Throughout their career, Crass received thousands of fanzines from kids around the world. Gee Vaucher collected those Xeroxed and handmade mini-mags in a cabinet at Dial House, where the band lived during the late 70s and early 80s. Boo-Hooray gallery is currently showing In All Our Decadence People Die, an exhibition showcasing a bunch of the zines sent to Dial House, along with original artwork by Gee and an audio installation by Penny Rimbaud. We spoke to Gee about the show and the days when people made neat things that didn't require html coding.
VICE: Hi Gee. What's the point of it all?
Gee: What’s the point of it all? Somebody else asked me that; someone called Penny Rimbaud.
OK, maybe we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s tackle something easier, like the exhibition you’re putting on at the moment. It’s basically a chance for you to show off all the fanzines, pamphlets, and flyers that literary anarchos have been sending to you and Penny at Dial House for 30 years. Why have you held onto their tirades for so long?
Well, I like to think it’s a very strange and beautiful collection of fanzines, and the fact that they date from the 70s to the 90s is important, I think. Obviously there are fanzines in there that were part of, or came from, the Dial House and Crass collection, but most of them are very interesting to me because they’re so hands on. People were using such crude technology at that time—some of them were even made before Xerox, so it’s interesting to see how people have gotten the job done, whether the fanzines are hand-drawn, or whatever.
I think it’s quite an anomaly to have an exhibition like that in the middle of this super-super, “print-your-own-book” age. I think it’d be quite inspiring for a lot of young people to know that you don’t have to buy the latest machine to do something like that, you can tear out bits of paper, you can spray, you can stencil, you can do whatever. But who knows, it may not be any of that; people might think it’s a pile of crap.
I don’t know, a lot of it looks great. How often would you get them in the post? Were there any that you especially looked forward to?
Some of them are more effective than others, in the sense that the writers go beyond just talking about what the best pop songs are and start grappling with concerns they have about their own neighborhoods, or towns, or countries. Some others I kept because they were given to us at gigs—every Crass gig was a gathering of old friends from up and down the country who would sell their fanzines to each other for, like, a shilling or whatever. It was a big exchange of information, a big exchange of friendship. I think a lot of things were formed that way and I think that is really lovely. And again, you have to remember that email wasn’t around, it was word of mouth. It used to be very beautiful.
Do you think the way people talk to each other now is beautiful?
There’s no tactile quality with emails, there’s no smell. When all those fanzines arrived you’d get something sensuous, the smell of Xerox or ink or whatever, some cup of tea that had been spilt on the paper. It wouldn’t be trimmed or stapled very well, but it was made by somebody who wanted to share something, and I think that’s very important.
Do you think something’s been lost now that people can share things with the world just by clicking a button?
I don’t have a downer on the progress of technology, but I do find it very hard to understand why someone could forsake everything for it. People don’t write letters anymore, you know? There are emails, but I like to receive letters and postcards—I like pictures and stamps. I like the excitement of waiting to see if you’re going to get anything in the post.
I don’t think it’s got anything to do with nostalgia, I think it has to do with wanting something tangible. You can just “have” something physical, put pictures up on the wall, put a letter in your pocket and read it again later, though that’s not to say you can’t print off emails and do the same thing. But the handwriting, I love the handwriting. You just never see it anymore, and I miss that.
I know what you mean. Every time I handwrite a letter to someone now it looks like it was written by a five-year-old in a bomb shelter.
But I am a visual person, so to even see something handwritten, I can recognize the character of the writing. The person is in that address, and even before I open the letter I am like, “Oh good, it is a letter from so-and-so.” It’s lovely, I like that. Emails are great for organizing, but I really don’t like writing letters to people on the internet.
Was there one special fanzine that you can remember?
There were some that always stood out, because they were nothing to do with music. One of them was by this guy called Graham Burnett, who actually was a very young kid at the time but who now runs the permaculture workshops at the house, and all his fanzines were about growing your own food, even from that age.
How old was he?
He was about 14. I remember him coming to the house for the first time. His mother dropped him off and he was really shocked. Already his fanzines and drawings were exactly what he does now; I think that’s quite amazing. So, that was a very unusual fanzine, but people used to love it.
What was it called?
I can’t remember now. But he goes around calling himself “Spiralseed.” He does a lot of books now about growing your own food and compost toilets, how to live simply without using all your effort…
We talked about this before at lunch, didn’t we? About how society’s systems were collapsing and how being able to grow your own food is going to be a very useful thing.
Oh yeah. I think it is going to get really bad. I don’t think we’ve even seen the tip of the iceberg. I welcome anything that shocks people into seeing that if they live in a community—whether it be a village, a town or a city—then they must make friends. You cannot survive on your own, especially in cities. In the countryside, you’d be foolish to be in the middle of nowhere and not have that sort of trust or friendship with anyone. But yeah, I think it makes people stop and question their lives. It’s not even their life, is it… it’s the life they’ve had given to them by authority. It’s beyond me why anyone would do that. I can see the reasoning, I can see the kids coming along, see the family, responsibilities. It’s admirable, but it’s at too big a cost. It doesn’t have to be like that. Even with the kids, it doesn’t have to be like that. You know, I have got some very close friends near to us, they’ve got three kids and they are home tutored. I know two groups of people who do that and it’s fantastic. The kids are eager for life, eager for knowledge, and I think it’s because society is teaching them, their parents are teaching them, and they’re sharing what other kids are being taught at home. They’re bundling from one house and bundling to another, I think it’s fantastic. Rules and regulations are “just so” for children and parents—they can’t even play with conkers in a playground. I mean, how far have we come here? That’s like, “what?” It’s crazy.
In All Our Decadence People Die
265 Canal St. #601
Sept. 30th - Oct. 20th