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News & Features » June 2013 » Lucian Perkins: At the Hard Art, DC 1979 Book Signing at Politics & Prose

Lucian Perkins: At the Hard Art, DC 1979 Book Signing at Politics & Prose

I arrived at Politics & Prose, a much beloved Washington, DC destination for book enthusiasts, an hour early for a talk and book signing that I was doing with Alec MacKaye and Henry Rollins for Hard Art, DC 1979. The staff was setting up chairs in the store’s large open area, but as far as I could tell, there were only a few people milling around who might have been planning to attend the event.

That got me nervous. So I went next door to Comet Ping Pong, known for their delicious pizzas and their ping-pong, and sat down with Henry Rollins, Alec MacKaye, his wife Lely Constantinople, and their two young daughters (one of them was playfully tussling with Henry). Henry had grown up with Alec and his brother Ian, and it was clear that he was still rooted to his DC friends. For me, this was my first encounter with him, though for years I had heard and read stories about him. As Henry wrote in Hard Art, DC 1979, he stood next to me outside of Madam’s Organ thirty-four years ago when I photographed The Teen Idles, a favorite band of his that featured his childhood friend, Ian MacKaye.

Lucian Perkins and Henry Rollins; Photo: Bill O'Leary

Lucian Perkins and Henry Rollins; Photo: Bill O’Leary

While Henry and I talked, I tried to visualize what he looked like at that moment back in 1979. Somehow, he had managed to escape my camera during all those shows. But for others who were in my photos, I realized that I could now look into their future and see what they’ve become. There’s the fourteen-year-old girl sitting on a stoop who is now a curator at a top museum. There is the girl with torn stockings and super tacky outfit who is now a social worker, married with two kids, and beautifully dressed. There is Alec MacKaye, Hard Art’s author, whom I captured wildly dancing with the band Trenchmouth. There was H.R. of Bad Brains, who went on to have an international impact on the music world.

There are also the sad stories of those that did not make it or still struggle: a young kid who died after a life of excessive drinking, a lead singer who is homeless today.

But those are side stories to the success and inspiration that emerged from the DC punk movement. It’s only in the last few years that I have come to appreciate Alec’s description of those four punk shows I shot as “the lighting of the fuse that started the explosion.” That fuse was a bunch of young fourteen- to eighteen-year-old kids searching for answers through music and dress, and seeking an alternate freedom and method of expression to their dreary suburban and authoritarian lives in the Washington, DC area. Everyone was trying to figure out who they were, including me, an intern at the Washington Post who had recently moved from Austin to DC. Some of those kids, like Ian MacKaye and Henry Rollins, were part of that explosion and went on to influence several generations of kids after them, not only through their music, but also through their example of a “straight edge” life and community activism. This approach turned them into role models and distinguished the DC punk scene from its larger counterparts in London, New York, and Los Angeles.

Over the years I constantly run across people in their twenties, thirties, and forties from places near and far who were every bit as influenced by the music and philosophy that erupted from this small DC scene—as influenced as I was by the sixties, when I was the same age as Alec MacKaye is in my photographs. At 14, I lived ten blocks from Haight-Ashbury and was moved by the Civil Rights movement and the protests against the Vietnam War. Even now, I occasionally wish that I had been a photographer during that era and had chronicled the “Woodstock generation.”

When I returned to Politics & Prose, I found the place packed, to my surprise and relief. I saw many of the people who were in my photographs in 1979. As I listened to Henry and Alec talk, it reminded me that while I had missed documenting the turbulent sixties, I did capture an amazingly vibrant scene here in DC, a scene whose social consequences reverberate to this day.


Henry Rollins at the Hard Art, DC 1979 event at Politics & Prose; Photo: Lucian Perkins


LucianPerkinsLUCIAN PERKINS, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, worked as a staff photographer for the Washington Post for twenty-seven years until 2007. While at the Post, Perkins covered many of the major events of the time, including Russia since 1988, the wars in the former Yugoslavia, the Palestinian uprising in the West Bank, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Currently, Perkins is an independent photographer and videographer concentrating on multimedia projects and video documentaries while still pursuing his love for the still image. He is also the cofounder of Facing Change: Documenting America, a collective of ten photographers who are documenting the issues facing the United States. Hard Art, DC 1979 is his latest collection.

Posted: Jun 4, 2013

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