“Since 1977: Non-Stop Punk Rock, Black Humor, Anti-Authority, Provocative Publishing by V. Vale. A Cultural ReMapping Project—Punk is a Lifetime Philosophical Outlook! At Same Address Since May 1979.”
“Possibly the ONLY Surviving 70s Punk Publisher who NEVER QUIT, V. Vale continues to provide ‘Against-the-Status-Quo’ Publications that Stimulate the Imagination, & Inspire Creativity and Optimistic Skepticism.”
20 Romolo Place Suite B, San Francisco, CA 94133-4041 U.S.A.
(415) 362-1465 email@example.com
RE/Search History by Leslie Hodgkins.
RE/Search in the context of art history by Yoshitsugu Ranpeki.
As publisher-editor of the 1977-79 zine SEARCH & DESTROY, V. Vale helped bring international attention to a Punk scene as prophetic as more publicized ones elsewhere. The publication was launched with $100 each from Allen Ginsberg, and Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and published at City Lights Bookstore, where Vale worked at the time. For Vale, Punk provided a launching pad for a host of cultural-anthropological explorations, including Industrial music, the writings of J.G. Ballard and William S. Burroughs, feminism, pranksterism, studies of The Body, plus “Incredibly Strange” filmmaking and music, which he has chronicled with the RE/SEARCH series of publications that he founded as **sole proprietor** in 1980 (he has the original DBA certificate hanging on his wall).
A J.G. Ballard champion since 1973, Vale has published a Ballard interview in Search & Destroy #10 (1978), a monograph (RE/Search #8/9: J.G. Ballard, 1984), the illustrated Atrocity Exhibition (1990), J.G. Ballard Quotes (2004) and J.G. Ballard Conversations (2005). He has an important Ballard archive of letters, photos, taped interviews, rare magazines, signed books, and other “Ballardian” literary materials. Vale has participated in Ballard-focused presentations in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Barcelona and London, and written an introductory essay for a volume on J.G. Ballard published by CCCB.
V. Vale is an editor, writer-interviewer, historian, photographer and pianist. He has lectured, appeared on panels, been interviewed for video and radio programs, and conducted live interviews for the past 36 years. He has been a guest lecturer at the Lausanne (Switzerland) College of Art, Cal Arts (Valencia, CA), University of Kansas, Duke University, San Francisco Art Institute, the California College of Art (C.C.A.), Academy of Art University, University of California at Berkeley, Stanford University, and in other cities and countries including Mexico City and Den Haag. He taught a class on the “History of the International Punk Rock Cultural Revolution” at New College, San Francisco. He also hosts a monthly one-hour interview show titled “The Counter Culture Hour” at Cable Channel 29 (Public Access TV), San Francisco; also, he occasionally plays piano for the “soundtracks.” He has played piano at El Valenciano, the Last Gasp Xmas parties, Tosca, and wherever a piano is available!
V. Vale is available for lectures, guest teaching, panels, workshops, interviews and consulting. He will also play piano at your event! Video shows created by Marian Wallace are available, and also can be commissioned (just contact us).
“Call him the monkish punk elder of counterculture in the Bay and fringes wherever they may fray. Behind a monochromatic, black-clad, black-banged façade and unassuming demeanor, V. Vale is a man of so many interests and accomplishments that it’s hard to know where to start. How about with Vale as Punk Showman?
“In 1984 I’m sure I put on one of the greatest shows ever to celebrate our J.G. Ballard book,” the 50-plus publisher says. He’s tucked beside a thermos of tea in his book- and collection-crammed office-apartment in a North Beach edifice that, legend has it, Janis Joplin, Odetta, and Paul Robeson once dwelled in. Survival Research Labs and an S-M group were on the Fort Mason bill, and in honor of the occasion Vale visited the junkyard and had them deliver two cars that he selected. “I’m sure people had died in them — there was so much blood in the interior — and they were all crushed down. There’s no way you could survive that!”
Naturally, Vale and SRL [Survival Research Laboratories] rigged up the two bloody junkers to simulate a sex act — doggy-style — while yet another car with square wheels and a huge battering ram attacked the humping death-mobiles. The, ahem, climax: a performance by Public Image Ltd.
If that’s not Punk — in the classic, highly original, high-low San Francisco style, full of hard-scrabble high spectacle and an edge you can lacerate yourself on — who knows what the f0ck is?
