Images from the Crypt: Undead, Ghoulish, and Monstrous Bodies

He’s mommy’s little monster, he’s not afraid to admit it.

— Social Distortion, 1983.

I turned into a martian today, I walk down city streets on an unsuspecting human world.

— The Misfits, 1982.

Henry Rollins fills rock’s time-honored role of society’s nightmare.

— Richard Cromelin, 1984.

Artists have continuously used monstrous depictions to pay witness to the vulnerable lives of people beset by times of war, science, and biology/nature gone bad, such as pestilence and disease. Such art actively interrogates Westernized notions of bodies as discreet and harmonious units – static, whole, and natural – thus delves deep into metaphors of unease. In recent years, concerns about bodies have been mediated by an anxiety and ambivalence linked to “unbound” technology, both in terms of the way technology directly impacts bodies (laser guided bombs from drones) and how technology like youtube can immediately convey and disseminate the knowledge of such impacts. The painter Leon Golub has strongly suggested that such a bombarding flux of information does not de-desensitize but instead heightens the terror:
Detail from Golub’s “Napalm I.” 1969.

I disagree with that opinion that concludes that the newspaper or TV has devalued experience, that there is such a surfeit of photography and documentation that nothing has impact anymore, that we’re flooded and over-flooded with sensory confusion, that nothing stands out. It is been said, for example, that the images of Vietnam that appeared on American TV, were devalued by advertisements, situation comedies, etc. I think the opposite. The very fact that the ads and the nightly news and all those things were on together bombarding people in their homes made it all the more horrific. All these atomized chaos, all the controlled and uncontrolled verbal and imagistic garbage jitters in the skulls of the onlookers even as it jitters in the skulls of the media manipulators (qtd. in Gumpert and Rifkin 1984: 75).

Goya’s “Saturn Devouring His Children.”

We can discuss the bodies in paintings by Golub, Breughel, and Goya, or photographed bodies riddled with WWI injuries and the aftermath of the invasion of Iraq. Often, these bodies are mimicked in the inky macabre of flyers strewn on telephone poles and other contested spaces, continuing the narratives of newspapers and news programs, or showing the side of war that has been muted, repressed, and censured. The art critic Peter Schjeldahl, who is by and large not a fan of political art (“most political art is poor art and worse politics”) has also acknowledged that “negative energy…may be the quintessence of politics in art” (2008: 43). A great deal of such art, from Goya to images of Kent State, “employ images of the dead. Death becomes it. Corpses halt thought. Propagandists hope that viewers, while transfixed, will be receptive to the opinions that the dead, now martyrs, are safely presumed to endorse” (2008: 43). In addition, Elizabeth Grosz writes that the corpse represents “the very border between life and death, it shifts this limit into the heart of life itself,” representing a final form of expulsion from the social body (1989: 75). I suggest that punk art may reveal similar underlying tensions: the images of death are embedded to speak against the grain of shopping mall aesthetics, of the so-called objectivity of newspaper-speak, of the commercial veneer of the hyper modern world. The negative energy is there to halt us, even for a moment, to look into the face of Pol Pot’s victims, or the pop culture camp of the vampire, to understand where punk culture transgresses from a discourse of three chords and jagged T-shirts to a discourse about Otherness and abjection, which Julie Kristeva suggests “perturbs an identity, a system, an order” (1982: 127). This victimization haunts and contaminates our social spheres: punks bear witness to an often grim reality that most choose to ignore, representing the disorderly that “hovers at the edges or borders of our existence,” to poach another phrase from Elizabeth Grosz (1987: 108).

The use of skulls is by no means just central to punk art, as Mexican Day of the Dead celebrations and trinkets and Haitian voodoo Gede/Ghede imagery attest. Skulls were adopted in “teddy boy” culture, a kind of British outlaw dandy aesthetic popular in the pre-punk era of the early 1970s, in which members might wear a “gambler’s bootstring … held together with a medallion: death’s heads, cross-bones skulls…” (Steele-Perkins and Smith 1979: 3). Skulls are also intensely prominent in Harley Davidson biker culture . In fact, the tattoos of outlaw bikers, including the phrases “Born to Lose,” “13” (which Danzig penned a song about, which was then covered by Johnny Cash) and “1%” are often accompanied by “skulls and death imagery” that developed as bikers and marginalized individuals began “to assert, and challenge, their subordinate position in society” (DeMello 2000: 139). Such an inscribed body (or gear) becomes a vehicle for resistance – oppositional discourse made flesh – especially in the days well before 35% of young Americans sought out tattoo parlors. DeMello, however, notes that pre-1950 biker culture, such as WWII soldiers, did not see their tattoos as extremely personal forms of expression, backdropped by all-important stories that framed the meaning. Thus, the work was not framed as oppositional by those getting tattoos.

