Pop Culture Memories for Sale
On July 18 in London, Bonhams is having a massive entertainment auction that is heavy on a wide, wild variety of music. From posters for beloved musicals like The Wizard of Oz and Funny Girl to Pink Floyd animation cels to Clapton’s guitar and the shirt off Joe Strummer’s back, there is something for anyone who loves listening.
Lot 127, Clapton’s autographed zebrawood Boogie Body guitar, circa 1976-77, has a presale estimate of $11,000-13,000 but will likely sell for far more. Lot 147 is a real stunner: Overend Watts’s 1954 Fender Stratocaster, believed to be the first “Hardtail” and initialed by maker Taddeo Gomez (who also made Clapton’s “Layla” guitar). Photograph collectors can buy a signed photograph of Cat Stevens in a football shirt, one of Jerry Schatzberg’s signed limited editions of “Thin Wild Mercury: Touching Dylan’s Edge,” a Mick Rock image of David Bowie, or this gorgeous image of Syd Barrett and Iggy, taken by Rock in September 1969 during his session for The Madcap Laughs cover.
For fans of American musical movies, there’s plenty: the Al Hirschfeld poster for Cabin In the Sky; Marilyn Monroe, Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis in Some Like it Hot; a sexy (what else?) Alberto Vargas of Marlene Dietrich for “l’Ammaliatrice” or Flame of New Orleans.
Lots 172-232 are the Mark Jay Collection of Punk Memorabilia. If you don’t know who Jay is, it is well worth reading the Bonhams prècis on him and his collection in full:
“The collection represents a very personal record of an extraordinary and incendiary eighteen months from mid-1976 to early 1978 when Punk Rock exploded across the UK music scene. Mark’s involvement in the movement came very early – before the notorious Bill Grundy interview with the Sex Pistols, before any of the groups had record contracts and before the movement even had a proper name.
Growing up in Hammersmith, west London in the mid-1960s, Mark had watched immaculately-attired Mods parading along the streets, wishing he was old enough to be part of whatever they were getting up to. Eventually, it was David Bowie who provided Mark with a portal into a youth culture that he could finally call his own. Totally smitten since the incarnation of Ziggy Stardust, Mark had followed Bowie’s every move, and at Wembley in May 1976, Mark witnessed the first flowerings of embryonic ‘spike-tops’ who were soon to become some of the major players on the Punk scene. Although this gig was perhaps one of the finest moments in Bowie’s career, Mark was as equally mesmerised by a certain core of the audience, as by the Thin White Duke himself.
Armed with the brashness of a fourteen year-old, Mark got talking to some of the exotically-dressed creatures sporting rubber, zips, ripped T-shirts with graphic imagery and safety pins. He became aware of a band called the Sex Pistols who were currently playing around London and felt he just had to go and see them.
It was at a Pistols’ gig a little later that year, where he picked up his first copy of the fanzine ‘Sniffin Glue’, which urged other would-be fanzine editors to go out and do likewise. Spurred on by this rallying call and the daily increasing buzz of the scene, Mark co-opted a couple of like-minded schoolmates and did just that. The result was ‘Skum’, amongst the very first wave of fanzines in the UK. It lasted for seven issues and included interviews with many seminal Punk figures, including a pre-Pistols Sid Vicious (his first ever interview), a pre-Pogues Shane McGowan, reviews of The Clash by a pre-Spandau Ballet Gary Kemp and lots of content either directly related to, or commissioned by, the Sex Pistols’ camp.
Mark’s cartoons and artwork for the fanzine were noticed by Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood and they commissioned him to design a poster, entitled ‘The Story So Far’, to promote and accompany the Pistols’ debut LP.
In June 1977 Mark was one of the few fans lucky enough to attend the Sex Pistols’ legendary ‘Boat Party’ concert on Jubilee Day, an invitation that was part-payment for the production of the poster, along with the printed material, flyers and some of the T-shirts that are now offered in this auction. The bulk of the collection was therefore obtained through Mark’s close association with the groups at the time, their offices and their entourage. It was totally normal for the likes of Joe Strummer, Mick Jones or Johnny Rotten to take the time to stop and talk to their fans and ask about their lives and feelings. This is what made the movement so special and made people feel so involved.
Being a fanzine editor in 1977 meant that you could be part of the dialogue that Punk was creating and be involved in it on a day-by-day basis. There was a unique egalitarianism which allowed teenagers ‘from nowhere’ like Mark to express themselves through music, print, design and fashion and, most importantly, be seen and heard by a wide and ever-expanding audience.
Mark admits that he spent an inordinate amount of time hanging around McLaren and Westwood’s shop in London’s Kings Road, where he also had a Saturday job in a Beaufort Market record stall, and was totally immersed in Punk. As with some other items in the collection, the fanzine collection offered here was amassed through a barter system, whereby people exchanged copies of their work along with information and ideas.
Looking at the collection as a whole some forty years later, it seems incredible that so much work, bursting with so much passion, ideas and expression, was produced in such a relatively short space of time.”
The fanzines, underground flyers and posters, and clothing offered here for sale constitutes a history of UK punk from its first snarling start roundabout the second half of 1976. Jay collected Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren’s T-shirts, saved his SKUM Magazines, and befriended the young musicians who had played their first big concert on the 4th of July, 1976, in support of the Sex Pistols: The Clash. Among the many Pistols, and Clash, related items for sale, one stands out: Joe Strummer’s shirt, spray-painted and otherwise decorated by Joe himself, and worn for the first UK television broadcast about punk rock. He was interviewed by Janet Street-Porter; here’s a clip:
Jay saw the interview — and selected the shirt when Strummer invited him, in early 1977, to choose one off the band’s outfit racks as a souvenir. It looks odd hanging framed in a case, really. Were it up to me, I’d let musicians wear it as inspiration, a mantle handed down … or, perhaps, give it a Viking burial: set on fire and pushed out to sea in the Thames on an outgoing tide, flames on the water.
My husband, raised in Manchester on Northern soul but a punk fan at 14, came to London to hear the Sex Pistols at the 100 Club in the spring of 1976, lured by an article on them in NME. He had posters, flyers, ‘zines, T-shirts — all long gone in house moves. “If only,” he smiled, after leafing through the Bonhams catalog online. Then he went off to work, and I am listening to the young Joe’s American contemporaries as I write this: Blondie and Patti Smith. Memorabilia of music is mighty fine; the music itself will always prevail.