When there is no more negation to negate. Art looks back at the punk scene and what lessons can be learned, or unlearned…
Art Chantry (firstname.lastname@example.org):
Back in around 1984, I put together a little book about Seattle punk posters called “Instant Litter.” It was a local hit and I think I gave away more copies than we sold. I sent a copy to the ‘books collection’ at the Museum of Modern Art and they liked it enough to stock it in their book shop there. So, the largest distributor of my book about cheezy Seattle punk posters’ biggest distributor became the MOMA in NYC. Crazy, huh? They sold more copies there than anywhere else.
The other funny thing about that was that once I had published a book – I was taken seriously by people who previously ignored me. Suddenly doors opened up for me. I was asked my opinion. I was allowed in the door to present myself. I started get serious work. It was so strange. Suddenly I was known. I think the moral of this little tale is that if you want to be taken seriously in your field – write a book (any book, not matter how trite). That gives you instant cred. Stupid but true.
I found this poster in Orting, Washington (near mt. rainier out in the puckerbrush south of puyallup). It was hanging on the bulletin board of a cute little homey cafe (where little old ladies serve homemade pie) next to some real estate biz cards and some signs trying to sell puppies and used sporting equipment. It advertises a show at the Fox Hollow coffee shop on Friday, april 29 at 7pm. It features the gentle tones of “the hyper-space dumpsters, the sludge junkies & cycrops II (and more!).”
This looks almost identical to the posters I found on the walls of Seattle promoting extremely early DIY punk shows in Seattle back in 1978! But this one was out in the boonies in a podunk town with a conservative religious population of a few hundred! Amazing,huh? The trick is that it took thirty-five years to get there. I pulled this off the wall a month ago. It looks almost identical to several of the posters I published in that book all those years ago.
One of the things I find so interesting about punk is that it exploded everywhere all at once. Yes, people have traced precedents (the british claim punk started in tacoma washing with a band called the sonics.) But as soon as it popped up in New York City (it’s home according to critics) bands were also performing and releasing records in places like Detroit, Boston, Los Angeles, Akron, and even Texas. when the London punk scene became such a media baby, the rest of the world copy-catted almost within minutes. Punks traveled across the planet in a period of six months. I saw my first punk poster hanging on a wall in Bellingham, Washington, sixty miles away from the Canadian border.
It took the hippies several years to become the dominant bohemian culture. The beats remained obscure. 70′s/disco took at least a half decade to become the dominant style in pop culture. Punk happened like a nuke – wham!
So, now 35 years later it trickled all the way into the furthest reaches of our chard culture. If you’ve ever seen Orting, you’ll know it’s reached it’s endpoint. It can’t go no further away from it’s source. It’s become as common a cliche as a hippie or a beatnik or a drag queen. Whenever I see some kid walking down the street with leather and chains and a pink mohawk (yes, you still see that now and then) ,I want to lean out my window and shout, “go make your OWN culture, ya copycat!” I mean, that was played into the ground thirty-five years ago. Can’t anybody come up with anything new anymore?
But, they won’t. They can’t. Punk was about negation. When everything is finally negated, what ya got? We may have to wait a long time for a new pop culture of import to rise from the rubble left behind in the wake of punk.