Punk rock auteur and zinester legend Erick Lyle focused most of his last book for Microcosm Publishing, On the Lower Frequencies, on his then-adopted hometown of San Francisco. Part investigative journalism, academic research, first-person narration, and oral history, the slim but thorough volume wove together radical action in San Francisco's streets, from the cracked pavement up. Tomorrow, he'll discuss his latest book at Sweat Records.
Before all that, though, he was forming his analytic but poetic writing style around his native South Florida. Known through the '90s as Iggy Scam, Lyle liberated photocopies from chain office-supply stores to publish his local zine called, well, Scam. It was part music zine, part memoir, and part practical manual to living under the radar -- fitting, since Lyle booked shows at far-underground venues and squatted in once-impressive buildings like the Mutiny Hotel.
Lyle recently decamped from the West Coast to New York, a move that must have him looking south and homeward a bit, because his two latest releases for Microcosm are Miami-centric. One, a recent issue of Scam, juxtaposes the decadence of Art Basel Miami Beach against recollections of violence at the Free Trade Area of the Americas protests here in 2003. The other compiles the early issues of Scam, which yield all kinds of forgotten informational treasures from the Miami punk scene of yesteryear.
He'll read from both at 8 p.m. tomorrow at Sweat Records (5505 NE Second Ave., Miami). Admission is free, but donations will be accepted to cover Lyle's travel costs. Call 786-693-9309 or visit sweatrecordsmiami.com.
We caught up with Lyle recently for more about the book. Here's the Q&A:
New Times: Why did you decide to publish these first four issues of the zine now, especially considering how much the zine has (naturally) evolved away from its earliest themes?
Erick Lyle: Miami's been on my mind this year. I have been following the rise of political activism in Miami from afar as well as the foreclosure crisis. Then I came back to Miami last year to cover Art Basel and Take Back the Land as a reporter. I also have been putting together my Miami punk archive for the University of Miami library this past year.
I am no longer interested in Xeroxing the old zines but I do want them to be available. so putting out this anthology is part of an effort to give up control of all of that old material completely -- to close off that creative era of my life and let it go fully out into the world in the book and in the library for folks who are still in Miami or who might be interested for other reasons.
This year, I've done readings that take some old material from the anthology and bring the themes into the present by talking about my recent experience as a reporter in Miami and what is going on now. It has felt good to link up the past and the present and show the continuity in what I have always been trying to do, and how an 18-year-old squatter punk kid can bring those values into a different arena later in life.
How much of the old issues did you re-read? Sometimes it's embarrassing to read old things one has written -- how did you feel while dredging up memories from so long ago?
I mostly love reading the old Scams. They are about some really fun times and great friends and the writing brings it back to me really well. I love how idealistic it all is. Of course, I am still involved in the punk scene so I actually hang out with 18-year-old kids still and i love it when they are idealistic, too.
I saw recently a really negative review online of the anthology that seemed to be dismissing the writing mostly for its youthful naivety and idealism. Like, "Doing Food Not Bombs and squatting isn't really the revolution, so grow up!" I wondered why the reviewer seemed so angry and bitter about it. At least when I was a kid I gave a shit about the world and was trying, you know?
It's not like we ever claimed to be "the revolution" anyway. Scam was about trying to find a way to take full charge of your life and live it as fully as possible without having to waste all your time working for other people.
I am not embarrassed to have been who I was, though I am glad to have grown and changed in so many ways. I know now, of course, that the things me and my friends were doing when we were 21 wasn't going to be "the revolution" but we knew it then, too. We were, after all, from Miami.
Much of your earliest issues focus on actual scams -- scamming photocopies, free vending machine Cokes, and so on. Why was this such an important m.o. for you back then?
When I was 17, i had to leave my parents' house because of an abusive family situation. I lived literally on the beach for awhile and bummed around South Florida. So, scamming was an essential way of life for me at that time.
When I moved into the Fort Lauderdale punk house, my roommates and I lived this more as a lifestyle -- trying not to work, trying to get as much as possible for free, and also trying to romanticize this lifestyle. Because that is what punk rock is -- trying to turn a fucked up situation into a positive one.
Scam was a way for me to have agency in my own experience; instead of being a broke, homeless kid whose parents tried to kill him and kicked him out, I could be the champion of this way of life where I am self-sufficient and get my own resources. That's one way to see it as an adult looking back.
Of course, on another level, I believed in squatting and Food Not Bombs, and still do. I think that Take Back the Land's efforts to house homeless people in vacant, bank-owned foreclosed homes in Miami is pretty righteous. It's also common sense and real -- more beautiful and more effective as conceptual art than anything in Art Basel! Ha!
I also still believe that when chain stores like Wal-mart have ruthlessly driven under all independent business out, it is entirely appropriate to fight them back in any way possible and steal everything you can back from them! Duh.
It's important to point out, too, that the entire network of underground punk community depended on free scammed photocopies. Today, blogging is free, but then we relied on zines and flyers, and how else could you sell 3000 copies of an issue and only charge $1 for it?
