punk ’77: the inclusive genre

Happy Sunday, folks. For the fifth and final Sunday of March, I’m taking a last look at chapter 3 of Stealing All Transmissions, and thinking about how inclusive the designation of “punk” was on the front end. I figure the criteria for deeming something punk included:

  • anti-virtuosic musical gestures
  • any mention of social class
  • weird hair or clothing
  • a sound people didn’t know how else to categorize.

Here are a few of my favorites:

  • Bruce Springsteen is deemed “baroque-punk” by the New York Times (March 1978) because he sings about the working class (2).
  • Blue Oyster Cult is written up in the debut issue of Sniffin’ Glue (4) and, due to the connection between’ BOC’s Allen Lanier and Patti Smith, The Patti Smith Group and The Ramones (!) appear on the same bill in February 1977.

Bands designated “punk” also ended up on some pretty amazing concert bills, including:

  • AC/DC doing an impromptu set after a performance by The Marbles (a pop-punk combo, and even that’s a stretch) at CBGB.
  • Springsteen on acoustic guitar, opening for the New York Dolls at Max’s, back in August 1972.

    Big Star, 1974.
    Big Star, 1974.
  • Big Star (okay, punk forebears) as the warm-up act for comedian (?) Ed Begley, Jr., at Max’s, March 1974.

(And, apparently a combo called Sirius Trixon and the Motor City Bad Boys hit Max’s in 1977, with The Dead Boys and The Cramps as opening acts, and Trixon’s facebook page is under construction and has been for awhile. It’d be good to get some of their tunes online, if anyone can help.)

  • Sleepy LaBeef, opening up for The Cramps, at Max’s in December ’78.
  • At LA’s Starwood, in April 1977, The Quick opening for The Damned, who were well out in from of every other UK act in terms of leading the next wave of the British invasion.

Okay. I’ve now been home for a night, and I think it’s time I make some time for listening to some punk ’77 to help usher in the warmth and joy of spring. Cheers!

Also: Did you see this?

 

post-punk gems, v. 63 — The Clash (on Toots)

Happy Wednesday, folks. It’s a terrifically sunny day here in western Massachusetts, and I’m excited about this afternoon’s talk at Amherst College — 430pm, Cooper House. Should be fun.

I had a good time on WTBR-FM this morning with Thomas A. Lewis, and it was a gas to hear The Clash’s cover of “Pressure Drop.” It’s not a tune I cue up often, but let’s do that now. This video clip is quite awesome, too.

Don’t let the pressure get you down!

Oh, Mother (Jones)! Lefty sentiments on punk, July ’78

A bit late for me mornin’ post, but we had a revellin’ good time at Spillian last night, with a host of folks from WIOX, the esteemed Meg Griffin of Sirius XM, and couple dozen other emisaries from radio history and contemporary radio. (More on this event in a future post.)

 

mother jones on punk -- jul 1978

I found this gem doing some research last week, and couldn’t get over how dismissive the editorial staff of Mother Jones was Mr. Pitale’s suggestions. I also encountered some lefties in my time who wanted revolution, but they didn’t want things to change.

Cheers!

 

post-punk gems, v. 62 — Young Marble Giants

‘allo readers! Thanks for tuning into K-SAT. I’m quite excited about two gigs this week. One in the Catskills on Saturday (3/21) (a bit expensive, yeah) and the other at Amherst College (3/25) (a freebie!).  Both should be a gas.

It’s been 35 years (and a day) since Young Marble Giants’ released their lone LP, Colossal Youth. The brothers Moxham and Alison Statton hail from Cardiff, Wales, and offered up a real gem of five-star LP, as noted in Sounds at the time. It certainly heralds the mellower moments in early Liz Phair, the softer passages of early Hole (“Credit … ” is a YMG tune), and so much more — and yet, it still sounds astonishingly fresh today.

“Brand New Life” offers up that first 60 seconds or so with a tension that you know, and adore, and you wait with jaw clenched for the thing to erupt — and well, if you don’t know what happens next, you know what the next three minutes of your day should include. C’mon: it’ll make you even happier!

Cheers!

