Bill Asp, promoter of DC punk and new wave bands and founder of Wasp Records, has died at 53.
Bill saw punk as a way to take rock and roll back from its corporate masters. Through his independent label and promotional efforts, he put DC bands on the national map and college radio charts.
Bill was a communist — not a Marxist academic, not a leftist who enjoyed reading about the Spanish Civil War, but the genuine card-carrying article. This might seem an odd political and economic stance for a manager of rock bands, and it was. But Bill’s goal was not to make his bands or himself rich or famous. All he wanted was get the music out there and to help build a vibrant, sustainable, and authentic local scene. In this he succeeded.
Bill managed and recorded, among others, the Insect Surfers, with whom I briefly played and toured in the mid-1980s. The Surfers did to instrumental surf rock what the Ramones had done to the two-minute pop song.
In the band I played synthesizer, plastic organ, and Casio VL-1, a $29 portable keyboard slightly larger than a cigarette pack. You could program notes into the VL-1 in advance of a show, and trigger them by pushing two tiny blue buttons at the top right of its little plastic case. I used this capability to subvert the “guitar hero” paradigm that was such a huge part of rock before punk.
Old-school “guitar heroes” not only played “expert” solos, they generally thrashed about the stage while doing so, as if in the grip of some powerful Wagnerian force. During an Insect Surfers set, I “played” a pre-programmed solo by pushing the two little buttons on the Casio — making it clear to the audience that that’s all I was doing, just pushing two little buttons. But I hopped around and writhed and sweated and jerked like a rock star while doing it, to debunk or at least make fun of the notion of heroic rock theatrics.
I was a few years older than the other band members and Bill Asp worried that I would be the first to quit and take a real job. He was right.
After I left the band, I worked as a journalist and music columnist for the City Paper and The Washington Post. In this role, I covered DC’s exploding go-go and punk scenes — and fought with editors who urged me to report on national performers instead. “Springsteen’s in town,” an editor might say. “Rolling Stone will handle it,” I’d shoot back. Bill Asp’s belief in the importance of local music drove my brief reporting career (and contributed to its brevity, as the editors really did want someone to write about Springsteen).
I’m sure, too, that, years later, William Asp’s Wasp Records stuck in the back of my mind when my colleagues and I were trying to figure out a name for The Web Standards Project (WaSP).
In later years, the Post reports, Bill provided demographic analysis services for Amnesty International, Habitat for Humanity, and the American Civil Liberties Union. That’s Bill all over.
He was taken, too young, by a disease we know too little about.
Rest in peace.
Previously in The Daily Report...
- Silence and Noise
- The mainstreaming of web standards should have freed us to focus on content, design, and usability — but arguments about minutia prevent us from seeing our work whole.
- ALA 186: Triple Issue
- Dan Benjamin: A Better Image Rotator. Brian Suda and Matt Riggott: Enhance Usability by Highlighting Search Terms. Kevin Potts: Better Invoices for Better Business.
- Safer than Kabul
- Citicorp Center is declared a terror target, and I’m on my way to a meeting a few blocks north of it.
- Only defenestrate...
- Douglas Bowman’s “Throwing Tables Out the Window” is a compelling crash course and proof of concept on the business benefits of designing with web standards.
- The New Samaritans
- Robert Andrews summarizes an emerging “good samaritan” phenomenon in which independent web designer/developers, frustrated by a hard-to-use or inaccessible site, voluntarily rework the site in question, “right under embarrassed proprietors’ noses.” The work, typically performed for free, most often focuses on front-end improvements to key top-level pages. Such makeovers form a roadmap for turning a confusing or inaccessible or bloated site into a more usable, accessible, and streamlined one. Yet rarely do potential corporate benefactors take advantage of the free work done on their behalf...
- Faces We Love: Heine’s Tribute
- This family of eight fonts, legible at even the smallest sizes, is perfect for designs requiring an aged or antique feeling.
- Architectural Digest vs. This Old House
- How vs. why in web design. (ALA No. 184 and drop-down menus.) When web designers discuss their craft, they almost always focus on how to do a thing, rather than what things should or should not be done. As an industry, we are more like “This Old House” than Architectural Digest.
- Production for Use
- To understand and evaluate any design, you must consider the use context for which it was created. A case study and lessons therein. The beginnings of a broader approach to understanding web and interface design (including the relative importance of web standards).
- Clarendon is the new Helvetica
- The quirky slab serif has been quietly undergoing a renaissance similar to that enjoyed by Helvetica in the 1990s.