OFFLINE MATTERS: An Interview Series Underground Living with V. Vale

Text by Jess Henderson

Photos Courtesy of V. Vale

Offline Matters: An Interview Series is co-presented with No Fun Mag, a membership newsletter by Jess Henderson, author of the book Offline Matters: The Less-Digital Guide to Creative Work.

 

This time, Jess meets with one of her longtime idols, mentors, and now friend, V. Vale of RE/Search Publications (@vale_research).

 

Vale is a creative firecracker and legend (documentor and participant) of the 70s Bay Area punk movement—he was part of the original configuration of Blue Cheer, and you might be familiar with some of his iconic publications, from Search & Destroy (San Francisco’s first punk rock publication) to the books Modern Primitives, Pranks, Modern Paganism, and Incredibly Strange Films.

‘I’m stunned by what an extraordinary and important publishing enterprise the Re/Search books and Search & Destroy have been—a life-line for the imagination almost suffocated to death by the huge eiderdown of bourgeoise culture. Your books feed the desperate imagination.’ – J.G. Ballard

Did you know Search & Destroy was started in 1977 thanks to donations of $100 each from Allen Ginsberg and Lawrence Ferlinghetti? Yes. Really.

 

It was in 1980 when V. Vale launched RE/Search, which continues to publish amazing oddities today, making Vale the longest lasting (and still active) Punk publisher.

“(I have) this weird theory that there’s only 1000 interesting people on this planet that I refer to as primary source thinkers. It’s my job to find them.
I’m just after something that lasts longer, not “high sugar fluff” as Henry Rollins put it. I want something I don’t get right away.”

— V. Vale

In 2019, V. Vale and I met at the LA Book Fair over RE/Search’s table of goods. That day, Vale handed me an A4 piece of paper titled Goals for Life, which condenses down his aphoristic and explosive approach to creative work into an intense one-pager. I’ve carried that paper around ever since, continually referring to it for a blast of Vale’s special IN YOUR FACE style of advice. He’s the kind of person who just keeps pumping out zines/interview books/special edition prints that go beyond anyone’s wildest dreams—and keep one feeling that there is some arbitrary, important factor as to why we ought to follow our creative impulses despite conditions, complexities (of being production-oriented), and general reasonings/situations that seem to run in opposition to them.

 

I’d like to share that special document with you here today, alongside a wild and trademark-Vale interview with the man himself.

 

Without further adieu, here’s V. Vale.

* * *

Dear Vale,

 

What a pleasure to have you here with us at No Fun. First things first; you’re a legend of ‘the offline’. Underground publications, zines, tracking movements and subcultures—a self-proclaimed “extreme anthropologist” since the 70’s. What’s your relationship and perspective on that which exists offline, and the ‘onlinification’ of culture and our lives today?

I remember reading 20 years (or more) ago that in the future ALL YOUR INCOME will come in over the Internet! Scary! Especially since I’m a material man in a material world (thanks, Madonna).

 

I love reading books by sunlight reflected off the printed page of a paperbook (not a screen) which bounces into my brain via my physical eyeballs. The screen is all pixels and 0s and 1s and… that seems WTF to me. So, I eat real, not virtual, food. I sleep in a real, not virtual, bed. I wear real, not virtual, clothes.

 

And, I like talking to people in person as much as possible as opposed to ‘typing’… like I’m doing now!!! I like real-time snail phone calls—call me sometime!

 

However, if I get a ‘real’ order via the Internet, I try to fulfill it within a day; get it to the post office on its way. You need a little discipline in your life!

 

Generally, I try to minimize my ‘screen time’ (looking at the iPhone, or laptop) and enjoy writing with a 0.7mm pen on a paper notebook—there are many scattered around my place. I like sitting in the sunlight, like this afternoon, surrounded by bushes and trees and grass with real birds flying overhead (plus the occasional airplane).

Vale with his ‘Goals for Life’ via Sharon E. Farb (@FarbThink)

Do you feel nostalgic for the energy and attitudes you experience in previous decades, or do you find the same excitement within our contemporary times?

 

Nothing can beat being part of what is proven to be an ‘authentic underground’ as it is being formed… before the Charles Mansons and pimps and ‘cool hunters’ come in, or before everything gets subjected to ‘violence’ and ‘spectacle’ and ‘imitation’ and ‘meme’ warfare!

 

Contemporarily, there is SO MUCH INFORMATION, SO MANY IMAGES, SO MANY MEMES available… it’s impossible (for me) to keep up with all of them. A few people like yourself give me tips: “Check out this movie! … this band! … this book! … etc.” Once in awhile I agree with the suggestion, but I am slow to give 100% deep love! The only true test of love is TIME, you know. It’s only at the end of your life, looking back, that you can see who your ‘best’ or ‘true’ friends were, for example.

A handful of great RE/Search publications

What is your favourite technological development that you have experienced during your lifetime?

The home projector hooked up to the computer hooked up to the internet. Now almost every film (and TV show) ever made can be piped into your home—you don’t even have to leave the house! Of course this applies to music, too. But for books, I prefer to order the paper copies online. We live in miraculous times!

 

 

You are incredibly prolific and creative. Over the ‘corona time’ we’ve seen you release your first album (Lockdown Lullabies), continue publishing new books, pamphlets, and zines, resume the Re/Search Conversations podcast—to name but a few of your recent outputs. What are your core principles towards creativity?

 

  1. Try to write in a notebook as soon as you wake up!
  2. Try to work on projects in the morning as soon as you wake up!
  3. Try to work all the time, period.
  4. Take little naps to recharge your creativity—just a few minutes can help!
  5. Try to ‘channel’ or ‘tap into; your subconscious/unconscious… Then when you’re at your computer keyboard you can be ‘channeling’ rather than laboriously trying to ‘write’!!!

