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?

 

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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!

the voice of punk, ’77

Good morning, fine readers. I’m trying to be disciplined here, and stay true to my hope to connect my Sunday posts to Stealing All Transmissions (the book) by post elaborations of key points or something “multi-media” connected to chapter 1 in January, chapter 2 in February, etc.

Today, though, I’m still in chapter 1, thinking about punk vocal styles, and their connection to Paul Morley’s vital words on Kraftwerk (see full quote here): “The source of [Kraftwerk’s] pop … was art, noise, technology, ideas … a fantasy of what pop music might have sounded like had it not begun in the blues, in wood, in anger, in lust, in sexual frenzy, in poverty.”

Here’s the single version of “Autobahn” (1975), their first track to reach the US charts:

And sure, we might be concerned when Germans (or anyone for that matter) is making aesthetic choices that reflect racialized categories, but that’s not the prime mover here, of course. The different styles of black American music — R&B, soul, jazz, and blues, gospel, etc. — cast such a long shadow on popular music in the West that it was difficult to forge something new (see: The Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, et. al.). By the mid-1970s, a desperation for something new arose in Dusseldorf, London, New York, Los Angeles, Cleveland, and elsewhere, and singers like Tom Verlaine, Joey Ramone, David Thomas of Pere Ubu, the gents in Devo and, of course, David Byrne, were onto something.

So, when Talking Heads make their way from the Rhode Island School of Design to the Bowery, they confirm — as they sing on their debut LP — “It’s not, yesterday, anymore!” David Byrne’s vocals are the most definitive departure, sound-wise, and here’s how Stephen Demorest’s described his approach in his Rolling Stone review of ’77:

“Vocally, Byrne’s live-wired personality vibrates his precise musical framework like a caged tiger rattling its bars. (That he sings in a stiff, reedy, ‘bad’ voice, grasping for higher notes like a drowning man lunging for air, only heightens the drama.)”

Not bad, I’d say, and it heralds a question I hope to pursue in a future post: of the American bands in the punk and post-punk era, how come only Talking Heads dared reinvent themselves from album to album (or every other album)? What is it about American notions of masculinity, authenticity, and musicality that allowed bands to mellow (e.g., Husker Du and The Replacements, and often begrudgingly), but not dare pursue metamorphoses? Think of Brits such as John Lydon (from Pistols to PiL), The Clash (Rope to London Calling, or Sandinista! to Combat Rock), The Damned (Strawberries to Phantasmagoria), to begin. I’m sure art school and notions of artifice play a big role.

Thanks for tuning into K-SAT!

post-punk gems, v. 55 — The Weirdos

Happy Wednesday, folks! I’m quite enjoying We Got the Neutron Bomb: The Untold Story of L.A. Punk, which along with Please Kill Me and John Robb’s Punk Rock, comprise a solid trio of punk oral histories. The book’s title is lifted from a song by The Weirdos, who were at it in early ’77, and solidified their reputation at an Orpheum show in a matter of months as the premier LA punk band du jour.

I dig the traces of surf guitar bubbling up in the mix, and the drum style that heralds the use of Burundi drums by so many UK bands in the early 80s. Oddly enough, the aforementioned show coincided with The Damned’s first visit to LA for a string of shows at the Whiskey opening for Television. Now, of course, I have less than half the story, but apparently Tom Verlaine kicked them off the bill, and they were stranded in LA without funds. But yes: a name familiar to anyone living in LA in the 80s: Rodney Bingenheimer was there at the beginning.

Thanks for tuning in!

(post-) punk gems, v. 53 — Eater

When I did v. 1 of (post-) punk gems, back in 2012, I believe, I had no idea I’d still be at it, 2 1/2 years later, in part because I had scant idea how much great punk (and post-punk) I hadn’t laid me ears on. Certainly, I’ve been aware of most of the tunes on this list for years, but then I’ll comb the footnotes of *Punk Rock,* by John Robb, and discover a band as magnificent as Eater. (And I’m now at an age where I’m not afraid to admit such oversights, thankfully.)

Eater took their name from a T. Rex tune, got out onstage early enough to have The Damned open for them (!), and made the final cut in Don Letts’ Punk Rock Movie.

“Lock It Up” was their 3rd single, from 1977, and didn’t quite get the notoriety of  “Thinkin’ of the USA,” which Mojo magazine included on its “100 Punk Scorchers” back in 2001.

The sound of course is what you’d expect, but Eater held it down, and there’s some real lockin’ in by the rhythm section, and it’s all gorgeous, raw, and imperfect–which is exactly how your band should sound when you’re in high school and it’s 1977.

If you’re in Northeast Ohio and you’re looking for something to husker on 1/22, join me at the Rock Hall Archive/Library for my talk on Stealing All Transmissions. It’ll be a hoot, I promise!

sells like teen spirit // a selection from *Stealing*

Happy Sunday, readers! As implied in the title, today’s entry hews close to vulgarly commercial, but maybe to your advantage, so here goes.

On the my-loss-your-gain side of the coin: my publisher’s running a big sacoverle in the US — half off all stuff through December (pmpress.org, coupon “holiday”). There’s many gems to be had and it’s all for a good cause: your waxing rhapsodically about our youth and music with greater accuracy.

I’m sharing a two-page spread from the book today, which you can rotate counter-clockwise in your browser. (I tried to fix this myself, to no avail.) It covers the rise of excitement at CBGB about The Ramones and others, and the engagement of key journalists to aid the renaissance of rock, rebellion, and fun. And, of course, there’s the great confluence of forces on April 23, 1976, and the formation of The Clash shortly thereafter.

It is also the 35th anniversary of the release of London Calling in the UK, which highlights one of the funnier moments of the era. In the UK, LC was released in the 70s. In the US, LC came out the following month, and eventually was named the best album of the 80s.

stealing — pp 36-37

Do keep your wits about you during the upcoming office party, eh?