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1980s D.C. is imbued with a mystical aura for certain people, thanks in large part to our city’s narcissistic talent for self-documentation. A couple of years ago, I met a 19-year-old kid from Guatemala who was visiting relatives in Virginia. He had a hardcore band back in Guatemala City, and had read Dance of Days cover to cover. I agreed to show him around. “What do you want to do, Gato?” I asked. “I want you to show me all the punk hangouts in Georgetown!” he said.
There was, of course, a time when Georgetown really was a punk hangout, when WGTB played Minor Threat, Smash! was on M Street NW, and the former Hoffmeyer meat-rendering plant had scarcely ceased to stink up the neighborhood. If, upon finding instead an Apple Store and Banana Republic, Gato’s punk mecca was a bit of a letdown, he was polite enough not to say so (he did seem impressed by Urban Outfitters). But if nostalgia were an art, D.C. would be particularly good at it.
Opening this Saturday, the Corcoran exhibit “Pump Me Up! D.C. Subculture of the 1980s” traffics in the peculiar nostalgia that brings people from around the world on pilgrimages to Henry Rollins’ old ice cream shop. (Disclosure: Washington City Paper is a media sponsor of the show.) We asked curator Roger Gastman (along with Caleb Neelon, co-author, with Gastman, of The History of American Graffiti) for a preview of a few of the pieces in the exhibit.
Lisa of The World (shown at top)
“Gun? Check. Wad of cash? Check. Pink pants? Check. You’d hang out with Cool Ass Lisa of the World, but it’d be her choice whether you’d get to.”
Urban Verbs Show Poster
“Urban Verbs wasn’t strictly from the punk or hardcore scene that emerged out of D.C. They were, in Robin Rose‘s words, ‘a mix between Joy Division, The Doors, and David Bowie.‘” They were one of the first bands to play the old 9:30 Club, back when it was on F Street.
Go-Go License Plate
“Can you get more D.C. than this? This license plate belonged to Maxx Kidd, who ran T.T.E.D Records. Says Pump Me Up assistant curator Iley Brown, a former label staffer at T.T.E.D., “You could say that Maxx was the Berry Gordy of go-go.’”
“Prior to the arrival of crack, D.C.’s drug of choice was PCP. Mixed with marijuana, it’d be called Love Boat. Users had a habit of stripping, so people in D.C. called it Buck Naked, too. Marijuana has definitely gotten a lot closer to legal in recent years, but there’s nobody signing petitions extolling the benefits of PCP.”
“Pretty much any hardcore music fan will recognize this immediately, Cynthia Connolly‘s cover art for Minor Threat‘s Out of Step. A one-off stroke of brilliance (there were no other cover ideas considered) that little black sheep is a bit of an icon. Gastman is far from the only guy who’s had it tattooed on him. Cynthia thinks the little sheep is saying ‘WeeeeHOOO!’”
Cool “Disco” Dan
Gastman describes this as “pretty much the piece that started it all. This was salvaged from H Street and entered the Corcoran’s permanent collection in 2004. You’re not going to find many Cool ‘Disco’ Dan tags on the gentrified streets of D.C. these days, but this artifact is straight history.”
Urban Verbs flyer courtesy Robin Rose; go-go license plate courtesy Maxx Kidd; suicide hotline ad for PCP, circa 1984, courtesy Greg Lamarche; Cool Ass Lisa of the World 1984, courtesy Lisa of the World; original sheep drawing for Minor Threat’s Out of Step EP by Cynthia Connolly, copyright 1982/2013 Cynthia Connolly; Cool “Disco” Dan on H Street NE, 1991, by Roger Gastman