By Graham Stinnett
Since Chuck Berry did the duck walk and Elvis swung his hips, Rock ‘n’ Roll became the sound of youth rebellion against codes of conduct in post-war America. As the radical 1960s waned and the troubled 1970s bore on, through economic downturn, military withdrawal from Vietnam, and political malaise, Rock ‘n’ Roll came to represent, for some, a tired, moneyed, and virtuosic expression that no longer possessed counter-cultural credibility. The discontented youth of the 1980s scraped its collective nails against the pearly white billboards of America. With intentional tonal simplicity, quickened riffs, and biting attitudes towards the normative, an aggressive genre of music became the banner charge against all limitations to personal expression.
Across the US and even here in the land of steady habits, hardcore punk rockers occupied venue spaces, spectators became performers, pools became skate parks, and Xerox machines became the printing press in this underground renaissance. Modes of production formerly held in the hands of publishers, record companies, and band agents were seized and stripped down with a do-it-yourself sneer. Actively expressing opinions through fanzines, forming bands, making clothes, collectivizing venues, spray painting, skateboarding and just scrapping by—these formed the tenants of the underground punk and hardcore scenes that thrived in Connecticut during the late 1970s into the ‘80s.
UConn Collection Sheds Light on Youth Culture
From hand-drawn flyers and venue calendars, to fanzines, posters, and photographs, the Joe Snow Punk Rock Collection, which is held in the Archives & Special Collections at the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center, University of Connecticut Libraries, speaks to the DIY—do it yourself—spirit so essential to the hardcore punk ethic. In addition to buttons and other ephemera, the collection also preserves the music that galvanized fans. From home recordings to studio sessions, the media formats that area bands used to circulate their music included CDs and audio cassette tapes as well as vinyl LP (long-play) and 45-rpm records. The collection also includes documentation related to Incas Records, a West Haven-based recording label started by members of the band Lost Generation.
So, what can a collection like this tell us about Connecticut history? Seen within the larger context of radical social movements since the late 1960s, it provides an opportunity to examine and understand punk rock as more than a musical genre. With its sociological and economic overtones, this underground do-it-yourself youth culture marks a transition from one generation’s revolt, sparked in 1968, to a very different but no less vibrant social movement that took localized forms in response to the times in which a new generation came of age.
Graham Stinnett, Archivist of the Human Rights Collections at the Archives & Special Collections, Thomas J. Dodd Research Center, University of Connecticut Libraries, co-curated the exhibition Out of the Frame: Alternative Arts of the 1980s (March 3 to May 11, 2014), which features materials from The Joe Snow Punk Rock Collection.