post-punk gems, v. 39 — The Swell Maps — DIY indeed!

Thanks for tuning in today to what I expect will be my last post for awhile. It’s been a year since Stealing All Transmissions came out in paperback, and I had initially decided to give the blog at least a year of my thoughts, ideas, and odd connections. In the meantime, my publisher’s gone kaput, and I have a couple writing projects that need more time than I’ve found in recent weeks.

Many thanks to those of you who’ve tuned in either regularly or episodically, and to offer a special shout-out to those of you who’ve weighed in and, in turn, helped sharpen my own take on the virtues and continued vitality of the era we called punk. Seeing the number of readers on the dashboard spike here and there really gave me a good jolt of pleasure week in and week out. One last bit of self-promotion, for now: on Tuesday, 10/29, I’ll be giving a talk kitty-corner from the Empire State Building at 630pm on technology, music, and fandom. It should be a hootenany. (Tix are free, but a reservation is required.)

I love the we’re-all-in-it-together aesthetic of the vocals, the foot-tapping cadence, and buzzsaw guitars up until the point where the tune offers no other possible direction but chaotic climax, dissolve, and cut. So good!

Blogging is certainly in the DIY tradition, but it took much more back in the day to create your own label, record a few tracks, and then get the discs into the shops. The Swell Maps, out of Birmingham, had been kicking around since 1972 and, circa 1976, the punk movement helped sharpen their focus. On their own Rather Records, they got 2,000 copies of “Read About Seymour” into UK shops, and forged ahead from there. John Peel, of course, hosted a recording party for them, and they churned out a couple real classics on this bit, which resonated years later in the heads of esteemed noise purveyors such as Thurston Moore, Peter Buck, and Stephen Malkmus (with whom I share a hometown connection–Stockton, CA, in the house!).

Again: thanks for tuning into radio-KSAT. If you find anything you like among the previous posts and you (terry) chime in, I’ll be sure to reply, of course. For those of you in the blogosphere. Keep up the fine work! I look forward to reading what you’re up to in the coming months!

DIY — your help needed

Happy Sunday folks!  For those of you watching the baseball playoffs in the US of A, I can’t help but wonder about Prince Fielder, the artifice of his home-run antics during the regular season, and his post-season struggles extraordinaire. I’m inclined to think it’s part of the karma balance sheet, but it’s difficult to confirm.

Prince Fielder

Fielder as bowling ball, his teammates as bowling pins, following a walk-off home run, in 2011 (I believe).

Fielder, after a rare appearance on the bases, gets tagged out at third to kill a Detroit rally (ALCS, game 6, 2013).

Speaking of karma: in a previous life I played a sociologist, and I periodically get called upon to assume that role in the form of writing a book review or an encyclopedia entry. With the help of Joe Rumbo, an old comrade of mine, I submitted a variation of the prose below for “DIY,” which tracks the literature of sociology, rather than the good writing on punk rock.

In the DIY spirit, I’m looking for your help to improve this piece to include some of the better ideas on DIY, and I figure I’ve got to start with Azerrad’s *Our Band Could Be Your Life,* but I’d like to hear from you about your favorite prose on the matter of DIY. In due time, I’ll polish this post up, so that future readers have a sense of what DIY meant to our generation(s).

Do-It-Yourself (DIY)

The DIY spirit eventually associated with punk rock, especially, was first articulated in sociological circles by Vance Packard in Status Seekers (1961), in which he extolled the delights of the “do-it-yourself” handyman.

DIY refers to a range of practices in which individuals or groups demonstrate self-reliance in the production of material objects, representations, and cultural events. The articulation of the DIY and “anti-establishment” spirits emerged in the late 1960s,[1] and coincided with a shift from DIY material practices to the production, distribution, and consumption of culture. To begin, lifestyle movements of the early 1970s exhorted the qualities of naturalness and authenticity, in their newsletters and small-batch consumer goods,[2] and found consumers in communes and nuclear family households.

Likewise, the DIY spirit was manifest in the “intentional communities” of Haight-Ashbury, as well as the “peace-and-love” ethos of the Vortex Festival (est. 1970), the Rainbow Gathering (est. 1972) and, more recently, the Burning Man Festival. Revelers at these sites constructed temporary, autonomous spaces to celebrate free love, egalitarianism, cooperation, and altered states of consciousness.

