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Art of Modern Rock book cover

Art of Rock {format} {format} 8:41 Scott Carrier

Indie bands revive the genre of rock posters.

Broadcast: Dec 20 2004 on NPR Day to Day Subjects: Rock, Music, Art

Profile: Reduction in number of Midwestern family farms raising pigs

December 20, 2004 from Day to Day

ALEX CHADWICK, host: This is DAY TO DAY from NPR News. I'm Alex Chadwick.

Rock art posters came about 40 years ago because then little-known acts--Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix--needed to get attention for their concerts in places like The Fillmore in San Francisco. The posters came in DayGlo colors and psychedelic designs. Then the acts got big, the posters became collector's items--nostalgia. But posters are back because indie rock now needs attention, and for luring a few hundred people to a concert rather than tens of thousands, posters still work. Here now is producer Scott Carrier.

SCOTT CARRIER reporting:

"The Art of Modern Rock" is a big book for a sturdy coffee table: 492 pages, 1,800 color plates of rock concert posters.

Mr. PAUL GRUSHKIN (Author, "The Art of Modern Rock"): Eight point two pounds! Yes! (Laughs)

CARRIER: Author Paul Grushkin.

Mr. GRUSHKIN: My friend, we looked at over 9,00 pieces of art, day after day, night after night, trying to find the ones that resonated, that had this feel about them that was elementally rock 'n' roll.

(Soundbite of song)

Unidentified Man #1: (Singing) Get yourself together. Get yourself together. Shake, shake, shake, shake, shake, shake, shake, shake, shake, shake, shake, shake, shake, shake, shake, shake. Get yourself together...

CARRIER: The fact is that the best rock 'n' roll was always made at the garage level.

Mr. GRUSHKIN: Whatever, let's just say that threshing it out in a garage is elementally a good thing.

(Soundbite of song)

Unidentified Man #1: (Singing) Out of the way, stepping out to the track.

Mr. GRUSHKIN: The kids were discovering their own music. There is this feeling of human condition, that there should be a visual part of that. The CD, of course, is this horrible little box of plastic, you know, clothed in cellophane. And so they are feverishly cranking out poster art. It's no surprise that you have these hundred-times-over everywhere-in-America mini explosions of poster art, because that's what's happening on the grassroots level in rock 'n' roll: mini explosions of music-making everywhere.

CARRIER: If you're over 35 years old, you probably never heard of these bands: Puddle of Mudd, Boxcar Satan, Psychotic Pineapple, Calexico, The Danielson Famile, The Rapture. But the posters are instantly appealing: psychedelic, surreal, sacred and profane, high-quality silk screens, a nearly primitive technology, but the work is amazing. The first thing that comes into your mind is, `Why didn't I know about this?'

Mr. GRUSHKIN: The art that's in "Art of Modern Rock"--at least 75 percent of it is for totally obscure bands. But the thrust of rock 'n' roll in this day and age is to be one of those bands. And to be discovered in your obscurity or illuminated in your obscurity by all these poster artists.

(Soundbite of song)

Unidentified Man #1: (Singing) all that's meant.

CARRIER: Grushkin was in Salt Lake City recently for a book signing party, one of a number he's having around the country. He also came to seek Kilby Court, the place here in town where this music happens and posters are made. Phil Sherburne manages the venue.

Mr. PHIL SHERBURNE (Manager, Kilby Court): And Kilby is pretty much--I mean, it's a garage. It's literally a garage. We've built a fence around it and made a courtyard. We have campfires. It's kind of an experiment to just--it was never planned. It just kind of happened.

CARRIER: Five years ago, Phil Sherburne was studying art at the University of Utah and running a wood shop, making furniture downtown. He rented the garage next to his shop, mainly as a way of putting some space between himself and some bad neighbors. Next thing he knew, he was having parties and booking bands over the Internet.

Mr. SHERBURNE: I think of it as a positive place. It's a good place for kids who are kind of a little bit--they're kind of misfit kids, and they--but not--they're kind of--it's kind of a mix of misfit hipsters.

CARRIER: One of the kids coming by Kilby was Leah Bell, a photography student at the University of Utah.

Ms. LEAH BELL (Artist): I've been coming to shows at Kilby Court for years, and I knew Phil just kind of--he was always just the guy that was over in his wood shop until, like, two in the morning building stuff. I knew he was the owner of Kilby, but you just knew he was the guy that was, like, working all the time. And then I got to meet him and we started hanging out just as friends, and he was really stressed out about doing everything. I mean, he was--not only did he still have his furniture-building business, but he was doing everything for the venue and booking all the shows and making all the fliers. And so I just kind of suggested, you know, like, `Well, I can make some fliers for you.'

Mr. SHERBURNE: Leah--that's what made me fall in love with Leah was how, you know, incredibly talented she was. And we started dating, and she was pregnant, and then she moves in. And...

Ms. BELL: Since I knew how to silk-screen, we set up, like, a really rudimentary, like, table. And, you know, screens are relatively cheap, but we were so poor at the time, like, I didn't have any money to buy paper, so I had a friend that worked at a screen printing place and he'd bring me down boxes of scraps, like, after they were done with everything. So a lot of the posters were, like, 5 by 7 inches, like just really tiny, handbill size. And it was always really flattering 'cause I'd put up my little posters and then come back the next day and they'd all be gone, so...

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. BELL: And it almost like I was sort of interpreting an image about the band. I was drawing an image about their fans or the people who listen to their music. I was just kind of drawing my life and what I'm into.

Mr. GRUSHKIN: She goes out into the community with her camera and she snaps moments in time, and then in her mind's eye, she strips away all the backgrounds and the associations and takes the primary human theme that's in that photograph and begins to work it as a poster, OK? And I think that when you look at her work and you look at van Gogh's work, there's a remarkable similarity separated by 150 years.

Ms. BELL: It's a picture of a girl putting lipstick on a guy. You know, things happen like that where, you know, the guy is letting the girl put lipstick on him 'cause maybe he likes her a little bit. And I can see--I see everything in lines and almost like it's a finished drawing. I don't know, just saw the lines of her arm and her face and the angles of the boards there behind her. You know, all you need is the basics for the image.

Mr. GRUSHKIN: Today in Salt Lake City, Leah Bell is creating art that is the equal to any art anywhere in the world in terms of its imagination, in terms of its interpretation of what has happened in music.

Mr. SHERBURNE: Music's changing, and people are taking control of it on their own, traveling the country in beat-up vans, and they communicate to each other through the Internet. And then that's what independent music is. Indie music is that.

Mr. GRUSHKIN: It is happening so fast in front of our eyes that young people are doing it everywhere, in the smallest towns, in the biggest cities. The thing that we have to remember is that rock 'n' roll is here to stay. Rock 'n' roll will never die. OK? You just have to accept the fact that rock 'n' roll is going to be made forever and ever, and if we say that, we have to say how exciting it will be, how much we look forward to seeing the rock posters of 10 years from now, 'cause you bet your ass that there are going to be rock posters 10 years from now.

(Soundbite of cheering and applause)

CHADWICK: Producer Scott Carrier comes to DAY TO DAY through the radio collective You can find a link to them and to poster art at our Web site,

Unidentified Man: One, two, three.

(Soundbite of music)

CHADWICK: This is DAY TO DAY from NPR News.