Contemporary Arts Museum Houston’s 20HERTZ lecture series, which focuses on contemporary musical experiences, has been creating something quite special for at least the past six months, maybe more. “We’ve been working really hard on this one," Communications Associate Max Fields explains while showing off the different features in the museum's Cullen Education Resource Room.
Indeed, as we walk the room, there’s an electricity in the air — the kind that inspires amplifier feedback and DIY punk rebellion. That’s because tonight the CAMH celebrates local music history by presenting A World of Our Own: Mydolls and the Houston Punk Scene.
Mydolls members will share in the discussion with archivist Nancy Agin (MA Arts Leadership, U of H Candidate) and Dan Workman of historic recording studio Sugarhill, who also performed on their latest recording. Agin’s enthusiasm spills over when she discusses MyDolls.
“This band deserves all the credit for paving a path for women and minorities in music and the arts," she says. "I, like so many others, hold these musicians in the highest regard as local icons of an underground scene during the late '70s [and] early '80s, when the first generation of punk music emerged here.”
Lead singer Linda Younger tells how the band collected the pieces in anticipation of the museum installation.
“Many of the objects on display were organized through collaboration with Wild Dog Archives,” she explains. "Henry Wild Dog was an integral part of the scene in the late '70s and early '80s in Houston. He was always at [famous Houston punk club] the Island, and his archives are being preserved and restored by [Agin] and her husband.”
Many of the things now on display now came from the band's personal archives. Agin not only meticulously collected and archived all the pieces for the installation but has also created a limited-edition fanzine art catalog in celebration of Mydolls' historical impact. Since few copies are available, this collector’s item will be widely sought-after at tonight’s event.
The supplement is a testament to the bygone era of punk rock, when all things were done by hand with whatever materials were available. Before DIY was a hip thing, it was necessity. Exhibited are not only vintage posters and photographs of the band, but since-digitized video of a 1982 performance.
The discussion will hinge not only on Mydolls' rich history, which spans back to the 1970s, but also the cultural impact of the four-piece punk rock band on Houston itself. Afterward, of course, there'll be a live set by the band. Even the upstairs installation by Mark Flood has a Mydolls connection. Former labelmates on CIA Records, Flood’s former band, Culturcide, often performed on the same bill with Mydolls. Life takes unexpected twists and turns, and this seemingly complete circle is one of the most interesting of Mydolls’ career.
Reflecting on their beginnings, bassist Dianna Ray says, “Trish [Herrera, guitarist] and I went to punk-rock shows almost every night. We saw some amazing bands and some pretty terrible ones, too. One night we decided we wanted to start a band.
"We didn't see the fact that I had never played any of the instruments we were going to use as a deterrent," Ray continues. "If you don't know the rules, you are free to break them. So I feel like we come from a pretty humble starting place. To have a sort of retrospective at CAMH, a place I love and respect, is an honor and so far beyond any ambition I could have imagined the night Trish [Herrera] and I started Mydolls that it also makes me giggle.”
Other areas of interest are a listening station that includes a playlist of songs, random recordings, tour conversations, interviews and candid moments of yesteryear when Mydolls were a regular sight among many stages across Texas.
Perhaps one of the most exciting interactive modules is an iPad that contains dozens of archived photos, flyers, letters and a travel log written by drummer George Reyes himself. “I love George's tour journals," says Dianna Ray. "I don't think I had ever read them before we started culling through our personal archives for this show. They are full of anecdotes from our early tours.”
"It is a great honor to be recognized by a museum that I have spent many years visiting and viewing exceptional art," Reyes adds. "It was somewhat surreal to see and hear the things that we created. As a representative band of C.I.A. Records, who had many great artists, it is satisfying to know our work resonates as art.”
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There’s even the "Betsy" doll, which usually remained in the bass drum during performances; it happens to be Herrera’s favorite part of the installation. “That [doll] was created by Mary Hayslip [and] inspired Dianna to create our Mydolls logo, which we have used since our very first release [in] 1980, 'Nova Grows Up b/w 'In Technicolor.'”
Mydolls have a simple vision for the exhibit. “I hope it succeeds in inspiring others to go make a band!" Younger explains. "Looking back at our archives reminds us that when we started, there was no Internet, social media, cell phones. Everything was handwritten or cut-and-paste posters, letters to record companies and radio stations, letters from fans…”
“For Mydolls, it’s one more way to thank those who have supported us all these years and to pause and reflect on what an incredible history we have had and continue to have together," she continues. "Four decades, and we remain friends and musical collaborators. Such a blessing!”
The interview and discussion of "A World of Our Own: Mydolls In the Houston Punk Scene" begins at 6:30 p.m. tonight at Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, 5216 Montrose, with a performance by the band afterward. The CAMH is always free.