Coincidentally, rock music in the mid-1970s adopted new scales of concerts and heightened artifice and, in turn, produced a DIY backlash in the form of punk rock. In punk, the DIY ethos celebrated the amateur, the interpreter, and the auteur. Punks started their own fanzines, established independent record labels, formed bands, and created a network of venues to pursue the joys of (semi-) popular music. The effects were aesthetic, corporeal, and political: punk revolted against the virtuosity of progressive rock and, counter to the “smile-on-your-brother” demeanor of stoned-out hippies, punks “costumed themselves as post-apocalyptic street urchins with a dystopian outlook fueled by amphetamines.”[3] DIY punks celebrated their autonomy, industriousness, and a life relatively free of corporate influence. Outlook notwithstanding, the DIY ethos of rejecting mass culture and creating one’s art were imbued with an aura of independence and empowerment, as many expressions of punk music and style articulated an oppositional lifestyle politics aligned against corporate and governmental authority.

The DIY ethos held sway in other musical genres, even if it was not always recognized as such. In its commercial ascent from the 1970s through the 1990s, rap music and hip-hop culture engaged similar questions about authenticity, musical virtuosity, self-representation, and entrepreneurship, such as the FUBU (For Us, by Us) clothing line.[4] As with punk, rap’s DIY ethos often grew out of economic necessity as it democratized cultural production along class and race lines. Likewise, the rave scene grew out of deejay experimentation and appropriation of spaces for enjoying electronic music and culture.

DIY also extends to other forms of culture, including independent filmmaking, improvisational public pranks, culture jamming, queer “counterpublics,” and of course, internet outlets such as blogging, YouTube, and social media; all of which seek to democratize the production of culture.

With respect to material consumption, contemporary alternatives to markets for mass-produced goods and services continue to manifest in various trends and movements. These developments include buy-local movements, eat-local movements, community/urban gardens and co-ops, time-dollar economic systems, second-hand economies, and the re-purposing of recycled materials. Whether due to economic necessity or by choice, many consumers are joining the growing voluntary-simplicity (or “downshifter”) movements. Such consumers often find their busy “work-and-spend” lives to be unsatisfying, and instead seek satisfaction through more meaningful relationships, healthier lifestyles, therapeutic pursuits, self-discovery, meaningful work, and a heightened sense of community.[5]

DIY, though, in these arrangements, are unevenly linked to larger social movements and cultures of resistance against the forces of capitalism, consumerism, and/or governmental authority. Rather, voluntary simplicity is largely seen as a lifestyle choice, and thus an individually experienced phenomenon. Similarly, DIY has come full-circle, and corporate hardware stores such as Home Depot systematically target the DIY consumer. Such chains cater to the needs of a predominantly male consumer base seeking to purchase various materials, tools, and machines in order to engage in DIY practices that variously provide the consumer with a sense of independence, autonomy, authenticity, satisfaction, and/or meaning–again, on an individual basis, rather than as a collective force.

# # #

Thanks much for checking out today’s lengthy (and slightly tardy) post. Have a delightful week!

[1] Ian P. Moran. 2010. “Punk: The Do-It-Yourself Subculture,” Social Sciences Journal 10(1): 58-65.

[2] Sam Binkley. 2007. Getting Loose: Lifestyle Movements in the 1970s. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

[3] Ryan Moore and Michael Roberts. 2009. “Peace Punks and Punks Against Racism: Resource Mobilization and Frame Construction.” Music & Arts in Action. 2(1): 21-36.

[4] Negus, Keith. 2004. “The Business of Rap: Between the Street and the Executive Suite,” pp. 607-625, in That’s the Joint! The Hip-Hop Studies Reader, edited by Murray Forman and Mark Anthony Neal. New York: Routledge.

[5] Juliet Schor. 2011. True Wealth: How and Why Millions of Americans are Creating a Time-Rich, Ecologically Light, Small-Scale, High-Satisfaction Economy.New York, NY: Penguin.

post-punk gems, v. 38 — The Saints: not beaten to the punch

On today’s dispatch from Radio K-SAT, I’m thinking about the 35th anniversary of Sid V.’s arrest for the murder of Nancy Spungen and, on a brighter note, “This Perfect Day,” the first charting single by The Saints, out of Brisbane, Australia. Their debut single, “I’m Stranded,” is recognized as the first punk single to be released outside of the US, beating The Clash and The Pistols vinyl debuts.

