Friday mornings, the place would be swarming with the go-go’s storied promoters: Joe Clark, Maxx Kidd, Annie Mack, the matriarch and manager of Rare Essence. “Everybody would be here, wheeling and dealing,” says Cicero, “getting their posters for the next weekend.”
Momentarily infatuated with go-go, Island Records mogul Chris Blackwell released a handful of go-go records in the mid-’80s. Their album sleeves mimicked Globe’s bold designs and loud colors. But on D.C.’s streets, the genuine article often took on a sort of damaged beauty.
“They started stapling them to trees and buildings, over top of each other, over time, and the weather would affect them,” says Sayers Ellis. “Half Rare Essence, half Chuck Brown, a little bit of Trouble Funk. The decaying go-go posters were a way of showing a certain kind of progression.”
Or maybe a kind of survivalism. With the fines racking up, promoters would hit the streets deep in the night, hoping police wouldn’t catch them in the act — or track them down later.
“It was around ’99, 2000 when they were really on top of everybody,” says Moore, who ran the Ice Box nightclub in Northeast until 1999. Many promoters switched from Globe posters to cheaper, glossier handbills. Cicero says other promoters tried to dodge persecution by removing their phone numbers from the posters. Soon, Globe’s phone stopped ringing, too.
“You gotta see that as part of the whole gentrification movement to clean the city up, to hide the night life, to hide the natives,” says Sayers Ellis. “You take the posters away and you outlaw [go-go] on a certain level. . . . You take the literacy away from the streets.”
The red ink
As D.C. was quickly losing its colors, Bob Cicero was slowly losing his business.
By 2010, he and Frank were down to printing between 10 and 15 jobs a week, mostly real estate signs and election placards. “We always paid our debts, but I couldn’t pay them,” says Cicero. “I knew we were in trouble.”
He also knew what he was sitting on a music memorabilia gold mine. Globe’s vintage R&B posters had become iconic, beloved and highly collectible, fetching thousands of dollars at auction. In 2010, a private collector landed in Baltimore and named a mouth-watering price for everything under Globe’s roof. He’d keep some of it and toss the rest. Cicero balked. He wanted the collection to remain in one piece, and ideally, in one place.
“I knew I couldn’t keep [Globe] in the family, but I wanted to keep it in Baltimore,” he says. “My father was proud of being from Baltimore. . . . So we found a place that was older than ours.”
That was the Maryland Institute College of Art — founded in 1826 — whose administration had been listening to pleas from students and community members to rescue Globe. So in 2011, the school purchased Globe’s collection of wood type, letterpress cuts, posters and more, and moved a portion of its new acquisition to its printmaking department. Now, Globe is officially known as “Globe Collection and Press at MICA.” And, at 65, Bob Cicero is an MICA instructor.
“To be able to bring in the history, and the archives, and the posters, and the man who was making those posters — to imprint that Globe style in young artists’ heads and hands is an amazing thing,” says Mary Mashburn, the MICA printmaking faculty member who helped broker the deal.
Cicero seems relieved and rejuvenated as he shows off the posters he and MICA students recently printed to promote “Pump Me Up,” a stack of 200 bound for the Corcoran gift shop.
Snag a copy and hang it in your living room if you want to remember how Washington, D.C., used to look — and how it will never look again.
Pump Me Up: D.C. Subculture of the 1980s
runs Feb. 23-April 7 at the Corcoran Gallery of Art. For more information, call 202-639-1700 or visit www.corcoran.org.