Until recently, the wording on the Smell had looked like it does on the left.… (left: No Age / Fat Cat; right:…)
Though far from iconic, the hand-painted sign on the face of downtown music club the Smell has long held a place in the hearts of Los Angeles experimental rock fans. It reads, in big, bold letters, "No Age," and below it, "Weirdo Rippers." Like the Silver Lake mural that Elliott Smith posed in front of for his album "Figure 8," the downtown sign resonates for a certain segment of the music population.
Last week that work, known to many for its origins as the image on the cover of the L.A. experimental punk band No Age's debut album, "Weirdo Rippers," suddenly vanished, painted over in an apparent effort to clean up the building's facade. What the painters replaced it with, however, has left No Age's Randy Randall and Dean Spunt a little confused.
First, some back story: The group designed and painted the sign in the late '00s with the help of their friend Amanda Vietta Andersen, an artist. No Age had just signed to British label Fat Cat to release a collection of their early singles, many of which they had worked out at the Smell, located on Main Street between 2nd and 3rd.
"We painted it in 2007 specifically to photograph it for the 'Weirdo Rippers' album cover art," said Randall via email, adding that their friends Jeremy and Claire Weiss, who collaborate as Day 19, photographed the image that landed on the cover. "The idea was to make something real and not just use Photoshop to put the title of the record on top of a photo," said Randall.
The plan worked, and as the band rose in prominence over the next five years, the sign stayed put. During that period, No Age inked a deal with lauded Seattle rock label Sub Pop, released two acclaimed, genre-busting noise-rock records, earned a Grammy nomination and are currently at work on their follow-up to 2010's "Everything in Between." For its part, the Smell has become one of the most vibrant underground clubs in America, and continues to book essential all-ages gigs. (R. Stevie Moore gigs there Friday night.)
Flash forward to late February, when No Age learned that the fate of their sign had taken a turn. The Smell's owner, Jim Smith, texted them a photo of his facade, and their work was gone. Curiously, though, in its place, muralists had remade it. Despite its lack of utility and meaning anymore, the text remains the same -- except in a different font and with different colors. "No Age" on top, "Weirdo Rippers" below it.
The purists and the nostalgic among the downtown rock community might feel a pang of loss, but Randall's circumspect about the whole thing -- and even finds inspiration in the new work.
"It is really funny," he said. "We never thought the sign would stay up for this long. Originally, right after we shot the photo for the cover we told Jim that we would paint over it. Or we thought it would be cool if Jim curated different painters who could do murals for the front of the building."
Randall said that the Smell's Smith assumes the landlord hired painters to clean it up, and they repainted the text verbatim, unconcerned or unaware of its expired utility. Randall added that downtown Los Angeles is fertile ground for so many renegade artists that it's a wonder it survived in the first place. "We sorta assumed that it would be covered over by graffiti or something." (Smith did not reply to a request for comment.)
"We are definitely not mad that it was painted over," Randall said, adding that it's "kinda awesome that it was repainted slightly different. Weird!"
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Follow Randall Roberts on Twitter: @liledit