For countless fans, the names of the independent record labels that released so much of the most urgent and most original punk, hardcore and post-punk of the 1980s and ’90s are as familiar as the bands they first signed, recorded and unleashed on the world. Just glimpsing, say, a Homestead, Twin/Tone, Rough Trade, Matador or Lookout logo immediately brings to mind bands as diverse as Sebadoh, the Replacements, the Pixies, Guided by Voices, the Fall, Mudhoney, Green Day, Gang Green, the Lyres, the Misfits and a thousand other long-gone and, in a few improbable cases, still-thriving acts.
Then there was Greg Ginn’s SST Records. With albums, EPs and singles from bands like Black Flag, the Minutemen, Soundgarden, the Meat Puppets, Sonic Youth and the mighty, indispensable Hüsker Dü, SST was arguably the most influential indie label of them all.
Now, the main man behind so many of SST’s greatest records — a musician, producer and engineer who goes by the name Spot — has a new release of his own: a book of photographs, Sounds of Two Eyes Opening (Sinecure).
The book is not a traditional memoir chronicling the author’s admittedly sketchy memories of the good old/bad old days (thank god), but a collection of pictures from the late 1960s through the early 1980s. Taken singly and as a whole, Spot’s photos capture the look and feel of defining, evanescent crosscurrents in Southern California culture — sun-splashed beach scenes and dimly lit hardcore clubs; big-haired, bikini-clad roller skaters and grim, graffiti-adorned basements — with an intimacy and a fondness that’s impossible to feign.
Spot himself notes in his foreword to the book that he “began taking photographs in 1969 and visually crossed cultural divides that folks now want to philosophize over, but such theorizing is always ineffective. In the end, you were either there, or you weren’t.” So maybe it’s best if we just shut up, and let the pictures tell the story.
Before we do that, though, we’ll take a quick moment to note that Spot also writes in an afterward to Two Eyes Opening, touching on the often nameless and sometimes placeless captions in the book (and in this LIFE.com gallery): “Regrettably, there are names and details I damn well should not have forgotten, but I have. I humbly ask your forgiveness — it’s been over 30 years.”
He’s right, of course. An awful lot of details have, unsurprisingly, gone walkabout over the intervening decades. But most people looking at these pictures today will feel not a sense of temporal disconnect or a desire for MORE INFORMATION, DAMN IT. Instead — through Spot’s talent for keeping both of his eyes fully open, for so long — most readers coming to these photos, for the first or the hundredth time, will encounter and embrace what might be called the pictures’ enduring immediacy.
For a while, these photos remind us, this is what it looked like to be alive and a part of something, there at the very edge of the world.