It’s just one of many tales — about shooting pistols with “Uncle Bill” Burroughs or watching exotica innovator Martin Denny field a $25,000 royalty check — that emerge during an interview with this lifelong interviewer. His own narrative is just as riveting: he grew up, as part of a minuscule Japanese-American minority, in a small town in Riverside County, raised on welfare by a mother who suffered from mental illness. The young Vale read voraciously, from the kitchen table to the bed, which led to his acceptance at Harvard, though an antipathy toward ivy made him choose to attend U.C. Berkeley instead. In the ’70s, he worked at City Lights, and in 1977, while ripping off the covers of unbought magazines and returning them, he formed the idea to start his own zine about the punk scene combusting right around the corner at Mabuhay Gardens. Search and Destroy was born, with $100 seed money from Allen Ginsberg and matching funds from his boss Lawrence Ferlinghetti.
Now lauded as an invaluable document of early punk and a graphic design rule-breaker (“We’d do a layout meeting: ‘Here’s the text. Here are the pictures. Your job is to make this interview as rad as you can’”), Search and Destroy also became a way for Vale to make critical connections between the work and thoughts generated by punk groups and those formulated by artists in other media, as interviews with Vale’s mentors Ballard and Burroughs made their way into the zine.
When the Mabuhay scene turned toward servicing a younger, violent hardcore audience, the zine-maker’s interests shifted as well. Tapped to start a stateside headquarters for Rough Trade in 1980, he convinced founder Geoff Travis to fund a new tabloid, RE/Search, during an all-nighter. Three issues later, Vale moved on to launch a typesetting business, RE/Search Typography, which he ran in North Beach until he sold it in 1991 when he saw that the home computer had finally arrived.
In the meantime, the RE/Search series had become the equivalent of an ever-unfolding countercultural bible: essential reading not only for Punks — all the books, Vale swears, are informed by that Revolution — but artists, musicians, cultural fire-starters, and trouble-makers of every nonconformist stripe. In turn, Vale built a bridge with his paperbacks between the cultural movers around him and the world of books that has succored him. “I learned long ago that reading is not a passive process,” says Vale. “I like to mark up my books. My books are heavily interacted with. I look at books not as books, but as conversations.”
The RE/Search volumes Vale is most proud of, on Burroughs and Ballard, resuscitated the former author’s career and threw a proper coming-out party in America for the latter. Vale went so far as to help organize Burroughs’ tour with Laurie Anderson. Meanwhile, RE/Search’s sibling compendiums, Incredibly Strange Films (1986) and Incredibly Strange Music (1993, Vol. 2 1995), were pivotal in placing filmmakers like Russ Meyer and Herschell Gordon Lewis and music-makers such as Yma Sumac and Ken Nordine in a new canon for culturally conversant hipsters, leading to crucial reissues and reappraisals of their work.
And then there’s RE/Search’s biggest hit. “The most influential of all the books is Modern Primitives , which sparked the whole mainstream mass interest in piercing and tattoos and body modification,” says Jello Biafra, who first met Vale in 1978 when Biafra was simply an admirer of Search and Destroy and the vocalist for a then-new band called the Dead Kennedys. “There was very little of that going on compared to what happened after that book came out. Of course, now even secretaries and bank clerks and Bush administration bureaucrats have tattoos, and who knows how many pierced penises are on the Republican National Committee!”
With a new publication, pr0nnovation? P0rnography and Technological Innovation, just out, and books on Timothy Leary, Burning Man, and Artificial Intelligence on the horizon, Vale doesn’t have time to be bitter that so many have grabbed ideas from his tomes and run with them. “I would say I’ve had a disproportionate amount of influence,” he says. “People tell me, ‘Your Pranks  book inspired Jackass, Punk’d, and god knows how many other TV shows.’ You just keep thinking of your next project and never look back.” www.http://www.researchpubs.com [end] – written by the lovely Kimberly Chung in 2009
Babeth van Loo of Amsterdam wrote/compiled this:
“V. Vale is an editor, writer-interviewer, historian, photographer and pianist. He was the publisher-editor of the 1977-79 zine SEARCH & DESTROY launched with$100 each from Allen Ginsberg, and Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and published at City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco. For Vale, Punk provided a launching pad for cultural-anthropological explorations, including Industrial music, the writings of J.G. Ballard and William S. Burroughs, feminism, plus “Incredibly Strange” filmmaking and music, which he has chronicled with the RE/SEARCH series of publications founded in 1980. The RE/Search series have become the equivalent of a countercultural bible: essential reading not only for Punks — all the books, Vale swears, are informed by that Revolution — but artists, musicians, and cultural fire-starters. Vale built a bridge with his paperbacks between cultural movers around him and the world of books: “I learned long ago that reading is not a passive process, I like to mark up my books. My books are heavily interacted with. I look at books not as books, but as conversations.”
