For the past two years, librarians and archivists at the University of California at Los Angeles have been building a living archive of punk’s past and present. Focused largely on Southern California, The UCLA Library Punk Archive offers everything from fanzines and photographs to oral histories and punk fashion. Working with musicians, fans, promoters, artists, and writers, the library documents the scenes that gave birth to bands like The Germs, X, The Bags, and Black Flag.

Academic Correspondent Alexandra Appoloni spoke with Megan Fraser at UCLA Library’s Special Collections about the connections between punk music and librarian and why this archive is important now.


AA: How did UCLA’s Punk Rock archive collective get started?

MF: I love talking about this! At the 2013 Society of American Archivists conference, I went to a panel on the Cornell University Library Hip Hop Collection. The archivists from Cornell were talking about how they were very conscious of the fact that they’re out in Ithaca, while Hip Hop’s roots are in the Bronx. They wanted to do both in-reach and outreach, provide a safe place for the material, but not lock it away in a vault. They hired a Hip Hop curator—imagine having that on your business card! Cornell even appointed Afrika Bambaataa as a visiting scholar for 3 years.

And I thought, “I would like to do something like that. But I know nothing about Hip Hop.” So I thought, “OK well, what do I like?” And the first thing that came to mind was “I like the Clash!” But of course, English punk wouldn’t work for a Los Angeles based-institution. LA punk, though, that would be good for UCLA.

I sent a tweet out into the world asking “is anybody doing LA punk”? I knew Ian McKaye had mobilized people in DC, and New York has the Downtown Collection at the Fales Library at NYU, but nobody really answered me about LA. I realized that nobody else was doing this.

Tom Hyry, who was head of UCLA Library Special Collections at the time, said “I saw your tweet, and there’s really no reason why UCLA can’t be a repository for LA punk.”


AA: What are some highlights of what you’ve collected so far?

MF: We had a really great zine collection to start with—the Darby Romeo collection. We got a complete run of a zine called 60 Miles North, which is about Ventura County and the Nardcore scene. (Nardcore is the hardcore scene out of Oxnard, California. Given that Ventura County probably isn’t very well documented in the punk history books, for us to have that is pretty cool.)

Zines were the blogs of their day—much like blogs, they’re very democratic. Anybody could put together a zine—you just have to want to do it. So people’s personal voices are very loud and clear in some of these, for good and for bad. I was upset and shocked by some blatant homophobic language in one of them. I think things have changed since then, but it’s interesting to think of that as the patois of the day.

Through one of our collective members, we got the photographs of Victor Sedillo. He started in the 1970s. Any show he ever went to, he took along his camera. There are pictures of basically anybody who came to LA— not just LA bands, but also of people like John Cale and the Sex Pistols. He also took great pictures of the kids at the shows.

We also have great portfolio of Glen Freidman photographs. He started his career shooting skateboarders in Dogtown and his later work provided some of the first public exposure for bands like Minor Threat.

Within some of the collections we already had there’s a small but great vein of punk material. We have the LA Times Photographic Archive, which includes 4 million images. The project archivist who’s working on that collection right now is also a punk, so she went through and found a whole bunch of really great images of street scenes, band performances, and kids at shows. (You can see some of those images here.)

We were very fortunate to be able to acquire a heavy metal collection from a rare book dealer. It has fliers, backstage passes, set lists, and even a set of drumsticks. The crown jewel of the collection is what they call a battle vest: it’s a denim jacket that has studs, pins, buttons, and patches all over it. That kind of outerwear is also popular in punk. It’s interesting to see the connections across scenes.


AA: What’s been the response from people within the punk community?

MF: We’ve been really lucky, and people have been incredibly generous.

People respond really well to how respectful we are of their legacies, their material, and also their feelings about their material. One of the things we love to do is show donors or potential donors around the space. We take them to the storage facility where they can see this huge safe place for their stuff that has temperature and humidity control, and acid free boxes, where their materials will be safe and preserved from the elements.

And it can be sensitive sometimes: there are a lot of folks in the punk community who are getting a little bit older and thinking about their mortality and their legacies. And they might be looking around thinking “well, my garage has a leak in it, and I really love this stuff and I don’t want it to get damaged.”

And philosophically it’s also kind of beautiful. The way materials go on the shelf is kind of ecumenical. Your stuff could be sitting right next to Henry Miller’s stuff.

AA: It’s like everybody’s history counts.

MF: Right. And people can see themselves on the continuum: there’s Gertrude Stein and there’s Alice Bag. From those cuneiform tablets to the medieval manuscripts [in the UCLA library] to the Black Flag fliers—it’s all human experience.

We went to visit Mark Kreisel who used to run Al’s Bar in downtown LA. It was a huge punk hangout and they had all kinds of bands coming through. He had these old desk-size calendars that were used to keep track of band bookings. They were dirty and they had coffee stains on them… you could tell that they had really been used. Thursday, Friday, and Saturday had all these band names scribbled in the margins. I told him “these would be really great! We would love to have these!” and he asked “You want that?” and I said “Yes! that’s exactly what we want!”