DIY: press ink on punk, circa 1977

Good morning, fine readers. I’m sticking with the chapter-by-chapter, month-by-month theme today, and — since it’s March — digging a bit deeper into chapter 3 of Stealing All Transmissions, “1977: Clamor, Exposure, and Camaraderie.” The exposure, of course, came from indy press folks, but also mainstream press, too, more often than most folks care to remember.

Ira Robbins of Trouser Press fame was a Clash devotee, although not from the start:

“The lyrics are occasionally powerful in their anger and frustration, but they are also silly sometimes, and between that, the godawful vocals and the seemingly careless production defuse the message of these Anglo-punk rockers.” (June 1977)

 

The Clash, free of tory crimes. Photo by Kate Simon.
The Clash, 1977, free of tory crimes. Photo by Kate Simon.

By the fall equinox, though, the distributor Jem Records–who delighted in upsetting labels’ plans for U.S. release dates by getting import copies into the hands of retailers and DJs alike–got The Clash into Ira’s hands, and he straightened up in a New York minute:

 

“… Of all the new wave bands that have released longplayers to date, the Clash have so much more to offer that there’s no contest. (Leave the Stranglers out of this; they’re like apples and oranges.) I really hate gushing about a new band, especially in light of all the journalistic excesses lately, but the Clash have produced such a strange and wonderful blend of pop, metal, aggro, and politics that I keep playing the sucker over and over again.

“Fronted by ultra-psycho ex-101er Joe Strummer, the Clash is two guitars and a bass, with drums provided by whoever’s around – there’s no permanent fourth man. Strummer and songwriting cohort/guitarist Mick Jones both sing horribly; lots of Cockney slurring and much expression make the lyrics nearly 100% unintelligible which is a shame, ’cause that’s the best part. It wasn’t until I obtained a bootleg libretto through international ‘channels’ that I realized what an amazing band the Clash are …” 

“Without getting involved in the political implications of anarchy in the UK, the Clash have the rage and the enthusiasm to make these lyrics work. The music fits perfectly, and the total effect is one of the wild-eyed hate of everything stupid. Get Clashed today!” (September 1977)

The Clash in Westway photo sessions, by the magnificent Adrian Boot.

Ira, too, was none too pleased when circa 1979 many folks were jumping upon the Clash bandwagon, but the mainstream press arrived earlier than most people thought, and actually didn’t say completely idiot things.

Robert Hilburn, for the Los Angeles Times, got after The Clash in September 1978 (and thereby two months ahead of the U.S. debut LP), and gets Jones-y to loosen his tongue a bit, and offers a message most folks attribute to Strummer:

“I thought rock audiences in England were apathetic when we started, but I’ve never seen as unhealthy a place for rock ‘n’ roll as America. We might be too late. It may be impossible to wake them up at this point.

“What’s worse than the rock audience are the rock bands here. If there were any way we could destroy them all at once, it’d be perfect. I think American rock bands – and the English ones, like Foreigner and Foghat, who pretend to be American – are a cancer. It’s time for us to come here with a manifesto of change. All we can do is try. If people can’t see what we are – the rock ‘n’ roll band of the ’70s – that’s their problem.”

Likewise, in a nearly 1000-word piece for Time magazine, Jay Cocks regarded the band as “four tough-strutting musicians who together lay down the fiercest, most challenging sounds in contemporary rock” (March 5, 1979), within a month of their live debut in the states. Not bad, gents. Not bad at all.

Cheers to you, and cheers to spring! If you plan to be in the Catskills next weekend, come see me at this event, if you have a few $$ for a righteous cause.

 

 

(post-) punk gems, v. 61 — The Germs

I’m right about to the end of Marc Spitz and Brendan Mullen’s brilliant We Got the Neutron Bomb: The Untold Story of L.A. Punk, and–perhaps as you could have guessed, or know all too well–there’s no heroic, triumphant crescendo to be found. The LA punk scene, which originated around Hollywood with all sorts of polymorphous perversity and inclusive musical takes on what punk meant, transmogrified as it migrated south to Orange County into a hyper-masculine, often violent parody of punk that has had a surprisingly long (and tragic) shelf life.

