East German punks, circa 1982 — hate the state, love the church

Happy Sunday, from the staff at Radio S.A.T.! The world over is celebrating the 25th anniversary of the opening of the Berlin Wall via Checkpoint Charlie (and elsewhere), although it apparently took a bit longer to pull out the picks, drills, etc., to cart the thing away–and, in St. Vincent’s “Prince Johnny,” to be chopped up and ingested, all for a hearty laugh.

In 1982, while touring Europe with the Boy Scouts of America (in my proto-punk days), we stopped in at Checkpoint Charlie, and the area’s punks in leather, spikes, and spiked mohawks were an intimidating bunch and no laughing matter. I was 13 at the time, and regarded them with fascination from a distance, sneaking glances and photos with my Kodak Tele-Ektralite (remember film cartridges?. I’ll eventually get those photos scanned up and here & on twitter, I figure, but not this weekend, alas.)

There were punks, too, on the other side of the wall, for whom The Pistols’ chant of “No Future” must have had a special resonance.

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Early East Berlin Punks, Kastanienallee, Prenzlauer Berg 1982 ©Harald Hauswald / OSTKREUZ

As noted in this lovely interview with Harald Hauswald, whose tellingly unsentimental photographs in East Berlin capture so much, the successive waves of punks in the GDR were telling. The first group included the kids of the Stasi, offspring of state officials. Their rebellion was familial, according to Hauswald, but their parents and others regarded them as a serious threat — “[a] bad advertisement for the country,” according to Hauswald. In turn, officials confiscated their ID cards, which meant they could not move freely around East Berlin. Their sartorial transgressions were politicized, though, as the perpetrators were forced into the army or tossed into prison. Hauswald himself was eventually designated an “enemy of the state” by GDR officials.

By the mid-1980s, though, the next wave of punks had contraband vinyl from the west and were forming their own bands, practicing safely in the confines of the Galilaakirche church, which hosted some of the first punk concerts in East Berlin. Since 2009, the church has had a running exhibition celebrating the youth resistance movement in the GDR, whose soundtrack of course was inspired by (and included) tracks by The Clash, the Pistols, The Ramones, and Bruce Springsteen, who rolled into town in 1988 for a concert meant to appease East German youth. The sight of 200,000 of them, though, chanting “Born in the USA” and waving American flags must have had the Stasi quaking in their (Clash) boots.

I had some fun on wobc.org on Thursday’s show (5-6pm, EST) spinning a selection of great punk love songs, and I’ll see if I can get part of that show up by next weekend, when I hope to return to rockism, poptimism, and the question of taste.

Have a great week!

 

 

 

 

post punk gems, v. 41 — The Specials’ “Ghost Town”

Happy weekend, people. It’s turned bitter-ish up north, and I expect that the bustling sidewalks of the past few months will thin considerably as the days get shorter, colder, and icier. How fortuitous, then, that 33 1/3 years ago, The Specials released “Ghost Town,” which was still all the rage on the radio when I had a home stay in Coventry (home base of The Specials) in July 1982.

A trip to Jamaica inspired the narrative and, of course, the de-industrialization of English metropoles was also on their minds. As Lynal Golding told the NME, “Kingston is a real ghost town. The place is a complete wreck … It was the first time I’d been to Jamaica in 20 years and it was frightening … people begging for a dollar, people begging you for the shoes on your feet.”

The 12″ single, I figure, was backed with “Why” and the sweet adagio swing of “Friday Night / Saturday Morning.” (You can find more recent live performances of this track, but I’m fond of the low-fi herein.)

The book’s available at most big online stores, but if you’re interested in the book (and its politics), please consider buying from somewhere other than amazon, including your local bookshop, whose hip cashiers may even be inspired by your fine tastes to order a couple of extra copies for the shop. I’m sure amazon is full of lovely people and all, but if half of what Hightower writes here is 25% true, it’s a bit of a mess.

U2’s “The Miracle”: Homage or Requiem?

The good folks at Louder than War picked up this post — check it out here. Thanks!

