JOHAN KUGELBERG: The Pistol's ephemera in the Cornell archive is absolutely extraordinary. And Cornell acquired these materials before the prices started going completely ballistic. Because, yes, now I'm saying it again, punk is Dada. And what I'm seeing when it comes to punk ephemera is actually really similar to how the trade in Dada and early surrealist ephemera really, really started skyrocketing in the mid to late '50s.
The first major American Dada exhibition was in 1953 in New York. And previously, Dada broadside some pamphlets and, dare I say zines, were cheap and plentiful and no one really wanted them. And then after the first major exhibition, they started getting collected. Of course, with punk, there's not really punk art. There's not really visual art because it is a disposable culture, which Joan and I pointed out in our punk graphic design book.
So one thing that might be tricky to understand if you're 22 is that these things were all handcrafted. They were all Etsy'd. You had to have like glue sticks and scissors and Sharpies and rulers and pens and that you actually did paste-ups for all of these examples of graphic design that we see. And those paste-ups were not preserved in a manner where you were thinking of them as art pieces. They were like as disposable as one of the pizza menus in your kitchen drawer.
So it is very, very rare that examples of original punk paste-ups have survived. The cool thing is that we actually have some of them here at Cornell. It is also really interesting to see, and now we're going to situationist lingo again, you see so many examples of the detournement, which is basically a post-war French theoretical term for painting a mustache on the Mona Lisa or doing like blacking out the eyeballs on a Donald Trump poster or whatever it is you're doing.
This is an example of a Jon Savage contemporary detournement of a Sex Pistols gig flyer. This was the handbill for the Pistols playing at the Notre Dame in the fall of 1976. It was the first time that Jon saw the Pistols perform. He took that handbill and then he cut out stuff and pasted it around and mashed it up. And then this became the front cover of his first fanzine that he published tailend of '76, very early 1977.
And this is set in juxtapose to a Swedish teenybopper magazine poster of the Sex Pistols. The magazine poster was like a mainstream teenybopper magazine, where they could like tack up the Justin Biebers of the day on the wall of their room. The funniest thing about this poster, on the other side of this, we have the Eagles. And what could possibly be a better example of, A, the commodification of punk that actually happened in real-time but also how different this is, how completely unslick and rugged and rough and tumble this performance at like a local Swedish discotheque is.
And one thing that you got to remember, I'm old enough to remember this. I'm born in 1965. So I was 12 in 1977. Music before punk, with the exception of black and Latin music, pop music was so horrible. Disco was rad, especially the rad disco that came out of the African-American community or the Latino/Latina community. Funk was still going strong.
There was great jazz. Mainstream rock and roll before punk, it's almost impossible to understand how awful it was. It was so awful that you can't even have like an aggressive attitude about it. It was more like being mad at a commute or being mad at like an ugly highway overpass. And it was also all music that was generally about the status quo.
And of course, it sounds super simplistic saying that punk was about upsetting the status quo. But no doubt it was. And it's also thinking about the upset of the status quo in a pre-medial culture is also really, really difficult to understand.
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Collector and author Johan Kugelberg gives a tour of Cornell University Library's exhibition, "Anarchy in the Archives," which explores punk’s cultural and political impact from the mid-1970s to the present day.
Cornell’s punk archive began arriving in 2012, when Kugelberg donated around 3,000 items documenting punk’s emergence to the library’s Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections. The library’s punk collections – with rare posters, flyers, fanzines, recordings and photographs of iconic performers such as the Ramones, Iggy Pop and Blondie – have since grown to record the development of punk and its offshoot musical genres in Los Angeles, the San Francisco Bay Area and the Midwest.