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I know I’ve been taking however many of you are reading this back to memory lane a lot lately. But indulge me a few more times, please, including this time.
This time, it’s back to a weekend day in June 1981.
I went straight from my UW commencement ceremony, still possessing my cap and gown, and went to a planning meeting in a Wallingford rental house.
Also there were Daina Darzin, Maire Masco, and Dennis White.
We were starting a punk rock zine, to overcome what we all thought was The Rocket’s excessive commercialism. (Yeah, I know.)
The result was called Desperate Times.
It lasted for six tabloid issues, before Darzin effectively ended it by returning to New York, where she’d previously lived.
(And yes, like so many New Yorkers, she absolutely KNEW how everyone ought to think and behave. And if they thought or behaved in a non-New Yorkish way, then that thought or behavior automatically sucked.)
I had at least one piece in each of the six issues. The most affecting, albeit in a very indirect way, was in the first issue. I asked readers to write in mentioning the band they hated the most. (A cheap “comment bait” trick, it would now be called.)
It got a response all right.
That response came from one Mark McLaughlin, then a student at Bellevue Christian High School. He wrote that he loved the simple repetitive music of Philip Glass, and hated Mr. Epp and the Calculations. (“Pure grunge. Pure shit.”)
This, I continue to insist, was the first documented use of that six-letter word to describe a Seattle punk band.
And it was the first print mention of Mr. Epp, McLaughlin’s own band (of course).
One night shortly after that, Masco found McLaughlin on the streets downtown, pasting up flyers for a fictional gig by Mr. Epp, which at the time was mostly a fictional band (named after a favorite math teacher). Masco persuaded McLaughlin to stage real gigs.
For the next three nearly three years, Darren “Mor-X” Morray, Jeff “Jo Smitty” Smith, and Mark “Arm” McLaughlin gigged and recorded under the Mr. Epp name.
Arm, of course, went on to Green River and then to Mudhoney, famously performing on top of the Space Needle for Sub Pop’s 25th anniversary in 2013.
Darzin became a scribe for Billboard and other high falutin’ rags.
White and Masco started the short-lived Pravda Records label (not the Chicago firm of the same name).
White now runs another indie music label, “dadastic! sounds.”
Masco took a long hiatus from “creative” endeavors.
But now she’s back with a book collecting every issue of Desperate Times, from full-size high-quality digital scans.
Some thoughts on looking at these pages nearly 3.5 decades later:
The music discussed, well a large part of it anyway, still stands up.
The writing and the graphic design are of their time and of the milieu. That is to say, they’re brash, un-slick, and occasionally immature. But that was part of the whole aesthetic of the period. This was before “desktop publishing.” The text was created on typewriters. The headlines were created with press-type lettering. It was DIY Or Die, and it expresses the emotional states of its content better than anything in Adobe InDesign ever could.
Masco is selling the book online and at a few select local shops.
Masco’s been living in Tacoma in recent years, with a guy who knows a thing or two about graphic design, and who’s not shy about sharing what he knows.
I’ve written several times in the past about Art Chantry. How he played a critical role in creating my book Loser (itself coming back later this year). How he did most of the grunt work in bringing “punk rock graphics” and poster art beyond the deliberately “amateur” style seen in Desperate Times and toward something that was “professional” but NOT corporate. He took his obsessive research into design schticks high and lowbrow, industrial and “artistic,” and created a whole new visual vocabulary.
In recent years, Chantry’s been spreading his vast knowledge and sharp opinions about the design profession (actually, he thinks of it as more of a “trade”) on his Facebook feed.
Now he’s collected some 50 of these essays in the book Art Chantry Speaks: A Heretic’s History of 20th Century Graphic Design.
The format of self-contained short essays, on different but related topics, works well with the disparate roots of Chantry’s visual aesthetic and career philosophy.
He finds inspiration in everything from monster-movie magazines to industrial-supply catalogs, from trade magazines to Broadway show posters, from hot-rod customizers to girlie magazines.
