- Joe Gross American-Statesman Staff
If you are fan of vintage punk rock, go to the website Circulation Zero (circulationzero.com) and witness a cool little miracle: All 29 issues of the seminal Los Angeles magazine Slash, arranged as a free, searchable, downloadable PDF.
This magazine has never been anthologized. To buy a complete set of Slash in good shape, either piecemeal or all at once, can run well into the hundreds of dollars. And here it is, an invaluable resource for anyone looking into the early days of punk rock, gratis.
Scroll down to the bottom of the page to learn the deal. “Circulation Zero relies on the honor system … decide what your experience was worth and then donate to one of the charities listed below,” followed by links to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Doctors Without Borders or Austin Pets Alive.
The man who made all of this possible is an Austinite named Ryan Richardson, and walking into his house is like walking in to a punk rock collector’s dream come true.
Now, “dream come true” is a horrible cliche, one to be avoided. But here, it is literally the case.
Ask any collector of anything from comic books to Mason jars: They will tell you about falling asleep and having “The Dream.”
The dream about the big score in the basement of a house, about a test pressing of the record they didn’t know existed, about the Borgesian library full of every book or record or object of desire.
This is a goal of any collector: To replicate such a library, to hunt and find and deal and make the dream concrete.
Ryan Richardson, a collector of and dealer in records, zines and paper ephemera of the punk era, has done a pretty good job of this for himself. And he is willing to share.
A tidy collector
If you envision the stereotype of collectors, Richardson should, by all logic, be an obese, bearded shut-in with a stained T-shirt who may or may not have known the touch of a woman — or a man.
Boxes should be on top of boxes, records and tapes and zines piled on top of each other, the remains of a Hot Pocket moldering on a plate.
But no, the 42-year old Richardson is a trim, clean-cut guy with an easy smile. He and his wife, a psychotherapist, have owned their spotless, modest Austin home since the late 1990s. Richardson looks like the kind of guy who might make you a sandwich (which he has done professionally) or fix your sink (he serves as the handyman for the medical office he and his wife own, which she shares with a few other therapists).
When you walk into their place and see the massive silkscreen poster of the Los Angeles band Screamers next to a vintage poster of Elvis Costello circa the 1978 album “This Year’s Model,” you have to know what you are looking at. The knickknack shelf cut into a wall is, in fact, in the shape of Black Flag “bars” logo.
Richardson shakes his head at himself. “I love corny stuff like that,” he says.
Down the hall is a small office filled with neatly arranged zines and fliers. There is a wall of vintage gay and lesbian exploitation paperbacks from the 1960s (more on that in a moment) and a giant, working neon sign that says Zeros on the wall — a reference both to the punk band Zeros and the name of a Fort Worth punk club.
Carefully placed around the office are vintage SST-brand tuners. This is a punk in-joke: Before Black Flag guitarist Greg Ginn formed Black Flag, he owned an amateur electronic business under the name Solid State Tuners.
The groundbreaking punk rock label SST grew out of that. Where do you go when you have all the SST records? Start in on the tuners.
Over on another table is pile of photographic prints belonging to Spot, the onetime STT-producer and onetime Austin resident, many of which can be found in the totally excellent photo book “Sounds of Two Eyes Opening.” Richardson takes care of Spot’s negatives for him.
Elsewhere, I see a few vintage Black Flag-branded bug sprayers neatly mounted on wall shelves — Black Flag as in the pest control company from which the punk band took its name.
“I really like stupid things like that,” Richardson says, like the Texas license plate that says “KBD 78.” KBD is an abbreviation for Killed by Death, a punk subgenre; that it says 78 — 1978 was peak year for the stuff — just makes it that much cooler.
In a small alcove, I see a wooden sign for Bull of the Woods tobacco. My eyes bug slightly; the 13th Flood Elevators, the Austin band that all but invented psychedelic rock, took the name of their third studio LP from this very brand. It’s another story-behind-the-story type of item.
“I met with this guy who sent me down different collecting segues,” Richardson says. “I was buying some ′60s and punk stuff from him. He had that sign, and I was like, ‘That is incredible.’ He said ‘You like it? That you can just take,’ which was cool because that was the thing I was most excited about.”
I very gently pick up a vintage flier in a plastic sleeve for the legendary punk/rockabilly band the Cramps. It’s a famous shot of guitarist Bryan Gregory, pock-marked face to the camera, the words “Love Me” over his head. I know this image, but I have never seen it in real life. About how much would this go for?
“Cramps fans are second only to Misfits fans in their collect-everything fanaticism,” Richardson says. “So … at least $300, I think.”
I put the flier down.
