MF: My standard joke is that I used to work at an East Coast historical society and also a maritime museum, so obviously I’m the perfect person to lead an LA punk archive, right? I’ve loved all kinds of rock music my whole life, but it was really enjoying the music of the Clash that led me to other punk bands. I like music that tells stories, but has some kind of political passion behind it.
IP: How did the project start?
MF: I was inspired by the Cornell library’s presentation on their Hip Hop archive at the SAA conference in New Orleans in 2013. I was really just so interested in the passion they displayed and I loved the idea that they were very conscious of the fact that they were out in Ithaca, and the Hip Hop movement started in the Bronx, so they were slightly removed from the community, and they were very cognizant of the fact that they had to do a lot of outreach and inreach, and that they wanted to make sure it didn’t seem as if they were telling the story for the community, but they wanted the community to be really involved. I thought, I would really like to do something like that where I work, but I know almost nothing about Hip Hop… So, what do I like? My guiding force is the Clash, and I like punk stuff, so, LA punk for UCLA made a lot of sense. I went to my boss after came back from the conference, and he said, “There’s no reason why UCLA can’t be the punk repository. Why don’t you put together a working group?” So I ran around and put together this collective of folks who work here in library special collections.
We think it’s a really important area. It fits in really well with this initiative at UCLA called Collecting Los Angeles. We see this work as an integral part of that initiative. Collecting Los Angeles is dedicated to documenting the under-documented -- things like punk culture, the music scene, the Sunset Strip, clubs and music venues… Those should immediately leap to mind when you think about the under-documented, so I think that it’s a natural thing for us to work on.
IP: What are some of the strategies that you’ve used to connect with the music community so far?
MF: We’ve been really lucky, in that a lot of people on the collective have very close ties to the community. One of the people on the collective is a musician himself, and has played with just about anyone you can name. LA is quite a small town in many ways… So it’s been a lot of personal connections, and then some deep research in trying to imagine who we would like to connect with, without the dreaded Cold Call. There’s usually one of us who’s available to go to a book reading, or a gallery opening, or a book fair and pass our flyer around or share our business cards.
The collective was nice enough to let me speak on their behalf at UCLA in April, and showed some highlights of material that we’ve collected already… It was kind of an introduction to what we’re doing. We invited quite a few people who were known in the community, and it was our way of saying, “This is what we’re doing, we’d love you to be a part of it, if you’re interested let us know!”
IP: What are some of the materials and collections you’ve gotten so far?
MF: We have a wonderful collection of photographs by Victor Sedillo from the San Pedro area -- his line is that he will be going to shows and taking pictures for as long as he can get away with it. He started in the ‘70s, and he has some phenomenal pieces that document not just bands but the culture. One of his photographs of D. Boon is on the cover of A Wailing of a Town, a book about early San Pedro punk. We’ve focused a lot on zines and fan culture… We had a really great collection of zines already called the Darby Romeo collection, which was started by Darby Romeo but was also added to over the years -- zines about everything, but with a strong pocket of punk material. We have a great full run of a zine called Sixty Miles North, which is a “kitchen table production” about the punk scene in Ventura county, a growing collection of Maximumrocknroll, and we have one great issue of a zine called I Wanna Be Your Dog -- on the cover, oddly enough, is Eddie Money.
MF: So far we’ve been lucky and have have not, although of the things about punk material in particular is the lack of documentation that would cause concern about copyright. I’m not really talking about recordings -- for example, we are acquiring the collection of a guy called Marc Kreisel, who ran Al’s Bar in Los Angeles for 25 years… I was asking him about records of how he ran his business, and he kind of laughed and said, “Oh, you mean how the business ran me?” How did he bring bands in, and how did he pay them? Did they have contracts? He said, “Not really… Mostly, they came and said they wanted to play, and I said okay, and we shook hands and that was that…” I was kind of hoping to open these big file drawers and find cabinets and cabinets of signed contracts.
But I am concerned, as we go forward, with copyright and releases and access… The whole point of doing this is to provide access to the material to researchers who want to use it. In punk, there’s also a big collecting culture, so a lot of people who could potentially donate may have collected the items, but they don’t have the rights to sign over material to us, and the whole point of doing this is to provide access to the material to researchers who want to use it… We’re lucky that serious copyright problems haven’t come up, but it’s something we definitely have to prepare for.
