Arts Desk

People Are Really Pumped About This Lucian Perkins Book

 

Which is to say: It's pretty impressive that this Kickstarter campaign, for an upcoming exhibition and book of Lucian Perkins' photographs of early D.C. punk shows, has raised more than $5,000 of its $7,000 goal in one day.

The book and travelling exhibition is called HARD ART DC 1979, and it features photographs from the year the future Pulitzer winner first became acquainted with D.C. punk, when he was an intern at The Washington Post. He spent his evenings shooting shows at places like the Madam's Organ art collective, Hard Art Gallery, and dc space. Longtime D.C. punk rocker Alec MacKaye wrote the book's text (with a contribution from Henry Rollins).

In March 1980, Perkins' photographs inspired a Washington Post Magazine cover story by Blaine Harden titled "Midnight Patrol With Washington's 'Punk'/'New Wave'." At the time, of course, the What-It-All-Means of D.C.'s burgeoning hardcore tradition wasn't quite clear:

Punk/New Wave music, Washington-style, is a difficultly acquired taste. For the most part, it has all the professional polish of feral dogs fighting in a back alley. It can be condemned for what rock and roll music has always been condemned for: incomprehensible lyrics sung in the shadow of electronically amplified, guitar-dominated instrumentals blurted out in acoustically inappropriate buildings at volume levels that make blood drip from the ears. It can be praised for its energy, lack of pretense and outrageous disregard for accepted cultural values.

In Washington, where New Wave musicians claim that most upper-middle-class professionals only recognize art when Time and Newsweek tell it's art, Punk/New Wave does not have a large audience. By most estimates the music has had a hardcore following of about 500 teenagers and young adults since 1978. They range in age from 14 to 35. The same faces keep showing up at the five or six area clubs where the music is played. Punk/New Wave, which has become a major musical movement, is little more than a festering pimple on the face of culture in Washington where the main attactions continue to be movies that get good reviews.

These days, we've heard the narrative of D.C. as a cradle of punk and hardcore time and again (and certainly in Washington City Paper's pages). There's even an authoritative photographic account, Banned in DC. Later this month month, the excellent D.C. Music Salon series is looking into the history of dc space.

We see less of the earliest years of the scene—the time covered in HARD ART DC. The story behind the book and show, at least according to the promo video, is pretty cool. In 1995, Perkins hired Lely Constantinople—then dating MacKaye, whom she later married—as an assistant. She found the punk photos while going through negatives in Perkins' basement, and recognized a 14-year-old MacKaye in one of them. "These photographs were a grail for us in the music scene," says MacKaye in the video. "They were taken at a time when not many people took pictures at all, and they captured a time that was pivotal for me personally and i think for a lot of people." The photos come from four shows, all from August and September of 1979.

The exhibit runs at Civilian Art Projects in November and tours to galleries in New Orleans, Austin, and elsewhere in 2012.

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