When I interviewed John Lydon last fall, in preview of Public Image Ltd.'s Dallas reunion show, he did not feign interest in talking about his old band, the Sex Pistols. Their history had been written, and he was done revisiting or revising it. Fair enough.
Still, their January 1978 show at the Longhorn Ballroom, which Dallas' Nervebreakers opened, has taken on a mythic quality in North Texas, a floating collective memory built from stories and remembrances of the night, which has attached itself to the history of the DFW punk scene. Some memories have shown up in headlines, others in margins and footnotes.
Saturday, Cohn Drennan Contemporary casts a wider net over our scene history with Dallas. PUNK! 1976-1982, a retrospective of regional contributions, with ephemera by James Bland, Frank Campagna, Tracy Holman, Barry Kooda, Jonathan Lacey, Paul Quigg, Mark Ridlen and Turner Van Blarcum. This show functions as its own visual storytelling circle, a reminder of the aesthetic and cultural landscape, and that at one time North Texas was home to unconventional bands like Stickmen with Rayguns, the Hugh Beaumont Experience, the Vomit Pigs and the Telefones.
"When I finally did settle into Big D, around '78/'79, the first punk club, DJ's, opened at 2000 Greenville Avenue," remembers Kettle Art's Frank Campagna, who will be showing some of his paintings, and of course saw the Ramones in Philly, in a "small club with about 50 other people in '77."
"I started doing flyers for [DJ's]," he adds, "as well as the original Palladium, to get into shows for free, get drinks and make a little money. Between flyer design and distribution for DJ's, the Agora Ballroom and the Wintergarden, I got paid decent and formed what is now known as a street team, where my friends and I could run around town, hit all the hot spots, go to shows for free and get wasted."
Campagna's hustle eventually got him gigs doing cover art for the Telefones, NCM, the Daulphins and VVV Records' Live at the Hot Klub compilation. "Locally, the Nervebreakers were by far the best," he says. "They asked me to do the cover of their debut album, which they recorded then, but it never got officially released until '95."
Paul Quigg, light and soundman at the Kessler Theater, was indoctrinated into the punk scene in the band Snakes on Everything. He confesses he has no visual art from those days that survived, so he's showing recent photos that are more "creepy, dark and unsettling." I ask him for some shows from the era that stand out:
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"The New York Dolls played at Gertie's, and they didn't go on until three in the morning. The urban folklore is that it took them that long to find heroin... John Cale was in town, circa "Mercenaries (Ready for War)," and played at a strip club off Northwest Highway... The Vomit Pigs, who started out in Dangerfield, Texas, in the late '70s. Their singer [Mike Vomit] would take any drugs you had and then snort some more, thank you very much."
Quigg, of course, cites the feeling that's now accompanied a couple waves of punk: "We were anarchists, fed up with corruption; 19, 20, 21 years old," he counters. "And we were having a reaction to it."
"At this show, I expect to see plenty of faces from the past, in a class reunion of sorts," Campagna sums up. "I am sure we'll all recall whatever we can remember, chalk up our experiences and do a body count on who's no longer here."
Dallas. PUNK! 1976-1982 opens February 23, with an opening reception from 6-8pm, and runs through March 30.