So that opened up his mind. That’s a very common experience. We have to show people what a researcher might want to see.

I had a talk the other day with somebody who runs a zine. I said, “I would like to have the published version of your zine. I would also like to have the paste-ups that you did. I would like to have a digital file of your draft. I’d like to have your notebook from the interview that you did and your calendar that says ‘on Tuesday I went to meet Mike Watt’ or whoever.”

A lot of people think only of the finished product, and it’s fun as an archivist to explain to them we want the raw material and the evidence of how you got to the finished product.

It’s also been really great to talk to folks and show them: you are important and your material is important, and maybe you didn’t make bank when you were a rock star. Or maybe you didn’t get the recognition that you thought you deserved. Or maybe you were in this band that didn’t turn out to be in the hall of fame. But as an artist, a musician, a designer, a scene-ster, a magazine producer, or whoever, your work, your legacy, and your artwork is of use to people who are studying not just Los Angeles history, but history in general.

AA: It also strikes me that the library here is in a great position to help preserve and disseminate otherwise undocumented histories.

MF: Yes. The punk collective also fits into a larger, library-wide initiative called Collecting Los Angeles, whose aim is to collect materials about the under-documented areas of LA, to make sure that there are related programs and faculty partnerships, and to tie collections very closely to the communities from which they come.

If you think of under-documented communities, things like punk should leap immediately to mind, in addition to skaters, surfers, gangs. I think that we’re pretty solid and most people agree that a focus on ethnic and cultural groups is an absolute must for collecting. But I like to think that “under-documented” isn’t just about ethnicity: it can be about vocations, occupations, cultural movements, or scenes.

AA: You mean the groups and the communities people choose and build for themselves, as well as the ones they’re born into.

MF: Right. We’re gaining a lot of momentum, which is really nice. The overwhelming response has been relief almost that somebody finally thinks this is important. Over the past decades, they [punks] see people passing away, or not being able to keep their stuff, or being in rough circumstances, but the fact that their work is being acknowledged as important makes people happy.

AA: Archives used to deal primarily in physical material, but I know that digital technology has really changed the way that archives preserve and disseminate content. Any plans to make material from the punk collections available digitally?

MF: Yes—and there are a few ways we might do it. There’s the traditional model where we digitize something, add descriptions and just have it available for browsing or searching in a database-style website. There’s also the idea of a more curated online exhibit with more original content and explanation.

We’re really interested in some of the projects that our colleagues are putting together to build pedagogical tools. We’ve hooked up with Jessica Schwartz, a professor in the Musicology Department, and we will be working with her on a digital platform to provide access to materials for her students. It would let you follow the career of a particular band. The idea is that there would be a timeline, but you could also see a map, and look at a street corner, and see the venue that used to be on the street corner, and you could see pictures of the inside and fliers from the bands who played there. It could be a homework tool, a testing tool, but it would also appeal to the generally interested.

It’s been interesting to us to see that bands who are playing today don’t really produce fliers or hand out a lot of physical things or material objects. So if you want to find out what they’re doing, you have to follow them on Facebook. We’re figuring out ways to capture social media posts and archive websites.

One of the things that’s fun about the early punk stuff is the materiality of it. Somebody said that when he was 14 he would get on his skateboard and ride around town and pull show fliers down off the telephone poles. So a lot of them have this sticky masking tape on the back, and there’s this lovely sense of provenance there. You don’t have this as much with a Facebook post.

But I also don’t want to sound nostalgic for “back in the day,” because an archive is very much a living thing. We’re very interested in things that are happening right now. We’re not trying to fetishize the past —we’re interested in the whole continuum.

AA: What do you hope people will do with the materials in the punk collections?

MF: I hope they use them for whatever they want. Because we’re a public university and an academic institution, we have a mandate to make material available for teaching and learning. But I would love it if people would use these collections as source material for documentaries, art pieces, and installations, for fashion design, or for anything, really. Use this material for lectures and exhibits.

I have these grand fantasies of doing some kind of large installation where we build a temporary wall and just put fliers up all over it. Write a novel about punks and use this stuff. Or try to trace the origin of the Black Flag logo. Or use it to talk about women, talk about race, class, ethnicity. Punk seems separate but it’s also a microcosm of larger social issues.

My feeling as an archivist is that I’m here to provide material for you for whatever you want, and I think that there are a lot of things that you could want.


About The Author

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Lecturer, UCLA; Academic Correspondent, Hippo Reads

Alexandra Apolloni is Hippo Reads' Academic Correspondent for Music. She holds a Ph.D. in Musicology from UCLA and is a lecturer in the UCLA Music Industry Program. She studies voice and identity and has written about singers including Dusty Springfield, Martha Reeves, Lady Gaga, Miley Cyrus, Beth Ditto, and others for The Toast, the Oxford University Press music blog, and a variety of other publications. She is currently working on a book about girl singers in 1960s London.