We'll be back soon with more useful tips on preserving your label's material (and hopefully some conference photos!), but until then... Courage!
Regular readers may have noticed that our output here at the Indie Preserves blog has somewhat slowed since the holidays. Well, we're working hard (or is it hardly working?) on our SXSW presentation, which happens in just about... a MONTH? Where does the time go!
We'll be back soon with more useful tips on preserving your label's material (and hopefully some conference photos!), but until then... Courage!
Our coverage of valiant archivists preserving their local indie and DIY scene continues! Today’s post is a conversation with Rebecca Hamilton, State Librarian of Louisiana, who is tirelessly working to collect and preserve material from Baton Rouge's punk scene.
IP: Could you describe the work you have done with punk music in the area?
RH: I grew up way out in the country. I was very different from everybody else -- I was a tomboy -- so I was like odd man out all the time. I was listening to a lot of hardcore, like Fear and the Minutemen, but X from Los Angeles brought an intelligence and a poetry to that style of music, and really changed my life. Punk music saved my life and was very important to me, as a person who was fifteen or sixteen years old.
What was happening in Baton Rouge at this time was a reaction to the Vietnam war and what was happening politically -- Louisiana was a very corrupt state, politically, and we were always in the news -- and we liked to say there was a “freak scene” that rolled into the punk rock scene. So there was this underground artist community, and in my opinion it was the coolest thing that Baton Rouge ever had. That kind of revolutionary spirit still kind of bubbles around, and it came from a very specific area -- a tiny little street in the area right outside the gates of [Louisiana State University] called Chime Street. On that street were several little spots, places where live music was played, lots of cool bands... This was a time in Baton Rouge when there was a really happening live music scene. I had a lot of friends, maybe a little bit older than me that came before me. Growing up and going to LSU, spending time in this area, seeing lots of local bands [with] lots of friends being in bands that go onto to doing good things, I’ve always felt like it wasn’t properly documented -- that it was a really cool time in Baton Rouge history. This was something that was really cool and it’s something that sort of still exists, but the places over time start being torn down or renovated. Some of the folks died that were my age and a little bit older.
I had this idea that I wanted to document it, but I didn’t have any money. I kept thinking about it more than anything else. A friend of mine who also grew up in the scene mentioned that there was a young man that he knew that was a Chime Street hanger-on-er, a little bit younger, but that filmmaking was his career. He would be somebody good to talk to and who is really a local historian. He knows a lot about Baton Rouge, all types of music. I got really excited once I talked to him. We decided that we would do as we could do it.
Late summer [of 2015], we did a GoFundMe page and got a lot of little donations really fast. We created a Facebook page and got tons of interest almost immediately. There was already a Facebook page called “Chime Street Boldly Going Where We’ve All Been Before” that connected a lot of people from that era and that place, and when we created our [GoFundMe page], it really picked up steam. It was locally being talked about -- people were excited about it.
Here in my role as State Librarian for Louisiana, I have established relationships with a lot of authors from Louisiana. It just so happens that one of our great authors Tim Parrish was also the lead singer of one of the earlier bands called the Lower Chakras. He was at that historic Sex Pistols show here in Baton Rouge in 1978. I brought him into the project.
I have an archive of my own of fliers of every punk rock show I’ve ever been to. We scanned those. We have a digital library at the state library. We created a section for the documentary. I’m collecting at this point photographs from any folks at the scene or that were in bands if they could acknowledge the time, the place, and who is in the photo. We don’t [want to] run afoul of any rights. We’re scanning them and putting them in this folder to be part of the permanent collection.
We had one show that August at a [place] called Chelsea's, which was a reunion of the band Lower Chakras. That show was standing room only. It got those guys back together. There was another band here called the Shit Dogs, which were very good. I think most of those members have died, but the lead singer came out and did a couple songs. It was amazing. All of these folks who hadn’t seen each other in a long time reconnected all for a common purpose. It got everyone energized about the project. That’s where we are. I’m still trying to raise money. We’re sort of at a stand still. I’ve paid Bennet for all of the work that he’s done so far, but I’m at the point now where I’ve got to get some more money.
IP: Perhaps, you can tell us a little bit about what it was like putting this together for permanent housing in a library collection.
RH: Here at the state library we collect. We have a general collection that we’re phasing out, because funding and that collection existed to supplement all of the other libraries’ collections. Over time that became less and less of an important task. We’ve really focused on what we call the Louisiana Collection, which is collecting anything and everything written about Louisiana or by someone from Louisiana. To me, it just seems natural. We’re already collecting. Authors will leave us their manuscripts. We’ve had famous artists leave us their artwork. We have things that aren’t typical for a state library collection, but we have things that could really be at a state museum or somewhere else. Because people leave them to us in their will or things like that, we have an interesting collection of not just books and microfilm and things you see in a library, but also artwork, paintings, and things like that. To me, it just seemed natural.
