FAU Exhibition Offers Slice of South Florida Punk Rock History

The number of goodies are manifold at Florida Atlantic University’s new show“Raymond Pettibon: The Punk Years,” which opened earlier this month at the university’s Schmidt Gallery and runs through January 22. A three-ring exhibition, the first part covers the early-to-mid-1980s pen-and-ink art of Pettibon, brother to Black Flag guitarist Greg Ginn and a chronicler of the inchoate West Coast punk rock scene. This traveling exhibition features dozens, if not hundreds, of Pettibon’s contributions to bands such as Black Flag, Circle Jerks and Husker Du, from concert flyers to album art. His works were imbued with provocative sexuality, religious desecration and disturbing violence, usually tempered with coffin-black humor – in other words, they perfectly complemented the dangerous, anarchic, parent-offending sounds of the bands he promoted.

The second part of the show features more recent Pettibon works, culled from South Florida collections. But the third mini exhibit is the most fascinating, from a local history standpoint. Organized by writer, photographer and skateboard historian Craig Snyder, the back wall of the gallery is plastered with countless flyers from Florida punk shows stretching from Miami to Tampa, most of them from those halcyon days of the pre-Nirvana – 80s, where punk music truly was an underground scene.

In the middle of this collage of Florida subculture sit Snyder’s tributes to two legendary South Florida zines: Miami’s Suburban Relapse and Boca Raton’s Mouth of the Rat – low-cost, DIY publications that heralded alternative music long before the Internet democratized music. Knowing that Mouth of the Rat, which featured the work of future Beastie Boys before they were the Beastie Boys, gets its name from a derisive mistranslation of “Boca Raton,” only adds a funny layer to this important zine.

Snyder also set up a makeshift installation of wood crates along with the left side of the gallery, across from a projection screen and small stage, where the university hosts special film screenings and concerts throughout the show’s run.

Snyder took the time to speak with us about his contributions to the show and the history – and future – of zine culture, in Boca and beyond.

How did you become so involved in the South Florida scene all those years ago?

By chance, I befriended a guy named Bill Proe. Bill was older than me but we had a lot in common; we were both single, interested in meeting women, and had a mutual passion for music. Bill was also a record collector and more worldly in that respect, and he became my mentor of sorts. Through him I was introduced to tons of stuff I would have never had an opportunity to hear otherwise. I learned about music that existed beyond the radio dial and the mainstream releases that you saw in the stores. One of the things that Bill introduced me to was punk. He had records from the US and the UK that you could not easily find; and at that time, you have to remember, there was no Internet, no Amazon, iTunes or eBay. It truly was an underground thing. Bill also began taking me around to the few record stores in the Tri-County area who carried independent releases and imports. It was like going on safari and it was always an adventure. He also introduced me to local acts like The Eat and The Cichlids. So, that was the beginning. Bill and I later became the design and production team for Suburban Relapse, the Miami fanzine published by our friend Barry Soltz during the early 80s.

What is the idea behind your wooden crate installation, and how does it relate to the exhibition?

That’s so funny you asked that! The wood crates were actually the shipping crates for some of the Pettibon pieces in the exhibit. They had been placed by the punk exhibit in the back of gallery due to some space issues. Oddly enough, I thought they made really cool props and only a few days ago I suggested to some of the staff they spread them around the back area of the gallery against the walls, but they negated the idea. They were worried they might be damaged by people sitting or leaning on them. They do look like part of the installation though! I think they should just nail the lids back on the crates and let people sit on them when they’re showing films or having a band perform in the space. It certainly adds to the live stage/CBGB feel they went for in the back of the gallery.

Have the democracy of the Internet, blogs, MySpace/Facbook and even alternative magazines like Punk Planet in effect killed off zines and everything that was so great about them? Or has there been a revival of them?

I think the Internet has *become* a zine. It allows individuals to publish anything they want and make it available to more people than ever before, and for free. It’s also a guardian of free speech, for better or worse. If anything represents the DIY ethic today, it’s the Internet. If the photocopy machine was the Gutenberg press of the 1970s and 1980s, then the Internet has become the Gutenberg Press of the new millennium. While everything seems to be moving towards toward digital or electronic media, I think print media still has its place. It is much more visceral, something you can touch and feel. I prefer a printed book over an e-book any day. I think as we move more and more towards digital, that print and things like zines will take on more of an art form. They will still be a communication tool, but a work of art as well.

At the opening of the exhibit I learned there is a FAU student named Elizabeth who is doing a zine called Swamp Culture. It covers music, film, and politics, so the zine is not exactly a dead art form. Swamp Culture is a traditional print zine and the second issue is due out any day now. As it turns out, Elizabeth is the daughter of an old friend from Gainesville, Jeff Hodapp, who was in the punk band Roach Motel. And her mother Lisa (RIP), was the singer of the South Florida punk band, Morbid Opera, who I photographed for their press and record releases. So, it’s kind of funny hearing that. Jeff actually came to the opening reception for the exhibit a week ago and it was the first time we had seen each other in years. That’s actually how I learned about his daughter’s zine and met her.

Does it surprise you, either in retrospect or at the time, that a zine as countercultural as Mouth of the Rat could emerge from a place like Boca Raton?

Florida was, and still is, culturally challenged. I can say this because I was born here, grew up here, and spent considerable time living in other places both inside and outside the US. Life moves very slowly in Florida, but things are better now than they used to be. I remember Florida never had the touring bands that the rest of country did and this certainly affected the scene and people’s exposure to music (of any kind), not to mention other forms of the arts. But it also created the desire to do something different by the few who were able to think outside the box. Dave Parson’s Mouth of the Rat was perfect for its time. You would have thought that such a fanzine would have come out of Fort Lauderdale or Miami, but it didn’t. It existed in direct contrast to the surrounding environment. That fact made it even more special.

I hear indie bands in supermarket P.A. systems and TV shows and commercials. Was it somewhat cooler when indie music really was completely underground, and you had to seek out zines like the ones you documented to hear of these groups?

Today indie music is more mainstream because there are support and distribution systems for it that didn’t exist before. And maybe the creatives in Hollywood and at ad agencies are more hip than they used to be. Culture is also something that is becoming more and more homogenized. You can blame this on a lot of things. The beginning of this shift was MTV in 1981.

As far as finding the stuff, that was part of the fun in the analog world. Human beings are a society of hunters-gatherers, or in some cases, hunter-hoarders. The hunt for anything, be it new music, indie films, or what have you, made the finds more rewarding. Nowadays, with everything at your fingertips, such finds are becoming less and less meaningful.

Most everything then was word-of-mouth. You learned about stuff by walking into an independent record store, or by meeting people. This also made you want to get out of the house often. Nowadays, most people sit in front of their computer screen. It’s not so fun, and unfortunately our lives are becoming more and more based around technology. Facebook is called a social network, but as far as I’m concerned it’s anti-social.

Most of what I documented back then, whether punk or skateboarding, was because I had personal involvement and many of the individuals I shot were friends or acquaintances. No one ever knew where things would go from there. It was about the ‘now.’ Hearing muzak versions of new wave and punk music today is quite bizarre.

What are you doing these days, and where are you living?

Presently, I’m finishing up a major historic work on skateboarding. It’s called “A Secret History of the Ollie and the Pioneers of Skateboarding” and Volume 1 of the book chronicles the global influence of South Florida on skating and pop culture. Many people do not understand the impact that South Florida has made on the world. The book features much of my early photography, most of which has never been seen before, let alone printed. I’ve been living here in South Florida for this process. It only made sense because of the research involved and that I wanted to put myself back in the energy of the place where this history happened.