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Visual Vitriol

Visual Vitriol: The Street Art and Subcultures of the Punk and Hardcore Generation

David A. Ensminger
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 336
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  • Book Info
    Visual Vitriol
    Book Description:

    Visual Vitriol: The Street Art and Subcultures of the Punk and Hardcore Generation is a vibrant, in-depth, and visually appealing history of punk, which reveals punk concert flyers as urban folk art. David Ensminger exposes the movement's deeply participatory street art, including flyers, stencils, and graffiti. This discovery leads him to an examination of the often-overlooked presence of African Americans, Latinos, women, and gays and lesbians who have widely impacted the worldviews and music of this subculture. Then Ensminger, the former editor of fanzine Left of the Dial, looks at how mainstream and punk media shape the public's outlook on the music's history and significance.Often derided as litter or a nuisance, punk posters have been called instant art, Xerox art, or DIY street art. For marginalized communities, they carve out spaces for resistance. Made by hand in a vernacular tradition, this art highlights deep-seated tendencies among musicians and fans. Instead of presenting punk as a predominately middle-class, white-male phenomenon, the book describes a convergence culture that mixes people, gender, and sexualities.This detailed account reveals how members conceptualize their attitudes, express their aesthetics, and talk to each other about complicated issues. Ensminger incorporates an important array of scholarship, ranging from sociology and feminism to musicology and folklore, in an accessible style. Grounded in fieldwork, Visual Vitriol includes over a dozen interviews completed over the last several years with some of the most recognized and important members of groups such as Minor Threat, The Minutemen, The Dils, Chelsea, Membranes, 999, Youth Brigade, Black Flag, Pere Ubu, the Descendents, the Buzzcocks, and others.

    eISBN: 978-1-60473-969-5
    Subjects: Music

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-v)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vi-1)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 2-7)

    January 8, 1981. Someone snaps a Kodak picture in my bedroom. My arms are half-raised, crooked. Showing the lens a handheld RCA cassette recorder, I smile and arch back a bit, looking like a TV baby in the womb of consumer capitalism. A Muppets poster dots the wall, a Mickey Mouse quilt keeps me warm during the Midwest nights, blue Star Wars pajamas make me a member of the Lucas craze, and Raggedy Andy sits in the lap of a stuffed rabbit. The room appears frozen in amber: yellow shag carpeting, loose golden curtains, and mustard-colored walls surround me. Nearby...

  4. CHAPTER ONE The Second Skin of Cities
    (pp. 8-43)

    In almost every large city in the United States, vestiges of flyer art remain on traffic and light poles, kiosks, the sides of buildings, cramped record store spaces—just about anywhere one can use glue, wheat paste, tacks, thumbnails, tape, or staples. These works, whether intact or ripped, shredded, or faded, embody a living, not-so-secret visual history of a generation. They also reflect years of diligent, ongoing work on the part of artists and bands; one can peel back the past like a sequence of skins.

    Punk flyers have become both collectible ephemera and the trash of a subculture, serving...

  5. CHAPTER TWO INCITE AND INCORPORATE: Punk Art Exploring the Usable Past
    (pp. 44-65)

    Some punk art summons and mirrors the trends of its older cousin Pop Art, for “it could invest meaning and beauty in things intended to be fugitive, summoning a relevance where none was needed” (Brauer 2001). Pop Art style is directly referenced, even mimicked, in the cover art for singles like “At the Edge” by Stiff Little Fingers, “Teenarama” by The Records, “Strobe Light” by the B-52s, and flyers for the Plimsouls and others. Granted, these bands might be considered closer to New Wave than punk, but even the Rezillos’ “Cold War” and “Top of the Pops” singles, both from...

    (pp. 66-105)

    Norman Mailer once called graffiti “their text on our text,” meaning that by the 1970s and 1980s young urban Americans had forced people to realize that the eyes and hands of the subproletariat, so-called wild kids and banditos, were right around dark corners with spray cans, illuminating America’s underbelly. The authorities, and even neighborhood residents, often abhorred graffiti as the reckless and ferocious habits of the “natives,” casting them into the roles of outlaws and saboteurs. However, historian Joe Austin has placed such identification within a wider context, suggesting that these insurgent art actions elicit meaning well beyond being mere...

  7. CHAPTER FOUR RE-IMAGINING THE GEOGRAPHY OF THE WASTELAND: The Convergence of Punk and Skateboarding
    (pp. 106-125)

    Skateboarding is a crucial link between the era of the 1960s post–Beat Generation and the Punks. Driven by a sense of adventure and “surfing” sloped streets, the sport connects the dots between a Beat sense of spontaneous possibility, where coffee shops and jazz can create a cultural renaissance spiked by caffeine and other drugs, to the frenzy and Do-It-Yourself attitude/ethos of punk, in which rented VFW halls, Xeroxed gig fliers, and cheap tape decks could create a whole underground musical community. “Like punk,” journalist John Leland writes in regard to Kerouac’sOn the Road, “the characters emerged from dying...

