Go-Go and graffiti weekend in Washington delivers

What a weekend. It was one thing to watch a couple of D.C. legends on the movie screen talk about their home town. It was another to see many of them together in the same place again. A little grayer, a little slower and a lot wiser.


Poster for the “Pump Me Up” exhibition at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, which features posters created by the Globe Poster Company. (Roger Gastman)

With bands like Trouble Funk — whose 1982 go-go/funk hit “Pump Me Up” was the inspiration for the name of the entire project — and Scream, a hardcore band that started in Alexandria on the same stage, you got the feeling you were looking at something you’d probably never see again.

Friday, the gallery show took my breath away. There was a small part of me that just wanted to go into a corner and cry because it was a bit overwhelming. If you were here in the 1980s and 1990s, this exhibit is more than a must-see. It’s an incredible collection of multimedia items from an era that helped create what the city is today, from an anti-drug public service announcement in which a doctor uses the D.C. slang term “lunching out” to describe someone to photos of Junk Yard Band playing on the street as little kids. 

I talked to Henry Rollins, the punk-rock legend, about what it felt like to see so much of his younger days on a museum wall.

“The whole thing kind of comes to this weird full circle, but we’re not dead yet. It’s wonderful, but you just remember those days,” Rollins said.


Trouble Funk plays at the 9:30 Club during Washington’s throwback weekend. (Rosina Teri Memolo/Rosina Photography)

For others, the exhibit was a bridge between the federal and local sides of the city that so rarely cross paths. Gangster George, whose work is featured in the movie, had never been in the museum at all.

“Never in my wildest dreams would I imagine a spray-paint can on a bus would evolve into this,” George said. “And I worked downtown for 15 years of my adult life. I told my wife, I’ve walked by this place a thousand times, ain’t never set foot in it.”

On Sunday, the excitement was palpable. Just walking around, the stories being traded by old band guys and their fans about long-ago D.C. shows and haunts made you feel like people were talking about an entirely different place. In a sense, they were.

Ron Moten, the Peaceaholics founder and former Ward 7 D.C. Council candidate, was definitely impressed. “This is taking me back, man! I was just expecting Globe posters and a couple of old go-go pictures, but it pretty much takes me back,” Moten said. “I’m a little sad and happy. Because this is D.C., what you see is the old D.C. Some good, some bad, but it was when we had our own culture.”

Maybe these past three days are what the city needed to finally move into its next phase as a far more mainstream, homogenized place. A reminder that all that effort didn’t just go to waste, to be co-opted and popularized with nothing to show for it. A reminder that no matter how much it may have felt like it, it wasn’t all just a dream.

Yates is a columnist for The RootDC.

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Clinton Yates is a D.C. native and an online columnist. When he's not covering the city, pop culture or listening to music, he watches sports. A lot of them.
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