Purple Magazine
— S/S 2007 issue 7

Los Angeles

The Mandrake, 2692 La Cienega, Culver City, Los Angeles. Drawing by Cameron Jamie

New York critic-curator, Bob Nickas, is leading the crusade for the world’s discovery of The Melvins, a band that’s long been revered in the art world.

More than thirty artists made album covers for The Melvins, the influential band that brought together metal, punk, and primordial riffs, giving the world, for better or worse, Nirvana and grunge. Many of the works will be shown in the band’s hometown, Los Angeles, at the newest art world watering hole, the Mandrake bar. Why The Melvins?

Longtime favorite of many artists, The Melvins have at times operated more like those artists than a rock band. The 60s credo, “Art is to change what you expect of it,” definitely applies to them. For  over twenty-plus years—they formed in Aberdeen, Washington in 1983—they have continually shifted gears, confounded their fans, and released records that are totally experimental and mostly noncommercial. Simply put, The Melvins change what you expect of them. They have collaborated with Jello Biafra from the Dead Kennedys, Japanese noise-master Keiji Haino, and Hank Williams III, grandson of the legendary country star. In a move that was perverse even for them, they covered Nirvana’s anthem, Smells Like Teen Spirit, casting 70s teen star Leif Erickson as Kurt Cobain. When the band tours, they often produce limited edition memorabilia: how about a two-headed doll dressed in, of course, a Melvins T-shirt?

The idea for the show comes from myself, a longtime devoted fan of the band. When I went to see The Melvins play, I always spotted artists in the audience, people like Matthew Barney,

Jutta Koether, and Cameron Jamie. The band provided the ominous soundtrack for Cameron’s Kranky Klaus video. In May 2003, to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the band, I organized a Melvins album cover show for Anton Kern Gallery in New York. Anton is also a big fan of the band. The show included works by Adam McEwan, Kelley Walker, Banks Violette, Amy Gartrell, Steven Parrino, and Mackie Osborne, the wife of Melvins guitarist King Buzzo, and the artist/designer responsible for many of the best Melvins album covers. The artwork from the Anton Kern show is reproduced in Neither Here Nor There, a book published by the band in 2004. Typical of The Melvins, it doesn’t look or feel like a conventional rock book, with pictures from concerts and song lyrics. That’s not The Melvins’ style. Like their music, it’s more of a solid slab, a heavyweight coffee table artbook, with photos, stories, paintings, and drawings by the band, their friends, and their extended family.

What is about The Melvins’ music that attracts artists? If you’ve  heard their records, you may have a sense of how visual the music can be. But, it’s in concert that you fully grasp how visceral it is, how sculptural, and how dramatic. Often name-checked by current art world faves Sunn O))), The Melvins have been described by Mike Kelley as “sludge-metal drone-masters.” The Melvins did something no other band had done before: they took punk and slowed it down to a crawl. This, and their irreverent sense of humor, are aptly displayed on their cover of The Ramones’ Today Your Love, Tomorrow the World, originally played at blitzkrieg speed. The Melvins’ version is not only painfully slow, but performed with an acoustic guitar, and Buzz sings the vocal at the end on laughing gas!

The show in Los Angeles, opens on February 25, and will later expand to include artists such as Sam Durant, Meredyth Sparks, and Christopher Williams. It will be followed by a Melvins concert at the Blum and Poe gallery. Long Live The Melvins.

[Table of contents]

S/S 2007 issue 7

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