Boca-native Erick Lyle, formerly known as Iggy Scam, handed out the first issue of his zine Scam at a South Beach punk venue called the Junkyard on July 6, 1991. Nineteen years later, Lyle has dropped the Iggy Scam sobriquet, long ago moved away from South Florida, and the Junkyard no longer exists, but Scam remains a vital influence on DIY literature across the country. In 2008, Lyle published On the Lower Frequencies: A Secret History of the City (Soft Skull Press), an anthology of essays he wrote in Scam and the Turd Filled Donut, a political newsletter, about his life and activism in San Francisco. Now the renowned zinester and sometime This American Life contributor is returning home to promote his latest work, an anthology of the first four issues of Scam documenting his life in South Florida as a principled dumpster diver, hotel squatter, and punk musician/writer. He will read from the anthology at Sweat Records on Wednesday starting at 8 p.m. Admission is free with gas-money donations encouraged.
Earlier today, I talked to Lyle by phone about Scam, Art Basel as a microcosm of the Miami mindset, and the fictitious Art Deco hotel that embodies the city’s strange history.
Can you describe the origin of Scam and the four issues in this latest anthology?
Scam … started in Fort Lauderdale and it was kinda a punk rock, underground, activism-related zine, self published. I was living in Fort Lauderdale, and my friends and I, we were trying to get everything we could for free, to seek new ways to live creatively and not be chained to a 9 to 5 existence. And in Scam I was documenting that lifestyle. The first four issues are heavily South Florida based, and then I moved to San Francisco and started writing from there.
How frequently did Scam come out — every year?
No, they were really fat zines, so they would come out every couple of years. They were kinda known for being the thickest zines at the time. The concept was that Scam came out in that form because it was this enormous zine being given away, or sold very cheaply, because the copies had all been stolen. So, it was kinda like, “You can do this.”
The first four issues cover the years between 1991 and 2000 — do you still relate to your writing from that period?
I relate to the ideology and the politics in it for sure. And I still live pretty much the same way. I try not to have a job. I try to get by in other ways and devote as much of my time to writing and being in bands and making art as possible. The only thing really different is that I quit drinking like six years ago. Drinking was a big part of the Scam writing, a lot about stealing beer and getting drunk before a punk show. I don’t drink anymore, but other stuff is pretty similar. Like in early issues, I talk about squatting in Miami — I used to squat in abandoned buildings all throughout Miami, and the last issue I put out I write about Take Back The Land, a group that is squatting foreclosed homes in Miami today. So I think there’s a continuity there for sure, ideologically.
After Art Basel 2009, you wrote a great piece for the San Francisco Bay Guardian where you tied together Basel and Miami’s overdevelopment and poverty. You even paid a visit to tent city, under the Julia Tuttle.
I tried to tell a story of Miami as a city that is declaring its intentions to change its fortunes by hosting these art fairs as one of the poorest cities in the country. Supposedly, bringing all this art is going to help, but really when all the art is gone after a couple of weeks, people are still out on the streets starving, and the foreclosure rate is still one of the highest in the country. So it’s kinda about the state of emergency that Miami really is in, and looking at ideas that might work and what might have caused it.
Honestly, about tent city, I was kinda amazed that no reporters from other cities wrote about that reality. I mean, everyone is going back and forth between the convention center and Wynwood. They’re passing this tent city every day, and to me it was pretty amazing that no one even commented on it, let alone parked the car and went down there and said, “What’s going on?”
You grew up in South Florida but moved away a long time ago — do you still identify with your hometown?
Well, yeah, I always tell people I’m from South Florida, or Miami for shorthand, just because I feel like I came of age as an adult in Miami. I grew up on Glades Road right next to FAU [Florida Atlantic University], in Boca. This is sorta tangential, but I just saw that there’s a Raymond Pettibon “The Punk Years” art show at FAU right now, and I was like, wow, nothing cool ever happened when I was a kid. You know, I was living there and obsessed with Black Flag and Raymond Pettibon, and that would have made my life back then. But I’m glad that stuff is happening now. But yeah, I consider myself to be from South Florida, and I do keep up with what’s going on, because you have to admit that the news from Miami is more entertaining than the news from pretty much anywhere else.
I know you pay attention to overdevelopment and housing issues — did you happen to keep up with the defeat in the last election of Amendment 4, which some people considered a once-in-a-lifetime chance to get Florida’s runaway development under control by having any changes to county zoning plans subject to local approval?
No, I missed out on that. I’ll have to bone up on that before I come down there. But it’s always been that way in South Florida, and Florida in general. There really is no democratic control, because what really shapes the entire life of Florida is development, and the people who are in office are heavily supported by developers. Florida depends on this eternal premise that people are always arriving here from somewhere else or are always tourists, and that they’re not aware of any history or anything that was here before. So there’s this constant bulldozing of the past and developing new things. It can be really disorienting if you actually have to live here, when you don’t really have any control over what gets built and what things are going to look like. Everything is a chain store, and all the natural wonder of Florida has been plowed over to make way for more strip malls. And you don’t really have a say in it.
The Art Basel piece that I wrote was trying to talk about the art world as a microcosm of those values. So there’s this speculative economy of art, where something that is very ephemeral is what is being sold … and it’s not really tangible exactly. That’s sort of the way that real estate development works, too. So I was trying to draw a link between these two strains of thought and how they influence Florida. It makes perfect sense that the art world would come to Miami, because Miami is a city that’s selling sunshine. It’s selling something that you can’t really hold.
There’s a Scam piece about a 50-year-old donut shop in San Francisco that you used as a vehicle to tell an alternative, ground-up history about the city. Is there a building or an establishment in Miami that you could do that with?
You know, what’s stayed for 50 years in Miami? Off the top of my head, I can’t think of anything. There’s probably a hotel on South Beach that would fit that bill. Let’s just fictionally create this together. Let’s say Jackie Gleason was there at the opening and broke a bottle of champagne on the stairwell and pronounced the opening of this Art Deco hotel. And Frank Sinatra played there one time, and it’s rumored that Jack Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe had an affair and hung out there. And then in the 70s, it got pretty seedy, and the Doors went there after their performance at Dinner Key Marina. And then in the 80s, a Colombian drug lord lived there. And then in the 90s, [local developer and primary Art Basel booster] Craig Robins turned it into a sparkling new hotel. And just recently at Art Basel — what would make it come full circle? It hosted a satellite fair, and the hotel is actually on the beach, and somebody made a model of the hotel out of sand on the beach. And then Iggy Pop crashed into the hotel in the sand.
I read you recently moved to New York — why did you leave San Fran?
Well, it was time for a change. I guess one thing about digging up all these layers of history is after a while you start to feel like you know too much. I can look at any street corner in SF and just be like, oh my god, I know everything that’s ever happened here. I’m sorta haunted by it. San Francisco is an awesome, beautiful place, but I just wanted to see the bigger city and have more new horizons to explore. New York is like endless and vast, and I’m totally inspired.
So is that the final frontier for you, the place you can’t ever know too much about?
I can’t imagine knowing too much about it. It just keeps going.
Is there any chance that you’re going to retire to South Florida, like everyone else?
It’s funny, I always think when I’m away, man, I should move back to Miami. But then I’m down here for like five minutes, feeling the rage in the streets, the way that people treat each other. And I can look at all the Publixes that stand where I used to live, and I’ll be like, oh my god, I don’t want to live here. I guess it’s like any place you’re from you have a love-hate relationship with. I really love Miami, and I’m really frustrated by the ongoing battles that never seem to end.
Click HERE to learn more about Lyle’s reading at Sweat on Wednesday night.