No, Larry has not been knighted by the Queen, at least to my knowledge. Somehow the title seems to work, though. And I can’t exactly explain why. (See below, where he’s reading Strangest Tribe at my book launch. Sir just seems to fit.)
Larry represents much that is—or at least was—Seattle. His various galleries combined visual art with punk rock and performance art. Mostly, though, he has that attitude that so symbolizes Seattle.
Quick example. Occasionally, rich art collectors would patronize Larry’s Rosco Louie art gallery (1978-1982). Despite the obvious potential financial gain, he wanted no part of their business, and enjoyed finding creative ways to get them to leave. “We’d crank up the Sex Pistols on the stereo….We’d do everything we could to drive ’em out,” says Larry. “And if that didn’t work, we’d tell ’em to leave! (laughs) Which only—interestingly enough—made ’em want [the artwork] all the more. One of these rich art collectors would like brag to their friends, ‘Well, he let me buy this.’” (laughs)
Larry opened Rosco Louie in April 1978 with his wife Tracy Rowland. The gallery became a space for visual and performance art. Contributing artists included Johanna Went, Gary Panter, Charles Burns, Robert Mapplethorpe, and even Sub Pop mogul Bruce Pavitt. He also used the space to host local punk rock acts like the Blackouts, the Fastbacks, Student Nurse, and Chinas Comidas. “I remember that show that [Bruce's art] was in, though,” says Larry, “’cause [it was a] typical sort of Rosco Louie punk rock thing. It opened like first week of January 1980 and it was called ‘Famous Artists of the ’80s.’” (laughs)
Larry’s gallery not only connected him with Seattle’s music scene, it also hooked him into the creative community then coalescing around Olympia’s Evergreen State College. At one point, Larry brought in Evergreener Russ Battaglia as an intern. Russ would later open a record store and put out a U-Men EP with fellow Evergreen alum Bruce Pavitt. “Seems to me,” he recalls, “we were in the backroom of my gallery—we were hand coloring the first issue of the Sub/Pop fanzine.” [Note, per a Facebook message, Bruce identified it as Sub/Pop 3, released in the spring of 1981.]
Reid also remembers Olympia legend Calvin Johnson coming down to perform. Calvin would later form Beat Happening and start the influential K Records. Calvin’s early incarnations would lead to his vision of the simplistic “infantile rock” K would make famous. Larry was not a big fan. “I don’t know what you’d call it,” he says, “other than annoying.
“I did a show,” he continues. “It was Calvin and a girl named Stella. And she was beating on a snare drum with a spike-healed shoe.”
The pair asked if they could play between sets of other regularly scheduled bands. Reid reluctantly agreed. “I said, fine. Five minutes,” Larry recalls. “Well, ten minutes later I was like, ‘Get off. Stop.’ And she wouldn’t. So I started pulling plugs. And that didn’t seem to slow ’em down….And she was just pounding on this snare drum. And I think eventually I got ’em to stop, but I might’ve had to threaten to kill her.”
The Calvin/Stella experience represents just one example of the almost anything goes nature that was Rosco Louie. In another instance, Larry hosted Youth Brigade, a Southern California punk band, when a riot broke out in front of the gallery. “Police/fire officials made me pull the plug on Youth Brigade,” says Larry, “….that was painful, but I was doing that almost literally at the end of a gun.
“Then,” he adds, ”they marched me off to jail. (laughs) It’s like, I wouldn’t have pulled the plug if I knew I was gonna go to jail [anyway].”