Otis Link has spent his life at the center of the hard-core punk-rock counterculture that bloomed in California during the ’70s and ’80s. He developed stylistically at a time when the underground art scene was exploding in Los Angeles—when the same California subculture that gave birth to punk-rock rebellion also created a demand for lowbrow art, where pop-art and surrealism collide.
Long before desktop computers and Photoshop, the technologies of the day were spray glue, collages, copy machines and cut-and-paste. Punk art used outrageous images and crude text, and could be shocking, yet hilarious. Lowbrow art finds inspiration from comic books, graffiti, erotica and surf culture; it can be anti-political, anti-establishment, psychedelic, thought-provoking, raunchy, gory and horrific. The music and the art of this period represent a generation that stood up against a fractured society.
“We are a really fucked-up culture now,” Link said. “The reason we have war is to make big business—bombs. They learned not to televise war during Vietnam. They don’t do it anymore. We are a big, dumb, crazy country. They’re starving us. It’s all of us. Everyone thinks they are the only ones struggling. We’re all struggling. The same wages are being paid now as a decade ago. It’s revolution time—but their are no more revolutionaries. No body cares anymore. People used to burn things down; now they get a permit.”
The business model built by pioneers like Otis Link is what drives the independent artists of today’s music business: It’s all about the merch. Income generated from T-shirts, bumper stickers, records, CDs and posters make it possible for bands to go on the road and survive from city to city.
Music remains a big part of Otis Link’s life. He performs and records with L.A. punk band The Billy Bones (thebillybones.com), fronted by Steven William “Billy Bones” Fortuna, former frontman of The Skulls. The band has released a 7-inch EP and one full-length, The Complexity of Stupidity, on Dr. Strange Records. The record is rock ’n’ roll full of catchy hooks and clever lyrical themes. They possess a pop-sensibility delivered with the spirit of punk.
Who Is Billy Bones? is the name of a punk rockumentary that answers the question the title poses. Directed by Kathy Kolla and Drew Milford, the film is finished, and a pre-trailer has been posted on YouTube. Learn more by visiting www.facebook.com/WhoIsBillyBones.
Link is a longtime friend of Gary Tovar, one of the founders of Goldenvoice. Tovar signed Goldenvoice over to colleague Paul Tollett when he was sent to prison for marijuana-smuggling. Today, Tovar travels with Otis, and each festival season, the two partners and a team of 16 go out and work three booths at Coachella. Otis goes into major T-shirt-production mode at the onset of spring to create shirts with his original art. This year, a scorpion and an owl were part of his Coachella T-shirt concept.
After a long run in Orange County, Otis has taken up residence in the high desert. He purchased a piece of land and is remodeling a hacienda-style home that was once a Pentecostal church. He has been busy turning what was once a chapel for worship into a private venue and living quarters. Link’s art and memorabilia is everywhere. The home reflects Link’s colorful imagination and provocative artistic style and is as much like a gallery of art and collectibles as it is a home.
“I dig the high desert. It’s affordable and away from people,” he said.