I’m So Obsessed With You: Mark Morrisroe & Lynelle White’s Dirt Magazine (1975/1976)

Allegedly, he stalked John Waters and submitted a giant, flowery swastika for a school assignment. He cut pictures from porn magazines, placed them in empty candy boxes and left the rest to weather and chance. He tortured his cat just to film the bloody debacle. She handed in a photo of Joan Crawford’s face for homework, and she was asked not to return? Though their lives quickly diverged — she later went to Harvard, thank you very much — what Mark and Lynelle White’s relationship lacked in length it more than made up for in volume, arrogant volume, the kind only two sixteen-year-olds bored out of their minds can make. At school they started DIRT, a punk-fanzine that survived for several issues. Seeking gossip, the first issue reads: “Have you ever wanted to use a fake name? Tell lies?” If it didn’t carry the whiff of a running joke, this might have been the zine’s ethos: if you believe it, so will we. You were encouraged to “slander your friends!” and to send anything that might be found lying on the floor. One transgression the zine delights in is incongruous proximity: the profane, Frankensteinian intimacy of cut-and-paste contact, placing names of friends, enemies, nobodies next to Andy Warhol, Sophia Loren, Cher. (Cher receives particularly crude attention in the pages of DIRT, and even her cat is crowned “Pet of the issue.”) DIRT’s DIY-aesthetic is its reality and its brilliance: literally anyone could have done this.

In one issue, contributor Cindy LaViande (who later renames herself Judy: “It’s judy from now on”) writes that rock music “doesn’t mean a thing if there are no good looking guys in the band.” A cut-out of Bowie accompanies the piece. In another issue, we learn “who smokes what”: James Dean, lurking in Heaven’s alley, smokes “Camels (unfiltered)” while Blondie, um, “smokes opium.” DIRT’s tag-line reads “Eat it while it’s hot!” But what is it hot with, exactly? Agitation, desire, boredom: surely, these things burn. But DIRT’s heat is borrowed, its flames of notoriety on loan: this is fever by association. Like Richard Hawkins’ collages, its reach is knowingly excessive, obsessive, even, but ecstatically so. Permission to obsess is so rarely granted. Is it ever? Now I’m telling lies. And who needs permission anyway? What else is DIRT saying when they claim that, after a man was set on fire by Gene Simmons of Kiss — at a Kiss concert — he said he still likes Kiss? In permission’s absence, bonfires. Burn.

– John Christopher, ARC.

Mark Morrisroe (1959-1989) was an American artist who grew up in Boston, Massachusetts. While he is known mostly for his photography and intimate portraits, he was also a filmmaker. He died at the age of 30 of complications arising from AIDS.

John Christopher is on the editorial team at ARC.