PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.


Punk House by Abby Banks, Timothy Findlen

Raymond Cummings

Punk House: Interiors in Anarchy shows the homes of free spirits whose concept of decor has nothing to do with Trading Spaces and everything to do with the purest possible forms of personal expression.

Punk House

Publisher: Abrams Image
Subtitle: Interiors in Anarchy
Contributors: Thurston Moore (Editor)
Author: Timothy Findlen
Price: $27.50
Display Artist: Abby Banks, Timothy Findlen
Length: 272
Formats: Hardcover
ISBN: 0810993317
US publication date: 2007-11

Here sits a bespectacled, seemingly despondent young man, looking at something off to his right, bathed in yellow, artificial light. To one side of the stool on which he rests is an antiquated sewing machine branded with “Panty Raid in extreme, metal-logo lettering; on the other is a heap of colorful fabrics.

There a tattooed, wide-eyed malcontent chews on his fist as he reclines on a faux-zebra bedspread, flanked by a wall spray-painted in a cryptic, frustrated scrawl of reds, whites, blues, and blacks and a bookshelf packed tight with titles like The Encyclopedia of Serial Killers and The Terrorist Recognition Handbook.

Who were these people? Photographer Abby Banks, who shot the 200-and-then-some photographs contained in Punk House: Interiors in Anarchy over the course of a fall 2004 cross-country trip, doesn’t endeavor to answer that question outright. Forewords from Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore and musician Timothy Findlen offer context to the core subject of this coffee table tome, but it’s ultimately left up to the reader to draw his or her own conclusions about the inhabitants of imaginatively, and often shambolically, decorated homes in Louisiana, Pennsylvania, Utah, California, and places in between.

These are free spirits whose concept of decor has nothing to do with Trading Spaces and everything to do with the purest possible forms of personal expression. There are fewer portraits here than long, searching glances into bedrooms, dens, common rooms, bathrooms, backyards, and facades considered from a near remove that captivate one’s attentions and assail the eye.

So, look at the motley, vivid patchwork of rumpled show fliers used to wallpaper an Olympia, Washington residence; gape at the recycling area of a Minneapolis abode where bolts of cotton have been transformed into an imposing, oversized spider’s web and grotesque, monstrous faces leer at you from a vibrantly painted, floor-to-ceiling mural. Somewhere in Milwaukee, an unfinished, white paint-peeling brick wall shouts “THE PRICE OF EXISTENCE IS ETERNAL WARFARE.” The corpses of countless bicycles have been jury-rigged into a breathtaking, starkly hued outdoor art structure in Salt Lake City.

Indeed, much of Punk House: Interiors in Anarchy’s charm lies in the pervasive sense of hearth-as-perpetually-evolving-canvas. Someone has written “Black Flag” above an air vent remarkably similar to the seminal hardcore band’s logo; a decrepit chandelier hangs in the loose grip of a Blue and yellow feather boa and drips with gaudy, plastic clear jewels. Foyers are plastered with nakedly personal notes and letters; a filthy green tee thumb tacked to a wall bears the stenciled legend “My other shirt is clean.”

Recurring motifs dot Banks’ work. Skateboard and skateboard trucks abound, as do microphones, guitars, well-worn texts, haphazard stacks of vinyl, all-but-destroyed furniture, and clusters of the sort of junky hipster kitsch Dan Clowes once decried in Eightball. Frequently, we encounter signage intended to maintain order (“Biting Dogs Live Here”) or re-frame solemnity as irony (“Be Rapture Ready”). More often than not, these vistas of chaos and disorder elicit thoroughly unanswerable questions, even as the crusty, slightly claustrophobic romanticism of communal outsider living beguiles.

Three years hence, are the then-residents of these spaces still making nests in them, or have straight-laced living and gentrification intervened? Do the walls still glower with shocking pinks, aggressive crimsons, and seasick greens? Are the bathrooms and kitchens still lousy with tossed off drawings and clippings from children’s magazines and stickers of all stripes? Are all these hoarded existentialist volumes on display for show, or kept at hand for genuine intellectual/ philosophical enrichment?

On a makeshift table in Portland, Oregon, rest coyote skulls, tubes of play blood, spools of black thread, boxes of razor blades, and what look to be eagle claws, among other incidental detritus. Why? To what purpose or end, of art, of shock, of amusement? It’s likely we’ll never know, and perhaps we wouldn’t want to know.