Unlike the late Andy Warhol (to whom he dedicates a praise-filled chapter), Chantry appreciates commercial design without feeling the need to dress it up in “fine art” trappings.
Indeed, Chantry openly and repeatedly scoffs at such trappings.
He upends the “official” history of graphic design, which treats it as a top-down profession dominated by Manhattan designers and ad agencies.
Instead, he sees it as a bottom-up, working-stiffs’ trade, originating with sign painters, printers, and other craftspeople. It’s a living tradition, re-created and adapted everywhere. It’s something that’s both populist and commercial at once. It expresses social and individual values, even as it overtly tries to sell stuff (products, politicians, religions, etc).
And, just as American pop/rock music absorbed and mutated everything that came before it, Chantry’s personal aesthetic absorbed and mutated everything he’d learned to love in the various arts of visual/verbal persuasion.
You won’t find any images of Chantry’s own works in Art Chantry Speaks. For that, look up Some People Can’t Surf: The Graphic Design of Art Chantry, written in 2001 by Julie Lasky. There, you’ll see his famous posters for bands, film screenings, and condom-awareness campaigns; his cover art for The Rocket; and his many record covers and band/label logos.
But, just as there are now drinking-age people who weren’t alive when Nirvana last performed, many of the various production techniques Chantry’s essays discuss have become lost to time, from the lead-cast “hot type” of letterpress to the photo-strip “cold type” of manual pasteup pages.
And much printed ephemera itself (magazines, newspapers, cheap paperbacks, recorded music on physical media, etc.) has declined or disappeared in the digital age.
But Chantry’s observations are still important in our current era, when even web page design is considered an obsolete line of work.
Typography, illustration, color theory, and layout are all part of the visual vocabulary of our world. There are reasons why all these arts developed the way they did.
And, just as many young adults have discovered the great music of the 1980s and ’90s Chantry’s idiosyncratic views about these can teach timeless principles about how things look (or ought to look).
the kalakala in 2007, from wikipedia
During my long “blog silence” last year there were many things I could have written about, for sure. Some of them I mentioned in my little space in the little paper City Living Seattle (I’ll repost those soon here). Others I didn’t get to there either.
(The title of this post continues with the Sinatra-esque title treatment of the previous post.)
The Seahawks are off to the Super Bowl for the second time in team history. Just like the last time, you can expect all the national media to be against us. It’s going to be all “THE GREAT LEGENDARY PEYTON MANNING and some other team.”
Or that’s how it was going to be, until certain online commentators found a hate object.
Yeah, Richard Sherman is loud.
Yeah, he talked like a trash-talking wrestler during his impromptu sideline interview just after the game.
No, he was not, and is not, a “goon” or a “thug.” (He’s really a thoughtful young man who gives generously to charity.)
And no, his remarks do not justify idiotic racist bigotry.
The game’s striking ending, in which Sherman’s tip-away of a touchdown pass preserved the Seahawks’ lead with less than half a minute to go, was the climax of a huge day that capped a huge season.
It had been a day of high hopes and high fears.
The 2013-14 Seahawks had united this region in ways I didn’t think possible. Even some sports-hating hippies got into the fever.
The pregame festivities outside the stadium were a glorious cacophony of enthusiasm, pride, joy, and (yes) love.
And, yeah, maybe a little bit of bragging. Like when a lot of us noticed that one of the two Pioneer Square bars taken over by 49er fans was the New Orleans—namesake of the Seahawks’ previous playoff conquest.
(The “pegging” in the above photo was only with small water balloons, and was a school fundraiser, though they never said for which school.)
A nice lady gave me this cupcake decorated with Skittles (a product of Mars, originally founded in Tacoma), and a plastic kid-size Seahawks helmet ring.