Corona by V. Vale – Song Cover and Lyrics

Why do you feel it is essential to be outwardly productive?

When someone meets you, they ask, ‘What have you done?’ If you immediately have something to show them, you feel much better about yourself! Life is short, so why not try to get as much done as possible, right?

 

 

What do you think the ‘burnout phenomenon’ really is? What does is say about society and what is it symptomatic of?

Many jobs today are super-stressful—some people have, like, ten zoom conference calls scheduled per day! Zoom fatigue is finally being studied at Stanford University and elsewhere.

 

We’re not made to be looking at our own face that much, much less seeing many other faces on your grid screen. Many calls are easier without imagery, just audio—less stressful.

 

Real audio conversations with friends (not job calls) are essential—not just emails back and forth. Of course, we also need to make our own notes to tell us what we REALLY think!

 

Too much is being demanded of too many people, hence burnout.

 

Have you ever experienced anything similar?

Rarely! But my friends tell me their work experiences and I commiserate!

Let’s Go Walking by V. Vale – Song Cover and Lyrics

The RE/Search wall at Tokyo’s Museum of Contemporary Art during its book fair

What is it about non-conformity and defiance that you find so important?

I like being alone; I’m comfortable being alone—there’s so much to read and learn about! I’m rarely with other humans. I like that. I don’t want to join any groups. My favorite social occupation is having a book table where people can talk to me and even buy a book or zine (so I can pay my rent). Well, I like playing piano for people too, but such opportunities are rare.

 

You are a major proponent for humour—black humour, satire.. what does this have to do with creativity, quality of life, and pure survival?

Black humour, satire, dark humor is your IMMEDIATE response to: toxic environment which is everywhere! It’s CREATIVE in itself! You preserve your sense of individual-ness.

 

Humor can attract people, too, so people may be more inclined to help you (if you need help). MUTUAL AID is the goal: I aid you, you aid me. We survive “with a little help from our friends” as the great philosopher Ringo Starr once said. The more humor we have in our life, the better we feel! It’s important to feel as ‘good’ as we can!

 

In your opinion, what is the main task and the main challenge for young writers/researchers/artists/musicians today?

Doing projects with at least one collaborator (it gets too lonely otherwise) and maybe more collaborators if you need them.

 

It helps if your project is somewhat ‘original’ or deals with topics that have not already been ‘done to death’, but maybe ‘originality’ per se is a kind of fetish! I like that idea that the Japanese word for ‘to learn’ is allegedly the same as the word for ‘to copy’. So, you start out copying, and gradually you might start doing something more ‘original’… we think?!?

V. Vale at Oakland’s Omnicommons (2019)

Thank you for your time and (necessary) calls to arms for our audience of weirdos and lovers of offline culture. Any final words?

 

Simple: for the rest of your life, research SURREALISM and its precursors. Research the history of BLACK HUMOR. Research the history of PUNK and its precursors. You can also keep in mind Bucky Fuller’s statement “I’m interested in the future, because I’m going to spend the rest of my life there” so be open to new ideas, language, thoughts, worlds.

 

Also, ALLOW CHANCE INTO YOUR LIFE. Protect yourself, of course, but … life is very tricky and very mysterious. Don’t rely on logic, which is essentially superficial and non-inclusive. Heed your first intuition! (regarding people, projects, ideas, etc). And try to keep learning NEW WORDS! Having a cat around can help keep the prison of logic at bay! And remember, AESTHETICS DETERMINES CONSUMPTION. But, what are your “aesthetics”?!? Most people don’t even know!!!

 

A pen and notebook can be your best friend… having ’em scattered all around your house, because epiphanies and insights just ‘show up’ at the most inconvenient times and places. If you don’t write it down immediately, you will forget it. The more notebooks you fill up, the more you become ‘yourself’!!! Not just words, but drawings, images… a blank notebook offers infinite possibilities!

The Blessed ‘Goals for Life’ by V. Vale

Check out RE/Search for an absolute treasure trove of amazing publications. I can personally recommend the Terminal Punk zine—it’s one of my favourites.

 

Every order supports Vale to keep doing what he is doing (the important work of interviewing, documenting, and dissecting subcultures and their central figures). I’d love for us to be part of keeping the world’s longest running punk publisher ALIVE & THRIVING.

 

RE/Search stuff makes INCREDIBLE gifts for surprising your friends with unexpected underground goods, so keep him in mind for any upcoming opportunities to spoil your good people with good good stuff!

 

https://www.researchpubs.com

“Nothing can beat being part of what is proven to be an ‘authentic underground’ as it is being formed… before the Charles Mansons and pimps and ‘cool hunters’ come in, or before everything gets subjected to ‘violence’ and ‘spectacle’ and ‘imitation’ and ‘meme’ warfare!”

— V. Vale

You’ve had people reach out to you who have limited internet access due to weak connections that report having difficulties reaching many websites.

 

I like the anecdote you gave about receiving a mail from somebody who lives in a remote jungle saying, ‘finally a website I can visit!’ about the solar site. It makes me see how exclusive the internet is to so many people when all these heavy pages are only accessible to those with strong, fast internet connection.

 

It privileges those living in cities or those who can afford a good connection and leaves out a whole lot of access to those who don’t. Have you thought about how more low tech approaches to online technology could make the internet at large more open, accessible, and ‘democratic’?

 

Indeed the worldwide web is not worldwide at all. There’s a lot that needs to be done to repair the internet. It has been ruined by advertising and corporate interests. Almost all newspapers have a paywall. I’d love to see a movement rise in reaction to this!