VENICE – Devo's Gerald Casale, SPK's Graeme Revell and RE/Search Publications' V. Vale sat on the same panel last night before a sold-out house where the Q&A created a heated audience discussion at the legendary Beyond Baroque Literary Arts Center.
“I used to work in a mental asylum. That’s kind of where I started my band,” New Zealand-born film-score composer Revell said as the audience busted out laughing. “There was a black pill we used to have to give people with schizophrenia. It was called Oblivion. That’s always fascinated me. In our video they’re always referring to, we broke into a medical museum. They had all the corpses in the vats of formaldehyde. There was an artist involved, and in this case it was somebody who had carved out the faces of human beings, the recently deceased, and then signed the work. Similarly there is somebody sitting around somewhere thinking up names like Oblivion for major tranquilizers.”
“Corporations are no real surprise to me, I must say, being an old Marxist,” Revell said tongue-in-cheek. “My girlfriend who is 35 asked me yesterday, “What is Marxism?” And, it is not her fault. She went to normal state schools. When would she have ever been told? She didn’t go to college. And it is very sad that something as beautiful as Socialism can get a bad name… It is nice to know who the enemy is. It is about to be Iran, isn’t it?”
The panel spoke to a crowd that was eager for open discussion on Punk Rock cultural ideas. Many spoke in discussions by the book table, in the ticket line and around the Punk photos taken by James Stark over the years on display in the gallery, about how it felt good to see and hear Punk Rock again. You could see youthful gleams in eyes that were definitely reminiscing.
To many, Punk was a way of thinking, a lifestyle, but it was mostly an underground political revolution aimed at flipping-off the status quo. But the odd thing of the evening was how “normal” everyone appeared. Nobody was wearing a Mohawk, a stark made-up face or even purple, orange or razored-out hairstyles that were so common during the revolution. Even Casale and Revell had short hairstyles that could have easily made GQ's front cover.
But, the quips of the Punk generation were still present on the lips of both Casale and Revell. However, the youth in the crowd seemed to not get the points made so well when Punk was king of the underworld.
“Bush has a nuclear arsenal. Bin Laden, as the Punk agitator, the performance artist, he knows how to tweak the people in the West with all the nuclear arsenals. And, he’s laughing as we take apart our own democracy,” Casale said. “Take apart the hand that would win for us. We could get rid of guys like Bin Laden easily if we went even back to what we’re good at. But, we threw that away. And, the religious right actually was the harbinger of throwing that away. It is all fundamentalism. Take your pick. Christian Fundamentalism, Muslim fundamentalism. They’re all psychotic. They’re all anti-democratic. And, they all want to lead. That is the greatest danger in the world today.”
During the very open discussion, the audience frequently shouted out their questions. And, the discussion became even more intellectually stimulating. One audience member said there was no Counter-Culture anymore.
“Why did The Clash come out with London Calling under this horrible archaic record company system, if what we have now is so much better? Where is something half as good as The Clash?” Casale said.
The youth of the audience found insult in what Casale said.
“Sorry. I think it is a little bit irrelevant: about the distribution system on music. I think that music is part of the surrounding culture and not the things people are making it. I don’t think it is fair to compare the records with The Clash,” the youth said.
“So you are saying the purpose of music in culture is totally different? ” Casale asked.
“No, not at all. Give us some credit man. I’m sixteen years old. Have some faith. I mean, you know, I hate to say it but you guys are going to die in thirty years,” the youth said.
“Thank you for giving me thirty!” Casale said. And that broke the tension of the moment as the audience absolutely burst out in a huge common laugh, including the youths.
“So, we’re going to be here to pick it up. And it there is something of substance, then it will retain,” The youth said. “And we’re going to forget all this shit that is around here now. For better or worse.”
“I agree when you mentioned “MySpace.” I don’t get any of my information from “My Space.” I know it is something that is recorded in the popular media. And I am glad you listen to them and know about “MySpace.” But, there is a whole bunch of other Internet stuff going on that is much more underground, and maybe you don’t know about it, that is not MySpace,” another youth broke in and said.
“But plenty of other people use it and like and find it a useful tool. You seem unpleaseable,” Another youth broke in and said.
“Unpleaseable? That’s not true. A few nights ago, my fiancee pleased me really well,” Casale said with a grin.
The discussion was getting so silly that everyone was laughing, which was a nice break in the near-hopelessness of the previous tone.
“I am foolishly putting out a solo record called Jihad Jerry & The Evildoers – Mine Is Not A Holy War, which some of the guys of DEVO recorded with me,” Casale said. “A little record company is putting it out. And, I made an animated video, “Army Girls Gone Wild!,” for $7,500. We put it on YouTube and a few other sites. And, it’s gotten over 350,000 hits. But, this hasn’t translated to anything like in the real world. Any real press. I haven’t surfaced above the water. Nobody wants to do an interview. No magazines. Nothing. Zero.”
