Arts Desk

Ask a Librarian: Tina Plottel Catalogs Kansas House

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According to George Washington University librarian Tina Plottel, punk rock in D.C. is not
dead. And the demise of the Arlington DIY venue Kansas House last year shouldn't be taken as an ending point.

There are variables, she says, on which area punk depends. The presidential administration is one of them: Plottel says that many members of the D.C scene in its early years were the children of people who worked in the Reagan Administration. Does the Obama Administration offer a similarly restrictive, buttoned-up environment in which punk-rock culture tends to breed? Well, not quite. "Not to say that I don't love Obama!" she says. "But kids today, they come here and they want to work in nonprofits, or work on the hill. It's just not the same sort of environment it once was. People here have a different agenda than we had back then, not worse, just different."

Plottel, who  once wrote the "Rock Stars Hate Me" column for Washington City Paper, attended college in D.C. during punk rock's heyday. Now she's creating an oral and visual history of Kansas House, where she once hung out and rubbed shoulders with some of the heavies of the scene. Plottel has been interviewing many of the musicians performed at Kansas House—research she'd like to deposit in George Washington University's collection of punk-rock materials. Washington City Paper asked her a few questions about being a punk-rock documentarian, and being a punk-rock librarian.

What kind of questions do you ask the musicians in your interviews?

The questions I ask are really open—the first one I ask is regarding when people first heard about Kansas, when it sort of appeared on their radar. I also ask what it was like to go to an event there—for musicians, what it was like to play there. For folks who lived there, I also ask about that—what it was like to live in a place that was just so open like it was. The last question I ask, though, is the same for everyone. I always tell people they can define the terms however they want, but I ask what their most significant moment at Kansas was.

Around what time did you start hanging out at the Kansas House, and around what time did you stop?

Hmmm... that is a very good question. I know that I started going there for Derek Morton's Tropic of Metallotronic Festival, which I think was in 1997. It was either 1996 or 1997. Derek moved in there in '96 so it was sometime not long after that when I met him. I probably stopped going there some time in the early-oughts. Bob Massey wrote the Nitrate Hymnal from the house he was living at in Silver Spring, MD, and that happened in 2003, so probably some time in like 2000 or 2001. I still went to shows there, but it stopped being a regular hang out for me around then.

Have a lot of the musicians remained here in D.C., and which of them have left?

Yes, so you've got Marc Nelson (Marcus Kyd). His brother, Ryan, lives in Kalamazoo, Mich. Three of the four Dismemberment Plan guys live here (Eric Axelson, Joe Easley, and Jason Caddell—Travis Morrison lives in Brooklyn). Justin Moyer lives here (he also used to work at City Paper and is at the Post now). Chris Richards from Q and Not U had a stint in Brooklyn but lives here again (he's at the Post, too). David Durst, who was involved with the Punk Not Rock stuff lives here (he works at Threespot)... there's a lot more, too. I'm thinking about the people I interviewed. Yukiko Moynihan lives in Arlington, still. Jason Barnett, Angela Melkisethian, and Collin Crowe all still live here. Mary Chen lives in Philly, as does Katy Otto. Bob Massey lives in LA.

When did you start your library science degree?

Okay, here's the trajectory on that. I left City Paper in 2002 to go to CUA for my MLS (master's in library science). I was there for eight-and-a-half years—I started in the fall of 1993—my first job out of college—and my last day was the last day of June in 2002. So, I started library school that fall and finished in the spring of 2004. My first job out was at the Census Bureau in Suitland, Md. I worked there for 15 months and then I started at GW in October of 2005, where I'm currently a reference and instruction librarian.

Video interviews from the Kansas House Project can be viewed at its Facebook page. If you'd like to donate to Plottel's Kansas House project, her KickStarter profile is here.

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