Updates and New projects Underway

First, a quick note: my article examining punk spaces, dances, and practices has just been published with both text and a video component in the peer review journal Liminalities. The title is “Slamdance in the No Time Zone: Punk as Repertoire for Liminality,” and it can be read here.

Currently, I have four books in various stages of completion, including another book of interviews, this time surveying Americana/roots and indie musicians from Dave Alvin and Richard Thompson to The Swans and Waterboys. A publisher’s editorial staff is examining it. Next, my co-write of the tell-all Gary Floyd (The Dicks/Sister Double Happiness) biography is entering the final stages of text edits and will be published DIY style, likely using Create Space by Amazon within a month or two. Lastly, I am trying to publish my short story collection digitally while also working on another radical punk band biography. Fifty pages have been churned out, a publisher is interested, though the band is quite busy, even three decades after forming, so though it is hush hush right now, I hope to share more information as soon as steam gathers.

Below, I am listing my three current photography projects, which involve documenting male vernacular spaces, the allure and aesthetics of vintage arcades, and the DIY folk art environment Swetsville Zoo in Colorado. I have begun uploading the series into my photoblog, which you can access here. If you subscribe for free, you will receive new additions via your email in-box. I usually post one-two images per day. You may reproduce or use them according to the Creative Commons licensing, which can also be reviewed on the site, or feel free to email me: leftofthedialmag@hotmail.com.

Baytown, TX, 2013

Baytown, TX, 2013

Barbershops as Male Cabinets of Curiosity: The Original Mancave Microclimates

As a folklorist, I am currently documenting “manscapes” – spaces made, maintained, and preserved by men. They range from barber shops and cluttered offices to tool sheds and teeming basements/backrooms. As gender routines morph and change quickly in the 21st century and commercial spaces become more homogenized, these sites remain some the last vestiges of ‘everyman’ democracy: depots of male memorabilia, tableaux of testosterone, and folkloric wellsprings that embody history, heritage, and identity. As such, they merge a male fascination with material culture (signage, paintings, media, mementos, clothing, gear, etc) with the psychology of a self-governed comfort zone.

They also reveal multiple little histories, highlight objects that trigger narratives and storytelling, and foster uncensored memory sharing. Such spaces underscore the allure of, and need for, social ritual and dissemination of localized lore.  To outsiders, they seem unruly and random, ad hoc and even anarchic, but to insiders they are cabinets of male curiosity – experiential, arranged, curated, adaptable, and distinct.

Colorado, 2013

Colorado, 2013

Known Pleasures in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction: The Allure of Retro Arcades

Penny arcades, once a staple pleasure in beach swept boardwalks and teeming inner cities throughout vaudeville era America, now have entered a second life in the 21st as miniature simulation sites chock-full of relics re-animated upon insertion of scuffed and mottled coins. Offering games full of hectic, herky-jerky rhythmic riots, they still shine as a crudely lit homage to ma and pa consumer-based democracy and continue to destroy children’s ennui in a burst of bells, clanks, dongs, rat-a-tat-tat reverberation and other pervasive cacophonies in a bid for players to win tickets exchanged for a panoply of plastic trinkets, gadgets, baubles, and gewgaws.  The game room has always been a perennial staging ground for anxious nimble-fingered pinball heroes (forming a underground system of prestige based on points, not the merits of machismo) and a boisterous pleasure zone for latchkey kids.

All the loud motions and kinetics become interwoven with an early 20th century visual zeitgeist, replete with exotica, peepshow peekaboos, world war reenactments, un-ironic Orientalism, dime-store mysticism, sports of all stripes, sci-fi predicaments, hunting tournaments, and freak show fetishes. The games, mechanically “crude” compared to the digital apparatuses now infesting 2.0 arcades, are avatars for yesterday’s youth, who plied their trade in these synthetic landscapes of industrialized pleasure, their entire history of mirth written in Edison bulbs, painted glass, metal molds, and geometric wood. The games remain odes to controlled outrageousness, quivering hi-jinx, and clamorous intimacies in fabricated fun zones, where coins can still buy two minutes of pulse-racing hand-eye coordination flux. In all, the sites exist as living museums of wall-to-wall sonic shebang and glaring Pop graphics, tall tales and gamer lore, and hectic short-lived victories every bit as vital as Friday night lights.