It’s a part of Louisiana history, but it is also is a part of Baton Rouge history. At some point, I’m going to end up working with the East Baton Rouge Library, which is the local parish library, In what they call the Baton Rouge room. East Baton Rouge is the parish where the capital is, so this library would naturally have the Baton Rouge collection. It could be one day that it is really housed there and not here. While I was in this job, I’m a political appointment, so my job could go away. I was just recently reappointed by the new lieutenant governor. I told him about it, and he’s excited about seeing it done. I also felt like if I weren’t in this job, it wouldn’t be anybody else’s priority, but mine. It is so specific and an interest of mine. If we do what I want to do, there’ll be a documentary film, but also a companion book with either fliers, written stories, photographs, and possibly a vinyl collection, a compilation of songs from the bands from here from that era. That is my big picture vision. Really, all we have done here as far as collecting at the state library is scanning what people send me either photographs or fliers or articles or anything like that. It’s not even live where people can get to it, because it’s not cleaned up.
IP: Could you tell us about the condition of some of the things that people have given you? Have they come in in decent condition or have you had to do physical or digital restoration?
RH: I think they’ve come in in good condition. I’m thinking about my fliers that they just scanned. They look fantastic. I don’t think my staff did anything special to them. Photographs, the main thing about photographs is that people are like oh I remember when this was taken but I can’t remember exactly where. It was at one of two or three shows and I know this guy and this guy, but not this guy. I want to do the best I can to acknowledge everybody that’s in every picture and have a good record of those folks, the places, etc. The photographs have been fantastic. Some people have T-shirts, buttons, and bumper stickers. I have gotten any of those yet, because I wanted to have a safe place to keep everything. The photographs and the fliers have looked fantastic. The have translated. Once scanned, they look good.
IP: Will there be archivists working on the project? Will you move toward creating archival record groups or scanning and putting items up online?
RH: The head of my Louisiana Collection is also an archivist. I think one of her subordinates has some background in history and archiving things. There is that component built in. They were telling me how to store my fliers properly and the best way to do it. Sharlene, although she functions as a reference librarian, head of special collections, they do bring that to the table. As far as I’m concerned this isn’t any special project other than my personal interest, which is being paid for somewhere else. Making it appropriate for the public to get access to to me that is a state library function. If we ever needed to get input or help from archivists from around the state, we’ll do that. We want to do it right.
IP: You have very clear, tangible goals. How has that helped you in getting people involved?
RH: There are some very specific people who did very important things, and those folks have relationships and have done things that will help us. For example, one of my friends played locally in a little Baton Rouge punk/thrash band called Chaos Horde, and they were one of a couple of bands that opened for a famous New York band called Agnostic Front. At some point, Agnostic Front lost a guitar player, and they asked my friend to play guitar for them. That was a big deal back in the day, and they toured with Motorhead. So he built relationships with other musicians and has made a lifelong career of music in Austin -- he tours with Roky Erickson and Billy Gibbons from ZZ Top, and has been on Austin compilations. So he has contacts high up in the music industry, and they’ve shown interest in possibly helping to fund some of what we’re doing. So being able to say, “I want this on film” or “I want these specific interviews from these specific people” -- and those specific people getting excited and wanting to help -- means we’re getting more. I’ve had a couple people who have donated $500 and they’ve been pretty insistent on knowing what their money is going to be spent on, and knowing what we want to do has made people have more faith in us and kick back additional support in more areas.
Rebecca's GoFundMe page is still live and accepting donations. She also has a Facebook page for the documentary, where people from the BR scene can share stories and pictures.
Does a New Year’s resolution sound a bit lame to you? Usually we'd agree with you. But sometimes giving yourself an arbitrary starting point (with a hefty amount of emotional significance) is a good way to kick off a plan that requires self-motivation -- and brothers and sisters, committing to preserving your material requires a butt-load of of self-motivation.
Knowing that, why not set some goals for yourself right now? What follows is handy-dandy reference to some of our best preservation advice from last year:
SXSW updates: our panel will feature your fearless Indie Preserves team, Sean Bohrman of Burger Records, and Jessica Thompson. Its world debut is just 10 short weeks away, and that means we have to prepare. Taking over the music world with sage preservation advice takes a lot of prep time. (Honestly, it also takes time to be this awesome.) Thus, you should expect fewer posts for the next two months. It doesn’t mean we love you less, but, well...
This is the second part of our interview with Jason Hollen and Dudley Floyd from the Missouri City, TX SERVPRO. Do you remember our posts on water damage (and this one, too) and mold? We pointed out that big disasters call for big experts.
