All the stuff Mark Andersen saved — the fliers, the zines, the set lists, the photos, the audio cassettes and videotapes — he saved simply because he thought it was worth saving.
Mark said: “That’s the essence of the punk approach. If you feel like something should be done, do it.”
So he did. Mark collected and saved mounds of ephemera connected with the rise of punk rock in Washington. It helped him write “Dance of Days: Two Decades of Punk in the Nation’s Capital,” the 2001 book he co-authored with Mark Jenkins. Then, as he led Positive Force D.C., an activist collective closely associated with the area’s punk community, Mark created and compiled even more material.
All that stuff — the research materials for “Dance of Days” and the records of Positive Force — fills eight filing cabinet’s in the basement of Mark’s house in the District’s Columbia Heights neighborhood. Soon it will have a new home downtown: the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library as part of its D.C. Punk Archive.
“We’ve got a lot in the [D.C. Punk] collection, but nothing of this size,” said Michele Casto, special collections librarian. “It at least doubles, maybe triples, the size of the collection.”
In his basement, Mark pulls open a drawer at random. Here’s a flier from the first time Dave Grohl played with Scream. (July 25, 1987.) Here’s a cabinet of material from Riot Grrrl, the fanzine that evolved into a movement to encourage women to get involved in punk. Here’s a battered snare drum used at a punk protest outside the South African Embassy.
“It’s hard to let go of the stuff, I will say that,” Mark said. “I think it’s less out of some material kind of inclination rather than just that it’s blood, sweat and tears that are in these archives. It is the striving of literally hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people, most of whom are my friends. It’s what we put our lives on the line for, however silly that may sound. We really put ourselves out there. We believed in something. Most of us would say we still believe in that.”
Punk in Washington was never about just the music. Bands such as Bad Brains, Minor Threat, Fugazi and dozens of others challenged the status quo. They protested apartheid, government atrocities in Chile, the U.S. support of the Nicaraguan contras.
Later this month, Mark’s collection will be moved to the library. It will be examined and catalogued with the aim of making it available to researchers. Sensitive material may be off limits, including some interview transcripts.
“The punk scene is not largely made up of people who are entirely happy with the world,” Mark said with a laugh. “So it is a struggle. And people are describing their struggles. People trusted me, and I want to be worthy of that trust.”
Mark is 56, married with two kids. His paid job is as an advocate for District seniors. Nearly every week he hears from someone just discovering the music he wrote about. “Dance of Days” was recently translated into Portuguese.
Mark is adamant that punk not be put on a shelf, even if that’s what will literally happen with the stuff in his basement.
“I think the essence of the punk ethic is now is what matters,” he said. “Speaking as a punk historian, then is never as important as now. Then is important because it can inform and inspire and fuel what we’re doing now. We hope the materials that we provide will inspire other people and help inform what they will do.
“What other reason could there be to sit on a big pile of paper and plastic like this? If it’s just dead weight, let it go. But I don’t believe it. I think it’s a repository of possibility.”
These area reunions are coming up:
Anacostia High Class of 1970 — Oct. 17. Contact Lawrence Thurston, 202-832-2239; Gwendolyn Black McFadden, 202-584-1050; Vi Coleman, 301-335-9804; or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bethesda-Chevy Chase High Class of 1965 — Oct. 11. Contact Glenn Ducat, email@example.com.
Bladensburg High Classes of 1949 and 1950 — Sept. 8. Contact Ron Willoner, 301-775-8454, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
W.T. Woodson Class of 1965 — Oct. 2 and 3. Contact Mary Vaughan, 703-409-6347, or email@example.com.
In a recent column, I mentioned my surprise at seeing seven tourists alight from a taxi behind the National Air and Space Museum.
Karen Sharp of Bowie, Md., said she could beat that. “We got four adults and five kids into a yellow 1968 Buick Electra 225 with landau roof once when family from Florida came to visit our Nation’s Capital,” she wrote. “As I recall, one toddler was sitting on an adult’s lap, but we were not squeezed in like sardines.
“Of course, this was before seat belts were mandatory.”
For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.