For decades, countless rock legends—like The Ramones, Metallica, Talking Heads and Jimmy Buffett—walked past a colorful mural as they headed down a hallway from the greenroom to the stage of The Backdoor, a nightclub in SDSU's Aztec Center.
The 9-by-14-foot mural was painted in 1976 by Arturo Anselmo Roman, a lecturer in Chicano Studies, and his students, KPBS reported in 2011. It depicts Aztec warriors rocking out with a piano and electric guitars.
"It's sort of a mix between Aztec symbolism and KISS," says Dr. Seth Mallios, chair of SDSU's Department of Anthropology.
The Backdoor stopped putting on shows in 2002 and the Aztec Center was demolished in 2011 to make way for a new student union. The mural almost went with it, but Mallios successfully raised $16,000 to have it removed and preserved by a conservator. The mural now hangs at the conservator’s studio.
"We saved it with about 48 hours to spare," he says. "It was crazy. They were going to let it go.”
Mallios is working to raise roughly $30,000 to make the mural the centerpiece of a permanent art exhibition on the history of live music and rock 'n' roll at SDSU’s Love Library. To build hype for the project, he recently released a list of the top 20 concerts at the university. The list includes Metallica's show at The Backdoor in 1985, and an afternoon concert by blink-182 on Aztec Center patio in 1994.
Mallios wanted the list to get people talking—and debating—about the best concerts at SDSU. He wasn't around to see some of the concerts, but he wishes he was.
"I wish I had been here in the '70s," he says. "Some of my heroes played here in the '70s."
Mallios will talk about SDSU's rock history in a lecture, “Saving the Murals and Lovin’ the Music,” at the Love Library in room 108 at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 14.
Peter Holslin contributed reporting.