“J.G. Ballard, William S. Burroughs, Dead Kennedys, Devo, Philip K. Dick, DNA, Brion Gysin, George Kuchar, Timothy Leary, Lydia Lunch, David Lynch, Octave Mirbeau, Genesis P. Orridge, Iggy Pop, Henry Rollins, Siouxsie Sioux, SRL, Suicide, Sun Ra, Television, John Waters. V. Vale has covered them all.
Burroughs even taught Vale how to throw knives!”
Someone sent us this L.A. RECORD INTERVIEW WITH V. VALE & Here it is:
V. Vale is a founding father of West Coast independent publishing—his Search and Destroy zine is one of the four secret parents of L.A. RECORD, and his RE/Search books are a decontamination manual for the human mind. He’s so erudite and hilarious he should host a talk show with Van Dyke Parks … and he will be speaking with L.A. RECORD alum Henry Rollins at the L.A. Zine Fest on Sunday, which will be followed by a free after-party with the Allah Las, Cold Showers and Neverever! He speaks now before retiring to a delicious meal. This interview by Chris Ziegler.
What happened the day William Burroughs taught you to throw knives? And is that the most practical lesson you’ve ever taken from one of your interview subjects?
I was sort of given the job of being Burroughs’ handler for nine or ten days while his real handler decided to take his first time ever totally away from William in 1988. We’re talking like a constant 17 years or something. Quite a period of time. He was with William every day and finally said, ‘I’m gonna take the first vacation I’ve ever had! I need someone to look after him!’ ‘I’m THERE.’ This was in Lawrence, Kansas. I’d go over every morning and look after him—keep him company, help feed the cats, drive him to the grocery store or the methadone clinic in Kansas City. Everything he needed. We were outside one day and this wasn’t my idea—he decided to give me knife-throwing lessons! He was quite a knife aficionado but I’m not—I was kind of afraid. You don’t throw by the handle. You grip right behind the blade and then do a little flick of the wrist. This was against the side of a shed, and I was just worried. A successful throw sticks in wood, but an unsuccessful throw bounces off.
Back at you?
No, you’re not that close—it bounces off and falls to the ground. All I can say is … I did my best! I must’ve been nervous in the presence of the great master. I’m not sure if I improved or not. I was not in favor of pursuing the art of knife throwing any further.
What other vital life lessons did Williams Burroughs pass on to you?
He said something I had to put into use—never interfere in a boy-girl fight.
Did he have the scars to prove it?
I should have asked that!
Who were you before you started Search and Destroy? What was V. Vale before self-publishing?
Nothing! You only become yourself by doing! Sure, I was what they used to call a ‘culture vulture.’ I read fanatically! I was a massive reader and movie goer, and then I started to be perverted by going to flea markets. Particularly flea markets more than garage sales and thrift stores, in that order. Thrift stores are already kind of censored and sanitized. But you’d find out-there stuff in the flea markets and secondarily garage sales. I found a whole box of slides of the worst dental emergencies you could ever imagine. A dentist must’ve died. I gave some away as presents to people. I knew no one else would give them presents like this!
When we started L.A. RECORD, we took a lot of inspiration from Search and Destroy—especially the way you’d just push information out full-force and never stop to explain or simplify things. So who did you take from when you started Search and Destroy?
Every century it seems there’s only a few people who are the true originals, and for the 20th century I picked Duchamp for the first half and Warhol for second. Warhol, I found out later, stole a bunch of his ideas from Duchamp, but that’s OK. He extended them—he did what’s called a brand extension! I had the very earliest first crude issues of Andy Warhol’s Interview, typed on an IBM Selectric 2 typewriter, and they were so crude … it was like every word got transcribed, including going to the bathroom and leaving the waiter a tip and all this stuff! You just reminded me of something I thought was going too far—I had a dinner with someone I won’t mention … a former rock star, I guess, and I had a little tape recorder with me I put in front of him, and I stuck it in my pocket as we were leaving and I forgot to turn it off. So whoever was trying to transcribe this … oh shit! I kept the tape on while I raced to the bathroom and took a leak! I was kind of appalled later.
Where does ‘Don’t tape yourself going to the bathroom!’ rank on the list of Immutable Rules of Independent Publishing?