In punk flyer art, the fixity and authority of this world are mobbed by ugly and ripped bodies, of detested bodies, which are supposed to subordinate themselves to the world, supposed to be pathetic and lifeless, like the life of a teenager who cares little for organized sports, religion or studies. Such “dead” bodies are re-animated in these drawings and illustrations, cocooned in their own vociferous power, revealing an instant vocabulary spelling out an anti-authority (God, parent culture, not-so civil society) presence. Feared and loathed, unable to be disciplined or acculturated, such bodies are nimble, fierce, gargantuan, and unbound. They resemble the fragments of our dead past, re-making cities as their own. Carnivorous and devouring, they challenge the inhabitants who walk and talk as demi-gods and righteous — the leaders of science and rationality. Incubated in pain, misery, and abjection, these morbid figures tilt reality back towards their benefit. Like the Jewish legend of the villain Golem, who was made from clay and ran rampant in the ghetto, these atavistic, primordial figures transplant the goo of our most primal selves into the arena of body politic and social discourse, where parents, teachers, scientists, and police try to relegate them but cannot control the electrified body of the miscreant and maladroit.

The industrial landscapes of Blakean proportions; the Babylon with its “manacles of fear”; the smeared, polluted, blackened hulls of Manchester 1979-89; Manhattan’s “Gotham City” concrete jungle intertwining noir streets; the Red Empire’s last gasp Iron Curtain Stalin structures; the Middle East’s prolonged blast furnace heat and dust; and varied guerrilla war rampant killing fields (Lebanon, Columbia, Rwanda, Chechnya, and East Timor) are the hunting ground for the ghouls. Sometimes the landscape may nearly be the crooked river outside Cleveland, the Industrial Flats, where bands like Pere Ubu, the Pagans, and the Dead Boys were birthed in the stink of sulfur, vistas plugged with iron ore cargo ships, and the sound of tugboats. A place, as singer Mike Hudson from the Pagans declared, where “we lived like we were already dead, rushing toward death” in the “beautiful hell” of the rust belt (61, 67: 2009). Additionally, Zephyr skate shop cofounder Skip Engblom described Pacific Ocean Park, the psycho-geographical site of Dogtown rebel skaters and punks, as a “dead wonderland” in the Documentary Dogtown and Z-Boys, which is followed by another informant calling the site “a carcass of all these rides that are rusted and falling apart, and you can hear the ghosts of the people who were having so much fun” (Peralta 2002). This draws attention to the notion of such punks and skaters being outcasted, marginalized citizens of a neglected world they re-colonized and made their own through any means necessary, even if it meant surfing between the detritus of a pier in shambles, surrounded by junkies, gang bangers, and pyromaniacs, the brink of death just one bad move away. Sometimes this meant punks being almost dead themselves, as Hudson testifies, or tempting death, like the surfers.

This is similar to the way one informant described the punk era to Daniel Wojcik for his book Punk and Neo-Tribal Body Art, who recalled that his impression of punk was imbedded in the idea that some punks were “kinda mealy looking…kinda dead, like after World War III – the walking dead” (1995: 14). A similar description of the drummer of the New York Dolls and the Heartbreakers, Jerry Nolan, first arriving in England by Lee Childers, attests, he “was a vampire … [who] came into my room with all these tabloid newspapers … and every headline said… ‘The Horror and the Scandal of the Sex Pistols’ (McNeil and McCain 2006: 321). It’s no coincidence that a punk crue forms the main cast of the film Return of the Night of the Living Dead, with a soundtrack furnished by “death punk” TSOL and the psychobilly progenitors the Cramps, for Wojcik suggests that at least one sliver of punk fashion is fully embodied by a sense of “pallor and lifelessness. Pale and emaciated, resembling zombies or corpses, punk faces and physiques were often transformed into symbols of death or physical ailment, portraits of a diseased society…” (14: 1995).