Swetsville Zoo, CO 2013

Swetsville Zoo, CO 2013

Yard Art Alchemy: The Aesthetics of Swetsville Zoo

What is a zoo but a place of captivating creatures? They are curated territories, a sanctuary of encounters, a passage through limbo. This zoo, made by self-taught artist and former farmer Bill Swets, filled to the brim with manmade, syncretic, and synthesized creatures evoking industrial past-times and contemporary craft, is a vernacular environment replete with unknown stories and invisible histories, of narratives frozen in rusted and welded parts, squished between the government funded freeway, a rippling river bound to overflow time to time, and a new gleaming Wal-Mart. What should be an ignored sideline gap becomes a reminder of self-reliance and vision. As such, it is an in-between space, a local aesthetic intervention that defies the carefully controlled suburban sprawl, a three-dimensional manifesto for a do-it-yourself ethos made vibrant and visible, a margin ripe with possibilities.

Free and folkloric, playful and poetic, it serves to show the humor of recycled fabrication, remixed public surfaces, and the easygoing elegance of repurposed goods from the rims of car wheels and computer monitors to municipal parking meters and plastic play figures. It feels like a fossilized children’s show, on ode to innocence regained from adult cast-offs. It evokes fantasy kitsch, a morphology of metallic mirth symbolizing uncanny habits. It’s a place to memorialize cartoonist Charles Schultz and rattle oversized chimes. A place to bemoan the lost sense of future – like an un-flown rocketship car and gearhead robots assembled only once in playful Frankenstein daydreams. Using both machine-cut goods and hand-installed innovation, it exudes a democratic spirit and a semiotics of fun built to slowly decay. It blurs assemblage art, over-sized folk curios, and sculptural Pop, tapping into a collective memory of late 20th century iconic figures, bugs, and vehicles.

Ensconced in a clearing next to low-key houses and a trailer retrofitted as a castle, some creatures appear spindly or convoluted, grinning wide, capable of slight mayhem, as if on the verge of thrashing about, ready to clatter into action and give chase. On any given day, children scamper, tread, and maneuver through the re-imagined nuts and bolts, the remolded castaways, in awe at the miniature metallic leviathans, the yard art alchemy.


Late Summer 2013 Updates!

The summer has been very eventful for the Center for Punk Arts, especially July, when I set up a quick “flash” fundraiser for queer blues-punk icon Gary Floyd of The Dicks, Sister Double Happiness, and Black Kali Ma, who is undergoing knee surgeries and dealing with an eviction notice at the same time.  Newcomers Talk Sick Brats and Ex Girlfriends joined punk veterans Beatless to play for a raucous, sweat-drenched crowd at Sound Exchange (thank you too fellows!), which together with an auction of books, photos, and Gary Floyd art raised $600.00. On related news, I am finishing edits on my Gary Floyd co-written biography, which we will likely self-publish within the next month or so after being rejected by a number of publishers unwilling to support one of punk’s greatest icons.


Next, I’d like to announce some upcoming Fall dates. First, I should be appearing at Houston Zine Fest 2013 as part of a panel discussion at the Museum of Printing History on Saturday, October 12 3-8pm, especially regarding the digital archiving of my old fanzines and magazines, released last year by BiblioBoard as the Punk and Indie Compendium. To read a brand new article about the Biblioboard project in general, which mentions my efforts, read this great piece in the Library Journal.

I am also slated to appear at the Texas Book Festival, sometime during Oct. 26-27. More details will be forthcoming.

In regards to my newest books, an array or reviews have appeared the past few months, so below I will provide links to each.

My book Visual Vitriol has become a centerpiece of an article discussing the links between academics and punk, just published by the journal American Studies. The article is titled “Punkademia,” by Maria Elena Buszek,and unfortunately can only be accessed via research databases, but you can see a snippet and read the “abstract” here.

From Baltimore, Blake Underwood penned this huge, excellent review focusing on my style, content issues, and political/cultural angles. Read his piece in Indyreader.

Another short but very exciting, eyes-on-the-prize review was also just featured in the long-running indie favorite Roctober.

Adam Ellsworth’s fine piece focused on my underlying philosophy and approaches in Arts Fuse.

Lastly, veteran LA punk John L. Murphy did catch a few typos but overall lauded the book’s “punk-as-folk-music?” ethos in Popmatters.


In mid-July, I ventured to Austin for a quick meet and greet (thank you Austin 360 for the coverage), and met some readers and fans interested in not only Left of the Dial but Barred for Life too, the Black Flag tattoo fan culture book I edited.

Also, I have also begun editing the first 50 pages of the MDC biography with Dave Dictor and Ron Posner. This project is ongoing, but we hope to gather enough text, photos, and flyers for a release in the not too distant future. I was able to spend a day with them in June, when they shredded Houston ear lobes in the suffocating heat. I will update this post as new information gathers steam.

MDC at Walters in Houston, TX, June 2013, by David Ensminger

MDC at Walters in Houston, TX, June 2013, by David Ensminger