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It's Only Rock & Roll, But I'll Buy It

Joel Drucker
From the Print Edition:
Claudia Schiffer, Jul/Aug 97

(continued from page 4)

Suddenly, for the first time in history, millions could enjoy the pleasures of childhood in all its joyful, consumption-based glory. The concept of "my room" provided a forum for adorning its walls with pennants of sports teams, photos of celebrities and other items--icons that were simultaneously consumed and worshiped by lots of other kids in the neighborhood. The arrival of television in the late 1940s further propelled this mass culture, collectively saturating youngsters with compelling visuals of Howdy Doody, Davy Crockett and the biggest group of the '50s, the Mickey Mouse Club (drawn, of course, by that ultimate poster-artist ancestor, Walt Disney). "Maybe the reason we were able to trip so harmoniously in the '60s was because we'd already been tripping together without knowing it," says Kantner. So where once the child had been raised to keep quiet and eventually adapt himself to the somber living room--and public, externalized history--of his parents and other elders, he was now at liberty to create a room of his own--and a private, internalized history that would find expression in school yards and dance halls.

It was in the bedrooms of suburbia where the "do your own thing" ethos was spawned. Relent-lessly self-conscious, yet powerfully committed to seizing the day (be it in sex, politics or any workable synthesis), this sensibility would provide the perfect locale for rock and roll artwork. "It's exactly like baseball cards," says Grushkin. "Once we hung posters in our dorm room, in our 'fucking get stoned' room, and now we have the chance and money to put this stuff in our living rooms."

Posterville takes this declaration to epic heights. Professor Poster is so in love with rock art that he has rented a space separate from his residence that is exclusively devoted to his passion. The apartment where Posterville is based, just south of San Francisco, resembles the utilitarian, shag-carpeted dwelling of a college sophomore. Don't ask when the kitchen was last used for cooking. Couches and chairs are subordinate to an enormous Macintosh computer equipped with a large color monitor and a Web site that contains numerous pieces of poster art. Yet Posterville is no shrine. It is a never-ending rumination, a workshop where the professor chisels away, restoring old pieces, consulting with potential buyers, checking out new collections and, most of all, ardently advocating poster art as the visual expression of his generation's democracy.

"Posters to the people! That's my motto," says the professor, who also makes a living as a car renovator, a chauffeur and an assorted jack-of-all-trades. "Art? What is art? Art, my friend, is anything you can get away with. Where is Posterville? It's under beds. It's in closets. It's the cousin who got killed in Vietnam in '69, and his parents still have the posters he kept on his wall. I want to help those parents find a buyer for those posters, someone who will honor both that boy who got killed and his love for posters.

"Long after the music is over, the poster lives on. The artist needs a champion. We cannot recapture our youth. My name is not H.G. Wells, and I don't own a time machine. However, you put this poster in front of people who attended the concert and you will get 100 stories--about a joint that someone got high on, about meeting a wife, about an arrest, a party. These posters represent those golden years when we were free in our minds, when we were becoming filled with the food of life, when we were evolving, forming our opinions.

"And these posters speak to that. Sure, there are Deadheads who are lawyers and bankers and every job you can think of. Not everyone agrees on their politics. But music and posters are our international language. These artists drew the face of rock and roll." In making himself Professor Poster, Rusty Goldman, who cites P.T. Barnum as his hero, has taken his generation's spirit of participation to heart. He has created a persona that allows him to control history.

"That was the whole idea, to find what you could do to contribute as a craftsman in your own right," says Kantner. "We didn't want to sit on the sidelines. We wanted to make things happen. After all, we'd been raised by our parents and teachers to believe that in a democracy you could do anything you wanted. You see, the '60s was as much driven by the mainstream civic optimism of the '50s as it was by anything else."

That spirit of democracy reaching the masses is another factor behind the posters' popularity. "For just a few bucks, you can put some nice artwork on your wall," says Cushway. You needn't be a highbrow art lover or an ardent Deadhead or even enamored of any particular political ideology other than the populist voice of rock and roll.

 

"This is the end, beautiful friend."
--"The End," the Doors


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