How Bryan Ray Turcotte Came to Own Punk’s Most Prized Possessions

Events photos by Celina Kenyon 

Bryan Ray Turcotte owns so much priceless punk ephemera, it hurts his brain to think about it.

The punk historian, book publisher, and Beta Patrol co-founder went from collecting band flyers as a kid to becoming the accidental owner of some of the rarest pieces of punk history you never knew existed. His book, Fucked Up + Photocopied: Instant Art of the Punk Rock Movement, is an ode to the frenetic flyers of the American punk scene, and it established him as the go-to guy for all things punk in the 70s and 80s. It only made sense then, that when Vans celebrated the 25-year anniversary of the Vans Era Classic last weekend—designed with none other than Tony Alva—that they gave him the call up to recreate the energy of the year 1976. Three days and one sizeable headache later, Bryan Ray had plastered BLACK RAINBOWS with hundreds of his most prized flyers, and I got to ask him about it. But first—that Sid Vicious tee.

I have to ask you straight off—how’d you get Sid Vicious’ t-shirt?

Oh, that’s a good question. I was curating a show in Art Basel and doing a massive 5000-foot place full of flyers and art, and my lead art was photography by a photographer named Eileen Polk. I flew up to Portland to curate her photos, and she was friends with Sid Vicious and had shot the whole New York scene: Misfits and Max’s in the mid-to-late 70s, early 80s. We became friends and all of a sudden she was like, ‘When Sid died, his mum gave his friends all of his stuff, except for his lock and his boots and his jacket.’ So the shirt and all that stuff ended up with friends, and Eileen offered that t-shirt to me.

That’s such a good story.

Yeah, I think a lot of people give me stuff because they know it’s safe—I don’t sell. I only buy, I’m only collecting and acquiring for museum-level style. I think that there’s a good feeling that if they ever want it back, they know where it is. I’m also going to credit them in the collection. I think that stuff’s important, so people feel a little safer and that I’m not just trying to make money off of them. Yeah, I’ve got a lot of Sid’s stuff.

Bryan Ray teaching punk flyer-making at Vans’ BLACK RAINBOWS

You’ve got his arrest papers too, right?

Again, the same crew of people that were with Sid at that time, they just ended up with buttons and pins and belts, and somebody knew a guy that worked at the police station, and he stole the police file and gave it to them, and it made its way to me. It’s crazy! Some of that stuff I still can’t believe. There’s millions of pieces out there, but when somebody calls me and says ‘Hey, I’ve got D.Boon from the Minutemen’s amplifier,’ I’m like ‘Oh, okay.’ Eventually, the goal is to have some sort of library, not a museum. Nothing under glass—more interactive, like the way it is here at Vans. You can come, look at it, photocopy it, have a discussion about it; it’s meant to be interactive and not a museum. People are always like, ‘You have all these flyers, just stacked in a stack!’ And I’m like, well that’s why I have them, to look through and touch. If you put them under glass it doesn’t feel as good.

Because we’re here celebrating the year Vans designed the first-ever Era shoe with Tony Alva, I wanted to ask if you had a particular prized possession from ’76?

Tons. I would say it’s a little earlier than ’76, maybe ’75, but like Johnny Thunder’s red leather jacket that he wears on the back of the New York Dolls cover. I have a lot of Johnny Thunder things, I’m a huge fan of him. I became friends with Johnny’s sister—I had only seen him perform once, and he died in ’91—who was controlling the estate and I subsequently ended up helping her a lot with licensing images and things, so I have tons of his stuff from the family. He was notorious for walking around New York and seeing someone wearing something he liked and would go, ‘Let’s trade. I’ll give you these boots if you give me that jacket.’ Of course, he’d end up getting crazy clothes and giving away Vivienne Westwood boots and things like that. Usually, the people that did the trade would keep the stuff because it was his. And that’s how it happened—he traded his leather jacket with a friend, and the friend ended up giving it to me. Then I ended up getting more stuff from his family after that, like bonkers stuff—I have his guitar, childhood photos… I can’t even believe it or think about it, it kind of hurts my brain.

Bryan Ray Turcotte’s punk flyer wall for Vans at BLACK RAINBOWS

I noticed that on your flyer wall you’ve got Suicidal Tendencies and Black Flag flyers, which makes sense because Suicidal is playing here and Henry Rollins is on the punk panel. How did you choose the rest of them? 