IP: Have you run across any specific collections or materials that you would consider challenging, in preservation terms?
MF: I would say the challenges are physical handling and access. I talk to so many people who have their stuff in a box under their bed or in a garage or in a basement that leaks, [and] we’ve been lucky in that a lot of the material we’ve acquired so far has been in good shape. The things that have been slightly more a challenge have been oversize material -- we have some really cool posters, but of course they're clunky and awkward to deal with. We have a great collection of flyers that were clearly ripped off of telephone poles at one point and have sticky duct tape on them. We haven’t collected much AV material yet, but I imagine that's going to be challenging in terms of applying resources to make them accessible. I have a pending donation of microcassette tapes… I don’t even know if anyone has a working microcassette tape player anymore, so that’s going to be a challenge.
IP: Have you encountered any digital files, and how have you worked to preserve them?
MF: No, we haven’t. That’s a really interesting question… Many of our potential donors are falling into two groups: the current punks who do everything on Facebook, and then there’s our first- and second-generation punks who have a lot of physical stuff, and they’re starting to say, “Okay, I’ll give you the prints, but I want to scan them and keep an electronic copy for myself.” We’re still in the early stages of talking to current day punks, who don’t create flyers anymore, and all of their photos and publicity are electronic. With something like an underground community that communicates through social media, we’re still sort of grappling with how we are going to document things that happen in ephemeral formats in real-time. It’s a huge challenge. What’s interesting about someone like Victor Sedillo is that his earliest work is film, but he has switched to a digital camera, as most people have… We’d like to maintain our relationship with him, so we really need to think hard about what we do next.
IP: What are some of the most important kinds of items you think a band or a label should hold onto? If someone was going to donate, what do you think has the most potential value?
MF: I would say records of creative endeavor, or records of a particular event. My personal dream collection would be notebooks full of song lyrics, or original music. I love things that have to do with the culture of punk and heavy metal -- the ubiquitous Kinkos flyer that got pasted on telephone poles around the Sunset Strip -- I love those, and would be happy to collect those for all time. But I think that the culture obviously derives from the appreciation of music, or the creative output of a band. If I were talking to a musician, I would say, “What I would really love is to see evidence of your creative process.” We can collect some objects, but we’re not a museum -- we probably can’t collect drumsets. I’m thinking of ideas [they] had that made [them] come up with songs or record concepts.
If I were talking to someone who ran a record label, kind of like I was talking about Marc Kreisel, I would like to know how the business ran. Maybe someone took notes at meetings -- or did they have meetings? I’m sure there are some record labels that showed up at a bar and shook hands over a beer, and that was that. I would also be interested in things like distribution records, because that’s kind of interesting how punk, in particular, spread and how people learned about things. That’s also what I love about zines -- they’re so personal and show such personal investment... There was a time when sharing stories about the scene and who came to town was the only way you knew about things.
IP: Some people might question why archivists would be interested in the kind of materials you’ve described… How would you answer that?
MF: That’s not uncommon… I’ve heard that from potential donors in almost every discipline. There are some people who get it, but there’s a lot of people who would say, “Why would you want this?” Talking about Marc Kreisel, he brought out some things to show me, but on the corner of a table, I saw these big calendars that he had… In the square boxes, someone had written down all the bands who played that day. They were dirty and coffee-stained, but I said, “Could we have these?” And he said, “You want that?” To him it was trash, but I definitely want something like that.
I think people should think about things like legacy… Why would somebody be interested in what you’re doing in your bedroom, writing a song? You can apply that question to a lot of things -- why are we interested in how much a bale of hay cost at a farm in 1850? Why are scholars interested in any kind of details about human life? It’s so we can understand that life in particular, and society in general. At the same time, I don't want to tell people not to throw anything away because an archive might want it some day -- that’s not true either. It’s a difficult thing to explain what may or may not be of research value, or intrinsic value, or historical value in the future -- some of it is a guess, some of it is just taken on faith.