by George Petros
This is not a history, a series of biographies, or a compendium. Anyone looking for a reference work on the subjects herein must look elsewhere; I make no attempt to present complete, comprehensive data. Nor am I offering a critique.
This is a panoramic portrait of a scene, rendered in photos, documents, artwork and words. It illustrates the evolution of a movement.
I selected these materials because they most vividly animate the individual subjects. The narrative, in each subject’s own voice, offers little historical hype. From hours of taped conversations, I picked snippets that offered glimpses behind the masks of art and crime.
I asked all the questions herein, or presided over all interviews as editor (I note a few exceptions). In many cases I borrowed from the work of Michael Moynihan and Boyd Rice, my star interrogators from the days when I ran the all-interview Seconds magazine. I reproduce exchanges as they originally appeared in print. You’ll figure it out.
“Aesthetic Terrorism: Using the element of surprise through the usage of past clichés, knowledge and ‘home truths’ being flung out of joint, and therefore used as possibly a weapon or subversive force.”
— J.G. Thirlwell a.k.a. Foetus, 1984
1984 played out prophetically: George Orwell’s novel came to chronological coincidence, triggering the much-ballyhooed fulfillment of its dire predictions. 2001, however, didn’t see the Space Age promised in Stanley Kubrick’s film.
In the years between—an intense era bracketed by the Cold War and the Digital Age—rape, murder, torture, pedophilia, cannibalism, drugs, sedition, racism and blasphemy mixed with Pop Culture, history, literature, news, movies, TV, philosophy and science. All varieties of taboos and criminal advocacy coalesced, beyond “confrontation” or “shock.”
The artists, from a cross-section of American life, ranged from the abused to the spoiled, from successes to also-rans. Some basked in the limelight; some barely acknowledged their creativity.
Yes, I too am featured herein. You wouldn’t want a book like this from someone without an intimate knowledge of the subject matter, would you? The scene I describe I saw from my own vantage point. So what?
In the Eighties a new demographic arose: Caucasian, mostly Goy but including a few Jews, creative, urban, alienated, beat down by media, blamed for everything, very smart, looking for trouble, turned on by sex murders, happy to hurt others, eccentrically eclectic. The Sixties and Seventies had comprised the Golden Age of anything-goes; TV raised its offspring on equal doses of love and hate, good and bad, right and wrong. Traditionally compartmentalized taboos commingled haphazardly, their varied threats superimposing, juxtaposing, fusing.
The transgressive, subversive, pornographic and forbidden mixed with the legitimate, the approved, and the party line, sparking an aesthetic revolution. Rock provided the soundtrack; drugs provided the universal experience. A new outlaw type, a criminal aesthete, a true threat to society, flourished.
Starting circa 1984, through back-alley channels of Punk, zines, college radio, and a loose network of the like-minded, the artists found one another through mutual gravitation. Their inspirations included Manson, LaVey, Nietzsche, Crowley, the Occult, World War Two, drugs, murder. As their artwork and networking progressed, a unique look and feel developed. Only in retrospect does the scene come into focus; at the time it seemed to be simply a super-alienated version of Punk.
Two types found confluence in this scene: further-out elements of the Cinema of Transgression crowd, and those on the outer limits of Apocalypse Culture. Transgressive: New York, Heroin chic, all black, leftist/anarchist, fucked-up. Apocalyptic: West Coast, LSD, Speed, neo-psychedelic, fascistic, fucked-up. Generally speaking, the two currents merged into a loose, distant association of criminally-inclined artists in whose troubling work a multitude of taboos converged.
LSD, Speed, Heroin, Cocaine, Ecstasy, Absinthe, Marijuana, uppers, downers, Xanax, Valium, Methadone, beer, whiskey, vodka, bourbon, rum, gin, NoDoz, sleeping tablets, cigarettes, coffee and caffeine made it happen. Throughout recessions, boom times, bubbles, the AIDS epidemic, the Pax Americana and the War On Drugs, the characters herein got by somehow, surviving and spewing venom. Their art hurt people, set a bad example, burrowed into impressionable minds, subliminally implanted time-bombs in the unstable.
New tools, and new uses for old tools: videos, cassettes and copy machines evolved into Sci-fi gadgets. For example, in the beginning (1987) Seconds went to the cheapest printer as hastily typeset, hand-made “mechanicals” on stacks of shaggy, re-used cardboard. In the end (2000) a Mac G3 processed everything, spitting it out on two CDs.
Since Day One art challenged everything; its history abounds with misanthropy and anti-authoritarianism. Some used art to inflame and overthrow. It always incited, excited or blasphemed!
Historically, an artist tackled a single taboo, driven by fetish, injustice, poverty or disease. However, the artists herein broke all taboos simultaneously. They mixed it all. Aesthetic Terrorism!
A history: When at first some unheralded individual, tripping on LSD, grabbed a ballpoint pen and on notebook paper doodled, Underground Art began. When every icon lay smashed, every hypocrisy got exposed, and every taboo was broken, Underground Art ended—or, more precisely, percolated into above-ground mainstream art, where the status quo appropriated it.
Underground Art kicked off when a new perceptual tool became available: LSD. Illegal and without psychological precedent, it inspired uninhibited outlaw art documenting Psychedelia’s expansion into a far-reaching culture ultimately ravaged by the War On Drugs.
The first generation of Underground Artists, while quite mischievous, ultimately sought living beauty and bliss. This book features the “second generation,” who sought death and destruction.
From an era of nothingness, emptiness, zero, from the end of time, the end of history, Hello There! From an era of egos, cocks, pussies, narcissism, solipsism, hedonism and nothingness! From this fabulous era of nothingness, Ahoy, You Of Tomorrow! Study this era, these exhilarating days. Learn these lessons, you weak ones of the future—you watered-down versions of this day’s denizens. You scum of tomorrow—Fuck You!
From an era of anger and hate, action and reaction, alienation, fucked-up people, lies, crime, blood and bullshit—from an era of primal passions, hard drugs, hard cocks, killer art et cetera, Hello There!!!