Thursday, November 29, 2007

'Punk Is Dead': Turcotte shines light of lesser-known musicians

Thursday, November 29, 2007

The adage "punk is dead" has been around far longer than punk was alive. But for Bryan Ray Turcotte, author of "F- up and Photocopied" and the recently published "Punk Is Dead: Punk Is Everything," that's the wrong debate. Punk isn't a music genre that fits neatly in historical boundaries. It's everywhere - the do-it-yourself ethic, the safety-pin clothing aesthetic, the three-chord song.

And perhaps the biggest reason punk's influence is felt so far afield is that it didn't just create rock gods for kids to worship - it also empowered young people to create on their own. To celebrate the luminaries and the unknown bands, Turcotte created "Punk Is Dead."

"It's not that it's so different, it just tells more of the story," Turcotte says. "The first book, I felt obliged to sort of wrap my arms around the actual bands, the key bands, the bands that changed history. With the success of the first book, I felt like I had carte blanche to do what I wanted to do - set the record straight about the impact of the fringe bands."

To do that, Turcotte drew on his collection of flyers, photos and other bits of ephemera. Turcotte estimates that from his years as a San Francisco skate punk through his time working at Slash records in Los Angeles, to now, almost 40, working as a music supervisor, that he has between 20,000-30,000 fliers. He found original members of bands to tell their own stories, and he organized it by subgenres within the scene ("Death metal speed glam" gets its own chapter, if only to show that the different styles had more in common than they knew).

"The kids in the suburbs, the ones who felt they didn't belong, that's the reason it swept so big," he notes. "All the opening bands that nobody's ever heard of, that's the spirit of punk."

Turcotte sets his work apart by finding people who haven't had their stories told before. Both volumes are attempts to create a punk rock book about punk rock. Turcotte didn't have much money or knowledge of graphic design when he started. The important thing, he says, was to "just go out and do it."

"I was trying to maintain the integrity of (punk) feelings. I designed the book using Photoshop, by myself, on a Mac and a $99 printer," he says. "The reason this book took so long to come out was because of my inexperience.

"It's not mean to be perfect. Even after it's come off the presses, I keep finding mistakes, and that's sort of what it should be. If I spent the time to make it perfect ... I don't know, I'd never be done." "Punk Is Dead" isn't meant to be the definitive look at punk culture; it just manages to turn a spotlight on a few of those who typically get cropped out of the photos.

Bryan Ray Turcotte reads at 7 p.m. Fri. The Booksmith, 1644 Haight St., S.F. (415) 863-8688.

- Reyhan Harmanci,

This article appeared on page G - 28 of the San Francisco Chronicle

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