Punk bands such as the Exploited, Suicidal Tendencies, Social Distortion, TSOL, Misfits, and the Undead all used skulls on album covers, flyer art, T-shirts, or other paraphernalia, explicitly liking punk to the gory and taboo, the transgressive and the macabre. Punks were the dark side of Carter’s maladroit liberalism and rigid Reagonomics, the black hole in the middle of California’s sun. This is perhaps the sentiments of Bad Religion, who titled their debut album How Could Hell Be Even Worse? describing the modern world of a leftover hippie wasteland.

In the era of people and limbs replaced by robots and machines, in an era of the impersonal masked as personal mediated by an Internet network loaded with “viruses,” in the ultimate consumption era of faulty products and flu-contagions, the ghouls remind us how vulnerable we really are. These anxieties become concretized in the very names bands choose, revealing the tropes of suffering skin and defoliated landscapes, of the subterranean worlds and anti-worlds, dystopias spun in the names of genres (grindcore, noisecore, thrash, power and violence) and band names.

One of the most prominent signifiers is the term Hell, which appears variously as an album title, “Hell Comes to Your House” (a punk compilation), a song title, like “Green Hell” by the Misfits, the first line of the Chelsea song “Urban Kids” (“you try to escape from your urban hell”), or the name of a label, like Hellfire (Germany), to the various ubiquitous permutations found within band names, including The GoToHells, Hell’s Engine, Hellbenders, Hell City Kings, Hellshock, Fearless Iranians From Hell, Hello Hell, Hellstomper, Pioneers of Hell, Living Hell (production company). Hellnation (band and zine), Hellbound Hayride, Hellations, Hell No, Hellhouse, This is Hell, Hellwitch, Hell Krusher, Hellbillys, Hellfire, Hellride, Death Hell Battle Tank, Hellcats from Outer Space, Straight to Hell, Hellmenn, Hyper as Hell, Hellocaust, Hellshock, Hellbastard, Hellbender, Hell’s Kitchen, Hell Yeah, Hell on Earth, Raising Hell (zine), Rancid Hell Spawn, Badasses from Hell, Heavy Hell, Flowering Ralph and the Badasses from Hell, and Hell-Bastard.

Other band names evoke and subvert the figure of Beelzebub, the Devil, as in this litany of parody names, such as Satan’s Cheerleaders, the Devils, Red Devils, Devil Dogs, Dare Dare Devil, Go-Devils, 27 Devils Joking, She-Devils, Murder City Devils, Dust Devils, Satan’s Penis, Satanburger, Big Satan Inc., Boxcar Satan, Satanic Malfunctions, Satanic Surfers, and Satan Viking Hyenas from Hadeas.

Other names embody the putrid and grotesque: Human Sewage, Fecal Corpse, Tattooed Corpse, Skate Korpse, Maggot, Rancid, Rancid Vat, Rancid Remains, Peace Corpse, Floating Corpse, Charred Remains, Cradle of Filth, Sticky Filth, Filth, Bloodied Bacteria, Bacteria of Decay (zine), Bacteria Flyers (flyer service), Stench of Corpse, Corpus Vile, Maggot Fodder, Tumor Circus, Maggot Sandwich, the Maggots, Maggot, Abnormal Growth, Angel Rot, Crotch Rot, The Rotters, Order of Decay, I Am Bacteria … I Am Filth, Crimson Corpse (a label), Rot, Mind Rot, Exhumed, Gang Green, Utter Stench, Excrement of War, Noxious, Rigor Mortis, Peace Corpse, Ripping Corpse, Aus Rotten, Septic Death, Septic Tumor, Filth, UK Decay, Urban Decay (zine), State of Decay, and Suburban Decay.

Others approach band names with an almost Edgar Allen Poe-meets-Tales from the Crypt sense of the generic macabre mixed with comic book finesse: 100 Demons, 45 Grave, Gravediggers, Unholy Grave, Flaming Demonics, the Demonics, Demon System, Gargoyles, Coffin Break, American Werewolves, The Grim, The Evil, Frontier of Evil, Ben Grim, Sheer Terror, Daily Terror, Mortal Terror, Sick Terror, Waking Terror, Balance of Terror, Excruciating Terror, Extreme Noise Terror, Reign of Terror, Cold Blood Terror, Nine Shocks Terror, Guillotine Terror, Appalachian Terror Unit, Pitch Black, the Ghouls, Ghoul, Chaotic Evil, Grave Robbers, Groovie Ghoulies, Blood Moon Howlers, Doom, the Ghoulies, Legion of Doom, Thulsa Doom, Voice of Doom, Scrolls of Doom (zine). Plus, one should not miss variations of The Horror, Horror Planet, Horror Plant, and The Horrorpops.