Eventually, though, it came time to gather inside the stadium, to private parties, or to bars (such as Safeco Field’s “The ‘Pen”; yes, the Mariners learned to make a few bucks from a neighbor team’s success). I dutifully found myself back in Belltown, cheering on the team with about 40 other rabid fans.
And, as you undoubtedly know by now, it was a knuckle biter of an experience.
Our boys were down (but not by much) the entire first half, broken by a short-lived tie in the third quarter. They only took the lead early in the fourth quarter, and held precariously to that lead until Sherman’s final pass deflection.
The whole bar I was at became noisy as hell after that, and remained that way for a good half hour afterward.
Then the party spilled into the streets, with revelers driving and marching up First Avenue from the stadium. Revelry continued well into the night.
Something tells me the Super Bowl itself (which will occur in East Rutherford NJ, despite what the promo ads may say), even when we win it, might feel anticlimactic in comparison.
imagined audio-book listeners on a train, 1894
Back in the early days of telephones and phonograph records (1894 to be precise), essayist Octave Uzanne claimed “The End of Books” would soon be at hand. Uzanne predicted people would much rather listen to storytellers (with what are now called audio books) than read:
Our eyes are made to see and reflect the beauties of nature, and not to wear themselves out in the reading of texts; they have been too long abused, and I like to fancy that some one will soon discover the need there is that they should be relieved by laying a greater burden upon our ears. This will be to establish an equitable compensation in our general physical economy.
Elsewhere in randomosity:
tacoma news tribune
No, today’s princess is not about romance: it’s more about entitlement. I call it “girlz power” because when you see that “z” (as in Bratz, Moxie Girlz, Ty Girlz, Disney Girlz) you know you’ve got trouble. Girlz power sells self-absorption as the equivalent of self confidence and tells girls that female empowerment, identity, independence should be expressed through narcissism and commercialism.
Onetime P-I cartoonist Ramon "Ray" Collins, to be featured in the documentary Bezango, WA
priscilla long, via the american scholar
Sound Transit has a bus from downtown Seattle to downtown Puyallup (via Federal Way, Auburn, and Sumner). It ends at the Puyallup Sounder commuter-rail station, right by a classic small-town downtown garnished with street-corner public art works.
Civic authorities have restored this brick-wall painted sign advertising the company that created both the Puyallup fair scone and KOMO-TV.
A brisk ten-block walk took me to the fairgrounds entrance, guarded over as always by the noble cow heads.
While marketed since 1978 as “The Puyallup Fair,” the event’s official title has always been the Western Washington Fair. A new name, “Washington State Fair,” was phased in starting this year. This will surely lead to confusion with the smaller Evergreen State Fair in Monroe.
But I, along with almost every local old-timer, will always think of the fair as “The Puyallup,” thanks to a TV/radio jingle that has been embedded in our minds for more than three decades.
Along with the revised name, fair officials showed off a plan for a revised fairgrounds. The master plan would rein in the commercial exhibits that have sprawled over more of the grounds, and install outdoor agricultural demonstration areas. The idea is to re-emphasize the fair’s roots as a showcase for people of “the land.”
Other exhibits included a mini “factory tour” honoring the 100th anniversary of a Tacoma legend, the Brown & Haley candy company. Booth ladies outside were selling special commemorative Almond Roca tins. I asked if any of them contained Bjork’s life savings. They didn’t get my reference to the film Dancer in the Dark, alas.
In the fair’s Hobby Building, someone installed a private collection of memorabilia relating to another Tacoma institution, Nalley’s Fine Foods. The diversified processed-foods giant had made everything from pickles to potato chips; it closed last year, after decades of mismanagement by various out-of-state owners.
As a pop-culture compulsive, you know I always adore the collection showcases at the Hobby Building. This year folks showed off their stuff relating to the Girl Scouts (above), Lego, Dr Pepper, Sailor Moon, the Seattle World’s Fair’s 50th anniversary, Starbucks gift cards, and the Happy Face symbol.
I’ll have some more of this lovely stuff in a future post; so stay tuned.