post-punk gems, v. 71 — Malcolm McLaren

McLaren, by gawd, where would we be without him? He was a prick, and prickly, and a mclaren_gals composer in the best sense — i.e., “putting together.” He took Richard Hell’s aesthetic and commodified it into low couture, and imbued the Rotten&Jones&Matlock&Cook brand with a bit more danger and a whole lot of profit.
While most folks might be inclined toward McLaren’s “Buffalo Gals,” I was more mesmerized by “Madame Butterfly” — there was, of course, nothing else like it on the radio, popular or semi-popular. (Bless SF’s KQAK for finding room for such an anomaly.) I never bothered to decipher the libretto, but always understood the track as the logical extension of the lush sound of ABC, Spandau Ballet, and Scritti Pollitti (Cupid & Psyche era). I still have yet to unearth the LP itself, to see what else McLaren was up to on Fans (1984), but look forward to that archeo-pop dig on youtube before too long.

Enjoy!

Fans_(Malcolm_McLaren_album)Here’s the album cover. What a beautiful weirdo, RIP.

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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!

punk celluloid on my mind — Clash, Blank Generation and more

Happy 2015, K-SAT readers, and thanks for tuning in. Let me do a quick 2014 wrap, and then offer a few words about punk film stuff, brand spankin’ new and old.

2014 was a lovely year, with accolades for Stealing All Transmissions coming in from London, Boston, Los AngelesChicago (and elsewhere). C’mon New York, c’mon Rolling Stone: I’m thinking of you Kory Grow! Sure, I suppose some of my comments about the current state of “the Stone” in Stealing were sub-flattering, but I assure you it’s business, not personal.

There’s much fun to be had with Julien Temple’s The Clash: New Year’s Day ’77. Mr. T. stays true to form to his collage aesthetic, with juxtapositions of clips from a variety of sources to take stock and make sense of more-Moderate-than-Great Britain 38 years ago. It’s a solid companion piece to his London: The Modern Babylon, which streamed on Netflix briefly, and now is unavailable. Modern capitalism can be so baffling–and I’ll get a more in-depth review of this gem soon.

With the new year commencing, I am going to switch things up a bit on my Sunday posts: drawing on the depthless resources of youtube, to begin, I’m going to dedicate Sundays in January to an elaboration of stuff reviewed in chapter 1, February for chapter 2, etc. I will, of course, provide enough framing for folks who haven’t read Stealing. Here goes …

April 23, 1976, is a watershed day in punk lore. On the east side of the Atlantic, proto-Clash members attend a Pistols-101ers gig to size up Joe Strummer, and Vivien Westwood decks a concert-goer and the dust-up gets a big write-up in Melody Maker. On the west side of the pond, folks in NYC celebrate the release of the Ramones’ debut album and the weekend premiere of *The Blank Generation,* Ivan Kral’s home-movie project featuring footage of Television (here), Blondie, Talking Heads, The Ramones, and a dozen or so other acts making rock’n’roll fun again at CBGB and Max’s Kansas City.

As you can see, it’s truly a DIY affair, with Kral with a light in one hand and his Bolex in the other, crawling around the stage (and staging some footage in the Village) to capture the gorgeousness of Tom Verlaine, Debbie Harry, Wayne County, among others.

Wayne County, of course, had close ties to the Playhouse of the Ridiculous, which thrived on provocation, genre-bending staging, and gender-bending themes. Patti Smith was there, and so was Candy Darling and other Warhol doyen. As Penny Arcade recalled in Please Kill Me: “Anybody could be in … the Ridiculous Theater. It was all street stars. Homosexuals, heterosexuals, lesbians – it didn’t matter, nobody cared about those things. It was all outsiders.”

John Vaccaro is not a name well-known in punk history, but like Chrissie Hynde, Mark Mothersbaugh, and a host of others, he made his way from Ohio and made his mark on the Lower East Side, by directing a host of beautifully trashy plays for the Playhouse. Vaccaro wanted performers, not actors, and as he quotes himself here, was fond of aphorisms such as, “Most people lie in their beds. I like the truth in mine.” I don’t know much about the genesis of this clip, but it certainly speaks of the fun history you can produce in the digital age. Definitely worth a few minutes of your time.

Have a great week!

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.

Berlin
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!