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Photos by Andrea Sonnenberg, words by Kim Kelly
Photos by Andrea Sonnenberg, words by Kim Kelly
Bryan Ray Turcotte has been chasing paper for almost as long as he can remember. As a preteen punk in San Jose, California, he was initiated into the raucous, wild world of live music when he was handed his first gig flyer by “one of the six punks” in town. Little did he know that that first show would induct him into what would become an all-consuming passion, or realize that that single scrap of paper would usher him into a lifelong commitment to collecting, preserving, and appreciating punk ephemera. That’s exactly what happened, and even as social media erodes the need for the kind of physical flyers that fill Turcotte’s house, dot the pages of his art book Fucked Up + Photocopied, and star in the Art of Punk documentary series he created for the Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angeles, the art of the gig poster itself continues to flourish.
Turcotte chalks it up to a sort of primal appreciation for punk’s do-it-yourself ethos; the crappy cut-and-paste gig flyer was and remains a great equalizer, whether you’re using a crusted-over glue stick or the latest version of Photoshop. As Turcotte himself notes, the message is what truly matters: bands, time, cost, place. Everything else is just window dressing.
While his career in the arts has expanded past his early days as a wide-eyed young punk and Los Angeles punk label Slash Records survivor to include roles as a music director, filmmaker, the head honcho at the music production company Beta Petrol, Kill Your Idols book publisher, musician (his band, Drag News, just released a new album), and writer, this counterculture Renaissance man still loves a good gig poster and gets excited when he comes across a rare find.
From his home in Laurel Canyon, Turcotte told us all about his life in music, his many upcoming projects, and what’s going to happen to all those flyers once he’s gone.
First things first — how old were you when you got into punk, and what about it first sucked you in?
I was about 12 when I first discovered punk; The Clash sucked me in big time. I was getting turned off by all the bullshit music that was popular with all my friends in school: Ted Nugent, The Eagles, Kiss — all that stuff was so big and bloated and seemed too out of reach for a kid like me. The Clash’s Black Market Clash EP just kicked my head in the right sweet spot. From there it was only a matter of time, a year or so later I was playing in a band.
What about punk lent itself so well to the art of the flyer? The DIY spirit was crucial, of course, but the punk flyer itself is such an iconic piece of ephemera, there's got to be a deeper reason, right?
My personal opinion is that the punk flyer best represents what punk actually felt like. I mean, the music was a part of it — the speed and energy was a small representation of what the punks were about, but you had to put time into learning to play an instrument, even at the rudimentary level. But the flyers were done by everyone! Anyone could do them. If you could draw, great — some skulls and hand drawn illustrations might set your band apart, like Ray Pettibon, Mad Marc Rude, RxCx, Shawn Kerri. But if you couldn't draw at all, it was no problem: Simply cut out pictures from your parents’ magazines and make a cool collage, Reagan and the devil shaking hands or something like that. It was pretty easy to shock people back then. Seeing a nuclear mushroom cloud on a flyer stapled to a telephone pole back then was crazy — people would think we were all insane.
Do you remember the first gig flyer you ever saw? What show was it for (and did you go)?
The first flyer I ever saw was for a local show. There were only about six punks in Los Gatos at the time where I grew up, one of them handed me the flyer and pretty much expected for me to be there. My first show, first time in the circle pit … it was epic.
When did you start collecting them, and what was the reason behind it? Were you in it for the art or the information?
At first, I started gathering up as many flyers as I could merely to be able to plan and attend as many shows as I could, but as the flyer pile grew, I became attached to them all. [They were] little reminders of the shows I attended as well as the shows I missed and wished I could have seen. Within a year of gathering them, I had enough to cover all four walls of my bedroom: punk wallpaper. My mom hated it.
Why do you think the flyer itself still holds such appeal? Social media has changed the way we view them, but people still make flyers for shows — even if they never make it onto actual paper.
I personally think the flyers, posters, and stuff like that have a real energy about them. They are really only meant to rally the kids to one show happening on one night and represent such a pure message — time, place, bands, cost. They are true pieces of art and still make me excited — like a warm-up to the event itself.
Have you always liked saving and collecting things, or are flyers your only interest in that regard? What about the process do you enjoy most?
I think it's safe to say I am a collector for sure, although I hate the term and what it represents to most people. I collect things that make me feel something: a personal emotional connection, little icons and markers from the journey itself. I could care less about the monetary value of things like art and flyers. I guess you could say that all the items I have surrounding me are part of me, rather that just things I grab or buy. They represent a bigger story in my mind. The journey is the most important thing. I would rather experience the show full-on, get into it and see as much as I can see. Fuck taking video and phone pictures, it's too distracting. The flyer brings all those feelings right back.
What's the coolest flyer you've ever held in your hands?
Dang, there are so many! I think the coolest flyer right now would have to be the Catholic Discipline poster that Chris D. from the Flesheaters hand-screened for Claude Kickboy Face. He made very few of them, I have only ever seen photographs of the poster, but he gave me one recently. It’s amazing how long it's been hiding in a drawer but made it into my hands after all these years. Chris is a friend and knew I would love it!
How do you keep the decades’ worth of old punk papers stored in your house in good condition?
It's people touching them and looking through them that keeps them alive. I keep them in piles without plastic sleeves and ready for anyone to look through. They are as new as the day I ripped them off the poles. They are in contact with humans every day. I think if I put them in sleeves in a dark drawer they would disintegrate. Plus, I still like showing them and looking through them for inspiration.
What are you planning to do with them after you die?
[Laughs] I’ve never been asked that before! My plan is to have a large-scale display of everything I own [in a] huge museum-type setting, and then travel the world until I die. I plan on designing and curating the show myself. I am ready to start, but I have to find the right location.