No sooner than we start blogging again, I totally blow the deadline, two entries in. With Web Commander Karan all perturbed with me (he’s getting more uppity in his role at AP, which is always a
good thing), the onus is on me to step it up. But I had an excuse: Last week I was in Los Angeles for AP’s 25th Anniversary Art Show at the Merry Karnowsky Gallery. The event has been well documented, but if you happen to be in L.A. between right now and Saturday July 24, head down there and check it out. Not only will you see original art from assorted rock royalty, you’ll get to see new works by respected artists (Shepard Fairey, Camille Rose-Garcia, Derek Hess), as well as previously published and never-before seen images by AP’s cadre of photographers. (I offered to hand-wash and wax Myriam Santos’ vehicle 50 times for her repetitive print of David Bowie images, but she wasn’t having it.)
In addition to all the luscious stuff I’ve just told you about, there’s another part of the exhibit that had a lot of resonance for me. One entire room was dedicated to the art archives of AP. These materials ranged from the very first issues AP owner Mike Shea laid out with aerosol spray-mount on his mom’s kitchen table in Aurora, Ohio, 25 years ago to the oversized broadsheet volumes to the current format that’s on stands now. There was one wall dedicated to AP design majordomo Christopher Benton’s visual flotsam and jetsam: One of the sketches he had displayed was an early AP shirt that read LICK MY GENERATION GAP. We were both looking at it on opening night and I commended him on that line. “Uh-uh, baby,” he responded in his hysterically sassy tone. “That was yours! I think you and [former AP editor in chief] Rob Cherry hatched that one after a lonnng day in the office.” I had no recollection of coming up with the line at all, and I was pleasantly surprised.
That was the beginning of what I am officially referring to as my “Oprah moment.” While I have been around for a good chunk of AP’s existence and can give you a decent approximation of when certain things would’ve run in the magazine, I don’t really look at AP in the big picture. To me, I only see the mag in 30-day intervals. Who’s on the cover? Who’s going to write the piece? Do I have to deal with people I can’t stand? What’s Rachel going to take me to task for? What label is Heisel going to set off this month? Will that damn Liars/Blood Brothers split-single finally come out already? But when I saw the whole history—from vintage high-school newspaper design to the bright four-color promo snipes to that huge bus-stop bench poster commemorating Warped Tour’s 13th year—I felt a big old ball in my throat. Because when you’re presented with a body of work en masse, it’s pretty overwhelming. For years, after getting past the constant “When you mean ‘alternative,’ do you mean ‘gay’” queries (remember friends, AP was started six years before Nevermind hit the racks at the general store), it was always “you’re not indie enough,” “you’re not cool enough,” “you’re not commercial enough” or “My God, your pores are huge.” But we persevered. And there was the evidence, mounted on the walls of a metropolitan art gallery with a huge, respectful crowd coming to see it. Then again, the hors d'oeuvres were really good and somebody may have tweeted about coming in to get some.
I make self-deprecating comments like that last one as a way to manage my own expectations. I learned a long time ago (like bands should), that the work itself should be its own reward. The world is a cruel place—even more agonizing thanks to the beauty of the internet—and some truths you just have to keep to yourself. And wouldn’t you know, as if I needed to be reminded of that very thing, I found this charming entry in the gallery guestbook …
Prior to heading to the airport the following day, I went to visit some friends who are in bands. Over cups of black coffee, I told them everything I just relayed above. The one friend whose band is taking time out of the spotlight for a while smiled and acknowledged my feelings. “Oh, I totally get it. When I was on stage and playing, I knew that there were at least 50 people there to cheer me on. And then, I figured there were 10 or 12 people out there who just wanted to jump onstage, stick their tongue in my mouth and dive off. And then there were five… Those five bastards who I knew just by looking at them, they wanted to throw bricks at my face. And you know what? I always focused on those five people. Constantly.” You couldn’t have beaten the smile off my face with a tire iron.
I am reminded of the classic line uttered by Philip Seymour Hoffman, playing Lester Bangs in Almost Famous. “The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what we share with someone else when we’re uncool.” My gracious thanks to everybody who has supported AP for the last quarter-of-a-century. You're pretty cool to me, and I wish I could buy you all a drink of some kind. But upon reflection, not even the Vatican could pay that particular bar tab.