The original Saints’ line-up didn’t last long, however, with bassist Kym Bradshaw jumping ship for The Lurkers in fall 1978 and, in turn, worked through a couple variations of the pop-punk aesthetic, with horns and a starker R&B influence. The turn proved sustainable, and The Saints’ most recent release, *King of the Sun,* just came out this past spring on the continent. Here’s the LP’s title track, with Bailey’s trademark vocals.

I appreciate your checking in today, and hope to see you again on Sunday. Enjoy the week!

History lessons with Elvis Costello — Armed Forces-Tea Party mash-up, side A

Happy Sunday, folks! I know the price of climate disaster will be steep before too long, but I will savor for now the extra dose of warmth and vitamin D we’re getting here in the midwest. And thank you, of course, for checking out my musings here at radio K-SAT. In the event that you’re in NYC on 10/29, I’ll be giving a talk kitty-corner from the Empire State Building at 630pm on technology, music, and fandom. It should be a hootenany. (Tix are free, but a reservation is required.)

For the most part, I resist partisan pontifications on the blog, but with the frustration on the left and the right with the Tea Party extortionists, I think the time is right for a bit of humor at their expense. As fans of Elvis Costello know, the original working title for album #3 was *Emotional Fascism.*

“Fascism,” of course, refers to an authoritarian and nationalistic right-wing system of government, a social organization of the sort and, more generally, intolerant views or practice. While Costello and the Attractions were assembling Armed Forces, Mr. C.’s marriage was falling apart at the time and, under Thatcher, the thugs of the National Front were increasingly visible and violent. If charity begins at home, Mr. C. was party to little of it at home or in his homeland.

The Clash, Rock Against Racism concert, Victoria Park, 1978.

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Following the bouncy, radio-friendly tunes of the first two LPs (“Radio, Radio” excepted, of course) , the sound turned darker and denser on *Armed Forces* and, for long stretches, served as the sonic analog to the paranoia and power grabs represented in the lyrics. It’s a sharp production effort by Nick Lowe, and a pop LP for the ages.

Here I follow Marx’s reminder from The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte: “Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.” Just *Armed Forces* helped shine light on the emotions and fascism and armed adventures of Thatcher’s England, is it possible it holds lessons about the American republic, in its current and dilapidated state? Is Representative Boehner the farcical re-presentation of the tragedy-inducing Margaret Thatcher? Ms. T. was considerably less prone to tears–and not because she was more “man” than Boehner. She simply believed with more conviction the things that came out of her mouth.

Side A

“Accidents Will Happen”

The second single from the album is, according to Costello, a “heartless apology and barely coded confession.” The farcical “Accidents” of the Tea Partiers include Representative Ellman’s position on taking her salary during the shutdown after voting to deny millions of Americans their paychecks:

“And it’s the damage that we do / and never know / it’s the words that we don’t say / that scare me so”

Is it possible? Could a few of the TPers actually be scared? I’m bloody terrified.

“Senior Service”
Some pundits suggest the presence of big money for entry-level Congress-folk undermines “senior service,” begets “junior dissatisfaction,” and allows Canuck-borns like Ted Cruz to hi-jack the government. You can just imagine Cruz reporting back to his fellow Tea Partiers about a meeting with the Koch brothers:
“They took me in the office / and they told me very carefully / The way that I could benefit from death and disability”
There will be death and disability, I figure. Whether it will benefit Cruz’s political fortunes remains to be seen.

“Oliver’s Army”

The Oliver in question is likely Cromwell or Lyttleton (who served under Churchill). EC himself explained how, following his first trip to Belfast in 1978, he spied “mere boys walking around in battle dress with automatic weapons. They were no longer just on the evening news. These snapshot experiences exploded into visions of mercenaries and imperial armies around the world. The song was based on the premise ‘they always get a working class boy to do the killing.'” (Costello reprised this theme to great effect in “Shipbuilding” on *Punch the Clock*.) I don’t know how hardscrabble the roots are of the Tea Party folks, “but it’s no laughing party / when you’ve been on the murder mile.”
“Big Boys”
“I was caught in the suction / by a face like a truncheon / I was down upon one knee / stroking her vanity” — So confesses the anti-hero of “Big Boys.” And who might the subject of his desire? Ms. Thatcher? That might require an understanding o of history. Does the phoenix of Sarah Palin have a visage “like a truncheon”? Hmm. 

