On Music and Letterpress

My favorite piece of music memorabilia that I have in my possession is a bootleg R.E.M. concert poster. I purchased the poster in my hometown from a now-defunct gift shop, the Apple Tree, a fine establishment that catered to many a hippie and indie kid (such as myself). The design was immediately appealing; the name of the band, bold and professional, resting comfortably prominent at the top, above a striking image of the band members, and beneath, the information fanatics obsess over. The date still stands out to me; August 13, 1984, at the Meadowlands, New Jersey, “Home of the Giants”. R.E.M. was touring their second album, Reckoning, at that time, my personal favorite of the band’s. Every time I look at the poster, I can almost hear the beautiful jangling guitar of “Pretty Persuasion” or the humming bass of “Harborcoat” ring out in my head.

R.E.M. Bootleg Concert Poster, self-taken

Judging from the appearance, the poster was most likely produced with letterpress (or a method that emulates the style of such). The letters are arranged with bold, stark solid colors, with varying fonts and sizes. If you look at other concert posters from the era, a lot of them share a similar efficiency in their design; using appealing colors, presenting the necessary information, and sometimes providing art that is engaging by itself. The bands’ music can now mean that much more to the fans through the simple presence of culture. The lyrics of the songs aren’t printed out on the R.E.M. poster, but my relationship with the music is still tied to the poster regardless, in that it allows me to mentally attach a form of physical art to the music itself. The medium of music can often be alienating in that we rarely interact with it in any way other than hearing it, but the physical and societal culture tie that medium to the familiarity of community.

Letterpress and independent music share an appeal of the traditional; the mediums may be technically obsolete, but there is an artistry inherent in both that still holds interest to this day and age. The demographic of both participate in such because they actively seek them out for enjoyment. I love that poster not so much for nostalgia (I was born long after R.E.M. were popular), but for a sense of belonging; just as letterpress allows for a deeper understanding of(and maybe even a development of a relationship to) poetry, it can also allow fans of music to further develop a meaningful relationship with the band and the music, and to understand why they love them. It helped me understand why I love R.E.M. so much.

Even though the poster is fake, and R.E.M. never played that gig.

2 thoughts on “On Music and Letterpress”

  1. Jack, I am laughing! The fact that the poster is fake, and REM never played that gig, raises just the perfect questions of legitimacy and authenticity-vs.-fakeness that surround indie music, and printing, too (Is it a real poster, from a show? Is it a real letterpress poster, or is it inkjet, or silkscreen, etc.?)
    The poster reminds me of the style of the Hatch Show Print posters shown in the movie.
    I wonder what you’ll think about the punk zines next week.


  2. Most people would be disappointed with a bootleg or fake poster of a concert, but I think the letterpress or letterpress emulation shines through in this case. The fact that it is made by letterpress gives it personality and makes you remember where you got the poster.


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