Ruby Ray : Kalifornia Kool at Vesuvios
Last week I attended an art show by photographer Ruby Ray at Vesuvios in North Beach. Having recently collaborated with a Swedish publishing company to compile a new coffee table tome of her photos , called “Ruby Ray : Kalifornia Kool 1976-1982” I had expected perhaps some copies for sale alongside her works.
Alas, she herself had not lugged heavy boxes imported from Sweden of her visual documentation of sticky floored band sets in dark clubs, brash backstage parties, and the seminal spawning of the “Industrial Culture” movement that happened in San Francisco. Fortunately, a City Lights employee present assured me there was one last copy that was for sale next door, and I bought the last available volume from right behind the cash register, and demanded Ruby re-sign it again for me, even though it was already signed!
If you click the link below, you won’t have to pay Ferlinghetti‘s word temple tax of full retail price, as the imported book is actually much cheaper and easier to obtain through the mail, but then again, maybe you will feel guilty not dragging it off a shelf in a serene shop.
Ruby Ray currently, as I write, still has a retrospective set of about two dozen prints framed and placed on panels in the already densely packed bar, but the stark striking faces and perfect poses caught in her classic black & white imagery always stands out despite distracting visual clutter & competition all around the room.
There amongst the other paintings, flyers and tchotchkes that abound in the bar were photos that popped, featuring images from a truncated but 5 year period in SF from roughly 1977-1981. Many were moments preserved from inside or fairly near the Mabuhay Gardens nightclub, that capture in action bands like The Avengers, Crime, Devo, Flipper, Mutants, UXA, X and others that broke free of the bearded denim bro mold of the late 70’s schlock rock to bring to life a vital, energetic and angry new musical art form with its own merits and manifestos, that took music fans far from the middle of the arena rock road.
A few years ago, I purchased the now out of print collection “From the Edge of the World” a smaller sized book of Ruby Ray’s photos that also came with a 16-song CD compilation including rare music by bands featured in the pages: These included The Offs, Darby Crash & The Germs, The Dils, The Avengers, Crime, Mutants, Factrix, The Sleepers, Negative Trend, The Screamers, Chrome, The Bags, Noh Mercy, Pink Section, The Zeros and percussionist Z’EV. If you can find a copy, it is well worth a deep dive or at least perusal.
Back when it mattered, Ruby was right there with a lens, seemingly always pointed in the right direction as the purveyors of the late 70’s scene spouted their first songs/rants, played pranks, or sprawled out in chemically induced hazes. She helped make Vale‘s Search & Destroy publication such a vital document at the time, and her work stands the test of time. The cover showing a passed out Sid Vicious certainly tells a story, as do most of the other images inside her latest book.
Oddly, now 40 years on, Ray’s punk portraits and surreal snapshots of cultural icons like William S Burroughs, Jello Biafra or Exene Cervenka take on a frozen in time historical significance, with an impact that belies their lively off hand and youthful impromptu actuellement.
She’s a feisty and interesting lady and I enjoy her provocative conversation as well as seeing her artistic work, and encourage all with the ability, get out and do the same!
Viva La Ruby Ray!
Ruby’s photos are viewable at Vesuvio’s daily til 2am at 255 Columbus Ave until Feb 28th 2020