Other bands opt for recycling their own acronyms to draw attention to the plight of humanity under brutal or technocratic regimes: Millions of Dead Cops, Millions of Dead Christians, Missile Destroyed Civilization, Multi Death Corporation, and Metal Devil Cokes.

Others disrupt the decorum of dealing with the dead – Necromancy, Necrotomy, Nekromantix, Necrophilism (also the songs “Necrology” by the Flower Leopards, “Necrophilia” by GBH or the album Necrophiliac Hits by Ingron Hutlos). In addition, a list could include Corpse Molestation, Millions of Dead Girls (not a MDC line-up), Born/Dead, Bhopal Stiffs, Lucky Stiffs, Exhumed, Dead but Unburied, Rise from the Dead, The Undead, Dead Elvis, Dead Boys (and their former name Frankenstein), Dead City Rebels, Dead Cobains, Dead Kennedy’s, Dead Bodies Everywhere, Tattooed Corpse, Circle of Dead Children, and 149 Dead Marines.

Sometimes rather than disturb the dead, the names reveal the death urge, or death culture, or the tropes of being gray, isolated, barren, or alone in punk – Dead and Gone, Already Dead, Dead by Dawn, Over My Dead Body, Saturday is Dead, Death Piggy, Black Death, Death Trap, Dead to Fall, Death to Tyrants, Death Toll, Bury Your Dead, Crib Death, Death From Above 1979, Dead Season, Deathcharge, Nuclear Death Terror, Deathcheck, Deathcore, Dead Squad, Ninja Death Squad, Ben is Dead (zine), Play Dead, Appalachian Death Ride, Deads Eds, Asbestos Death, Circus of Death, Dead Aim, Dead Sheriff, Dead Section, Deadly Right, Dead Pledge, Dead Planet, Dead Moon, Born Dead Icons, Dead Milkmen, Death Wish Kids, Death Folk, Fuck Me Dead, The Bobby Death Band, Conquest for Death, Death Mickies, Left for Dead, Process is Dead, A Death Between Seasons, Book of Dead Names, Dead Nittels, Dead Cats, Dead Beat (record label), The Dead Ones, Nuclear Death, Societic Death Slaughter, Dead Memento, Dead Joe, Dead Man Walking, The Deadites, Happy Death, Killed by Death (record label), Deadfall, Death Trip, Deathcage, Deathskulls, Dead Friends, Dead to Me, Steel Tigers of Death, George Is Dead, Dead Poetic, Deathtoll, Found Dead Hanging, Dead Inside, You’re Dead, Blessed are the Dead, Day of the Dead, Dead Celebrities, The Boy You Hit is Dead, Dead Roses, Dead Steelmill, Dead or Alive (production company), Death of Anna Karina, Dead Red Sea, Dead Fish, Dead Serious, Union of the Dead, Three Days Dead (label), Dead Pig (label), Dead in the Dirt (zine), Dead in the Water, Deadjournal (zine), Death Side, Kiss of Death (label), A Death for Every Sin, Near Death Experience, Death Squad, Dead Nation, Wanted Dead, All the Dead Pilots, Dead Empty, Death Puppies, DeadWishKids, Deathrest, Radio Dead Ones, Barbie’s Dead (zine), Reagan Death (zine), Brain Death (zine), Brain Dead, Johnny Death and the Deadheads, Death Sentence, Dead Silence, Crimson Death, Scholastic Deth, Death Before Dishonor, Christian Death, death of Glory, Death of Gods, Dead End Cruisers, Drop Dead, We Have the Deathray! (zine), Dead Tech 3, Dead Relatives, Deathspeak, Dead America, Death Threat, Death Toll, Deadfuck Commando (zine), My Dad is Dead, Dead Vaynes , Certain Death, Cleveland Bound Death Sentence, Suburban Death Machine, Death Midgets, Death Records (record label), Civil Death, Gastuck Systematic Death, Death and the Compass, and Death By Stereo.

