Clubland by Ken Maiuri: A headshop for ‘hippiebillies’

  • Elements of Gary Panter’s Hippiebilly Headshop Photo courtesy Ted Lee

  • Elements of Gary Panter’s Hippiebilly Headshop Photo courtesy Ted Lee

  • Elements of Gary Panter’s Hippiebilly Headshop Photo courtesy Ted Lee

  • Elements of Gary Panter’s Hippiebilly Headshop Photo courtesy Ted Lee

  • Gary Panter Jason Frank Rothenberg photo

Published: 11/7/2019 9:16:55 AM
Modified: 11/7/2019 9:16:45 AM

Brooklyn artist Gary Panter grew up in East Texas in a very religious family — he was a teenage missionary in the Church of Christ, which, as he once said in an interview, “forbade frolicking in general.”

But in the summer of 1968, Panter’s dad took the family on a car trip to visit relatives in Mount Shasta, California, and there Panter discovered a hippie head shop and a hippie record store. “It melted his brain,” said friend Byron Coley, who’s known him since the ‘70s.

In the 50 years following that family trip, Panter has been a cartoonist, painter, illustrator, graphic novelist, candlemaker, musician and more — he won multiple Emmy awards for his set design on the acclaimed Pee-Wee’s Playhouse TV series — and the life-changing visit to the hippie stores always stayed with him.

Panter had been wondering how to recreate some of that transformational experience; meanwhile Coley and business partner Ted Lee were looking for something different to do at their Feeding Tube Records / Rozz Tox Art space in Florence.

The result is Gary Panter’s Hippiebilly Headshop, which has its opening reception at Rozz Tox Art, inside the Arts and Industry building in Florence, on Saturday, November 9, from 5 to 8 p.m.

It’s a project that’s been in the works for two years. The Rozz Tox Art space (named after Panter’s 1980 manifesto) has slowly morphed from a store and office overflowing with vinyl and cardboard boxes to a more carefully curated area with a playfully painted floor, a gallery of wall art, strings of beads, a mind-altering blacklight room, a meditative bag-tent with projections slowly mutating along its thin fabric, and the room’s very air is infused with its own unique scent (Holy Yurt, created by artist/aromatherapist Luisa Reichenheim).

Coley contacted artist friends from down the street and around the world to create one of the Hippiebilly Headshop exhibits, asking them to make concert posters for bands they loved. Some of the colorful flyers are for events that actually happened in the late-‘60s/early-‘70s, while some are for dreamed-up supershows. Among the contributors so far are Charles Burns, Coco Gordon Moore, Georgia Hubley, James McNew, Joshua Burkett, Naomi Yang and David Greenberger. Coley hopes to have the expanding selection of posters eventually cover any blank wall space in the gallery.

Panter’s own art is on display throughout the room: candles that look like psychedelic stalagmites; “five-dimensional God’s eyes”; ceramics; bead necklaces containing words and messages, hanging from thin one-eyed logs sawed by local woodworker Bob Dickerman; a painting of Jimi Hendrix that Panter made in 1969, framed by bits of beaver-chewed water-worn wood from the Connecticut River.

Tucked in among records for sale is what looks like a nativity stable, filled with toys Panter found (droopy dog, cyclops muscleman, pink plastic Tinkerbell, purple-flocked cougar). Discarded shelves and objects have been repainted or repurposed by Coley and Lee and friends, like the mannequin someone dumped on the building’s back loading dock, which is now topped with a pink head created by one of Panter’s students, covered with a ripped shirt designed by Panter and sewed together by artist Pat Ireton.

The Hippiebilly Headshop is an evolving installation that the Rozz Tox team hopes to have going for an entire year, with new things being integrated all the time, like dioramas and small-scale music performances, plus cool cheap stuff for sale — posters (with blacklight silkscreened ones costing a little more), books, comics, stickers, buttons, tote bags and more.

Coley said Panter has been working on a fake underground newspaper called Fog Window, which will make its way to the gallery. “I wrote a bunch of fake record reviews in there for records that didn’t exist but could have — and now we’re hoping to actually make one of those records, with Bardo Pond doing the music for ‘Fat Bunny,’ a non-existent Fort Lauderdale blues-rock band of the early-‘70s,” Coley said, the very idea making him chuckle.

Coley remembers his own major head shop experience while he was a high-schooler in Wallingford, Connecticut, finally investigating a downstairs spot aptly named The Underground Shop. “You’d sort of look at it a couple times before you’d go into it, like, ‘What is that? What do you suppose that place is?’ ”

“It was a long way from school, but always really worthwhile,” Coley said, recalling the store’s weird-smelling air, odd bootleg-type LPs, underground comics, blacklight zone, and his happiness about the people inside being “super friendly.”

Looking around the Rozz Tox room at Panter’s Hippiebilly Headshop taking shape, Coley said, “We’re trying to recreate some of the weirdness of [the old head shops] without making it kitschy. To me, it was about seeing stuff that you just hadn’t seen — ‘What the hell IS this?’ ”

“It’s always good to mess with people’s expectations a little bit. I don’t know if it’s a solid business model” — he and Lee shared a laugh — “but it’s never been much of our concern.”

Ken Maiuri can be reached at clublandcolumn@gazettenet.com.




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