The Art of Punk with Bryan Ray Turcotte
We spoke to Bryan Ray Turcotte, author of the book <i>Fucked Up + Photocopied</i>, about punk-rock flyers and the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art's exhibit, <i>Art of Punk</i>.
Bryan with some of his flyer collection. Photos by Jamie Lee Curtis Taete
Bryan Ray Turcotte has been flailing around at punk shows since before you were shot into life's first mosh pit, that great sperm race to the egg. He got into punk during the early 80s while growing up in California's Central Valley, and in the 90s moved down to Los Angeles, tempted by the larger scene. He's been there ever since, and managed to build his own punk empire (if that isn't too much of an oxymoron for you).
What started as a personal collection of punk flyers eventually turned into a book, Fucked Up + Photocopied, chronicling hundreds of show posters from the era. That interest in art and music led him into music supervision for commercials and films, as well as graphic consulting for major brands like Levis and Converse. Now, Turcotte and his partner, Bo Bushnell, are spearheading an exhibition of the artwork associated with the music from Turcotte's youth through Los Angeles's Museum of Contemporary Art (MoCA). Yesterday, an episode of MoCA TV on the Dead Kennedys premiered on MOCA's YouTube channel as a supplement to the exhibition.
I sat down with Turcotte to talk about growing up punk and the power of a flyer.
Darby Crash's shirt and buttons.
VICE: What was your first punk show like?
Bryan: Oh, man. That was such a great show. It was a little show. It was Dischord, Grim Reality, and I wanna say Crucifix-although I could be wrong about that-at De Anza College in Los Gatos. It was one of those things, like, I got into the music and the scene, but I was much younger than the kids in my school who were into it. So that show was like my christening. I had shaved my head and wore a little punk bracelet, but they were like, "You're going to this show." So that was my christening, my first time being thrown into the pit and all that. I have the flyer around somewhere.
What do you remember about seeing the flyer for that specific show?
It was one of those life-changing things, like how listening to the Clash turned me around, musically. After I saw that flyer (and when I went to that show and saw liberty spikes and painted jackets and the whole visual of it), there was no going back. It definitely changed my life for the better.
How did the immersion into the world of punk work back then? It was probably a lot different than if punk had come out during the internet age.
I was schooled, you know? These guys were older. We were lucky because one guy we hung out with was from the UK, so he knew about the early generation stuff. "This is how you peg your pants. This is how you liberty spike your hair with the Knox gel." I learned how to cut hair from that guy, and then I became the punk haircut guy. Your T-shirts were hand done. You'd go to thrift shops and find old clothes and alter them. It was a lot of work, but it was also the first time in my life I felt like I had a mentor. I still look up to those guys.
Some of Bryan's shirt collection.
When did you start collecting flyers?
Right from the get-go, because that's how you knew about shows. They spoke to me visually, but mostly I collected them just to know what was going on. We'd skate all over the city to get these flyers. You'd have to go, skate, tear them down, put 'em in your pocket, and then assess what you were gonna do and decide what to see. You can still get flyers today, it's just not as done anymore. I just put up a poster outside of Intelligentsia and got a lot of reaction to it. Now everything is direct invites-we would never have done that back then. Within a year I had enough flyers to cover my walls from floor to ceiling in my bedroom. That's what led to the first collection in Fucked Up + Photocopied, because my mom called me and said she was moving, so I drove from LA to Los Gatos to take them all down because I knew she would just chuck them.
What's one flyer you can't believe you still have?
I remember sitting at the Tool and Die and seeing the singer from the Fuck-Ups lying on the ground drawing out the flyer for the following night, then running out and making copies and coming back. It was a weird moment where I watched him do it, then watched him leave and come back, give me the flyer, and then we went to the show the next day. I shoved the flyer in my pocket and got it all torn and fucked up, but I still have it, and it's the first flyer in Fucked Up + Photocopied.
What typically went into the process of making a flyer, from concept to final product?
There was something about skating down the street and seeing a flyer with a nuclear explosion or whatever on it. You could be really visual or shocking and satirical, or just funny. Some flyers were just like "Free beer!" or some made fun of Reagan or just had a big picture of Keith Richards with a crazy mustache or something. Every show we played, whether it was a party or not, had a flyer. You'd really just lean on the art school kids to help you. We were in high school, so you'd find some kid who could draw good skulls and he'd give it to you and then you'd sneak into the teachers' lounge to make copies, because there was no Kinkos then, either.
There was definitely an art aspect to the flyers. They were a lot more than just a piece of paper with a date, time, and location stamped on them.
People used to trade flyers, too. And people would write letters on the back of them. If you wrote a letter to Mike Muir from Suicidal Tendencies asking how to get one of those original T-shirts they wore, he'd always write you back saying, "Do it yourself, kid! Here's a sticker." And it was always on the back of a Suicidal Tendencies flyer. It was great to get those flyers from LA, just because we couldn't imagine how big the scene was down here. It was like a mecca to us up north.
The mold for the original Devo hats.
Are flyers dead, or just underused?
I'm old enough to have seen cycles come and go. I have a lot of hope these days, because I think the cycle is coming back to punk. We used to have Solid Gold on TV, and now we have Dancing with the Stars. Everyone is focused on singles again, outside of records. It's like 1976. And what came out of that is punk, hip-hop, DIY culture, and flyer-making. I see vinyl coming back. I see a resurgence in people focusing on quality over quantity.
Flyers were meant to be disposable, and if you held onto it and it lasted for 30 years, it was a miracle. I can look at that Fuck-Ups flyer and remember exactly where I was. It was so hot in there that the walls were sweating. I remember that. It's like getting a star. It's physical. It's an experience. And I don't feel that way for internet flyers. I think people will realize that they want more. Everyone is giving away records and mp3s, but they'll eventually want more of an experience to help them cut through the crap. If you give someone a flyer and they go to a show, the experience will be stronger than if they just find out about something because it's the pick of the day on a social media site.
For more on the Art of Punk exhibit: