Talking the Texas Punk Problem with Photographer Bill Daniel
Introduction from the Texas Punk Problem
“Hey Phototech, take my picture!” yells a pony-tailed sorority girl as I try to make my way across campus unnoticed by my “greek customers.” It’s 1980 and I am a disin- terested, slowly flunking Business Administration undergraduate at the University of Texas in Austin working part-time for Phototech, the “party picture” company. Photo- tech had contracts with all the major fraternity and sorority houses on campus to photograph their each and every social event, from Kappa Alpha’s horrendous “Old South Weekend”, to any-old weeknight mixer or rush party. Singles, doubles, group shots, vomiting shots, we snap-shot it all. It was a lucrative campus-wide monopoly based on the unbridled vanity and easy daddy’s money of Texas’ elite college kids. Proof sheets of the previous week’s parties were delivered to the houses every Monday and the print orders piled in. It was my first professional photography job and it was a plum. We were paid ten cents a shot, and on home game weekends I could easily burn 20 rolls of film at one party. At 36 exposures per roll that’s seventy five bucks--- not bad.
But what was interesting about the job, other than being a paid voyeur to the party antics of those on the “other path”, (I was proudly GDI, God Damn Independent as some of us loser non-greeks called ourselves, goofily using a mock greek moniker), was that shooting frat parties happened to be a ironic warm-up for another kind of photography I was getting into. Shooting punk shows.
LIGHTNING: Can you tell us a little bit about what was going on at that time and how you started shooting these photos?
Bill Daniel: I started hearing about shows at this club called Raul’s, which was really the first punk club in Austin, probably the first one in Texas, and there was just instantly a legend around this club, so, I started show- ing up there. It was kind of intimidating at first because everybody there was older and cooler and weirder and, you know, I was just a suburban skate dork, (laughs) long hair and corduroy shorts, the whole deal. But it was also a really open and welcoming scene. When I got there the scene was kind of transitioning from the first wave, which was more art stu- dents and real freaks and real weirdos, and it started to transition into hardcore even though it wasn’t really hardcore yet. The band that really marked that change and really set that tone for me was the Big Boys.
Of course, they were adamant skaters. They were really out about being skaters and skating was completely not cool at that time. It was defi- nitely like, here’s my flavor of weird, so there was an instant connection there.
L: And what year was that?
B: ‘80, ‘81.
L: So who were the bands that were playing before you started going there?
B: The most notorious was a band called the Huns who were famous-
ly arrested on stage and, it’s a great story. But the bands that were a mainstay there when I showed up were Terminal Mind, Standing Waves, The Skunks, also Boy Problems, the Foams. It’s interesting, I went to a couple shows before I started shooting just because I was like ‘wow,
this is really cool: do I dare bring a camera in here?’ I was just starting to shoot, you know. So finally I built up enough courage. I had a 50 mm lens, so you’re kind of standing a little bit further back from people than I did later when I got a wider lens. The first two bands on the first roll of film that I shot were the Foams, which is this really super cool all girl band that are really arty and performance art oriented and really hilarious and socially critical, and really fun, and the other band was the Big Boys and they were just complete goof balls. This was before you could consider them leaders in the scene, there was no scene around that yet (skating.) Just looking back at that first contact sheet, going ‘wow’, I mean, people were goofy, you know. I mean, people now are so “cool”, I mean coolness is, you know, if any of these people showed up at your party, you wouldn’t want to talk to them (Laughs).
L : At that time were bands coming from California and DC and New York?
B: Yeah, the real touring network (hardcore) hadn’t really started: there weren’t enough bands yet for that touring thing to be kicking in the way it did a year later. But when national acts like Patti Smith or Elvis Costello, when those people would come into town to do a gig at a larger place, they heard about Raul’s and came by and some of them would do a set or at least hang out. Patti Smith did a set with the Skunks, and the Skunks were one of the first bands, they weren’t really punk, but they were kind of in the center of the punk scene. Jesse Sublett who was in the Skunks also played with the Violators which, I believe, history recognizes as the first punk band in Texas.
So word was out nationally, and you know, I’m not sure what the story was, maybe there was something in a national magazine, but people like Patti Smith knew if you were Austin, Texas you had to go check out this tiny little club called Raul’s.
L : How did this club start having punk shows? Was there an owner or promoter that started these shows?
