Medium and message

Thanks to a handful of intransigent artists and punks, you can now trace Detroit’s rock ’n’ roll history from its punk years through its flier art. The Punk Rock Flier Art Show at the Detroit Art Space will feature everything post-Stooges/MC5: decades of local club shows past-to-present from Sonic’s Rendezvous Band to Negative Approach, Shock Therapy to Seduce, the Gories to the White Stripes and on and on.

These off-the-cuff, bedroom-made gig fliers — hangover artifacts of time, sound and place — recall the crude immediacy of fleeting scenes and attitude. Often cribbing imagery from tabloids, porn, comics and other trash-culture sources, these handmade relics were restricted by supplies and skill — sometimes all the creator needed were a typewriter and a glue stick, or a band photo and a bleed-over marker. These now-collectable original fliers reveal a geographic poignancy that is at once angry and hilarious, innocent and inventive. Many of the artists who created said "pieces" have since gone on to great things — Niagara, Glenn Barr, Gary Grimshaw and Mark Dancey among them.

I contacted local trash-culture collector, writer and artist Tim Caldwell, to get his comments on a few of the featured fliers. Caldwell had attended many of the shows, designed some of the fliers, and helped cobble together this exhibit. Caldwell explains that the glorified leaflets came from archives of band members, promoters and fans.

The fliers will be displayed chronologically on poster-sized Masonite panels. After the month-long exhibit, the panels will be auctioned off and all proceeds will go to benefit the Detroit Art Space. Caldwell’s comments accompany each flier:


Destroy All Monsters

"A fresh-faced, teenaged Niagara led this group, featuring ex-Stooge Ron Asheton, in one early art-damaged incarnation ultra-famous artistes’ Mike Kelley, Jim Shaw and Book Beat’s Carey Loren. The later version rocked hard with MC5’s Mike Davis on bass (in the photo here). I can still visualize a sultry Niagara singing Nancy Sinatra’s ‘These Boots Are Made For Walking’ at a show 20-odd years ago. I think Paul ‘Stillborn’ Zimmerman did the hand lettering. He did most of the flyers in the pre-1980’s Bookies days. The jagged-edged aura/nimbus drawn around each member looks like it was done by now-famous painter Niagara." Flier courtesy of Record Graveyard.


The Gories

"This ’80s R&B punk trio is now the stuff of legend, featuring Mick Collins of the Dirtbombs and Dan Kroha, later of Rocket 455 and the Demolition Doll Rods. Peg O’ Neill’s cool demeanor and simplistic drum beats (the Moe Tucker thing) can be seen in Meg White and the Doll Rods’ basic percussive styles. At one point Lux of the Cramps asked Kroha to join their camp, post-Gories. A really great design possibly borrowed from a Black Cat firecracker package. Rumor has that it may have been swiped from a lucky Mojo-style incense canister or votive candle." Designed by James Shaw (not to be confused with Destroy All Monsters’ Jim Shaw). Image courtesy of Dave Buick and Dion Fischer.


Big Chief

"This lettered vortex is mind-bending enough to give psychedelic Fillmore poster artist Wes Wilson an acid flashback. A dead hydrocephalic fetus (a nod to Aubrey Beardsley?) is in the center eye of this linguistic hurricane, holding what could be a miniature steering wheel or possibly a corkscrew. Note the minuscule script at bottom for time, date, locales, etc. — so small as to imply the superfluousness of the actual gig. Band member, local legend and graphic artist Mark Dancey is now a painter of fine art (and contributor to Metro Times). Lead singer was ex-Necros Barry Henssler." Image courtesy of Mark Dancey.

Sonic’s Rendezvous Band

"High-contrast photography was the signature design stamp former MC5 guitarist Fred ‘Sonic’ Smith’s group. The lineup also featured Scott Asheton of the Stooges, Scott Morgan of the ’60s R&B rockers the Rationals, and Gary Rasmussen. By all accounts a great live band. You ain’t gonna get any more Detroit than this Detroit, kids." Flier artist unknown.


White Stripes
circa 1999

"Graphically, it shows the band’s humble beginnings at garage’s ground zero club, the Gold Dollar (which will soon be a parking lot)." Flier artist unknown. Image courtesy of Dave Buick and Dion Fischer.


Negative Approach

"A good example as any of an individual utilizing the principle of the dropout school of availablism (i.e. whatever is on hand dictates the technique). Old toothbrush ink spatters, typewriter White Out, felt-tip pen and xerography. This originally had the signature tag ‘trichinosis,’ a parody of ’70s UK music package designers ‘Hipgnosis.’ John Brannon, later of Laughing Hyenas and Easy Action was, of course, head howler." Flier by Tim Caldwell.


The opening reception is this Friday, Aug. 15. Bands scheduled to perform are John Brannon’s Easy Action, pubescent chick trio the Minus Heroes and knuckle-jacking traditionalists Pub Life. Call the Detroit Art Space at 313-664-0445 for info.

Brian Smith is the music editor of Metro Times. E-mail [email protected]
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