#Replacements on my mind // the once bashful Tommy Stinson

Happy Sunday, reading people. Twitter’s abuzz with the enthusiasm over last night’s show by The Replacements – their first in 23 years in their hometown of Minneapolis. (Check out this lovely review, by Andrea Swensson, and don’t miss the fabulous photos beneath by Nate Ryan/MPR– here’s a teaser.)

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I picked up Tim based on a single review, and then converted dozens of friends to its virtues, with little proselytizing. In the summer of 1987, we drove through the valley heat into SF for their performance at Fillmore and, just before the end (spring 1990, I figure) at the campus gym at UC Santa Barbara. They were great, drunk, and ever-satisfying, and in the pic for Musician magazine, taken from the back of the stage, you can see my head just beyond Paul’s knee.

My favorite memory, though, of Mats live was at Slim’s in SF, when the Tommy-led Bash & Pop appeared in 1994 (or so). I figured the name “Bash & Pop” echoed the punk ethos of getting our noise on the radio. While their debut LP, Friday Night is Killing Me, was uneven, there were a handful of gems there, and how I wish I could find that damn CD. (Timmay, do you still have it?)

Upon taking the stage, though, I realized that echo was rather distant. Rather than the “I-don’t-give-a-toss” indifference Johnny Rotten perverted from Iggy Pop, T. Stinson entered the limelight as a frontman reluctantly: much more bashful than bashing, and we were old enough in mid-twenties to appreciate the desire for affection–“never disappointed by a show of hands,” in the words of Game Theory, and why should they be? “Never Aim to Please” was a song inspired by the past, but was fully reckoned with on stage. Fun times.

Holy cow, is that a non-punk fade-out at the cadence. Maturity, like death & taxes, is inevitable, to some degree.

I’m on the radio for the first time in six years Thursdays this fall, 1700-1800, EDT, @ http://www.wobc.org/, with my show, “The Spirit of ’77.” There’ll be some punk, and oodles of fun (and errors, I’m sure. Bear with me.) I’ll check @stealingclash this week if you have any requests. Have a fantastically rockin’ week!

musicians are workers, too // the pleasure of yearning

Happy Sunday, folks! One of the real joys of writing about The Clash is catching up with the great characters who played key roles in their success back in the day. Yesterday I had a delightful conversation with Howie Klein, former head of 415 Records out of SF circa ’79, when The Clash first made it to the west coast, and eventual head of Reprise Records. (He’s a political blogger now @ http://downwithtyranny.blogspot.com/.)  It’s possible, I suppose, if I had written about KISS, for example, people in KISS-de-camp might now be just as generous with their time, but I’d like to think The Clash’s politics (and aesthetics)–and Strummer’s delight in talking with all sorts of folks deep into the night–has something to do with my comrades’ generosity of time and spirit.

simmonsSpeaking of KISS: Gene Simmons is making a splash these days with his “rock is dead” pronouncement in Esquire. Simmons is good businessman, probably always has been, and he’s after something big here, which I hope is not lost in the “poptimistic” backlash: back in the day, musicians with label support could hone their craft in no small part because they didn’t need day jobs. They had oodles of free time. They wrote songs, and neither tweets nor blogs–which are both cool, don’t get me wrong, but the structures of time and days, then and now, are remarkably different. This moment is still unfolding, so it’s perhaps too early to proclaim death and all–but things have certainly shifted, and it might not be premature to mourn the loss of yearning in fandom.

I wish I had seen this brilliant piece by Simon Reynolds a few years back, as I would have cited it in the afterword of Stealing, where I make a similar argument about analog fandom. Reynolds’ requiem for the British music weeklies during the punk and new wave years is equal parts eloquent and forceful, and absolutely right on regarding anticipation and pleasure back in the day. As that so-called hero of new wave (!) Tom Petty noted, “the waiting is the hardest part”–and yet the consummation of literary and musical desire was ever so sweet. A long-form journalism piece worthy of an extended period of your attention.

Have a delightful week!

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!

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!