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See the Ramones, the Velvet Underground, the Clash, the Sex Pistols, Blondie and, oddly enough, Fatboy Slim as angst ridden teenagers, before they were known as revolutionary musical icons, at MSU Special Collections’ latest exhibit.
“The magazines that existed at the time weren’t going to cover punk like it needed to be covered, so you took it upon yourself to build the scene,” curator Joshua Barton said.
“In the same way as punk music, kids took the means of production into their own hands. At the time, they didn’t have social networking websites to build a scene with, so there needed to be some sort of other infrastructure built.”
Self-published zines were a labor of love, patchworks of text and images trimmed with razor blades and fixed into place with rubber cement. Photos were ripped from magazines.
“There was a lot of indiscriminate copyright infringement,” Barton said. “Another aspect of the legend is that many of them were scanned off duplication machines or Xerox machines at work — staying after hours and printing them out on someone else’s dime.”
Highlights from display include Los Angeles’ Slash Magazine and London’s Sniffin’ Glue and Chainsaw.
Chainsaw is steeped in DIY improvisation. Editor Charlie Chainsaw’s letter “N” was broken on his typewriter, so every “N” letter was written in by hand.
One of the interview subjects of Chainsaw was Norman Cook, drummer for a band called Disque Attack. Cook would later achieve international fame under the name Fatboy Slim, best known for a string of hit dance records in the late ‘90s. He also holds the Guinness World Record for most top 40 hits under different aliases.
The collection also features what is considered to be the first punk zine in history, Barton said. Entitled Punk, it was published out of New York in 1976 with articles on the Ramones and Lou Reed of the Velvet Underground.
In its first edition, Punk Magazine writer Mary Harron said listening to the Ramones play “Blitzkrieg Bop” live was like “Sitting underneath Niagara Falls.”
MSU Special Collection’s zine cache wouldn’t be possible without the work of ‘60s MSU professor Russel Nye, who co-created the discipline of popular culture studies.
“The first nugget of this collection came from him,” Barton said.
Before working as a librarian, Barton played punk in bands throughout high school and beyond.
“The threshold for participation was very low, including not even knowing how to play your instrument as a barrier to entry. All that was appealing. There is liberation that comes from having to do stuff all by yourself.”
Starting work at the library in 2007, there were 200 uncatalogued punk materials, Barton said.
“For the first couple months, it was the first material I’ve worked with as a cataloger and I realized we had something special on our hands,” he said. “Through getting trained as a librarian, you learn to respect primary sources and material that are artifacts of the cultures they come off of. This is among the primary sources of punk and western subculture.”
MSU Special Collections houses some punk zines that are not available anywhere else nationally, with libraries in London being the only other holders in the world, he added.
However, the collections are not so sacred they are inaccessible.
“The land grant mission is real all the way down to using the comic books and zines. This isn’t legendary material in that you can’t come in and touch it,” Barton said.
Despite the advent of social media, zines are still very relevant and active in the punk scene.
“With Facebook, there is a certain amount of vulnerability to expect when you are searching for your own weirdos," Barton said. Zines, by contrast, are passed hand to hand.
"This way, you can control who you hand it to and it is all tied to an artifact and an intimate chain of distribution,” he said.
MSU Special Collections Punk Zine Open House
4 to 7 p.m., Tuesday, Nov. 27 MSU Library - Special Collections Seminar Room 366 West Circle Dr., East Lansing (517) 884-0901 www.bookings.lib.msu.edu