It would have been financially impossible to sustain that entire golden era of self-publishing if everyone paid full price. Cometbus, Dishwasher, Mudflap ... the whole so-called "zine revolution," it was all free copies. The first books about riot grrl are coming out now. in that history you find that that important, vastly influential, worldwide d.i.y. movement started with scammed Xeroxing. Just saying.
How does "the scam," as you discuss in your introduction, translate to society now and all its technological saturation? How important is the world view of the scam still to you?
I always maintained that Scam was not literally about getting free stuff, but was a broader philosophy about how to find ways to own your own time and be free. I believe in this more than ever.
Probably 75 percent of the things that everyone has to do to make money are entirely worthless, mind-numbing, false endeavors that don't help human life, or community, or people in any meaningful way. If we ditched out on making useless products -- whether material or virtual -- and devoted our time to meeting people's actual needs, we would all be better off and there would be plenty of free time. i am deadly serious about this.
In the introduction, you also discuss that since you've made return visits in the past couple years, there's more punk and political activity than you've seen here in years. From the perspective of someone who does not live here, let's say a quasi-outsider, what do you think made things finally click and gain some steam?
I think the protests against the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas in 2003 were hugely important in bringing people together in Miami. There were many smaller activist communities that came together to work on those protests, and that was a way for many isolated groups to become a larger community.
Also, many activists who visited Miami to protest at that time ended up deciding to relocate to Miami. It brought new people into the city. The violence of the police against protesters in 2003 is legendary today among activists worldwide. I saw some pretty brutal stuff on the streets then -- just really young kids everywhere, beaten and bloodied and gassed and walking around in a daze. But the irony is that violence brought people together stronger in Miami.
Of course, for better or worse, Art Basel has undoubtedly had an influence on the growing d.i.y. art scene in Miami. Every year's parties offer the illusory promise to young kids in Miami that their art could one day be the straw that stirs this intoxicating drink. An institution with as much power as Art Basel has this gravitational pull that starts to draw young artists out of the woodwork.
Sadly, it is most likely that no matter how they strive to make it in that world, they will be lucky to end up with jobs even as art handlers, scrambling to get cash to rent art studio space from Craig Robins. Hopefully, young artists are coming up in Miami who recognize the need for independent, d.i.y. art that builds community and raises consciousness and is not just another product to be bought and sold in the big-time art world.
This is unrelated to the previous thread of questions, but out of the many old Miami punk bands mentioned therein, which were your favorites or which do you feel remain the most underrated?
Trash Monkeys is most underrated, though Bill Orcutt got his due somewhat later on, with Harry Pussy. Los Canadians and Stun Guns are among the best bands I have ever seen; many of their members still make great music today. Kreamy 'Lectric Santa is still playing in some form in Oakland, California, and they were and are one of the best bands ever.
It is funny that most of the Miami bands from the '90s were known nationally in some way, but the scene at home was so, so small. Like Against All Authority were considered to be one of the best of the ska/hardcore bands then, nationwide, and did these hugely successful tours around the country.
Cavity was one of the best national slow and painfully noisy bands. The Beltones got on some big street punk label later. Chickenhead had a national following. The Crumbs were on Lookout Records and one of the better '90s pop-punk bands. Harry Pussy was a nationally revered art-noise punk band that was playing shows with Sonic Youth.
It was funny that we would have illegal generator shows on the edge of the Everglades with Chickenhead and Harry Pussy and Cavity on the same bill -- bands that are stylistically really different but in the same community of friends -- and there would be like 25 kids there in an empty lot burning a couch while the bands played. Later, when I moved away, people would say to me, "You know Cavity?!? They rule! You know Danny from AAA?!? That band got me into punk!" That kind of thing.
The local survivor of that scene is, of course, Frank Falestra, who proved the world wrong when his hated Thursday noise nights at Churchill's persisted for over a decade, until he assumed gradually his present-day status as international noise music superstar! Good for Frank!
Of course, you recently released an issue of Scam again centered around Miami. Why do you choose to keep releasing print zines rather than, say, keep a blog? Why are print zines still important in underground communities or in general?
My new zine is not only in print, it has a letter-pressed, three-color cover -- meaning each cover is slightly different and it was evidently made by a human. For me, print is special. I like making the cut-and-paste layouts. That kind of collage is a lost art form in some ways, sadly. I like the human connection in zines.
Also, I am alarmed that punk culture has ceased to create beautiful ephemera. Now there are no piles of flyers and zines left behind as a record of our existence -- just some dates and places on a web site, which exists where?
My archive for the University of Miami is piles and piles of flyers and hand-drawn maps and zine originals, and they are really evocative of punk rock in a way that a blog never will be. Flyers on a telephone pole are important. They invite people into the scene who don't know where to look and they announce the presence of our alluring, dangerous, and sexy underground to squares!
I won't go so far as to say zines are inherently more important than blogs, though. A lousy zine is, sadly, just as boring as a lousy blog. You can find great writing in blogs. If I had more time, i would ideally like to do both because they are just different. The whole zine versus blog thing is a false dichotomy. It doesn't have to be one or the other.
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