Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Strange Bedfellows: Winston Smith & the Berkeley Barb

A few days ago one of the organizers of the Berkeley Barb's 50th Anniversary events that are happening this week forwarded this letter from the Artist Winston Smith who I have always admired. Did you know that he designed some of the most iconic Punk graphics? It turns out The Dead Kennedy's logo was first shown to the band members at the Cafe Med. It seems amazing that hippy culture and the punk scene existed side by side. The Barb actually helped Winston when he was first getting started. Check it out.....


Hi Diane,

It was great to meet Doris the other day at Moe’s Bookstore.  And yes, I did have my artwork featured in the Barb at least once years ago (and on the front page, no less!)  I’m struggling to recall exactly when, but I believe it was either late 1979 or in the Spring of 1980.  (Only 35 or 36 years ago.)  

I have a couple copies of the issue in my archives but God only knows what’s become of them.  I believe the headline for my interview was “The Numb Tag Artist”  This featured a sticker I had designed that mocked the new fad of yuppies wearing name tags to introduce themselves at business events and parties.  (As in:  “Hi!  My Name is:  —fill in the blank).  But in place of a space to write your name I’d added a UPC (the newly introduced Universal Price Code that was suddenly appearing on certain supermarket items… and is now on Everything…but it was especially creepy at the time.)   

So the joke was that it was the "Numbing of society by means of computerized numbers instead of names”.  (It was my answer to the Pet Rock.)  I made them in late 1977 but I finally got round to producing them en masse in early 1979.  (I work slow.)  If I can work this contraption the way I want to I’ll be able to attach a photo of this image, since a picture’s worth a thousand words.  After all these years I am still 99% computer-illiterate.  So here goes nothing:

These are two versions of this dumb joke.  But it seemed to be enough to attract the interest of Barb editors Warren Sharpe and Mark Powellson.

I had a booth at a Cannabis Fair at Brooks Hall in 1979 (or 1980) and and my table was festooned with my graphic anarchy:  buttons, badges, surrealist collage posters, stickers and my underground punk ‘zine FALLOUT.  Warren liked them and did a quick interview with me, but I think I asked him to wait on publishing it till I could gather up some better work to show him.  A few months later my friend and I wandered over to the old Barb offices near the Ashby exit and I delivered a box full of my somewhat unorthodox “art”.  Mark put his head in his hands.  I thought he was sobbing and I looked at my friend and we began to apologize, saying that maybe this wasn’t a good day to drop by and that we could come back another time perhaps.  Then Mark lifted up his head and said:  “No!  I’m not crying.  I’m laughing!”  He said he’d had such a bad day that my arrival with all my absurd artwork was a welcome alternative.  So that was a big relief.  

About a week later I saw a copy of the Barb and was pleased that they’d chosen to feature my artwork on the front page.  The other articles were about the attorney general of California cooking up some secret police operation (LIEU, if I recall…) and the headline was “Secret American Base Discovered in Cuba” (Guantanamo), since there was a huge controversy during Carter’s administration that the Soviets had secret bases on Cuba.  All the Barb did was remind readers that we’d had a base there since long before the Cuban Revolution (dispite all the posturing over the Embargo.)  And how shocking it was to discover this obscure fact, etc.

It was a good issue to be in so I was honored to participate in my own small way.

As I told Doris, the appearance of my artwork in the Barb actually changed my life.  An artist in Marin County saw it and contacted me to participate in an international Dadaist convention to be held in a small town 100 miles North of the City.  It was the Inter-Dada 80.  A rowdy assembly of crazed artists and eccentrics came from all over the world to assemble in Ukiah for a 3 Day event.  

I’d never heard of Ukiah at that point but I eventually wound up living there in a yurt up on a ranch in the middle of nowhere with no electricity, running water or telephone (just a wood stove and kerosine lamps) for the next 20 years (And though I still have the place up in the woods my wife and I live in San Francisco most of the time now).  

So the influence on the Berkeley Barb has been considerable for me.  All these obscure connections have finally come together.  In addition to this weird coincidence, I was also a roadie at a local sound studio for Country Joe in 1976 and know a few other people listed on the agenda of speakers making appearances for the Barb’s 50th Celebration.  (I got stopped on Columbus Avenue one day in 1977 by Scoop Nisker for his televised “Man on the Street” interviews).  And I  know the fabulous cartoonist Trina Robbins, of course.  She even has a cat named after me (well, —he’s named after my namesake, anyway.)

I’m sorry I didn’t know about the celebrations for the Barb or I would have offered to contribute to the art show.  I hope I can make it by The Art House on the 9th (though 12 noon is a tad early for me.  I am a classic insomniac and rarely seen in public before 4 0r 5 pm.)  But if not, perhaps I can join you guys for the festivities later on during the weekend.

Congratulations to all involved in the celebration!  The Berkeley Barb was a life-changing influence for me and I’m sure others have similar accounts (even if just reading the information and insights the Barb published changed their lives for the better.)  

I happen to be wearing my new Berkeley Barb T-shirt today, by coincidence!  

And my apologies for the long-winded letter.  (You’d think I was getting paid by the word.)  

Below is my website in case you want to check out my artwork.  From circa 1980, over the course of the next 20 years, I went from the cover of the Berkeley Barb to the cover of The New Yorker and The Progressive, the Utne Reader, illustrations for Spin, Maximum Rock&Roll, Playboy and others.  I’ve probably made over 70 record covers for mostly underground bands including Dead Kennedys, D.O.A., Green Day, Ben Harper and even George Carlin.  

Many thanks to the Berkeley Barb for helping to launch my so-called “career”.  It’s all THEIR Fault!!

Over & Out.
P.S.  Here are a few of my collages to check out, though I’m sure yer busy with preparations for the big events.  Thanks again!  (I don’t haver any e-mail for Doris but feel free to pass this message along to her if you wish.  It was great meeting her!


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