Early on in Punk House, on top of someone’s abandoned miniature piano, we spy a copy of a book by Aaron Cometbus; the title is obscured. Cometbus, a Bay Area punk musician and longtime zinester, has eloquently and extensively chronicled the downs and ecstasies of the idealistic and outcast youth lifestyles Banks captures so intimately here. Seek his writings out for an empirical literary compliment, or just take Punk House: Interiors in Anarchy at in-your-face-value as a caption-less, one-cracked-window-at-a-time vicarious thrill.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.





Jefferson Starship Soar Again with 'Mother of the Sun'

Rock goddess Cathy Richardson speaks out about honoring the legacy of Paul Kantner, songwriting with Grace Slick for the Jefferson Starship's new album, and rocking the vote to dump Trump.


Black Diamond Queens: African American Women and Rock and Roll (excerpt)

Ikette Claudia Lennear, rumored to be the inspiration for Mick Jagger's "Brown Sugar", often felt disconnect between her identity as an African American woman and her engagement with rock. Enjoy this excerpt of cultural anthropologist Maureen Mahon's Black Diamond Queens, courtesy of Duke University Press.

Maureen Mahon

Ane Brun's 'After the Great Storm' Features Some of Her Best Songs

The irresolution and unease that pervade Ane Brun's After the Great Storm perfectly mirror the anxiety and social isolation that have engulfed this post-pandemic era.


'Long Hot Summers' Is a Lavish, Long-Overdue Boxed Set from the Style Council

Paul Weller's misunderstood, underappreciated '80s soul-pop outfit the Style Council are the subject of a multi-disc collection that's perfect for the uninitiated and a great nostalgia trip for those who heard it all the first time.


ABBA's 'Super Trouper' at 40

ABBA's winning – if slightly uneven – seventh album Super Trouper is reissued on 45rpm vinyl for its birthday.


The Mountain Goats Find New Sonic Inspiration on 'Getting Into Knives'

John Darnielle explores new sounds on his 19th studio album as the Mountain Goats—and creates his best record in years with Getting Into Knives.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 60-41

PopMatters' coverage of the 2000s' best recordings continues with selections spanning Swedish progressive metal to minimalist electrosoul.


Is Carl Neville's 'Eminent Domain' Worth the Effort?

In Carl Neville's latest novel, Eminent Domain, he creates complexities and then shatters them into tiny narrative bits arrayed along a non-linear timeline.


Horrors in the Closet: Horrifying Heteronormative Scapegoating

The artificial connection between homosexuality and communism created the popular myth of evil and undetectable gay subversives living inside 1950s American society. Film both reflected and refracted the homophobia.


Johnny Nash Refused to Remember His Place

Johnny Nash, part rock era crooner, part Motown, and part reggae, was too polite for the more militant wing of the Civil Rights movement, but he also suffered at the hands of a racist music industry that wouldn't market him as a Black heartthrob. Through it all he was himself, as he continuously refused to "remember his place".


John Hollenbeck Completes a Trilogy with 'Songs You Like a Lot'

The third (and final?) collaboration between a brilliant jazz composer/arranger, the Frankfurt Radio Big Band, vocalists Kate McGarry and Theo Bleckman, and the post-1950 American pop song. So great that it shivers with joy.


The Return of the Rentals After Six Years Away

The Rentals release a space-themed album, Q36, with one absolute gem of a song.


Matthew Murphy's Post-Wombats Project Sounds a Lot Like the Wombats (And It's a Good Thing)

While UK anxiety-pop auteurs the Wombats are currently hibernating, frontman Matthew "Murph" Murphy goes it alone with a new band, a mess of deprecating new earworms, and revived energy.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 80-61

In this next segment of PopMatters' look back on the music of the 2000s, we examine works by British electronic pioneers, Americana legends, and Armenian metal provocateurs.


In the Tempest's Eye: An Interview with Surfer Blood

Surfer Blood's 2010 debut put them on the map, but their critical sizzle soon faded. After a 2017 comeback of sorts, the group's new record finds them expanding their sonic by revisiting their hometown with a surprising degree of reverence.


Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.


Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.


'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.