VOLUME 46, NUMBER 19 - JUNE 8, 2000


Rap/Punk Nihilism at Govinda
By Gary Tischler

As the Beatles would say- please, please me. Some things are always new. LA skaters are new. Punk rockers are new. rappers are new. At least, the ones you see in Glen E. Friedman's photographs are new. Most things in America get eaten up, co-opted, taken over, mush out into the mainstream.

Not going to happen to Friedman or his subjects, at least as they exist in the photos.

That's evidently clear in his books, and in a representative exhibition of his work at the Govinda gallery. Georgetown's and Washington's hippest gallery, the image place of record for pop culture and rock and roll.

When you have an exhibition title like "F--- You All," you're maybe indicating that mass approval is not on the top of your list. Friedman chronicles rebels and rockers, people and music and stuff that's always right up there in the face of the status quo and sticking up a single finger of rebuke, saying it ain't enough.

Friedman began photographing the spirit, the moves, the people of the LA skate scene with its bright helmets, its serious shots at flying and flipping and doing something new on skates, creating an ambiance, when he was just twelve, often arguing with cops who were busting the skaters' chops, public skating being against the law at the time, therefore being a perfect vehicle for defiance at the price of some hassling, some rousting.

Friedman went on to move smoothly into the rough music scene, the outer edges of punk rock, the balled fist, no man's land mosh pit, the buzz cuts, the screamers and up yours society rockers and he got them in action, legs splayed, fists crunched, teeth in dead grimace, eyes all but weeping or burning, the standing mike in a death grip. Looking at the pictures, you can imagine the noise.

He got the early danger of the early rap guys, menace in the hip hop shadow, cool authority, before MTV and BET took over everything.

I don't know what it is, but this exhibition and Friedman's books, they're like really loud without any music playing. These guys - and there are no girl players - are in the grip, it's as if somebody juiced the guitars, the blader sky, made the eyes extra deep.

The punkers aren't and never were about rock and roll innocence, the pure joy of playing and all that sort of stuff they would consider bunk, not punk. they're about rock and roll disillusionment and cynicism, a kind of energized nihilism, like hitting your head against the wall and making it a kind of thing to do, an ability or a gift.

Welcome to Friedman's world:

Local Washington legends Minor Threat, and lead singer and plunger Ian Mackaye, as visible a face as you can get, Henry Rollins wailing bare chested for Black Flag, Ice T as cool as a deep voice, skaters off into the top of the world, the endlessly weird Jello Biafra of the Dead Kennedys.

This was all a while ago, and all you have to do is look real fast at one wall of dense pictures to get an itch for the mood of the times of the people. The names alone are an attitude all by themselves, dark belly stuff, nocturnal, exuberantly violent and far side. Taken together, they sound like a morning roll call in the disturbed ward at St. Elizabeth's: the Weirdos, Dead boys, Big Boys, Minor Threat, RUN-DMC, Fugazi, Black Flag, Suicidal Tendencies, Dead Kennedys, the Germs, 999, Generation X, Bad Brains, Puker, Reagan Youth, Public Enemy, Circle Jerks, Beastie Boys.

They used to ask guys like this: What you rebelling against," and the biker would say "what you got?"

Now Henry Rollins ranted: "I want to live, I wish I was dead."

"F---k You All" is in its own twisted way a dynamite tribute to rock and roll: it's great big bigness, it's blob-like quality to create, make and absorb styles and all kinds of ways of being.