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Punk, New Wave Music Promoter Bill Asp, 53, Dies

By Matt Schudel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 13, 2004; Page B06

Bill Asp, 53, who managed several prominent bands and owned an independent record label during the heyday of Washington's new wave music movement of the late 1970s and early '80s, died Aug. 5 at his daughter's home in Phoenix. According to the Maricopa County medical examiner's office, he committed suicide by stabbing.

Three weeks earlier, his depression and bipolar disorder had been diagnosed. He had moved to Phoenix in May, after living in Arlington for 30 years.


Bill Asp learned three weeks before his suicide that he suffered from depression and bipolar disorder. (Family Photo)

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A talented and tireless promoter, Mr. Asp helped engineer the regional, and sometimes national, success of such bands as the Insect Surfers, Tru Fax & the Insaniacs, Tiny Desk Unit, Beex, the Young Caucasians and the Beatnik Flies. They recorded for his label, Wasp (named after his name, William Asp), played at clubs locally and across the country and developed a fervent following. Washington was one of the leading cities of what became known as the alternative music movement, and Mr. Asp, though not a musician himself, was one of its chief proponents.

"He was the first one who said this music scene should be bigger than it is," said David Arnson, a founding member of the Insect Surfers, who keeps the band alive in Los Angeles. "He had us playing all over the United States."

"Bill was kind of a visionary," said David Petersen, who was a teenage guitarist and singer for the Insect Surfers when Mr. Asp began to manage the band in 1979. "He believed in the music we were doing. He provided an inspiration for us."

From 1976 to 1985, Mr. Asp and his wife, Debbie, ran an independent record store in Fairfax and later in Arlington called the Record and Tape Exchange of Virginia. Known as RTX, it became a meeting place for young people captivated by the burgeoning punk and new wave music scene. At the Arlington location, Mr. Asp and his family lived above the store, which was decorated with record covers from underground bands and, for a while, with a Russian flag.

"He was fascinated by communism," Arnson said. "He was very idealistic. He really did believe in true equality among people."

He kept few of the profits of his record label and energetically promoted his bands to college radio stations and nightclubs. He made posters for his bands and drew the artwork for the album covers. In 1981, he helped propel the Insect Surfers' first album, "Wavelength," to No. 25 on the college radio charts.

"He was a brilliant promoter," Arnson said. "He had us opening for the B-52s, the Psychedelic Furs, the Stranglers and Iggy Pop."

Petersen, who lives in New York and is an Academy Award-nominated documentary filmmaker, added: "He was sort of a father figure who said, 'Follow your independent voice.' It was really like someone saying, 'You can be an artist' -- but he wasn't that pretentious."

William Robert Asp was born in Washington and grew up in Falls Church. He graduated from George C. Marshall High School in Fairfax County and attended George Mason University, leaving after two years, he said, because he knew more than his professors.

He was a letter carrier with the U.S. Postal Service from the early 1970s until 1977. While operating his record store, he also had a music management firm, Endless Weekend, as well as his record label. In 1985, after the early bloom of the new wave movement had faded, Mr. Asp closed his shop and withdrew from the music business.

In 1987, he went to work as a fundraiser for Environmental Action Inc., a now-defunct advocacy group in Washington.

From 1993 to 1997, and again from 1999 until March of this year, he was a strategic analyst for Craver, Mathews, Smith and Co., an Arlington direct-mail consultant for nonprofit organizations. He analyzed demographic data for fundraising efforts for such groups as Amnesty International, Habitat for Humanity and the American Civil Liberties Union. From 1997 to 1999, he worked for O'Brien, McConnell, Pearson, a fundraising consulting firm in Washington.

In addition to his encyclopedic knowledge of modern music, Mr. Asp was widely read on many subjects and was known as a superior cook, particularly of desserts. His family said he could re-create a restaurant meal from scratch in his kitchen at home.

Survivors include his wife of 29 years, Debbie Asp of Phoenix; two daughters, Melanie Asp Alvarez and Mercedes Odessa Asp, both of Phoenix; his mother, Mary Elizabeth Asp of Alexandria; and two sisters, Judith Bowman of Stanardsville, Va., and Marcia Ober of Vernon Hills, Ill.


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