  8. CHAPTER FIVE IMAGES FROM THE CRYPT: Undead, Ghoulish, and Monstrous Bodies
    (pp. 126-145)

    Artists have continuously used monstrous depictions to pay witness to the vulnerable lives of people beset by times of virulent politics and war, science that errs, chemical and industrial pollutants, and environments that produce sporadic cataclysmic forces, such as natural disaster, pestilence, and disease. Such art actively interrogates Westernized notions of bodies as discreet and harmonious units—static, whole, and natural—thus delves deep into metaphors of unease. In recent years, concerns about bodies have been mediated by an anxiety and ambivalence linked to “unbound” technology, both in terms of the way technology directly affects bodies (laser-guided bombs from drones...

    (pp. 146-183)

    Queer punks supplied the genre with much of its fierceness and wit, raunch and tenacity, candidness and camp, personality and experimentation. Many would argue that gay participants like Gary Floyd, Bob Mould, Wayne/Jayne County, the Screamers, and Biscuit of the Big Boys readily shaped these sensibilities. Yet, this did not blossom without trials and tribulations, mostly stirred from within the culture itself, which led to outgrowths such as homocore.¹ This chapter will outline a history of gay and punk convergence and tensions, reveal hardcore punk gay allies who contest homophobia, and explore how contemporary gay men “queer” hardcore music by...

  10. CHAPTER SEVEN CALL ME JEZEBEL: The Electrified, Unholy, and Wicked Women of Punk
    (pp. 184-213)

    Images of women depicted on punk posters are often dominated by fantasy (often not designed by women at all) that reveal them as unstable and voracious creatures, detestable in some cases, purring sex kittens in others, or demure geek chicks in still others. They are hellions, sirens, vixens, and Medusas. They are Betty Page pinups,Playboygirls gone bad, andCometbusemo queens. They are tattooed temptresses with perfectly manicured hair, or Mohican dominatrices, sultry and fierce. Often, they are buxom bombshells and voluptuous victims, or graven and sinister. In all, the array forms clustered libidinal fantasies played out by...

    (pp. 214-241)

    In the essay “Soy Punkera, Y Que?” by Michelle Habell-Pallán, found in her bookLoca Motion: The Travels of Chicana and Latina Popular Culture, she traces the lineage of punk rock, linking its genesis to Hispanics via the 1960s Michigan band ? and the Mysterians, the first band called punk rock by the writer Dave Marsh ofCreem. Greg Shaw, of Bomp Records and fanzine fame, also named the same band as part of the original punk/garage rock cluster including the Seeds, Count Five, and the Troggs. However, many would also argue that punk’s origins are much more diffuse, including...

    (pp. 242-289)

    For three decades, African Americans have been almost exclusively depicted in mainstream and even independent media as embodying the hip hop nation, signified by such media as an urban, often misogynist and materialistic, “street level” musical genre and lifestyle. Through absent or scant coverage, such representation effectively diminishes or even negates the contemporary influence of blacks on rock ’n’ roll and punk. In doing so, the media perpetuates the notion of a homogeneous African American community that is easily containable and conventional. I seek to interrogate the common misconception that punk, essentially a multicultural participatory subculture, is a white (or...

  13. Conclusion
    (pp. 290-292)

    Though posters advertising Creedence Clearwater Revival and Jimi Hendrix were made in the era of Vietnam napalm episodes, the War on Poverty, and burning American cities, they resemble European painters like Toulouse Lautrec and Alphonse Mucha, whose designs set in motion everything from lamp posts to book covers in the late 1800s. One never saw the brutality of the era in most psychedelic posters’ heavily stylized thick lines, flat areas of color, and fancy type. Punk flyer graphics were a leap forward from flower power to artful aggression, like a first grasp of the “future now”—the fall of Saigon...

  14. Afterword: Beat Heart Beat: A Look at the Art of Randy “Biscuit” Turner
    (pp. 293-295)

    Bona fide maverick Randy “Biscuit” Turner was a gay Texas singer, self-taught artist, actor, and prop decorator whose life even inspired Mayor Will Wynne of Austin to declare October 8, 2006, in honor of the man that writer Jeff Derringer has dubbed “the original poster child for the slogan ‘Keep Austin Weird.’” Turner’s career, often over-looked outside the Lone Star state, spanned the era of cosmic cowboy mid-1970s Austin, which he loathed, favoring hard psych rock and funk, and the burgeoning new music scene of the late 1970s to the 2000s, when the new music scene splintered into factions ranging...

  15. Notes
    (pp. 296-311)
  16. Works Cited
    (pp. 312-326)
  17. Index
    (pp. 327-334)
  18. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)