Other names depict the onslaught awaiting us in terms of pathological, petrochemical, biological, and extraterrestrial agents that resemble film titles culled from zines like Psychotronic: Flesheaters, Venom P Stinger, Venom Godflesh, Mutants, Sex Mutants, Beach Mutants, Los Mutantes, The Fiends, The Monsters, Monster X, Man Made Monsters, Here Be Monsters (zine), Closet Monster (zine), 3-D Monster/s, Yard Monster, Munster (record label), More Fiends, Fiendz, Septic Sawblades, Bloodsucking Creeps, Flesh Eating Creeps, Bloodsucking Freaks, Toxic Waste, Toxic Reasons, Toxic Avengers, Psycho, Cosmic Psychos, American Psycho Band, Temperamental Psychotics, and Bloodsuckers from Outer Space.

Other infamous names evoke hordes of the undead: Mummies, Zombie Squad, Concombre Zombie, Zombie Terrorist, White Zombie, Zombie Toolshed, Zombie Clergy, Sabertooth Zombies, Bop Zombies, Sewer Zombies, Ewok Zombies, Redneck Zombies, an Astro Zombie.

Others signify the dark side of medicine: Lethal Virus, Alien Virus, Intestinal Disease, Psychedelic Disease (zine), Legionaire’s Disease, the Germs, Germbox, Germ Attack, Girl Germs, United Mutation, Cancer (zine and band), The Virus, Infect, Infest, the Parasites, Legion of Parasites, Global Parasite, Social Parasites, The Plague, Marching Plague, Ebola, Cancerous Growth, Abcess, Malignance, Malignant Growth, and Malignant Tumor.

Punk artists may employ the zombie archetype to figuratively show how punks represent the abject, unwanted, and marginalized in society, or, inversely, they may also represent a way for punks to project their own fantasies of “getting rid” of people in their own lives. As Kriscida Meadows noted in the abstract for her essay “Zombie Culture: The Audience and the Undead,” such distressing creatures “represent a kind of ‘blank slate’ upon which the viewer may impose any sort of image—a boss, a husband or wife, a certain type of person (race, ethnicity, sex, etc.)—so that he or she may dispose of that person/characteristic both guilt- and punishment-free (2006). Hence, these archetypes of the grotesque undead may represent or evoke both self and object, even simultaneously.

In the essay “Anarchy in the UK: British 1970’s Punk as Bakhtinian Carnival,” Peter Jones suggests that the movement was defined by an egalitarian impulse of sorts, rife with “hedonistic pleasure” and a sense of communal, in which people lose themselves, especially in regards to dance, such as in the pogo, and especially later the “mosh pit,” or in the jeering. In the early years, fans also spit upon bands in a collective “jouisssance,” in which borders blurred amongst the frenzy and disorder (in fact, he neglects to mention bands names that also mimic this, such as Disorder and Flux of Pink Indians). Philip Hoare has examined such punk carnivalesque notions in light of medieval mystery plays, or chivalric tournaments, although punk gigs featured raucous music and gobs of bodily discharge too. Such bodily contact and immersion in the collective is also prime carnivalesque features. The fact that such punk events, or the music associated with them, was often censured and repressed (such as stores not stocking copies, or bands being banned from radio), compares to the state trying to censure carnival, with its free denizens exercising “abnormal behavior.” Hence, punk is like carnival, in which the frenetic pogo-ers embody “the earthly and unruly social-body of the people; an avatar of the grotesque body” (Jones 2002).

The body is both collective and individual, and the gig goers wearing dog collars, wild hair, make-up of all sorts and patterns, clothes mismatched, subverted, or served up as pastiches (bondage pants and porkpie hats, etc), represent the hands-on oppositional body, with its chains, safety pins, and torn-up style that revels in a sense of “filth, unrestrained pleasure, and ugliness,” which is divided from the classic notions of the discreet, well-mannered, and harmonious body. Instead, the body, or the image of the body, is distressed, and becomes a liminal zone, allowing for fans to look “inside out,” wearing bras on the outside of clothes, or exposing scars and mutilations, countering the idea of a consumer body tightly secured by authority and control. These resemble the masks of the carnival, which symbolize “change and reincarnation” to Bakhtin, an otherness or alterity that punk echoes in its heavy stylized make-up — negating standard notions of beauty and suggesting androgyny while re-coding the body as being intertextual with the world, according to Jones. An eyewitness at the time, Mary Hannon, described the “crazy teenage thing” in London: “there were hundreds of little kids, like nightmares, you know, like little ghouls… It was nightmarish. I was scared” (McNeil and McCain 2006: 303, 306).

Sue Catwoman, Sex Pistols cohort.