I love that! Rules of independent publishing! If you take someone to the bathroom and go somewhere with that, it could be in the enhanced audio version of the e-book! ‘There’s that guy taking a leak!’ I once went to an all-day conference with Derrida at Stanford and I had to go to the bathroom and by God … next to me Derrida came in and took a leak! I so wanted to take a picture of him at the urinal and I wish I had! But I was too chicken. He was French! He had this $500 haircut and this expensive probably hand-tailored camel-hair sport-coat—these French people, they know how to dress! We Americans are in kindergarten next to them. Everything’s bespoke. I’ve never had anything bespoke in my life, although I’d like to. If someone sends me a bunch of money, yeah—sure!
Which of your body parts most deserves bespoke accoutrements?
C’mon! Your feet! Oh my God! Your feet are so important! A lot of people get bunions—these horrible little things! These horrible maladies!
Were you hand-delivering Search and Destroys then?
Hell yeah! We’re talking 1977 when nobody in punk rock—this was not a car culture as compared to L.A.! If you had a car, some band would con you into being their right-hand man because they were so rare! Negative Trend, they were always desperate—they were all desperate! The Dils, Negative Trend, UXA—Linwood in UXA was a cabdriver and would somehow commandeer his cab to take equipment back and forth when he was supposed to be earning a living! I think he just kissed the living goodbye and rehearsed for an hour or two. And rehearsal spaces were so expensive! Everyone makes money off the artist except the artist—while the artist is alive. Maybe that will never end. The exceptions get all the publicity, but they’re the 1%—Damien Hirst, like, ‘I think I’ll make a skull out of diamonds!’ And someone buys it for $12 million bucks!
What were the ‘rules’ of D-I-Y publishing in 1977?
Real simple—life was simpler back then! I always say I only like a few people at any given time. I cannot like everyone! I have to focus. I was this huge Warhol fan and I even almost hitchhiked to New York to see his first big show. I was too chickenshit to hitchhike, actually. What they had back then were ads like DRIVERS WANTED! TAKE MY CAR CROSS-COUNTRY! These crazy agencies would trust you to drive someone’s car and give you enough money for gas, and you’d get a free trip there. They just trusted you! Which is stupid now that I think of it! I could have stolen the darn car and gone to Mexico, but it never even occurred to me! Maybe it’s a function of less population and less criminality—criminality is tied directly to population increase. Because if there’s not enough jobs, how you gonna eat? The only way is crime!
So Warhol—I knew he’d just started publishing, and I was like, ‘W-T-F? Warhol became a publisher?’ But sure! He’s gonna document all these artists before anyone’s heard of them. Like talking! I read one of the first Ramones interviews in Warhol’s Interview—in 1975! Lemme tell you, that’s EARLY! When Punk started, I said, ‘No one’s gonna document it right, and that’s my job.’ I was gonna imitate Warhol, but unlike Warhol, I had a bachelor’s degree in English from U.C. Berkeley then, and I’d been accepted to Harvard but I didn’t go. You’re talking about a Japanese kid on welfare with an insane mother and no father ever—I went to Harvard to visit the campus and I was scared! They really do have hallowed halls covered with ivy there. It was just too intense. I felt much better at U.C. Berkeley. In retrospect, I’m glad I didn’t go.
I’m also a huge fan of Claude Levi-Strauss, the French anthropologist, and I knew about these terms like ‘primary source’ and ‘secondary source,’ and I wanted to just interview the movers and shakers of Punk before they got famous. You can tell how smart someone is when you meet ‘em! I was after—more frankly—the verbally proficient ones. Sadly, I interviewed the Germs who were true teenagers in L.A. back then, but I couldn’t get what I wanted from them so I didn’t publish the interview. It was nothing! Now I realize part of it was my problem as the interviewer. I was older and actually kind of worldly-educated in an international sense, and they were just kids from the suburbs! They were literally 18 or so! I realized now that I should have just asked them to tell me everything that sucked about growing up in the suburbs. I wish I’d thought of it! You make mistakes in life—it’s very sad.
Is there one perfect question that will unlock each interview?
Yeah! At least one! Maybe many more! Definitely! With very few exceptions, the worst thing you can do is prepare for an interview with a rigid set of questions you’re not going to deviate from. I was a bookworm. That was my company growing up—books. I was in libraries 24/7—not only was there air conditioning, but there were all these books and everybody left me alone. I had a snobbish self-imposed high standard of literacy and grammar and all that—I actually read books on improving your vocabulary and I wanted to know grammar really strictly well! It’s not like on the Internet now where nobody’s literate. I wanted to produce edited interviews—edited from a standpoint of dark humor. The darkest humor possible! But I was also going for, ‘How the heck do you think of these song lyrics? What if it’s four in the morning and you wake up … how do you capture that?’ I did wanna know all the secrets of creativity and inspiration because that’s what I wanted to give people to pass on. This is just bullshit! If you read my publication, you’ve got to write songs! Or start your own band or your own publication or make a poster—you gotta do something! You can’t just be passive after you read this!
