Brooklyn-based publishing house Akashic Books has done their not-for-children viral children’s book Go the F*ck to Sleep one better: a specifically-for-children book that parents might want to read a hundred times over: What is Punk?. Written by Trampoline House founder Eric Morse in classically Suessical iambic, the book is lusciously illustrated with photographs of Play-Doh recreations of all mommy’s and daddy’s favorite punk heroes: the Ramones, Iggy and the Stooges—and Debbie Harry, David Byrne, David Johansen, Tom Verlaine, and Lou Reed all standing in front of CBGBs.
The punk icon figurines in their diorama settings should be visually stimulating for any young child (or stoned teenager), and will no doubt encourage all manner of nostalgia from parents remembering their own misspent youth in dingy dirthole clubs that don’t exist anymore: “‘Now so long gone, how we have aged,’ The parents sniffled, then turned the page.”
Bring your kids to see for yourself this weekend at Sunday Story Time at Powerhouse Park Slope.
Meanwhile, we caught up with the writer and illustrator to find out how they put this together and why we should teach punk to kids.
AY: I’ve always been interested in the arts, but working a full-time job, it was hard for me to find an identity for myself as an artist. So I started working with Play-Doh, and I wanted a catchy name for my Tumblr blog solely dedicated to it, and it finally came to me: Hey! Ho! Let’s Doh! And I really love punk, so I made the Ramones. So when Eric found me and asked if I’d like to work on a punk book, the stars aligned.
EM: I had the book about 75% written when I found Anny. But we collaborated on each image—most of the time I would propose a general scene or concept, and then she would do some image research and together we would decide on outfits, placement, backdrops, camera angles, etc.
EM: Having kids, I naturally found myself pondering what kind of cultural choices they would make, what their relationship to my own choices and obsessions would be. I found myself asking, “What will it be like to grow up in a world where Fugazi is classic rock? Or where the Beastie Boys seem tame and pat?” I realized they will know the term “punk,” because it’s ubiquitous at this point, without understanding just what a revolution it was when these bands first hit the scene.
AY: Some art forms have universal appeal to both children and adults. For instance, if you consider the works of Jeff Koons, his giant mylar balloon dog, that might not have been specifically created for kids, but naturally, many kids probably can connect to it.
There’s such wonderful crossover here—explaining an adult (or, at least, adolescent) art form to children in a way that they can grasp it. How important is punk to you? How did you first discover it or empathize with its ideas?
EM: Punk is important to me, in so far as I enjoy the music and have, at points in my life, gotten swept up in the art and fashion of it. I grew up very sheltered, and punk opened my eyes to a lot of things—culturally, artistically, socially.
But beyond that, I think punk is even more important in a macro sense, as a cultural and artist movement. The DIY ethos; the pure, raw energy of the music; the sense of rebellion that felt authentic and “grass roots”—it was such a shock to the status quo and it established the foundations for youth and popular culture for decades.
I first truly discovered punk while I was living in Olympia, Washington in the mid-’90s. There is a real creative energy there, and obviously a strong DIY influence, and I came to appreciate what it must have been like to live in the early days of the punk movement, when the ground was really shifting beneath people’s feet.
AY: Punk is really important to me. It’s a mindset. It’s being aware. I discovered it pretty late in life, right around the time I entered the “real world.” I loved The Ramones and The Clash a lot, so I started checking out more punk bands. But it came at a great time for me because I was old enough to understand it, really relate, and find comfort in it.
EM: “Punk” is an industry now. It’s a label we slap on things to signify they are “hip” or “subversive.” That’s inevitable in many ways, but I didn’t want my kids growing up without an understanding of how it started, what it meant, who “made it go,” as we say in the book.
The point is not so much to indoctrinate kids into this anarchistic ideology as it is to inform them about this amazing and enduring movement. It’s a matter of cultural literacy, in a lot of ways.
AY: Kids may not understand it. But I hope that this book will serve as an introduction. So maybe down the road, years later, when they have a moment where their minds embrace punk, I hope they think back and remember reading this book. Punk is empowering.
EM: The construct of building it around geographical scenes came about as an accident, really. I just started writing stanzas about bands I liked, and then I noticed that I was starting each one out with location: “in New York, New York,” or “in foggy Londontown.” So I just went with it. I think it worked, but unfortunately, it also created a structure that made it hard to include everyone. I know Anny was dying to have Dead Kennedys in there! We also left out Patti Smith, which I really regret, but it was hard to fit her in. Patti Smith is a whole book unto herself.
EM: We’re working on What Is Hip-Hop? right now, which I’m really enjoying. Anny and I have had a lot of fun brainstorming genres to explore. I think we’re both looking forward to What Is New Wave?—I love imagining the little Play-Doh Devos or Ziggy Stardusts. The possibilities are endless!
AY: I would love to even do a What is the ’90s? and cover all the ’90s bands. New Wave is a must, and maybe Punk Part Two?