All of these tendencies may mimic carnival, but carnival also offered, as he notes, a reaffirmation and renewal, since it was celebratory, which sits uneasy with punk’s sense of “Destroy” mentality, its total angst and ennui, imbued with a rather totalizing cynicism and despair. Yet, the author fails to note that all of this might be the way punk was normalized within the traditions of mainstream media, or even by the fanzine media, which was looking to authenticate itself, so this emphasis on such urges might have been ways that punks negotiated their status, projected a sense of being bilious and vile, all while actually representing different set of values, later fully explored by peace punk bands and skinhead bands who still claimed a sense of being punk while rarely mimicking the same style or trends (the sense of tattered bricolage is absent in skinhead gear, and Crass peace punks were known to wear all black thrift stores clothes with little bright adornment, another kind of re-arranging the style of punk). These directly contrast the first wave of punk, which might be signified with fluorescence, which “holds nothing back for later — like punk, its mode is the mode of anti-interiority, denial of romantic self, a cheap trick, a cheap trip without innerness, an upfront, slap in the face of public taste … Day-Glo can take us back into the first moments of Punk’s immediacy, its shock and exhilaration – the heretical idea of living historically instead of at the behest of the needs of capital accumulation. No past, no future, no capital, no mortgage payments” (Leslie and Watson: N.A.) Although early era American punk bands did not readily absorb Day Glo as an aesthetic, Arturo Vega, the visual artist for the Ramones, owned a loft that he filled with Day-Glo swastika paintings in the mid-1970s while Johnny Blitz, drummer for the Dead Boys, wore a Conan shirt in “big orange Day -Glow colors” (McNeil and McCain 2006: 393). Note the difference in punk aesthetics below:

X Ray Spex 45 cover. 1978.

Crass LP sleeve. 1978.

As Daniel Wojcik notes in his book Punk and Neo-Tribal Body Art, punk art, as mentioned earlier, often embodies images of the transgressive, taboo, and grisly; hence, flyers often poach and appropriate midnight, horror, schlock, and B-Movies — the flickering black and white celluloid terrain of pop culture. The classic monsters of the 1930s — Frankenstein, Wolfman, and Dracula — appealed to bands like the Cramps and Misfits and countless garage rockers, while sexploitation shock cinema and low budget drive-in slasher flicks shaped the visuals of SCUM rock, from Richard Kern’s transgressive punk cinema to the raunch of Pussy Galore, White Zombie, and others. In the 1980s, when bands like MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction, soon to be the band Blast) and MDC (known as Missile Destroyed Civilization for a short time) held forth, and Sane Freeze was a major focus of activists, punks worried about the end of the world in part because they had practiced bomb drills in elementary school. These furutre punks-to-be hunched down in hallways, next to brick halls, hugging their knees on cold linoleum, whereas in 2000 young punks worried about the end of the millennium, a technological meltdown that never quite occurred as prophesized. Regardless of the style, a steady diet of monsters and apocalyptic imagery has been at the core of punk flyers, represented by illustrations that recall Tales From the Crypt, Rat Fink, and homegrown terror doodles from anonymous teenagers working in damp basements. Golub has asserted the place and primacy of monsters in his own work, such as mercenaries and torturers:

I am simply a reporter. I report on these monsters because these monsters actually exist. This is not make-believe; this is not fantasy; this is not symbolism. It is but it isn’t. These situations which call these forces into existence actually exist…My job is to be this machine that turns out these monsters at this particular point and make them as tangible as possible… (73)

Golub, “Interrogation II.” 1981.

I suggest that the monsters, whether metaphorical, or “real” in the case of Golub and the images of dead Cambodians in the nexus of Dead Kennedy’s posters, reveal the stresses and anxieties of a world rife with ongoing calamity, in which the arts are a microscope and a mirror, both a way to mimic back the pain and suffering and to examine, explore, and enlarge it. Whether such art is inherently political is debatable; for instance, Golub asserts: “Disaffection explodes as a caricature, ugliness or insult and defamation … Such anger today can only be made up of pieces of such art, guises of art, gestures using art, habits, caricature, calumny, etc. This is not political art but rather a popular expression of popular revulsion (71). Hence, we may look upon the art of bands like Crass, Crucifix, and Discharge, with all their brooding, severe, enveloping tropes of constant carnage, and see revulsion but not necessarily apolitical critique that is cogent, beyond them simply signifying how power is deadly.