B: It’s a great story, and to me the story points out that the best things in cultural history are unintentional, unintentional consequences, (laughs) you know, or surprise opportunities. It was a Mexican bar, a conjunto club, you know, like Mexican cowboy music, and this guy Joseph Gon- zales had opened it not long before and it was right across the street from the University of Texas, which is now surrounded by Urban Outfit- ters and American Apparel, and all that, but it was still, at that point, a pretty dumpy little section of The Drag right there next to the campus. And so here’s this little Mexican bar, and there weren’t a lot of bands playing there, the stage was empty most nights of the week, and some kids approached Joseph saying hey, can we play here, and he just out of open-minded good nature, said yeah sure, you weird looking guys, come on in. And it just took off, and I think he was kinda happy to have a scene grow up in is club.
L : I recently read David Byrne’s book How Music Works and in it he tells the story of how Hilly started CBGB’s and how it had a set of parameters and context around it that was inadvertently the perfect creative breed- ing ground for punk music to grow out of. This seems like a very similar story.
B: That is exactly the parallel to the Raul’s thing. And it makes you think, alright, well, everything seems to be so overdetermined these days. No one would ever think about being an artist if they, you know, didn’t get a BFA and a MFA and start to build their resumes as quickly as possible... Well, what in culture now is going to function in that (non-overdeter- mined) way, that will find a root hold in a weird unexpected place that turns out to be a great place to grow?
L : So when you showed up at Raul’s it was sort of that transition from proto punk to punk?
B: Yeah, and then into hardcore. It was the moment between the initial freak impulse and kind of the codification of hardcore.
L : It must have been pretty interesting to see that happen?
B: Yeah! There were certain stylistic squabbles, you know, especially between the Dicks and “Fake Bands.” The Dicks had that great song “Fake Bands I see you there. I see your pretty hair. I hate to say I hate new wave.” But really, people were into each other’s stuff and people were really supportive, and bands that would feel like they had a completely different manifesto or artistic charge than another band would be happy to get on a show with these other bands and be in the front row for them. That’s one thing about that scene is that if you were headlining, you were still in the front row for every band that played that night. You always made sure you were present at the front of the stage, even if that band wasn’t your style at all, and maybe your audience didn’t like that band, you were still there to support.
L: Touring these days seems to have become so codified, and regular, I feel like it has lost some of this spirit, and become more mechanized.
B: Yeah, it might be broken because it’s so well formed, the culture works so well, you start a band, you do this, everyone knows their roles... So this is something I’ve been thinking about for a while, and engaging in to some degree, and that is, by touring not as a band but as a film maker and a visual artist and trying to exploit the fact that the (touring show) pattern exists, that people will leave their house and will go to a show
and they’ll find out about these shows in a certain way, and if you can do something in that venue that is different but still works and still appeal at least a little bit to the people that are going there looking for a band, then boom, you’ve got a link to an audience outside of any regular art world way.
L: When did you start doing the touring films?
B: Craig Baldwin, a filmmaker in San Francisco, started doing this deal where, you know, as a filmmaker, you get a gig at an art center, or a school, or a cinemateque, and they’ll fly you out and you do a lecture and you do a show. Craig started this deal where he was thinking, if I’m gonna be in this town, and getting flown in by this institution, I’m gonna find out where the underground place is, and I’ll do a show there too. And then it would be like, well now we’re next to this other town, I’m just gonna rent a car and I’ll go find a show there, and then just started hooking these things up.
I had hooked up with Craig for a couple of those shows that came through Texas and the Southwest around ‘94, ‘95, because I was always kind of bouncing back and forth between San Francisco and Texas. Then at one point it was like, “Let’s just load the van up here and go, and then come back later...” And so in ‘96 or ‘97, me and Greta Snyder, who is a great experimental 16mm film maker in San Francisco and a girlfriend from back in the day, she had just finished a new film, and I had a couple of 16mm short films, experimental stuff, and so we put together a pro- gram of about 5 or 6 of us from San Francisco and packaged it and toured it from Louisiana to San Francisco and did, I don’t know, a dozen or fourteen shows... this was the whole thing, we made the tour t-shirt with the gigs on the back, and flyers... and this was pre-internet you know.
We were actually able to get a lot of press in the weekly papers. And that really worked. We were like a weird story. Experimental filmmakers in a van. The tour logo was a van, popping a wheelie, with smoke coming off the tires. Actually, if there’s any old school (laughs) film editors out there, they’ll certainly know Christie’s Editorial in LA, the company that would rent editing machines and sell splicing tape, and their logo was this early 70’s Dodge van, with fat tires, pulling a wheelie with smoke coming off, kind of Ed Roth style, with film reels coming out of it. Like, “Hey, we’re Christie’s Editorial, we’re gonna deliver your split reels and your film leader in a drag van...” and so we used that as the logo for the tour. And so editors of weekly papers picked up the story and we got some nice ink, and that brought people out, because people actually used to read the weekly paper, and we were like hey, this works.