Amid the chaos and camaraderie of the era emerged some great groups like The Germs, who could really bang out a decent tune when lead singer Darby Crash wanted to (which was rarely, it seems), including this one:

(When ads for Myrtle Beach appear before classic punk tracks on youtube, I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. Aging can be a cruel mistress.) I pity the self-destructive, and Crash made good on his chosen moniker, of course, with a little help from the old musical nemesis of heroin.

I’m happy to see Stealing back in the top-20 at amazon, and hope if you’ve read it, that you’ll add your rating and a few words to either amazon or good reads (where people really wanted another Clash bio, it seems). It really helps get the word out about my little rock’n’roll tale. And do drop me a line if you’re near the Catskills (a 3/21 appearance) or western Massachusetts (a 3/25 talk).

And now it’s time for a second cuppa, and to get this day started. Rock on!

well, then: what can a poor boy do? punk and authenticity

Greetings, readers! So I’m back at the book again here, mining chapter 3, “1977: Clamor, Exposure, and Camaraderie,” for another gem related to the DIY spirit. The clamor, of course, was ringing from speakers on the stage and in bedrooms on both sides of the Atlantic, as 1977 saw the release of the 2nd Ramones’ LP, Talking Heads: 77, Television’s Marquee Moon, The Clash, two LPs each by The Damned and The Stranglers and, almost late in the game, came the debut LP by The Sex Pistols. 5.0.3The DIY ethos informed the fanzines, too–most notably Mark Perry’s Sniffin’ Glue, which popularized the cut-and-paste ransom-note aesthetic and, for better or worse, fomented the yer-either-with-us-or-against-us ethos that led to a narrow definition of punk.

Perry’s search in ’76 for written coverage of his new favorite bands turned up almost nothing. “One time I was at [the record shop] Rock On, trying to find out if there were any magazines I could read about these bands in,” Perry recalled. “There weren’t, so the people behind the counter suggested flippantly that I should go and start my own. So I did” (Stealing, p. 42). And did so quickly, and with a sensibility that’s been confirmed nearly four decades hence, as the cover of issue #6 from January ’77 rightly confirms. Perry, too, knew that before too long, his subjects were also his readers. “John Lydon had it, Strummer had it, Rat Scabies had it,” Perry reported. “I thought, ‘If I say this in the Glue, it’s going to happen.’ I knew that, and that’s what fueled me, knowing that it was being taken seriously” (Ibid.).

Perry, alas, took himself too seriously, and did so for years. You might think after a couple decades he might back away from punk-inspired claims such as, “Punk died the day The Clash signed to CBS,” but no. For John Robb’s Punk Rock, Perry stuck to his ideological guns:

“These guys weren’t about to smash their Gibson & Fender guitars all over the stage, were they? … they manipulated punk into ‘OK, we won’t have a riot, we will sing about it instead.’ Which is cool, at least someone’s singing about it — but don’t try to make out that are some hard revolutionary. You’re just in a pop band — which the Clash ended up being. They were a great pop band, but nothing to do with punk. The real punk bands came a couple of years later, the bands we all hated like the Exploited and all those nasty working-class people [laughs] that have convictions and have been in trouble with the police …” (p. 340).

So, the requisite credentials include: smashing expensive gear, trouble with the law, and you need to be as tedious as The Exploited? As a period piece, The Exploited were perfect, but how many times can you listen to songs that repeat the same phrase in a chorus and construct musical bridges from watered down heavy metal riffs?

Mick
Mick, with Paul, and an “authentic” hair style, circa 1977. Photo by Syd.

Punk is a many-a-splendored thing and, as guitarist Marco Pirroni rightly noted, “This whole Mark P thing that [the Pistols] should sign to Bumhole Records for no money was stupid — that would never work.” The Clash’s refusal to become a self-parody by making the same album over and over again is a testament to their greatness, not a failure. And please: if we’re talking about class credentials, lay off Mick Jones. “Rock’n’roll Mick” did what any poor boy with enough pounds for a guitar and an unassailable work ethic would do: he dedicated his life to rock’n’roll, and made the world a better place.

I will give Mark P. due credit, though, for rocking Alternative TV well into the 21st century–and tonight, 8 March, in Brighton. Cheers!