Stepping over disconnected duct pipes, paint-stained plastic sheeting, and various construction tools, Casino.org couldn’t have been treated to a tour of the Punk Rock Museum in Las Vegas under any more fitting circumstances.
Punk rock – arguably birthed in 1976 by the Ramones on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, though there are several conflicting schools of thought about its origins – was the soundtrack to deconstruction. It tore down the bloated conventions of mainstream ’70s rock, distilling the form to its bare essence: teenage noise aimed loudly at authority.
In a former antique store located between the Las Vegas Strip and downtown, the first museum exclusively dedicated to the history of this crowd-surfing, loogie-hocking, mohawk-wearing subgenre of rock music is set to open on March 10, a two-month delay from its originally announced date.
The Punk Rock Museum was founded by Mike “Fat Mike” Burkett (NoFX), who financed it along with his buddies Pat Smear (Germs, Nirvana, Foo Fighters), Brett Gurewitz (Bad Religion), Vans Warped Tour founder Kevin Lyman, and skateboarding legend Tony Hawk.
Casino.org spoke with Burkett by Zoom after being granted a sneak peek by museum organizers.
Q: You pushed your opening date back two months. What unexpected obstacles did you hit?
A: The only obstacle has just been a waiting for the right permits. We needed new water pipes and that took forever. And you can’t move forward until you have them because you have to test the water and then test all the sprinklers. But it’s coming along better than we thought. It’s just going to be so cool.
Q: Why Las Vegas? There’s never been a major punk band or a punk movement from there.
A: Vegas is already a punk-rock destination. The Punk Rock Bowling & Music Festival draws 18,000 a year to Downtown Vegas. And now the When We Were Young Festival draws 50,000. For the weeks around those festivals, you’re going to need advance reservations for the museum because we can only fit so many people a day. We’re going to stay open 24 hours during those weeks.
Q: Your original idea was to open a punk rock store displaying your punk collection as an afterthought. How did that morph into this?
A: I just came out to Vegas to look at a 1,400 square-foot storefront and I’m like, I bet we could use some more space. So I went to 4,000 and now we’re at 12,000 square feet and it’s still too small because there’s so much stuff. And what’s really cool is that we didn’t have to buy anything. Bands just wanted to be in the museum.
Q: You’ve got Debbie Harry’s Vultures shirt, Devo’s helmets, and Fear’s saxophone. And we recently got a tour of some other artifacts. What are your latest acquisitions?
A: We have Joe Strummer’s last bag of weed, Sid Vicious’ belt, and a Sex Pistols poster from A&M that never got released because they got dropped.
Q: You must have asked the Ramones for something. I’ve heard their estates are notoriously stingy with their memorabilia.
A: We don’t really care that much. I mean, the Ramones are important, but this is a museum of five decades. We don’t cherish something because it’s from the Ramones. It’s about every punk band. Anyway, I think the most impressive thing about the museum is our jam room, where you can play my bass through my amp. You can play Lorna Doom from the Germs’ bass, Fletcher Dragge from Pennywise’s guitar, and Pete Koller from Sick of it All’s guitar. We don’t have it yet, but Billy Joe from Green Day said he’s giving us a guitar, too. Because we don’t look at these as priceless artifacts. It’s just our friends’ stuff.
I mean, you’ll see a couple of guitars behind glass, but those are very rare and from people who aren’t around anymore. We have a ’59 Gibson Les Paul Jr. from Johnny Thunders of the New York Dolls. We’ll also have a wall where you can touch and smell the leather jackets from people.
Q: And you’re having actual punk rock musicians give guided tours. How did you come up with that stroke of brilliance?
A: Yeah, so far, we’ve got Glen Matlock from the Sex Pistols doing that, Noodles from the Offspring, Don Bolles from The Germs, Louichi Mayorga from Suicidal Tendencies, Roger Miret from Agnostic Front, Angelo Moore from Fishbone, Greg Hetson from Circle Jerks, Warren Fitzgerald and Joe Escalante from The Vandals, Pete Koller from Sick Of It All, Smelly from NOFX, and Zach Blair from Rise Against.
You know, punk rockers have never made a lot of money. Besides a few bands, there wasn’t a big windfall. And we charge $100 a person for these tours, with 20 people per tour, and the musicians get half the money. So that’s $12,000 in four days. If they do it once a month, that’s 100 grand a year. And they’re just so excited about it, because it’s not really even a tour. They’re just going to walk people around and tell their stories.
And the fans are so excited about it, too. If you had a choice of paying $30 just for admission, or $100 for a tour from one of the legends of punk, which would you choose?
Q: The very idea of a museum for punk rock might strike some as an oxymoron. Do you think the founders of punk would have approved?
A: I think so. You know, there’s never been even a Billboard chart or a Grammy for punk rock. You can win a bluegrass Grammy, but not a punk Grammy. Who are the biggest bands in the world? Green Day and the Foo Fighters. Every person in the Foo Fighters came from a punk band. It’s all right, though, because we wouldn’t want an award. But now we have a church. It’s going to be the church for my people.
Opening day for the Punk Rock Museum is March 10. Guided tours will start on April 1, with tickets available soon at thepunkrockmuseum.com.
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