Like many people present at the inception of great things, Cynthia Connolly blazes trails.
In her case, the great thing in question was punk rock. These days, she doesn’t go where the action is. She goes where she goes, and the action follows: Wherever she goes, for business or pleasure, she sets up a talk and slide show about her book Banned in D.C. There’s no frantic, frenetic rush toward newness that comes with normal book tours — she goes along in her own time.
After 10 years being out-of-print, Banned in D.C. — a chronicle of the early D.C. punk scene written and conceived with Sharon Cheslow and Leslie Clague — now returns to print. Its latest, seventh edition carries with it even more photographs and an eight-page afterword about the continual unfolding of the meaning of those times. An overarching compendium of photos, fliers and stories documenting the D.C. scene is peopled by Bad Brains, Faith, G.I., Marginal Man, Minor Threat, Nuclear Crayons, Red C, Scream, Void and many others. It was the authors’ self-professed attempt to “capture the feeling and energy of the movement, using stories from the many people who were involved.” Connolly and her slide show will stop in Ventura this weekend.
VCReporter: What can we expect from your talk?
Cynthia Connolly: The slideshow for Banned in D.C. is about why I bothered to make the book in the first place in 1986. I finished it in 1988 and it was pretty much only the second documentary book on any American punk scene; the first was called Hardcore California, published by Last Gasp in 1983. I’m attracted to communities, and I talk about growing up in L.A. and then going to a bunch of shows, and then my mom moved to D.C. for a job in 1981, so I moved to D.C.
How many people can say that they were at the dawn of two seminal punk scenes?
Maybe that’s why I thought it was important to do the book in 1986. Maybe I saw the difference; maybe I saw what was unique [about both scenes]. I was 22 years old, and it was the ’80s. People couldn’t understand where I was coming from, to think that I could make a book! They obviously knew I’d been around since 1981, pretty heavily involved in the scene. It wasn’t like I came in out of nowhere. At the time I arrived in D.C., no one was taking photographs. I borrowed a camera and started taking photographs of shows in basements and people hanging out. The people hanging out were all friends, and it was really friendly. In L.A. it was more rough-and-tumble. There were a lot of drugs, more violence. There were a lot of kids that were homeless, basically. In D.C., the kids had homes; they were pretty well-to-do, pretty well-educated.
The punk rock thing was partly about doing what you want to do. That you should go out and do or create a thing if you wanted to, wasn’t it?
Right! Totally! And that’s what I did. Banned in D.C. is the story of doing these things, and how just observing can be sort of inspiring — to remind us that we can still do that. I went to art school, and I was given shit by the punk kids [who would say] “Art is not punk.” But whatever! This is what I like. And I think it’s because of the punk ethic of DIY, you can do anything. That’s why my work is in the collection at the Getty and the Corcoran Gallery and the Smithsonian. I don’t think it would have happened if it weren’t for those experiences that I’ve had, and that I still have.”
You didn’t let people bring you down.
That’s part of the punk thing. Don’t let the shit get you down! It’s bothersome, but let it go, move forward. You walk away from it. It’s the most freeing thing to learn in life.
Because of punk, you jumped through so many hoops, you went so through much persecution on so many different levels that if you persevered, you went on to greater and greater things. Hasn’t that been the point of this whole exercise all along?
I lived in San Francisco in 1986 for about 10 months, working at Maximum Rock ’n’ Roll, and then I left because I wanted to do the book. I was there thinking, “Why am I doing this scene? I don’t even know these people! I need to go home and do this book!”
Cynthia Connolly, accompanied by guitarist Rich Jacobs, will speak on Saturday, Dec. 26, at 4 p.m. at the E.P. Foster Library Topping Room in downtown Ventura. Banned in D.C. is available at cynthiaconnolly.com.