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News & Features » June 2013 » Jayme McLellan: On Hard Art, DC 1979

Jayme McLellan: On Hard Art, DC 1979

The Hard Art, DC 1979 project is a continuum of experience. First came the rock shows, then the photos and shared memories, and then the impetus to document Lucian’s documentation of “the time before the time punk broke” with a book.


Jayme McLellan and James Hetfield, Metallica. Richmond, VA, 1989.

I was nine years old in 1979. I lived in the country, not an urban center. I was very into metal and I loved Metallica. Punk didn’t find me until 1989 when I moved away from home. I was in the Record and Tape Exchange in College Park, MD, when I saw Fugazi’s Margin Walker album, and I bought it and their first record, on vinyl. And then I saw a Bad Brains Rock for Light CD, got that too. Just walked right over to it–it pulled me over. And yes, life changed.

A few years later, the wandering river of my life led me to New Orleans, and a fellow food runner at the restaurant had a tattoo that read “Straight Edge.” What was that?, I thought. Whatever it was, it wasn’t me. But it held me like the first time I heard “Master of Puppets” at a guy’s house, having a party while his parents were away. Like the first time I heard “Waiting Room,” sitting by myself in the basement.  It had power. It was present. All of a sudden, I was no longer alone.

And now, so many years later, this ethos endures. And I’m so glad it’s here, a strong voice, a philosophy of common sense and freedom–you can do it yourself. If it doesn’t exist, make it. This is how young bands still do it. They get together and try it out. They learn songs, how to play, how to create something for themselves.

Rebellious by nature, this is how I’ve lived my life. I’ve wrestled out of most routines, said no to people I didn’t believe in, I let music and art be my guide and constant companion. But I didn’t know I was doing it as a part of a continuum until many years later when I would find myself a part of this team.

The unusual family of Lucian, Alec, Lely, myself, and the many others who poured forth effort and enthusiasm, made sure Hard Art, DC 1979 was realized. Publishing this book (thanks to Akashic) so that the story, the collective story of this time, and the coming together of a community to realize the project, is a powerful story that connects so many people.  And it has sealed this unusual family as conduits to a wider whole.

It’s a subtle story with many layers and even more personal memories. These are photos of the legendary Bad Brains and Teen Idles in their early days, but they are also family photos, as Lely said. And the strength of the documentation–the engagement of the photographer with the audience in an unprecious way–is the reason they endure.

There’s something lasting here: a documentation of purely real moments that have been preserved over time and now shared widely. And from what I’ve heard, people did think Lucian was an alien at these shows but the people let him in as they were doing their own thing: playing music, dancing, fucking with people, living.

In addition to being great photos about important bands at a very authentic time in American music, Hard Art documents an invisible web that connects and lets the freaks and aliens in. The outcasts, the weirdos, the margin walkers. Each person who responds to this work does so from a unique place, perhaps through memories of their own rebellion or the first time a song changed their life.

Whether they know the music, or they know good photography, or they know the friends in the scene, Hard Art is about the family and community that happens everywhere. It’s about that invisible web that holds us together. It is malleable enough to let us stretch out and apart, so we can find ourselves, and come back again and again into the group.

Jayme McLellan is an artist, educator, curator, and gallery director. She graduated from St. Mary’s College of Maryland and is the founding director of Civilian Art Projects, a DC gallery representing emerging and established artists. Since 1996, she has organized and curated countless exhibitions and events to promote art, artists, and ideas of social importance.  In addition to running Civilian, Jayme is adjunct faculty at the Maryland Institute College of Art and American University, where she leads classes on professional development for artists.  She is also project manager for Hard Art, DC 1979 (Akashic Books), a book and traveling exhibition about the birth of the DC punk movement.

Posted: Jun 18, 2013

Category: Akashic Insider | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,