With its working-class character, fiercely independent arts scenes and underdog mentality, Baltimore practically embodies the punk rock ethos. Despite these qualities, Baltimore’s own punk rock history remains dwarfed by other cities’ – especially down the Beltway, where 1980s bands like Bad Brains and Minor Threat established the nation’s capital as an epicenter for innovative and socially engaged heavy music.
Tony Pence knew that this history ran deeper than what most punk rock fans, including those in Baltimore, ever realized. After growing up as a metalhead (an important distinction 30 years ago) in the county, he began attending shows by Gut Instinct and other locally beloved bands towards the end of the ‘80s. The 46-year-old musician and owner of Celebrated Summer Records, who sports tattoo sleeves and understood that this legacy mattered — and should matter — beyond the circle of people who slamdanced (and sometimes clobbered white supremacist skinheads) during the scene’s late-‘70s and ‘80s heyday.
“I love the city like no other,” Pence told The Baltimore Sun in mid-July, standing near his Hampden shop’s front door. “I’ve lived my whole life here. And so that time period, being overshadowed by Washington D.C. and New York and stuff, it’s always irked me.”
And so, in the mid-‘00s, Pence began collecting flyers, photographs, records, tour merch and other artifacts from Baltimore’s punk and derivative subcultures. He will present the results of this archival work at “Killed by Charm: Raw & Rare Punk Ephemera from the Baltimore Underground ’77-’89,” a new exhibit at the Metro Gallery in Station North that also coincides with Celebrated Summer’s 13th anniversary. With almost two weeks to go until the opening reception on August 3 – which also features live sets from Dark Thoughts, Ammo and Pence’s own Glue Traps – Pence spoke to The Sun about five selections from “Killed by Charm,” the history of Celebrated Summer, the times Baltimore punks forcefully resisted neo-Nazi infiltration and the defiant musicians that proved Baltimore’s punk creds.
1) “First thing is ‘The Best of Baltimore’s Buried,’ an early Baltimore new wave/punk compilation. I think this was the first compilation of Baltimore bands, and this copy’s appropriately beaten up. It was released in 1979, and you had a bunch of awesome bands that played at The Marble Bar, which was an early Baltimore venue.”
2) “This is a well, well-worn Ramones tour shirt from Shriver Hall, in Baltimore, in 1982. My friend Rudy entrusted me with this. He went to the show, kept it for how many ever years and, knowing that I collected this kind of stuff, was really cool and passed it on to me.”
3) “One of the cool things in the punk scene is that kids just do these fanzines. It’s that real do-it-yourself ethic: if magazines don’t care about bands they’re seeing, they just kind of print it themselves. This was an early Baltimore punk and hardcore zine called NRG. I believe it was done by Bill Stevenson, who’s a local tattoo artist now, and my friend Skizz Cyzyk, which might be where I got this copy. It’s got reviews of some of the shows – [points at photo] there’s Skizz right there! – and some of these people listed as contributors are still active in the scene. Billy Whitfield, especially, I see at shows all the time. It’s talking about the Baltimore scene at the time, around ’85-’86.
4) “This is [a flyer for] Edith Massey’s birthday show that also took place at The Marble Bar. This is interesting because it dovetails with the world of John Waters, Baltimore’s most famous export and greatest filmmaker, and the punk world, which are pretty close, he’s pretty much a punk filmmaker at this time. Massey starred in a whole bunch of his films and also had her own punk band, Edie and the Eggs, which had different members - including Gina Schock, from Baltimore, who went on to be in The Go-Gos. Also, members of Thee Katatonix, which was another early Baltimore punk band, were sometimes Edith’s backing band while she lived here. I like this one because it brings together the worlds of John Waters and punk.”
5) “These two photographs were both taken by Skizz Cyzyk…he’s still involved in playing bands and I see him at shows all the time. He took a lot of photographs at shows in this time period. The one in my left hand is a picture of Daniel Higgs from Reptile House, who played tons of these shows. Reptile House is a very, very popular Baltimore band. The members of that band helped book a lot of these shows, especially in the mid-‘80s at The Loft . Dan went on to be a tattoo artist and a general artist. In this picture, he’s wearing this crazy pink mask, which is pretty cool. [next photo] This is a photograph of another cool Baltimore band, Grey March, also taken by Skizz. I like this one because it’s just a good shot of the crowd. It’s cool to see the bands playing, but I get really excited when I see photographs where there’re people standing around in the crowd, not knowing they’re being photographed. It gives [us] a time capsule situation to what was going on. In this picture, you think about the punk shows being [filled with] mohawks and people [acting] pretty crazy, but they look pretty regular in this shot. [laughs] So these are both from 1984. "
Tony on...the start of Celebrated Summer in 2006
“I worked at another record store in Baltimore called Reptilian Records, and when that store was winding down in its original location in Fells Point, I had a moment where [I felt] it had run its course, and I wanted to open up my own record store. I didn’t want to compete with them, though, so I thought it would be a good idea to open up in the county. I originally opened the store in Towson to be a store for younger kids in the county, where it might be their first experience buying records. For the first four or five years, I was just in Towson in a 10x10 room, very small, inside of a comic book store called Legends.”
Tony on...collecting ephemera
“I would save flyers from shows I went to, and friends would give me collections when they were finished with them. Once the store started, it sprung up a little more, because I’m out there in the world, buying these record collections from people, and sometimes [I’d say], ‘Oh hey, do you have any old shirts or flyers? I can pay you for those, too,’ and they’d say, ‘Oh, I have a stack of flyers from these shows I went to,’ and I started accruing that stuff as well. I’m very organized, but I have a hint of hoarder in me where I’m like, ‘This stuff is important.’ [laughs]
Tony on...Baltimore bands fighting Nazis back in the day
“Nazi skinheads would attempt to infiltrate Baltimore. A lot of these guys were coming from Pennsylvania, and the Baltimore skinheads were insanely anti-racist from day one. Gut Instinct, which is a band that exists at the end of this timeline, ’88-’89, they were one of the first hardcore bands I ever saw. And they had several African-American members that were very, very, very outspoken against racism. Those guys, and the skinheads that were around a Gut Instinct, they would just fight the living shit out of any Nazis that tried to get a foothold in Baltimore. And the guys did the fighting, like literal on-the-street fighting, you know, these guys that were in Gut Instinct and Stout and Next Step Up - who are kind of, again, these bands are kind of towards the end of the time period that I’m dealing with here - those were the guys that were like, anytime Nazis showed up, they were just destroying them. That’s a really cool thing about Baltimore: Baltimore has always been just hugely anti-racist, and not just talking about it. Right now, in the news, people talk like, ‘Is it cool to punch Nazis? Or like, shouldn’t we? Or should we be debating it? As a 16-year-old kid, I learned that lesson early: you punch them in the face, and that keeps them away.”
Wanna dig further? Start by pinning these 10 Baltimore bands on your jacket:
Ebenezer and the Bludgeons
Edie and the Eggs
21 deaf men no music available online
Next Step Up
If you go
“Killed by Charm: Raw & Rare Punk Ephemera from the Baltimore Underground ’77-’89,” opens at the Metro Gallery in Station North on August 3. 1700 N Charles St, Baltimore (410) 244-0899