“Green Shirt”

I’ll always remember seeing Elvis Costello in 1986 (Nick Lowe opened), when he toured with the roulette wheel and the go-go dancer cages, and took pot-shots at David Lee Roth. When he played “Green Shirt” that night, hundreds of concert-goers clapped in time in bars 6 and 12 (?) in place of the percussion. Lots of fun. 
I think Aaron Schock (R, Ill.) best fits the profile of “Green Shirt.” Here he is in green shorts — the best I could do.
“You tease, and you flirt / and you shine all the buttons on your green shirt.”
It’s certainly the case that Rep. Shock is pleased with himself and, as a result of his obstinacy, there’s no doubt that “somebody’s going to get it.”

“Party Girl”

Years after, Costello explained that “Party Girl” was written for an art student acquaintance, following an evening of “kindness and tenderness.” While no one would mistake Christine O’Donnell’s tactics and Weltanschauung as kind or tender, she partied with Wiccans and, as she told Bill Maher, “”One of my first dates with a witch was on a satanic altar.” Party girl indeed!
And here’s the odd video for “Army”: 
Thanks for reading all the way to the end of today’s ramble. Please chime in with comments or objections, and have a lovely, lovely day.

post-punk gems, v. 38 — The Replacements’ “Black Diamond”

Thanks for taking a moment on post-punk gem day to check out my latest musings. Since folks found my claims about punk covers intriguing (thank you!), I’ll stick with this theme today, and to the twin cities, home of two of the key (post-) punk bands in the US–Husker Du and The Replacements.

I’ve spilled quite a bit of virtual ink on the ‘Mats before (see here, here, and here) and, in checking out their first few LPs, I thought I’d find a cover before “Black Diamond,” originally a Kiss tune, of course, on their 4th effort, *Let It Be.* But that’s not the case. These guys were dedicated to original compositions, even if their stage performance was anything but composed.

That gorgeous opening rhythm guitar, all echo-y and stark, then Paul’s vocals, and drummer Chris Mars sets the tempo and bam: that big guitar crunch from Bob Stinson. Oh, fun stuff, and it stands up well over time.

If The Replacements represented the shambly and shambolic side of DIY, Husker Du were the consummate professionals, with real aspirations to make good (and good money). Their cover of The Byrds’ classic “Eight Miles High” gets a good write-up in Michael Azerrad’s *This Band Could Be Your Life,* which is a key chronicle of the DIY punk spirit between American shores. If you haven’t had your coffee yet, you might want to wait to cue up this gorgeous bit of dissonance.

I’m really delighted that you stopped at my minor outpost here on the world wide web, and hope to see you again on Sunday. Enjoy the week!

key punk covers — not a best-of list

Happy Sunday, people! I hope you’re having a lovely, lovely weekend. I wish there were some pithy way to riff on the absurdity of the posturing in DC, with the continued separation of keywords  (“negotiate,” “good faith,” “will of the people,” “Americans for Prosperity”) from their historical meaning, but it is distinctive, awe-inspiring and, in the end, I figure, alas, brutal and debilitating.

So, let me offer something short and sharp for your consideration: five key punk covers, in order of historical appearance. One of the virtues of punk was its recuperation of the cover song. In the rock-as-art movement commencing with The Beatles’ Rubber Soul (1965), the turn to the original composition was a key factor separating rock from pop and, in turn, away from the black influence of blues, R&B, and even jazz, for which the cover or the standard was a key part of the repertoire. The Rolling Stones, of course, took steps to “keep it real” as the bluesy bad-boys foil to The Beatles by offering a cover song on nearly every disc post-1967 (not Goat Heads Soup–1973), for those of keeping score at home).

Rather than the cover song as something a combo played before they got better, punks held onto covers, and The Clash blazed the way in this regard, offering up lovely renditions of Mose Allison’s “Look Here” and Eddy Grant’s “Police on My Back” on Sandinista! The Sex Pistols didn’t last long enough to bother, but their posthumous releases, including The Great Rock’n’Roll Swindle, documents their (disdainful) affection for The Modern Lovers’ “Road Runner”–a punk standard, if there ever was one–and Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode,” The Who’s “Substitute,” and, regretfully, Sid’s interpretation of “My Way.”