Us too—we want to give people tools or instructions or options or … something!
Right on! Amen! Primary source! Like the Germs—I didn’t include them because I kind of felt sorry for them and I thought they were earnest. This was kinda before the drug thing. Another thing people don’t know about me is how anti-drug I always was! People I think hid their drug use from me. They knew better to let me know because they were afraid I wouldn’t include them in Search and Destroy, and they were right!
It’s kind of touching they loved you enough to lie.
Well, whatever—it’s not like I like being bamboozled! I actually felt drugs destroy countercultures and rebellions. People dying way sooner than they should have! I’m so glad Iggy Pop’s still alive. I don’t know what he’s done with his personal life—I don’t even know! He’s amazing! I just saw him—he’s like 63 or 64 or some age? Holy shit, I wish I were that buff! My God! I’m sorry, I’m a couch potato. Always have been! Not gonna have those steel-like stomach muscles! He’s amazing!
Why did you change to RE/Search and not keep making Search and Destroy forever?
Search and Destroy had kind of a mission statement—no one can even find it, but it was always on page two. MISSION AND ACTION: RROSE SELAVY, the Punk pseudonym of Marcel Duchamp! It was for when he’d like take some painting from a commercial hardware store and do little touches here and there and retitle it, and it’s suddenly a Marcel Duchamp worth … well, not millions when he was alive, but millions now! I’m a huge Duchamp fan. I thought he had to be the first revolution in aesthetics when he just took that urinal and submitted it as sculpture in 1913. I thought, ‘Wow, you can do this to ANYTHING!’ Appropriate it, change it a little, and sign it! Collage it! That’s subversive! And making fun of the preciosity that’s dominant in the Sotheby’s auctions of the art world.
What’s different between publishing a zine and making a magazine? Is there the same distinction in publishing books?
That’s been my fight my whole life! My fight is in favor of the best possible quality of content. Not only accuracy to what the interviewer says … but I guess I edit for maximum inspiration to the reader! So the reader will get off their butt and imitate me as publisher or start a band or something! That’s my uppermost editorial concern—not any other! Having said this, I’ve always kind of been in a war … not as reductionist as form vs. content, but I’d rather read something intense and truthful by some kid in grade school scrawled on a handmade zine in handwriting I can barely read … but it’s uncensored! Than read what I do! I don’t know where I got this idea but it was, ‘You know, I’m gonna do something underground publishers have never done. I’m gonna make my books look as slick as Random House or some other corporate publisher, but I’m not going to compromise on content!’
What was the effect of everything you published? You said you wanted to chart a different history to produce a different future.
That’s exactly it! I already knew that! History is so important, and life changes constantly, and I felt that super-powerful principle of Do-It-Yourself and anyone can do it—and anti-authoritarian in your life and thinking as much as possible, and be Black Humor as much as possible … those are the DNA principles of Punk Rock that still live! Young kids still go to Hot Topic and buy Punk-looking stuff … notice I didn’t say “Punk stuff”! The dog collars, the black this-and-that? Maybe Doc Marten shoes for all I know? But I don’t care if the Punk Rock virus survives in an attenuated weakened form! I just want that Punk virus to survive because I saw it happen and it’s powerful. Anything’s better than just being passive and doing nothing! Any crummy song you write … and you might write a great one! Or just one great song out of 500, but you did it! A lot of people might not have a million great songs in them. The Beatles … I never liked the Beatles! I thought they were too cute! I only started liking them a year ago-—and it’s not the music. I read a 600-page book on someone I didn’t like at all named Paul McCartney. I kept him out of my life, but I read this biography by this great writer Barry Miles who really digs deep and researches. He interviews everybody who’s ever known the person! This book not only made me a Paul McCartney fan, it made me a Beatles fan!
Behold the power of the written word.
It is! When it’s truthfully presented and not dumbed down! I really think it’s the ‘Third Mind principle!’ Two different people get together, and if they’re the right two people, they produce stuff that’s way better than either one on their own. Paul McCartney and John Lennon had something so special, and almost nobody gets it ever! We’re lucky those collaborations got put on vinyl. This book is so wonderful because it really explains it and documents it and you see it happening and you go wow-wow-wow-WOW-WOW as you read.
