Wednesday night, at U.M.’s Otto G. Richter Library, punk historian Erick Lyle (aka Iggy Scam), author of On The Lower Frequencies: A Secret History of The City, and homeless-rights activist and Take Back The Land member Max Rameau will discuss the importance of documenting underground and fugitive artistic, literary, and political movements, in which both gentleman have plenty of first-hand experience. The University of Miami Libraries Special Collections has acquired Lyle and Rameau’s respective archives in a broader effort to document South Florida’s own countercultural history.
You may remember that we interviewed Lyle in December ahead of his appearance at Sweat Records to read from a four-issue anthology of his influential DIY punk zine, Scam. You can watch a few video clips from the reading to get a sense of the dude before Wednesday night’s event, which I strongly urge you to attend.
I emailed Lyle a few questions earlier this week about Archiving the Fringe (the event and the endeavor). As expected, he provided some enlightening responses.
What are Miami’s forgotten/influential underground movements?
EL: I think the most important or influential underground movement in Miami that is somewhat forgotten was probably the civil rights movement. It was more “overground”, I suppose, but not as huge as in other Southern cities. And Miami was a very Southern city back in the 1960s when sit-ins started happening at downtown lunch counters with black students trying to get served at segregated public places. It is hard to imagine the segregated world of Miami then with its whites-only beaches from the vantage point of today’s Latin American Miami, but the Klan was huge in Miami up to the 1950s. When African-Americans would try to move into white areas they were often met with violence including at least one fire bombing of a home. There was literally a wall built along 12th Avenue that was to separate Liberty City from the rest of the city.
Understanding how racism historically drew the city’s boundaries is essential to understanding today’s foreclosure crisis which largely affects that same historically segregated neighborhoods. And the important work of early Miami civil rights leaders like Theodore Gibson and Culmer continues today in the work of Take Back the Land and Max Rameau, whose work is also being preserved now in the U of M archive.
The value of cultural institutions’ documenting underground movements is obvious, but is it happening? If the movement goes undocumented, is it like it never happened?
EL: As far as documentation goes, I think underground cultural movements like punk can continue on by word of mouth and legend, like they always have. We, the punks, were not so concerned with documentation. Ours was not a self-conscious culture, always taking video at every show like you see now in the internet age. Everyone now takes cell phone photos of everything happening around them all the time and I think you see more events where documentation is actually the whole point — like it’s for later presentation on the internet.
Punk culture was pretty urgent, and considering I lived in abandoned buildings and hopped trains all over the country, it is a minor miracle that I was able to hold onto the stuff that today comprises my U of M archive. But as a radical historian and scholar, I was more interested than most in trying to save evidence of our culture. So punk and the underground can and does survive without it, but documentation really helps preserve the underground and get new people involved. It can be really inspiring to know others have stood where you stood and tried to imagine a different Miami or a different world.
Archiving the Fringe starts at 6:30 p.m. You can RSVP for the event on Facebook.