IP: After sitting in a garage for several years, boxes containing papers and tapes have been damaged by mold. How would SERVPRO preserve these items?
Dudley Floyd: It is very difficult to preserve items as such. One must understand that mold grows and feeds on anything organic. Paper is organic, and it is a very stable mold food. Once mold starts growing on paper and starts growing hyphae [...], it is virtually impossible to salvage the paper itself. It’s not something that you can wipe off and remove. Once it is heavily contaminated, you pretty much cannot salvage it.
Jason Hollen: That’s when we deal with the freeze drying and trying to restore the documents and make copy of the documents. But once the mold actually starts to grow on documents, there is no salvaging the actual documents. It’s a process of duplicating it.
IP: How would you deal with audio tapes, any kind of magnetic tape? Does that go to the same outsource company?
DF: We would outsource it. At this point, we haven’t really had much need for that. That’s certainly not something that we specialize in. We would find out who specializes in that type of thing and outsource it.
IP: We’re trying to get people to start think tactically. Do you have any advice for people who are trying to potentially avoid such problems?
DF: In the modern world that we live in, a backup is very very important to scan documents, salvage documents. I think everybody today really has backup documents of a majority of what they have. I think when we start looking at damaged documents today it’s probably legal stuff that you need original copies of or historical documents, something that has some type of value as an historical document. Don’t put it in a cardboard box and dump it in your garage. That’s going to look for trouble. Garages are not air conditioned spaces. Your humidity inside a garage is always going to be a whole lot higher. Your cardboard box itself is going to absorb moisture and mold is driven by moisture. If your relative humidity is maintained at below 60% RH, mold technically cannot grow. It’s not possible. I would take documents, put them inside plastic folders, put them inside plastic tote bins, and seal them. If they are sealed without any moisture inside, those containers are going to be fine. Keep the air dry. Make sure that you have dehumidifiers and you store stuff in an area where mold can’t grow. Mold cannot function without moisture. As long as you keep the air dry and you can control moisture, you will directly control mold.
JH: Your air conditioner works as a dehumidifier.
DF: If one just wants to guard against water and mold, you can be very careful. You can protect it against mold and suddenly you have a fire and you’ve lost the documents anyway. If the documents are that important, get a fireproof safe, keep it in an air conditioned area, where your humidity is regulated and controlled. If it’s that important to you, then that is probably what you need to do. I would always recommend having an electronic back-up. Scan them, photograph them. Do what you have to do. If your document is that important, fireproof safes in a climate controlled area is probably the only way to go.
Over the course of some 40-odd posts, we here at Indie Preserves have tried to instill reasons to save your label’s material -- namely, for you to have it in the short-term and because someone else might want it for the long-term. Today, we’re profiling a project that would benefit from the successful preservation of your label’s (or your band’s) photo materials. Launched at the beginning of this month, the Smithsonian’s Rock ‘n’ Roll project is calling on industry players, artists, fans, and concertgoers alike to submit their best rock ‘n’ roll performance photos to a new web site (and eventually a Smithsonian book), where the photos will be available to future researchers and educators. Indie Preserves talked with Matt Litts, Marketing Director of Smithsonian Books, about the project.
Tim DeLaughter leads the Polyphonic Spree at The El Rey, Los Angeles, on November 20th, 2015. © Evan Cowitt. All rights reserved.
IP: How did the Smithsonian’s Rock ‘n’ Roll project start?
ML: The vice president of Business Development approached me about this project, seeing if we were interested in taking it on and publish a book form some of the content provided. It’s a cool project, and I think it jives nicely with the ideals of the Smithsonian Institution… But in my mind’s eye, I was pretty confident that we would get a lot of “middle of the road” rock stuff, which is fine because it kinda fits in with one of the layers of the project. The first obvious [layer] is for people to send us their “Greatest Moment in Rock.” It’s not going to be Ike Turner playing “Rocket 88” or Jerry Lee Lewis or Chuck Berry, it’s the collective your Greatest Moment in Rock, whether that was you seeing R.E.M. in 1984 or the Flaming Lips in 1987 or Scratch Acid in 1986… That was kind of the first goal -- just send us your stuff. All that being said, we have gotten a lot of middle of the road stuff. Probably the most sent-in artists so far are Queen, Bruce Springsteen, and R.E.M. We’re getting tons of Motley Crue and Van Halen, but we would love to get Elvis, or Tina Turner, or Janis Joplin…
The second layer is, we hope to get images of the iconic artists in ways that they haven’t been presented before. If you think Elvis Presley, you think of the one or two images of him with his hips out to the right, with left arm holding the cool microphone. I think artists, after a while and especially after they pass away, are slimmed down to two or three images and you just think of them in that way. But you just know that someone’s grandmother or grandfather took a picture of Elvis at the Arkansas State Fair that might be really cool. We’re hoping to get those shots that have been sitting in someone’s basement or attic, but it’s kinda cool just to see what people are excited about, see what they’re posting, and see the volume of what’s coming in… Just in the first week, we received 1,500 photographs, and we didn’t know if that’s a lot or a little. Then we talked to the people who work on the photo contests for Smithsonian Magazine and Air and Space, and we’ve tripled Air and Space and are on-par with Smithsonian, [even though] ours is not a contest... You would think rock photography is such a smaller niche than nature photography. If this kind of pace continues, we’ll have 50,000 photos in a year, which is frightening.