Why is it important to you to put these ideas out there and to give people the tools to change their lives? What do you want to happen? You’ve said you wanted to connect Punk to earlier movements, to show how society is trying to improve itself.
I don’t know if it’s so lofty as helping society. Let’s face it—I just do things for a small audience. I don’t claim to reach the entire world. But … wouldn’t it be fun if there were more creative people? Early on I thought, ‘I’m never gonna have a mass audience because I won’t compromise. So … my audience should only be rebel artists!’ Artists are the ones who change the world anyway.
So it ripples out from you to them to the wider world?
When I say artists, I also mean rebel subversive writers, theory generators, people who aren’t doing what they do for the profit motive—they’re just kind of a little crazy! Since we live in a capitalist society. I wanted people to investigate people they’d never heard of and ideas they weren’t spoon-fed in school because they’re too subversive. That’s why I had articles on ‘WHAT DOES ANARCHY REALLY MEAN?’ and ‘WHAT IS SITUATIONISM?’ and ‘WHAT IS SURREALISM AND DADA?’ and those articles are in those Search and Destroys.
Those things were so unknown when I was growing up—you wouldn’t even know you didn’t know.
We’re all trying to individually create our own unified field theories of knowledge. ‘I know the best of all culture that’s ever been created since the dawn of time! And I’m gonna tell it to you all … in a few books!’
What happens when you concentrate and release all that information?
For Punk D-I-Y, it kinda came true! There is no way one human can track all the D-I-Y creativity happening made possible by laptops and GarageBand—the wonderful program Steve Jobs gave us, which of course I don’t know how to do but I know people who’ve demo’ed it for me, and it’s amazing! You go on YouTube and there’s a zillion versions of a simple Lou Reed song—done by two girls in Japan or some guy in the Ukraine or wherever. I love it all! But there’s no way I can track it all.
What interviews in Search and Destroy truly predicted the future? Who was right all along?
Devo! DEVO were ahead of their time from the get-go. I’ve always been paranoid about subliminals—people put little phrases in their music or concerts and they make you go buy a product, or a candy bar at the movie theater. I’m sure that’s happened! I’ve read about it, I know it probably works. And de-evolution! I think two of the most powerful interviews I ever printed in my whole time were in Search and Destroy #2 and #3—the Devo interviews! Two of the greatest in terms of more ideas per square linear inch! I liked the Suicide interview, too, but I think Devo is maybe the greatest.
I love that interview—it’s so early. It’s before they got tired of people asking if de-evolution was a joke.
If not the first, we were one of the first to take them seriously and actually print what they said!
Why is that so strangely rare?
I’m with you! We honor you enough and are glad that you talked to us, and we’re gonna try and do our part to be actually accurate!
How important is it for publishers to be independent?
Completely! And I’m not even as independent as I once was! I reached a sad point where I could actually pay the rent, and it was really bad! It really made me censor myself. ‘Uh oh, I’m gonna sell less copies if I include this stuff!’ I never gave a damn before! I wasn’t making a living off it—I worked at City Lights, and I got loaned enough money to make a typesetting business by this old friend and I paid it off in two years. The damn equipment was so expensive—$30,000 or something to start a business! That was the good old days when I could make a living on typesetting, and a very GOOD living, so I didn’t care WHAT I put in my early RE/Searches. Then in ’91 I sold the typesetting business and everything went downhill from there, frankly. In keeping with the truth of de-evolution … I think you can be smarter and do better work younger! You keep thinking, ‘Oh, I’m gonna get smarter and do better work!’ I don’t think this always happens, and it’s just not me! Life gets in the way. You make compromises, and you don’t wanna make compromises—you look back and say, ‘Shit, I wish I’d included that hardcore section of that interview that I cut out to try and sell more copies. That sucks!’
Do compromises even work? They seem to backfire anyway.
That’s another thing! They don’t even work! It pisses me off! Enlightenment, which we’re all striving for—which is bullshit cuz we’ll never get it—it’s not a linear ascending-plane concept! I hate these metaphors like the bell curve or something, but … I don’t know! You know ethics are so important to me, and I wish I could go back and redo some of my projects, but it’s too late.
Are you ever going to collect all the banned material and put out the TOO HOT FOR Re/Search book?
I wonder. But I don’t even know if I can find that damn Germs interview from 1977. I just remember them all being very taciturn and cynical—perfect! But not much got cut out. I was pretty good back in the early days of psyching out who was gonna be good and by God printing what they said and not wasting any of our time!
