetic. i suppose you could throw punk in there, too.
like i mentioned earlier, this was an taste/style turf that can be easily traced back through rock music. perhaps the easiest starting point for this crap culture was the intense madness of the cramps. lux interior and ivy rorshach were the epitome of all that is trash. they WALLOWED in trash. they were often referred to as “psychobilly.” but that ain’t ‘garage’, really, is it?
others start back with the northwest bands like the sonics, the kingsmen, and the wailers. but, they more heavily drew off earlier R&B roots of the black tradition of rock and roll. while the rest of the country had gone surfing with frankie an annette, the northwest kids were trying to dance like james brown, rock and wail like mitch ryder & the detroit wheels and scream their lungs out like little richard.
so, i think we really must look to lovely detroit (aka “de-toilet”) for the real thing here. obviously th
ooges, the mc5 and the already indicated detroit wheels were a a huge source of gasoline for the fire. but, i really think that the unheralded source point, the primo-generator of the whole trash rock phenom was an almost utterly ignored artrock combo called “destroy all monsters” heralding out of fair decaying detroit city. i really do.
“art rock” was what they were called. utter american trash were what they were. frankly, there were no terms to describe the music and the creation they made. at that point in our cultural development, the catch phrase “punk” still referred to homosexual prison slaves. the word “punk” wasn’t linked solidly to music for another half dozen years.
when bands like DAM and the new york dolls and the modern lovers, and the nerves first started popping up in the early 70′s, we had no words to describe them. so, the critics called them “art rock” or “glitter rock” (which the brits later taught us was better called “glam”). but, those words didn’t rally work, either. it was like trying to call the the street hardened heroin chic of the velvet underground “psychedelic.” PLOP! we just didn’t have the vocabulary to do it.
DAM made trashy sleazy loud hard rock music. they were barely able to play any instruments. in reality, they were four rather accompished (especially later in life) artists named mike kelley, jim shaw, carey loren and (vocalist) niagra detroit. the music they made was more about the visual mess of trash than anything else. while “art rock’ was referring to icky dull-witted bands like rick wakeman and kansas, destroy all monsters were making REAL art statements that resonated inside the fine art world. that art culture caught on to DAM long before the music world or even the underground culture world noticed them.
this cover i show here is from a little self-published book by carey loren that compiles a lot of the graphic and visual work done by DAM – largely from a little fan zine they made from the years 76-78. the band went through ‘phases’. originally and ‘anti-rock’ band, they made noise and performed in mad insane overdecorated and committed style. then they started the zine and their music became somewhat secondary in importance to them.
finally, they “traded art for volume” when kelley and shaw departed for life in the larger art world and ex-members of dteroit godheads MC5 and the stooges (no less that ron asheton himself) joined up . this fertile music period is probably their most accessible and influential period, helping to form the trash/punk aesthetic better than any of their other efforts. at least people took notice and actually listened.
this essay barely taps the surface of the iceberg that is destroy all monsters. as far as i know, there are no definitive collections of their music around. there are no definitely collections of their visuals around. you can gather a book here, a book there. pick a a vinyl repressing or perhaps a private compilation tape. there are websites about each member as well as the band. all are amazing widely collected artists – famous, even. if there are decent comprehensive presentations of the DAM’s work out there, i sure don’t know about it.
when you start talkin’ trash, that’s the way it should be. it stays ‘special’ that way. start digging…
AC: just about everybody who ever di any design for estrus made a few logos. the idea was that every single project, no matter how small, would get it’s own ‘corporate logo’. logos have become so ubiquitous and stupid that it just seemed to be the right thing to do. last count (about 15 years back) dave counted up over 150 ‘corporate’ logos. pretty stupid, eh? we liked being stupid.
the only time we re-used old logos was when hipper-than-thou bands wanted the ‘cred’ of having the ‘official’ estrus logo on their record. either that or we’d just get lazy and grab the easiest one…