I wanted the flyers to be very specific to Vans, and the crossover from the punk and music, into skating and fashion… there’s a certain hybrid. Because Vans is coastal, I thought all the flyers should be SoCal beach bands or bands that skate or somehow needs to be a direct connection to bands. So curating that, going through hundreds of thousands of flyers, I’d have to stop because my brain would just cave in. Curating the three or four hundred flyers took me days. Every flyer had to connect, so that if you were a Venice local, or a Hermosa local, or Oxnard local, this would’ve been your group of flyers or bands.

What’s the most important thing you want your kids to take on from growing up surrounded by your punk and DIY influences?

What I try and give them most is an understanding and enthusiasm for participation. Looking and texting and all that doesn’t make you a participant. So, they’re in bands and they make art. When they’re promoting their shows they don’t make flyers because there’s no place to hand them out, so you rely on Instagram and things like that, but they create art and do art for their album covers and they play music. I’m trying hard to get them to understand that it’s not about asking permission, it’s about doing things yourself; to participate and create a scene and make friends, and communicate with people, even though everyone’s not going to agree. You can’t just hide in a bubble on the computer and figure out what you like or what you have to offer the world. You have to go out and fall on your face, you know. We would go out and play in our bands when I was 13-years-old, and we sucked. But people were cool, like ‘You tried! Next time.’ And then you get better. Seeing them perform… even when they suck, I love it more than anything when they blow it and don’t stop and just keep going. It’s like, that’s life man, that’s it right there.

When was a time that that ‘don’t ask for permission, ask for forgiveness’ approach worked in your favour?

In doing Fucked Up + Photocopied, I was very aware that I didn’t want to be all business. I wanted the book in itself to be punk in its approach as well. So, I didn’t really ask permission for anything. I mean like, I’d call Ian Mackye and be like, ‘Hey man, you got some stuff?’ But I didn’t clear or get legal on anything. I just wrote a little foreword saying ‘We tried to credit everybody and put as much information here as possible.’ But as you know, it wouldn’t be very punk rock of me spending ten years trying to make this. Just tell us and we’ll fix it in the future. And no one has ever complained or tripped out. So I think that that aesthetic has always stuck with me, since the days of being thirteen and playing in a band and convincing a guy whose running a Scottish Rite Hall to let us play because he thinks we’re a pop cover band and then it turns into a punk gig. But I like to think we were responsible enough to not let it get destroyed, we just want to have a punk gig you know? So we cleaned up, and a lot of times they wouldn’t let us come back, but I don’t think it was deceptive. Trying to get people to let you do things can be a waste of time because if you’re trying to do something outside of the bubble, they can get freaked out. They wanna know what the outcome is going to be, and it’s like, ‘I can’t tell you!’ We’re going to jump off this cliff and I don’t know, we might live. But I believe in it, so let’s do it.

That’s a great approach.

There are so many things in my life I approach from a right or wrong standpoint—I know that sounds corny but I do feel like that. And I think a lot of it comes from my early punk days, of being treated badly for looking the way I looked.

Drew Arriola Sands and Henry Rollins in front of Bryan Ray’s punk flyer wall

From people outside the punk community?

Yeah, I mean in 1983, if you were wearing just peg jeans and a punk bracelet and you’re hair was closely shaved—this was a time in California when everybody looked like Stacy Peralta with, like, long blonde hair—if you just shaved your hair, even just an inch long, you were like, considered bad news. People would kick your ass. The jocks would wanna fight you, the adults would think you were a criminal… it was really hectic, it’s hard to equate to these days, but it’d be like face tattoos. Even now, people look at me and are like, ‘You look like some weird uncle biker guy.’ Like, what am I supposed to look like? I’m not going to have a mohawk, but I love that idea. I have two kids, I don’t ride a motorcycle, I’m an artist. I love even overcoming that level of scrutiny from being a punk historian, like, ‘No, I don’t wear my leather jacket anymore and it’s not because I don’t love it—it’s because I’m a fucking fifty-year-old guy.

Is print really dead?

I don’t. I know that’s going to sound optimistic and unrealistic, but I make books. It’s all I really like. I don’t really enjoy the digital, although I appreciate it. I think that there’s an audience and appreciation still there (for print). Fucked Up + Photocopied in twenty years has sold like 100,00 copies. Am I ever going to do that again? Probably not, but I can make 1000 of something and sell-out at any event, because there’s an appreciation there. So it’s different, but I find that I’m making even more beautiful and eccentric product because there are people, especially some kids who are like ‘Fuck iTunes, fuck whatever this establishment is.’ I think there’s still a desire for quality and I think that’s why it will survive. Nothing else is the same—you can’t hold it, you can’t smell it, you can’t go back to it and reference it in the same way, you can’t let it get fucked up and become your copy or get it signed by the author. You can’t do any of those things with digital, and I think that it makes it more personal.

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