IP: Have you started to take the next steps of how you will be organizing it, your metadata, those kinds of things?
ML: Yes. We’ve brought on an intern, and her job is basically to review, process, tag, and upload, in that order. Then the site technology kind of organizes itself, and give the photographer the option to geo-place the image by city and venue, year, date, captioning, and all that stuff. The intern is a college student -- junior year, I believe -- and doesn't know half the bands. It’s kind of funny to hear her ask “What kind of band is this?” from a genre perspective.
IP: Can you tell a bit about the rules regarding image quality, and if you've received any files that maybe don’t live up to those qualities?
ML: We put up specs because we didn’t really want people just sending in cell phone photos -- not that we don’t want them specifically, but we thought it would give us better quality [images]. I’m honestly not that fluent in that language, but there have been a number of submissions that we want but were the wrong size. For ones that we think are special, we personally respond to the submitter. One that bummed me out was a pre-Pink Floyd Syd Barrett photo, and it was the wrong size, so I immediately emailed that guy back. Sometimes we get other photos that really wouldn’t matter if they were there. I know that sounds harsh, but if it’s, like, a Van Halen photo, we’ve already got forty Van Halen images, and if there’s one that was submitted with the wrong specs, it won’t get uploaded [to the web site]. I’m just guessing, but six months into this [project], there’s going to be a lot of stuff. And repetition. I would love to be wrong about that, but I don't think I will be.
We went out nationally with [the project] really well, and the response was great, but one concern is that there’s the potential that everything will slow down. After the holidays, we’re going to start on kind of a regional publicity thing, and try to localize this site by region. After that, we’ll see if we can get artists to utilize their social media accounts to reach out to their fans… That’s going to be stage three for outreach. We’ve had Wayne Coyne of the Flaming Lips tweet about the site already, the guys from Green Day have, the Elton John Fan Club has… I think some other bands will do it just on their own.
IP: Were there plans to connect with record labels as part of that outreach?
ML: There was… Sony donated some, but they were studio photos or kind of promo photos that were just stills, and that doesn’t fit in with the theme of the site. We want this to be more of an individual or personal history. Feature photographer Roberta Bayley sent this photo of the Ramones and Iggy Pop hanging out together at the bar at CBGB. I was like, “Oh god, that’s so rock ‘n’ roll!” They don’t have to be all live shots, but they have to capture the moment… The one that Sony sent us, you’ve seen most of those photos before, and what we are trying to do is show off images you haven’t seen. At the end of the day, to me, that’s what makes the project cool.
IP: What’s the timeframe for the project?
ML: After a year, we’ll be putting together a book. The book is scheduled for Fall 2017. We have an author, but I don’t think he’s come up with a hard and fast concept for it yet. I know that he’s compiling a list of artists that he’s going to utilize to illustrate his concept. The one thing we haven’t started yet is creating the database that logs bands and number of images. We haven’t done anything like that yet. Our goal was to get this up before the year’s end and before the holidays, and we accomplished that -- so we are thrilled! I would think after the new year, we’ll have two features a month by different people and their photography.
IP: What kind of advice would you give to someone who may have that treasure trove of photos in their basement or their attic?
ML: Send them in! There’s lots of people still shooting bands at shows. Every time I go see a band, there’s someone with a camera. People like to shoot animals in the woods, and people like to shoot bands on stage, and I don’t think that’s ever going to stop. Right now, we’ve yet to see ‘50s through the ‘60s [submitted], which is kind of a bummer, but I also think those years are going to take longer… It’s not going to be some kid uploading Radiohead photos. It’s a different situation altogether. But I think the one great thing the Smithsonian Institution does is store and present history, art, culture, photography, science, and technology, and this is our little way of sharing that and allowing people to share it through us. To me, that’s a pretty big deal.
Who are we?
Just a couple of library professionals. One of us specializes in special collections; the other in metadata. We both care passionately about preservation -- be it physical objects or files on a hard drive. We also care about music -- especially the music being made by local bands and musicians recording out of their bedrooms.