“This is the new media. 350,000 and that’s not good enough for you?” Still another youth spoke out.
“How does the artist survive?” Casale said.
“So it’s about money,” the youth said.
“It’s about making the rent,” V. Vale said. “You are so young I don’t think you have to pay rent yet.”
“Gerry’s band was really, really popular worldwide. So, he thinks in terms of millions,” Revell broke into the discussion and said. “In my experience it was exactly the MySpace of the period where we never got more than 20,000 records sold of anything. And that was practically snail-mailed to everybody. That hasn’t changed. And, if you are truly underground you are cool with that. And, you are only doing for yourself, anyway.”
“I’m just wondering if there is sort of a generational battle going on here,” an older member of the audience spoke out.
“I am wondering if someone in this room has a problem with at least trying to make your rent,” Vale said.
“That was not my point. My point was you were bagging on corporations for unbridled greed and you want to make money just the same as anybody else,” The same youth that spoke out previously said. “It is OK for you but not OK for them.”
The audience was in upheaval about the youth’s comment, shouting out No’s and shaking their heads.
V. Vale is from San Francisco and is the publisher of RE/Search Publications. The publisher has been around since 1977 and deals with countercultural issues. Their newest release is PUNK '77, and is “a candid, shocking and mind-altering confessional that, while true to the Punk spirit, carves its own style of vandalism across the veneer of consumer culture. It is told in a mosaic of anecdotes, rants, gossip, and self-aggrandizement by the prototypical punks, scenesters, musicians and artists who actually lived it.”
“Search and Destroy–I started publishing it in 1977,” Vale said in a pre-show interview. “Punk Rock was the last International art movement that was also a countercultural, political revolution. I call it the Punk Rock Cultural Revolution, because it was completely cultural. In any aspect of culture creation — for me, culture includes publishing, posters like you make to advertise a show, the way the band looks on stage, the clothes they wear, the fashions, the hairstyles, the music they made, the records they produced, and movies too. Movies are an underrated aspect of the Punk Rock Revolution. There were a number of them made. They were low budget but they were made. And they’re still hard to find, because they didn’t get professional distribution. They stayed in people’s closets for thirty years.”
Vale explained how the Punk Rock Revolution was a Do-It-Yourself counterculture.
“The great thing about punk was nobody had any money. It wasn’t a corporate-marketed movement. It was like a brotherhood. I remember meeting people in 1977 who were into Punk who came to our office from Australia. After talking to them for about an hour, I said, “Hey, you guys can sleep in our living room. I mean, they were complete strangers. But, you could never do that today. It was an amazing time.”
Vale also spoke about why Punk is still relevant today.
“It’s like DNA. If you want corn you need corn DNA. Well, if you want Punk, you have to have Punk DNA. What is Punk DNA? For me, it’s like the fundamental principle is Do It Yourself. Don’t rely on anyone else. In every aspect. One of my principles is: Everyone is an artist. No matter what the media of expression is, you can do it,” Vale said. “In other words you are creating your own culture. You are not consuming. So, Do-It-Yourself. Everyone is an artist. Everyone can do it. And, the key other part: whatever you do, try and see if it can be against the status quo. You are doing it not just ‘art for art’s sake.’ You are doing it because you think there is a lot wrong with society. So you are an amateur social critic, too.”
Vale had his own encounters with the legendary poet Allen Ginsberg.
“Allen Ginsberg gave me money to publish, which was super-important. He gave me the first $100. And, I took that check and showed it to Lawrence Ferlinghetti and he matched it with another $100,” Vale said.” Ferlinghetti was a dominant voice of the wide-open poetry movement that began in the 1950’s, and founder of the legendary City Lights Bookstore where Vale worked.
“Then the manager of the bookstore gave me a twenty-five dollar check. And, I had another friend who was a Doctor, and he gave me $200. It cost $425 for the first printing bill,” Vale said.
Vale explained how the first Search and Destroy Publication came together, shamelessly admitting his imitation of Andy Warhol with a grin. “The format was a total rip-off of Andy Warhol’s magazine,” Vale said. “Same size paper. Warhol was very important to me, the early Warhol, the pre-Valerie Solanis-assassination-attempt Warhol. After that attempt he completely withdrew from underground types and just started cultivating high society types, because it was too dangerous.”
Vale said the first publication had a complete listing of every Punk publication all over the world, and the records that came out then too. “Because there were hardly any back then when that came out,” Vale said. “It took me three months to do it, because I’d never done a publication before.”
The evening was in true Punk spirit, perhaps even a spark of what may be on the horizon for International society once more.
Punk ’77 can be ordered direct from: http://www.http//www.researchpubs.com/
Originally published in PCH Press © 2006. All Rights Reserved worldwide.
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