For a punk cover to rise to greatness, I suggest it needs to do one or more of the following things:

1) it takes a somber song and makes it joyful.
2) It offers a fun challenge to our sensibilities, by disrupting our notions of racialization, class, gender, or sexuality.
3) It offers a renaissance of the joy of rock’n’roll before rock-as-art and draws a connection between early 60s rock (or before) and the present.
4) It takes something that appears to be powerful and makes it wimpy, but with total “badassery”–my favorite recent entry in the Oxford English Dictionary.

The results, of course, can be unsettling and, in turn, provide immeasurable inspiration to make it through the day.

I’d be happy to hear your version of this history, but I believe it commences with Patti Smith’s “Gloria,” and the unrivaled opening verbal gambit. From SNL 1976:

A year later, of course, The Ramones release their debut LP, which includes a cover of “Let’s Dance,” but it’s the second LP when The Ramones truly shine as interpreters of rockabilly and surf guitar classics. Here’s a brief–although I suppose with The Ramones, it’s always brief–rendition of The Ramones doing “California Sun”:

The Clash, legend has it, had nearly wrapped up the recording of their debut LP and, with 13 songs in the mix, they had 28 minutes of material. They decided to record Junior Murvin and Lee Perry’s “Police and Thieves” (live super-snarl mix included here) for the album and, in doing so, made history by insisting on the inimitable blackness of their musical forebears.

I’m not sure this track rises to the historical significance of the others included here, but I have a real soft spot for decidedly groovy interpretation of “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” by The Slits. It insists on the imperative of joy, and there’s rarely anything wrong with that.

It seems impossible that there isn’t a great punk cover between 1979 and 1985, but I’ve got to give a nod here to Aztec Camera’s cover of Van Halen’s “Jump,” which I recall hearing on rock radio in Sacramento and Stockton back in the day. The DJ would play some, if not all, of the track, and ask listeners to call in to weigh in on this travesty. They all hated it. I loved it. Roddy Frame and co. stripped bare David Lee Roth and co. of the bluster, the guitar and keyboard virtuosity, the spandex and the hairspray to show the world in plainspeak what exactly the song was about. (Of course a song is more than its lyrics, but not in this rendition.) In turn, they produced one of the purest, if mellowest, punk gestures ever.

Enjoy!

post-punk gems, v. 37 — Dalek I Love You

Welcome back to Radio K-SAT, where on Wednesdays I track down lost gems from the punk and post-punk era. Many of these underheralded tunes come from bands whose members you know from their associations with other bands — you might recognize the lead singer of Graduate, who later formed a band called Tears for Fears, which you may be familiar with (smile).

Dalek, I Love You was the brainchild of young gents out of Thingwall, and included (eventually) Alan Gill (of Big in Japan & Teardrop Explodes fame) and Andy McCluskey (who’s still kicking around with a unit called Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark). The moniker represented an amalgam of Dalek, the Doctor Who cyborgs, and Darling, I Love You. It’s a unit that takes the notion of Bernard Sumner (of Joy Division and New Order fame), upon seeing the Sex Pistols for the first time, to its next extension: “I saw the Sex Pistols. They were terrible. I thought they were great. I wanted to get up and be terrible too.” It’s a raucous, synthetic aesthetic, and on “You Really Got Me” (a Kinks’ tune, yes), from May 1980, they drain it dry of the Van-Halen-infused virility from just a couple years before.

I would argue it even heralds the lounge-act qualities that David Lee Roth would embrace following his departure from Van Halen–which, as readers of *Stealing All Transmissions* know, was a key band in my youth, since they seemed to be the mirror image of The Clash, and represented all that was wrong with popular music. So, when Aztec Camera’s cover of “Jump” hit the radio in the US, it was the object of much DJ ridicule on the classic rock stations, but I savored every bar of it, even though Roddy Frame’s hair was only slightly less ridiculous than DL Roth’s mane at that point.

I dig the tuning of the lead guitar on this track, along with the sensitive piano comping during the chorus. Fun stuff!

I appreciate your checking in today, and hope to see you again on Sunday. Enjoy the week!