It's a Punk Rock Life

For photographer Bill Daniel, the world of the early '80s was a really uncool place. Reagan -- to Daniel, the symbol of the military industrial complex, racism and boredom -- was president. Hippies were out of style, and TV commercials were lame. But there was another underground movement looking for a revolution for being different. "Someone who had spiky hair really stood out; it was like, "Freaks -- cool,'" Daniel says.

Lacking any musical ability but not content to stand on the sidelines, Daniel chronicled the Texas punk movement with his camera. What Daniel and other youths found in the underground punk clubs of Texas was a freedom to cut loose. One series of photographs on display in Texas Skatepunk Scrapbook '80-'84 depicts the night a dead pigeon got tossed off stage by the band. "Feathers are flying all over the place," says Daniel. "Instant theater." He photographed a similar instance involving mannequin parts.

Some of the photographs are taken of clubs in Houston and Dallas, but the Lone Star center of the punk movement, without question, was Austin. "Austin is the San Francisco of Texas," Daniel explains. In the same way, the city seemed to attract the odd sorts from the area. "But now it's the phony, super-expensive, yupped-out place just like San Francisco."

But being punk was about more than the rebel image. Daniel also started reading books like Situationist International Anthology, the manifesto of a group of French radicals in the '60s. "I mean, gee whiz, I never got labor history at the University of Texas. I never heard of the Wobblies but you get into the punk rock scene, and there are going to be some Wobbly organizers passing out literature."

Like all scenes, this one eventually faded, or worse, went mainstream. Former runners with the fluorescent-hair crowd are now salespeople or chefs, or OD'd some time ago. Last year at the Art Car Parade, a real straight-looking guy walked up and handed Daniel a card. "He was this total punk I used to skate with, and he's this lawyer now, and his name is in the top line of the card where the names with all the commas are," he says. As for Daniel, he's a self-described film tramp who does photography and film work for hire.

Now that the punks have grown up, the value of his photographs, as Daniel sees them, is as a social document of a youth movement. But he's not going to make the mistake of dwelling on the golden days. "I can't stand here and say, "Oh, punk's dead and everything's boring and nothing's going on anywhere,' because I know somewhere there is. That's just the nature of kids and craziness," he says, pausing to consider the thought. "But I'd sure like to find it."

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Dylan Otto Krider