Write-up by Catherine Morris
Tuesday night, December 7, RE/Search Publications held a party at The Lab, San Francisco's very cool Mission gallery and art space, to celebrate the release of "PUNK '77: an inside look at the san francisco rock 'n' roll scene, 1977." Author and photographer James Stark was present to sign copies of his book, but maintained a low profile in a black cap that partially shadowed his face. "It was all a little overwhelming, you know, with all the..." Stark trails off as he starts laughing. "All the..." must surely refer to the large number of people (ranging in age from 3 to older) who showed up to look at Stark's photographs, posters and paintings, listen to the music that defined the punk scene (then and now), talk, drink, and visit. In attendance were several of San Francisco's original 1970s punk rock scene-makers, including: Bruce Conner, fellow punk photographer who hails back to the Beats; Penelope Houston, former singer for the Avengers, who sold T-shirts and CDs representing her past and current music career; Dirk Dirksen, former manager of the Mabuhay, the famous (now defunct) North Beach music venue where the original punk bands got to play to their first paying audiences; Brendan Early, original Mutants drummer; Michael Belfer of the Sleepers; Mike Mannion of the Dickheads; Hank Ford of the Breeders; Mindaugis Bagdon, former member of Search and Destroy and videographer behind "Louder Faster Shorter," a video of the Avengers, Dils, Mutants, Sleepers and UXA playing the Mabuhay in March of 1978; and, of course, V. Vale, former publisher of Search & Destroy, the legendary San Francisco punk rock tabloids, and current publisher of RE/Search Publications. These people and more are pictured in Stark's photographs in "PUNK '77."
The Lab is a large, very high-ceilinged, somewhat rough-looking (in the sense of not overly polished) warehouse space at 16th Street and Capp in San Francisco's Mission district. V. Vale and Marian Wallace (along with Kathryn Johnson and Yimi Tong) worked for two days with James Stark to ready the space for the party, mounting original photographs, posters and zine pages on the white walls and setting up a bar space and tables where Stark would sign books and Vale would sell other RE/Search books and CDs. In punk tradition, The Lab donated the space to be used for the party, admission to the party was free and open to the public, and drinks cost only $2 each (even the mixed drinks, which consisted of strange-looking black vodka--black from being filtered through charcoal--that tasted like bad medicine, and when mixed with orange or cranberry juice produced a strange green or purple drink that tasted very nice). The music played from a small CD and tape player against one wall and consisted of original songs by the Avengers.
Dirk Dirksen looked somehow British in thick glasses for his near-sighted eyes, shirt, vest and jacket in various earth-tones, a belly rounded with middle age, and a tweed hat that reminded me of Sherlock Holmes.
"You know, everyone thinks I did a great thing, giving the bands a place to play at the Mabuhay," he said. "But really, I was just trying to make a space where the bands could play when no one else would hire them. I mean, we're talking about the dregs of the dregs of the bottom of the dregs, here."
"You mean you didn't do it because you liked the music, then?"
He shook his head emphatically. "Oh no," he laughed. "I did not like the music at all."
"So they really were that bad?"
One of the things that defined the punk movement was everyone's recognition of how important music was--so important that they couldn't let anything stand in their way of playing it, and certainly nothing so trifling as not knowing how to sing or play an instrument. Many members of the bands learned to play their instruments up onstage at the Mabuhay, during shows. Their music got better and more defined, and gave birth to what is still a thriving movement. "People in the original punk scene weren't kids, though," Vale reminds us. "They were a little older, in their twenties and thirties, not like all the teenage punks now."
All different kinds of people attended the Lab party. There were many San Francisco young hipsters and punks present, but also many people who weren't punk, many middle-aged and older people, some of whom were formerly punk, several children, and one dog. Also in punk tradition, a "survivor" from the original days named Eric (son of 85-year-old San Francisco accordion legend Clyde), wearing all black skinny clothes and with messy blond hair, walked drunkenly through the party carrying a never-empty drink and yelling in slurred, unintelligible syllables that sounded like he had a British accent--but who could tell?
The party was a real success, as everyone seemed to have fun and most people stayed till well past the party's advertised closing time.
James Stark's photographs were published in New York Rocker, Slash, Search & Destroy and other publications, and his posters for the band Crime are highly-prized collectors' items. James still rides a motorcycle and takes photographs, while pursuing his current obsession: Portuguese history, culture and cuisine.
If you liked this write-up, be sure to subscribe to our newsletter, by emailing us
Search & Destroy
Index of Feature Articles