Instead, perhaps such art relays a sense of urgency. In this next phrase culled from Golub, I will replace the word Guernica, referring to the intensely well-regarded Picasso painting of a bombed city during the Spanish War, with the phrase punk flyers, not to equate the suffering of the population during the time of war, but as en examination of what the sense of aesthetics, and the potentials of the medium of flyers represents, when attempting to address horror:
Rhetorically, punk art/flyers might be viewed as vehicles for disseminating “news,” as the visual metaphor of a newspaper, a super-photograph or comic strip. It is “read” urgently, and the viewer is assaulted by the tumult and violence – the crowded, sensual, discordant and primitive ordering of ideas. Thus (like instances of the impact of exceptional news) a “punk flyer” [instead of Guernica] is stridently eloquent, tensely insistent on the reality of the events portrayed, utilizing the “news” to gain immediacy to re-enact the totality of the event as news (29).

When interviewed by Maximum Rock’nRoll in 1983 and asked about his ‘gory’ or ‘horrific’ graphics, flyer artist and illustrator Pushead proposed that, ”if you want someone to remember something, let them remember in horror. The #1 thing to control people in the world is “Fear,” and no one has conquered that. … the fascination with fear really gives you a desire to look through the Pandora’s eyes” (#8). Perhaps the metaphor of Pandora, the Greek goddess (representing the original female) made out of earth as a kind of retribution for Prometheus delivering fire to human kind, and her box, which in mythology is equated with releasing all the evils of the world, can be seen in juxtaposition to the horror evoked by Guernica and Pushead’s morbidity. Artists pursue depictions of evil to unlock and provoke meaning in a world succumbing to and beset by very real fears that artists convey through urgency and atavism.

Pushead flyer provided by Jeff Nelson.

Hence, punk flyers can act like a newspaper by another means – aggressive one-sheets — and as I have stated much earlier in the book, a strident means by which to form a media outlet. The images, often stark and striking, retain a sense of page as totality – a means of encapsulating an event. In horror flyers, especially in regards to flyers dealing with actual events playing out in the battered world, the page might be construed as a re-enactment of the events, unfolding on the everyday telephone pole, bus stop window, or record store board, confrontational and chaotic, letting people know they live in a world that births monsters.

Some such flyer art captures blood-gurgling roars, or penetrated, invaded bodies oozing putrid puss — the taxonomy of death and disease in an era of perpetual civil war, global conflict, and AIDs. Or teenagers groping with realities of “dead cities” (the title of an Exploited song), as testified by Mike Hudson of the Pagans, the band that penned vitriolic songs like “Street Where Nobody Lived” and “What’s This Shit Called Love,” who wrote in his biography Diary of a Punk, “we lived like we were already dead, rushing toward death, and the odds are you won’t see tomorrow” (2008: 67). Or undead skateboarders reveling in rock’n’roll and slam dancing – their abomination and mutation not a limitation but a call-to-arms, an invitation to retake the landscape of consumer malls and mini-marts.

These punk depictions signify the margins of our distressed imagination, a lore and trope of bodies driven to a ghastly in extremis state of being. The plasticity of such dead/undead bodies are to be marveled at, since they have seem to be more alive in death than most people are while breathing pollutant-strewn air. The monstrous bodies melt the barriers between genders and species, the possible and impossible, and the speakable and unspeakable. They have risen from mold-encrusted, shabby graveyards or the killing fields of napalm. They’re riddled with nail-bombs and landmines, eaten alive by swarms and disease, born misshapen and contorted, driven to die by scientists, F-16s, and shotgun posses.These creatures are the damned, the expelled, the mothballed and moth-eaten, the strange, the evil, and the aberrant.

As such, they disrupt our notions of being colonized infants in the womb of capitalism, passive and helpless, for they show us how to be aggressive and possessive, to carve out a specter of territory and freedom in the back of our minds even when we feel dead and void. The underworld and subterranean depths become ground zero for revolt and cantankerous action; they exist as mirror-worlds for our dark fantasies of how to survive even as our once discreet, harmonious, and whole bodies decay and shed their unneeded skin. They are victims and protectors, or simply zombies and gore hounds, cretins and rat boys — a gory intrusion into the world of milquetoast pop music of the 1970s and 1980s. The punk flyer creatures are travesties, reviled and repugnant, repulsive and rank, aborted and vulgar, a disfigured look at being a punk misfit, an outsider, a heretic, and an iconoclast. It shows how pop culture, or parent culture, or hegemonic culture, has attempted to break, disfigure, and mutilate the passions of the people of the punk community.


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