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    Church bells announce noon on this summer Sunday as Brett Eugene Ralph vacuums the back room in his Baxter Avenue record shop, Surface Noise. Photographs by two local artists, Jennifer Martin and Britany Baker, cover the gallery walls with birdsongs (feathered close-ups and distant murmurations), Ferris wheel fun and the weird: flaming nipples, a girl sticking her tongue toward a pig’s mouth. On Friday, for the opening of the show, called “Untethered,” it was so crowded that Ralph didn’t get a good look at the art. Quieter now. Soft shuffle of his bare feet against the maroon carpet.

    Ralph sits at his wooden desk, with his old dog, Darby, nearby. He pulls a record from a stack. This is much easier on him — a bad-backed, big-statured ex-football player in his 50s — than lugging record-filled crates to the Flea Off Market, which he’d do before the store opened in fall 2017. British post-punk’s Colin Newman comes to life through the store’s booming speakers.


    Photographs by two local artists, Jennifer Martin and Britany Baker, cover the walls at Surface Noise.

    Punk rock. Ain’t that what started all this? Picture it: Ralph, 16 years old, at his first punk show. He’d borrowed some spiked cuffs and too-small combat boots from a friend. “I was afraid people would think I was some jock from the South End masquerading as punk,” he says. (He grew up near Iroquois Park.) This top-of-his-class, straight-edge kid wanted nothing more than to be a creative. He’d already been writing poetry, listening to music obsessively since six (Jim Croce, the Jackson 5), but he wanted in. And that’s what punk’s all about — letting in those misfits who are so often left out. Punk since. Punk forever. (You can catch his band, Kentucky Chrome Revue, in town.)

    A neon-esque Alice Cooper painting, a gift from a friend, sings above Ralph’s bald head. Also a gift: the neighboring photo of Blondie’s Debbie Harry, her pink lips ajar. There’s folk art, funk art, freak art. It mimics Surface Noise’s eclectic music selection. There’s an Indonesian Komodo dragon carving from the man who consigns art books here. There’s a wooden typewriter with a tree growing from its keys. “When so many people inquired about the stuff on the walls, I realized I could sell art,” Ralph says.


    Surface Noise is located at 600 Baxter Ave.

    The first exhibit, in June, was “A Family Affair,” featuring 10 artists whose work was already displayed in the store, like Catherine Irwin from the bank Freakwater. Her heavily stapled telephone poles with ripped-up posters of old shows stand at the front of the shop, an homage to the Louisville music scene, a welcoming. Surface Noise hosts intimate unplugged shows, and displays new art every second Friday of the month. “I want people to hang out, break bread, trade ideas,” Ralph says. Cozy chairs encourage folks to read, look at the art and listen to the used records like a portal to another world. “The witchy, superstitious part of me wants to own a record…imagining, ‘Wow, what must people have thought when they heard Captain Beefheart for the first time? How many sets of hands listened to this, put it on and made love, made dinner, cleaned house?’” Ralph says. “We feel the reverberations, even if we don’t know where or from who they come.”

    This originally appeared in the September 2018 issue of Louisville Magazine on page 99. To subscribe to Louisville Magazineclick here. To find us on newsstands, click here.

    Photos by Mickie Winters, mickiewinters.com

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    Part of "33 Reasons We Love Our Arts Scene."

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