The music bug
Richardson and his family settled in Fort Worth when he was about 10 years old. He was a collector from a young age, things like Smurfs and little toys. He was an only child, but an uncle close to his age — “it was a very large family,” he says — turned him on to music. The collecting bug bit hard when he was a middle-school metal fan, a Kiss and Motley Crue kid who got very good at telling his parents he needed a new album when they went to the mall.
“I needed every picture disc,” Richardson says. “Thankfully, I didn’t like W.A.S.P. They always had 15 variations of every record.”
The summer between eighth grade and high school, Richardson got into punk and never looked back.
Collecting records is not a cheap hobby, but Richardson was an entrepreneur from a young age. “I mowed lawns constantly,” he says, feeding his record habit via mail-order catalogs, and noticed athletic teams at school made money selling candy.
“So I started selling lollipops,” Richardson says, buying big bags of Blow-Pops at Sam’s Club at a cost of about a nickle each, and selling them for a quarter. When he realized the sour apple ones sold out fastest, he wound up going to a candy distributor and buying just boxes of sour apple. “It was completely ridiculous,” Richardson says.
But he made a ton of money, the vast majority of which went back into records, writing away for record lists from the back pages of Goldmine or Maximum Rock n Roll or mail-order catalogs that drove the pre-Internet market with purple prose in tiny type. “With a lot less information around,” he says. “Everything was a lot more mythical.”
Richardson says he kept his serious collecting focused: Just Texas and Los Angeles.
While he was in college at Wesleyan, he started a reissue label, Existential Vacuum Records. Its biggest triumph? Putting out the unreleased Nervebreakers session.
Its biggest failure? “Making new covers for some of the reissues,” Richardson says, with a grim smile. “It was a terrible combination of ‘I think I can do something better’ and access to the latest in Quark. You can hold up any one of those records and guess the year it was made. They all look like 1990.”
In college, he spent a few summers in Austin, which convinced him this was the place to be when he graduated. “Between Emo’s, which was free then, and swimming in the greenbelt, I was hooked,” he says.
Ausitn was — and still is — a great place to be a collector. Richardson got into exploitation paperbacks at one of Austin’s paper collectible shows in the mid-1990s. ‘This guy had a bunch of paperbacks in different categories,” Richardson says. “Noir, sleaze, juvenile delinquent. One cover said ‘Satan is a lesbian.’ It was the most ridiculous, over-the-top thing I have ever seen.” Richardson started vacuuming up gay and lesbian exploitation paperbacks, boxes of them.
When he was remodeling his house, he and the contractor decided that shelves were great, but the best way to display them was a Velcro wall, with the plastic-bagged books cheek-to-cheek — as it were — like a massive collage of half-naked ladies.
It is pretty incredible-looking, and much of it can be found on the sites gayontherange.com and strangesisters.com.
I ask if he’s ever gotten pushback from gay and lesbian friends. “No, not so far,” Richardson says. “If anything, it’s the opposite. People want to see this time when all of this was very underground.”
Collecting as a calling
During the late 1990s, Richardson worked at Food Food in Tarrytown, setting up his own mail-order business at night, selling records at night. Ebay was a game-changer for him — and all collectors of anything — along with helping a friend sell off his massive toy collection.
“I realized I could do this,” Richardson says, gesturing to the desk where he grades records and zines, “full-time via the web, my own site or eBay or discogs.com. It’s a business of relationships, and I love networking.”
Eventually, Richardson found most of the records he was after and looked for new pursuits, turning to zines and paper ephemera. Collecting a complete run of an obscure zine or a flier from a legendary show pushes that collector pleasure button as well — or better than — tracking down that punk acetate.
A few years back he started to put covers of zines online (fanzinefaves.com) and, in 2011, full runs of two extraordinary magazines, the legendary Rock Scene (rockscenester.com) and the still-jarring Star (star1973.com), the latter a very short-lived (five issues, all in ′73) magazine for and about, well, groupies.
Think Seventeen for “I’m With the Band” obsessives who are too young to drink.
There’s nothing even more than PG-13 in “Star,” but it still reads like a dispatch from an era when underage girls were way, way too sexualized. You don’t feel dirty reading it as much as constantly thinking, “I can’t believe this existed.”
“It probably shouldn’t have existed even then,” Richardson says.
But it — like Rock Scene, and now this full run of Slash — is an invaluable resource for scholars and fans.
“I just wanted to have all this stuff in once place,” Richardson says. “I wanted to be able to read it on a plane.”
There was no point — not to mention a mess of legal issues — in trying to monetize any of this labor, but Richardson didn’t want to just give it away. So we, the public who do not have time or money to track down all of this rare stuff, are the beneficiaries of Richardson’s time and labor.
“Hopefully, I can generate some charitable contributions,” Richardson says. “If you’re broke, fine. If you go to Starbucks once a week, you can kick in $10 to use this stuff.”