punk purity and punk hybridity

Good morning, Clash-o-philes, and other readers, and a special welcome to folks tuning in this week from Indonesia, Poland, Israel and Italy.


It’s been ages since I read academic writing, even in its most accessible form, but I’m quite enjoying PFMB by Barry Shank. So far, it’s smart, well-written, and it’s clarified anew for me why my affinities in punk lean toward the east side of the Atlantic. (I’ll get after the argument once I’ve read a bit more.) After a brief bit on the virtues of Bad Brains, he notes how, in American punk circa 1980, “masculine competitiveness … turned inward as the form of authenticity” and, in turn, “demanded an ever greater purity from each person” (p. 6).

That ideal of purity, then, made demands on taste, corporeality, consumption, and the rest. Sure, the straight-edge scene had its virtues and included female-bodied folk, but US hardcore punk largely purified itself as a white masculine domain, free of the influence of black musical forebears (and black fans, female fans, and black female fans, too). The Clash, at Mick Jones’ behest through Sandinista! and Combat Rock, and with Big Audio Dynamite, found a hybrid route that was much more open-ended, and much more akin to the indie Americana scene emerging alongside (and then eclipsing) American hardcore. As Shank notes, “Where hardcore’s authenticity retained a vigorous individualism … indie instilled incompleteness, contradiction, and an insatiable hunger for constantly deferred meaning” (p. 7). Thank goodness for that–even it did mean some really terrible hat choices.

Have a great week, and tune into @stealingclash for more info on the October 2014 release of Stealing All Transmissions.

Robin Williams, first punk on American TV

photo by Michael Dressler, 1979
photo by Michael Dressler, 1979

Adolescence, of course, is rife with cravings and disappointments. At the age of 16, I had little idea how satisfaction of those cravings could result in profound disappointment. In 1984, on a family trip to San Francisco, I wrangled a buck or so from my father in order to purchase a cookie from the Blue Chip Cookie Company, just north of Ghiradelli Square. When I emerged with cookie in hand, my Dad reported, “Robin Williams just walked by.”

“Wait, huh?” I gasped. “Yeah,” my Dad said. “Just walked by with his kid on his shoulders.” It was a Sunday night, in one of the most tourist-y parts of the City, and Robin Williams just walked by. I scanned the heads of the crowd to the east of us. No sign of Mr. Williams. I bit angrily into the worst cookie ever.

Let’s figure Greil Marcus is right, and embrace the notion that punk’s virtue resides in its power to negate all that came before, and thereby wrested new possibilities from history. Williams’ Mork, then, was TV’s first punk on this side of the Atlantic. If The Sex Pistols disrupted the order of things with “Anarchy in the UK” and a few choice curses with Bill Grundy, Williams’ Mork on Happy Days (and after) — and Williams the stand-up comedian — represented so much more. Not the Pistols’ return of the repressed, of course, but a decimation of repression altogether. Williams’ capacity for “improvisatory theater of one,” as he noted in an interview with Terri Gross, tore asunder the form of stand-up comedy, and nearly sent David Letterman back to Indiana, as he reports in this touching segment.

Under Williams’ comic genius, narrative gave way to hyperlinked clips, character-to-character-to-character, and heralded my favorite features of the 80s: remote control television, MtV, jump-cut editing, and day-glo attire. Who can forget Williams as Mork with egg in hand, tossing it in the air and, with profound compassion and hope, commanding, “Fly, be free!” His comedy did the same. It was compassionate, and absolutely rife with hope and possibility. Williams’ work affirmed so much, and helped make adolescence much more bearable.

the all night drug-prowling wolf — and his inspiration


Happy summer, for those of you dwelling north of the equator. It’s been a quiet summer Clash-wise in the media sphere, and I’m hoping Keith Levene’s memoir *Diary: I was a Teenage Guitarist for The Clash* (see @missingchannel) might change that a bit, ahead of the October release of the 2014 PM Press edition of Stealing All Transmissions, which has nearly doubled in size, and now includes an amazing foreword by The Baker.

As you may know, The Clash’s eponymous debut is released in April ’77, Terry Chimes is out and Topper Headon’s in and, two months later, Joe Strummer carries big expectations to a night at the Hamersmith, with Dillinger headlining. For years The Clash closed shows with “White Riot,” which is an early indication of the authentic-black-rebel fantasies harbored by folks from Norman Mailer to Joe Strummer:

Black people gotta lot a problems / But they don’t mind throwing a brick
White people go to school / Where they teach you how to be thick

(A solidarity shout-out to our comrades of all racialized backgrounds in Ferguson in search of some justice tonight.)

Strummer, of course, was disappointed by the dearth of “roots rock rebel,” and of punks “fighting for a good spot under the lighting.” The Clash remained ever-conscious of “turning rebellion into money,” embraced the contradictions endemic to raising consciousness, fighting injustice, and making money for CBS, and put together an absolute gem of a song with “White Man in Hamersmith Palais.” There’s a large consensus, from Strummer on down, that this song is the best song the band ever did.

Many thanks to my prolific comrade @ https://twitter.com/PunKandStuff for sharing this image this week. I tweet on occasion from @stealingclash, and hope to get back to the blog more often starting in September.

Thanks for tuning in! Enjoy!