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D.C. Gets Punk’d

Back before the presidential motorcade dared cross the boundaries of Northwest or well-to-do suburbanites would even think of traversing the river to go house hunting, D.C. belonged to a different class of people.

Some wielded spray paint. Others pounded inverted plastic buckets or raked screeching guitars. But they all had something to say about life in the 202.

Their voices reverberate throughout “Pump Me Up,” the Corcoran Gallery of Art’s retrospective on 1980s D.C. life.

The project is the culmination of decades of research and ephemera hoarding by punk-funk enthusiast Roger Gastman. The seed for the current exhibition (Feb. 23 – April 7) was planted more than a decade ago; that’s when Gastman said the Corcoran folks caught wind of his homage to D.C. graffiti (then showing at MOCA DC in Georgetown) and reached out about honoring the legacy of local tagger Cool “Disco” Dan.

Gastman told HOH that the candid snapshots, original concert posters and political propaganda spread across the Corcoran’s main level are but an inkling of the urban artifacts he has amassed. “This is only the tip of the iceberg of what’s out there,” he said.

Politically related eye candy includes a giant “Meese is a Pig” poster. Dischord Records co-founder and Minor Threat drummer Jeff Nelson stuck it to Reagan-era operatives Edwin Meese and Oliver North by plastering unflattering depictions of them all over town.

There is also a Vote Yeldell campaign poster. Joseph P. Yeldell, a career D.C. government official who served three mayors across two decades, twice ran for (and lost) D.C.’s nonvoting congressional seat (1971, 1990). He did, however, score a campaign jingle by Chuck Brown, the late Godfather of Go-Go.

D.C. “Mayor for Life” Marion Barry also figures prominently, both at his best (his 1986 summer jobs program for city youth is heralded) and worst (1990 arrest for smoking crack cocaine with a lady friend).

On a personal note, Gastman is thrilled to showcase the original lyrics for “Straight Edge” — an anti-drug/drinking song that became an anthem for those choosing a substance abuse-free lifestyle, even as the rest of the District wrestled with drug problems — penned by then-Minor Threat front man Ian MacKaye.

“Here are the lyrics that accidentally started a revolution,” he suggested, adding, “I think people will come just to see this.”