You said that what you do is a struggle against mind control, against conditioning, against banal information—
And inhibition, self-censorship … all these things! I’m only human, and you’ve heard that before as an excuse, but it’s all I can offer for explaining why some work is just better than others! It’s not like you **wanna** do worse work. Just sometimes you look back and say … shit! I gotta try harder!
So is self-publishing a form of self-defense?
Well, it’s different—I solve the problem of self-defense by never going out! I did an interview I wasn’t able to have the discipline to transcribe—probably two years old, with someone that frankly a lot of my peers don’t seem to have as high regard for as I do. I’ve always liked Henry Rollins! The individual! I don’t understand why people turn up their nose at him? He’s doing what he wants to do, he gives talks for three hours, he really gives you your money’s worth if you paid the ticket—and you learn a lot from him every single time! I don’t understand this semi backlash from hipper-than-thou types. I’m in favor of being more humble, for chrissake! All you can do is the best you can do. You’re just not fucking perfect! Or I’m not, at least. Iggy Pop is—ha ha! I’m just kidding. But I did this Henry Rollins interview and it just now got transcribed by this 18-year-old intern I have here from a local college … and it changed her life! I think she’s too young to be a Rollins ‘fan,’ quote-unquote. Granted, these 18-year-olds know everything thanks to the Internet, but it changed her life—I can tell—and I’ll tell you how. She says, ‘God, I never thought about traveling all around the world before but now I wanna do it.’ I can’t wait to get it in print! You know what’s wrong with me? I’m still stuck to the old model of I wanna get paid for putting this out and putting this book out! Here it is in a word: free and discounting is killing everything.
There’s a study that shows how people who want to be interns end up paying like $50,000 to work for free at big New York magazines. Paying to work for free!
If you’re gonna do it, do it for me! My interns have lunch with me, they talk to me me, they can ask me any damn question they want. Whatever you use, these people help you and try to give whatever payback you can. I give them my publications and whatever I can—both tangible and verbal, I guess? It’s a crusade to do independent publishing where you try not to censor yourself. In my book Real Conversations 1 which came out in 2001 with Henry Rollins on the cover … for the first time in my life, if anyone said the f-word or the s-word or any of the four-letter words, I did ‘F—.’ Or ‘S—.’ I decided I wanted to make sure kids could have access to my books—14-year-olds, 12-year-olds. Anyone who’s alert can translate that into you know what! I haven’t really censored the work, but I made it so that a younger demographic could definitely read it without someone looking at the book and saying, ‘Ah, it’s full of FUCK and SHIT and PISS!’ and all that. To me, it was a compromise worth making. That I still don’t mind!
Almost twenty years ago, you were monitoring media and information control—and using those terms. And now—
What can be done? As publishers and as humans?
What I wanted to do … I’m a huge fan of quotations I could memorize and whip out whenever needed, and I thought, ‘Well, what will people buy? Maybe a tiny shirt-pocket size book in the future that’ll just have quotes in them?’ Like the best quotes I ever heard as long as I lived. I’d meet them halfway: ‘OK, they’re not gonna read a huge book anymore like I used to do, and they like things short … ‘ In a way, I thought of going back to the Search and Destroy format and I can put in anything I want in just like two newsprint pages. I loved the newsprint format—the huge centerfolds I could put in, and the fact you could put that on your wall.
What do you think is happening with the … streamlining of publishing? It went from zines in the ‘90s to blogs to social media now. In some ways, those are all just one person using words and images to say what they want. But what’s different?
What’s bad is there’s less of your physicality and body being involved. I liked zines because everyone is forced to become a layout artist and a drawer and a painter and a photographer and a typist and all this manual physical stuff—you had to use glue to put them together and walk to the Xerox shop and all this crap. And then it switched to blogs online and it was like, ‘Well, hey, I can do this for free!’ But you did everything sitting on your butt in front of your laptop. You didn’t even have to go to the Xerox store! You got no exercise! You didn’t even have to be a photographer—you search the net and steal photos and copy ‘em and tweak ‘em a little and put ‘em into your blog. The zine went to the blog, and then the blog went to social media, and every time it gets worse. Social media places a premium on instantanaeity. The state of the art seems to be Tumblr—beyond Facebook even. A big picture of a sunset with a small paragraph underneath, if that. And then everybody copies it and forwards it and … see, I’m a huge fan of fiction, actually! I like to read a book that’s long and somehow really get inside the main character’s who’s telling the story. To me, that’s the closest way to both time travel and be in someone else’s head—a real novel, with a real narrator I can identify with.
