‘Banned in DC’ is Artistic Punk Treasure
CYNTHIA CONNOLLY EXPLORES PUNK EXPERIENCE
Banned in DC is the first book of its kind, documenting the DC punk scene and its connective power. Compiled by artist Cynthia Connolly, the book is a testament to the communal nature of the scene, the anti-establishment ideals of its inhabitants, and the rich, yet fleeting, culture of one precise point in time. At Mutiny Information Cafe on April 11, Connolly recounted that point in time with an avid audience.
Connolly moved to DC in 1981 from Los Angeles—a stark contrast. “In LA the music was taken so seriously, but in DC it really wasn’t,” Connolly said. “There wasn’t a radio station that played punk, which, in a way, fueled us even more to be bold.”
But while the city’s circumstances drove the culture forward, the punk lifestyle in DC was a hard one. The scene was dominated by politics, a sharp juxtaposition from the more lax atmosphere that drove LA creativity. The DC scene, however, had a power to it that was irrefutable.
Connolly’s appearance at Mutiny was a proper depiction of the fervor and solidarity that dominated the DC scene. Viewers shoved themselves tightly into the bookstore, leaning against bookshelves and standing on chairs to see the images that made up Connolly’s mesmeric slideshow.
Many of the audience members, active in the very scene that the photos depicted, shared stories of CBGB and working the door at Minor Threat matinee shows. Some claimed to see what could be their young selves in Connolly’s photos of populated venues.
Others described their experience in Denver’s own punk scene. “Wax Trax was the Mecca,” one man said, a statement met with nods of agreement. The brief point in time that bonded them was compelling, though fleeting.
“By 1986, when I started writing the book, the scene was starting to change and lose energy,” Connolly said. “I felt that I had to document it before it was gone.”
She did so in true punk-rock fashion: vigorously and independently. “We started putting ads in local papers and asking people if they had photos or stories,” Connolly said. “Then I’d take my Walkman to punk shows and ask people if they had any stories to tell.”
Despite the process of publishing being a time-consuming and expensive one, Connolly refused to use a major publisher even now, in the book’s 7th edition. “I wanted people to see that someone in the music scene could continue to publish independently,” Connolly said. “I wanted to inspire people to do the same.”
Connolly’s slideshow—its images consisting of old zine pages, show flyers, a Minor Threat album cover that Connolly herself drew, Banned in DC’s first positive review (and, thus, the first acknowledgment of the punk scene as more than comedy), and photos full of movement and emotion—was a true indication of the permanent effect that the scene had on those who experienced it.
“What is your most prized possession from this time?” a woman in a Bad Brains shirt asked.
“I don’t think that the objects are that important,” Connolly replied. “It was being a part of a community that was so supportive.”
The seventh edition of Banned in DC is a testament to that. The book is proof that DC punk was more than just a trend. It was a living, breathing community that held its unconventional members together through honest creative expression.