What happens when we don’t get to read things like that?
It’s totally ADD—we’re an ADD civilization. No one can concentrate. It’s also bad for relationships because no one can commit to one person, and why should they? There’s a million others out there. It makes for what you call ‘weak bonds’ of every kind, instead of strong bonds. Everything’s so will-o-the-wisp and everyone’s a social butterfly—and how long does a butterfly live? Two days? Flit to a few hundred flowers in those few days?
How beautiful but also depressing.
It’s true! When you meet someone who can really stand still and not be checking their iPhone under the table every five minutes, it’s a treat! If you wanted to get more fascist, whenever any human comes to visit you, you could say, ‘OK, you’re coming over for dinner but you’ve got to put your iPhone by the door and turn it off! With your shoes—in your shoes!’ That’s the new rule for future civilizations!
So are self-publishing and D-I-Y quests for a ‘strong bond’?
I don’t know. Individual acts of creation are for you. You should not be doing them for someone else—you should be doing them because you have some incredible inner imperative or obsession, and that’s why you do it. Keep doing whatever but do something tangible! Everything’s become so transient and ephemeral and disposable and ADD. I think about limits a lot. ‘OK—after I’ve seen one billion images on the Internet, is my brain suddenly gonna rebel and fry out on me?’ What is the limit of my capacity to be exposed to images?
Robert Duncan wrote a book throughout the 70s that argued that the ’70s were exactly what people in the ’60s wanted—a drugged-up society of personal freedom. A ‘careful what you wish for’ situation, basically. Are we dealing with the same thing with Punk now? Where everything is fast, cheap, disposable and conscious of its artificiality?
There’s a few questions you have to ask of anything. Does it make me think? Really think? How much does it make you think? That’s a key question after I’m exposed to any work of art in any media. I like to think I can hear something utterly clichéd done by kids who are nine years old, but if there’s a spark of originality, I’ll notice it. That’s what I’m always trying to find. Don’t be fooled by technology or technique or form—they’re all words for the same thing. Something can be Punk Rock that’s just a guy alone croaking his own stuff into a tape recorder without any music whatsoever—which I’ve heard! Those are my standards. It’s gotta be anti-authoritarian, gotta be black humor, gotta be DIY—but there’s more involved. I’m not against talent. This is the thing! I heard someone just sing on the street with a guitar and she could really sing! Some people have this gift—I could practice 20,000 hours and never be as good, so I’m gonna stand here and watch her and appreciate her as a gift! Don’t be fooled by form. It’s not the uniform you wear or the haircut or the style or any of this crap. It’s some spirit that’s kind of deeper, but it’s not easy to codify or formalize.
Why is it important for people to keep self-publishing? What do we lose every time something like this goes under?
Our job is to fight! I got a lot of ideas from Burroughs, and he said, ‘You have to fight the control process!’ I shoulda really grilled him on this. He seemed to communicate that there was almost a massive unconscious, if not conscious, conspiracy to keep people stupid and easily controlled. He called it ‘the control process,’ and there are so many ways this is done. It’s kind of done a lot through aesthetics, oddly enough! You think, ‘I’m educating myself! I’m becoming very sophisticated! I’m taking Art 101! I know the entire history of painting from Giotto on!’ But you don’t really—because the subversive artists are not in the Art 101 class. Like Hieronymus Bosch! The ones who show you the glimpses of hell—the hell in your own subconscious, sprung from and inspired by fear! Bosch became my favorite painter of all time long ago. When people ask simplistic questions like what I’d take to a desert island … if there was one painter, it’d be the complete works of Bosch.
That seems like it could bum you out.
He’s not all hell! He painted heaven too!
So how do we resist the control process?
We’re in a capitalist society, and the control process wants us to toe the line and not make waves. They mainly want us to be consumers. ‘We will make the movies and you watch them. We write the books and you read them. We make the frozen foods and you microwave them.’ They don’t want us to know anything creative! Because if you’re really creative, you don’t need their products!”
From Kenneth Goldsmith (founder of one of our favorite websites, ubu.com):
“Why does everything ‘edgy’ have to be ugly? It doesn’t help ANYTHING to have edgy content be ugly. And YOU (RE/Search) figured this out before anyone else did. I was really inspired by your work, starting in the early ’80s, when I did my WFMU radio show. Your design looked beautiful, elegant — you put risky material in a beautiful context. [On ubu.com] we emulated so much of what you did, striving to have as much open, uncluttered, unadvertised space as possible. Minimalism!” — from a phone conversation 8/5/08.