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!

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post-punk gems, v. 58 — Wire

Welcome back to Radio K-SAT, where every Wednesday I cue up a great tune from back in the day, and a bit of the tune’s back-story (as time allows). Once again I’ve been paging through John Robb’s Punk Rock: An Oral History, learning about tales and tracks I wasn’t privy to the first time around.

Wire’s Pink Flag (1977), of course, remains a staple on best-o-lists for the time and punk writ large, and casts a long shadow on subsequent LPs (and their key tracks). Wire’s label was EMI, and of course all the labels were still learning what to do with punk and its arty offshoots. In summer ’78, Wire released “Outdoor Miner,” which charted ahead of a scheduled appearance for the band on Top of the Pops.

As Colin Newman recalled, after the TOTP slot was cancelled, “that was our big moment gone, where we could have been weird and pop at the same time!” The situation was complicated by the pulling of the single from the charts due to rumors about “the possibility that inducements had been offered for the sale of the single to be exaggerated in chart return shops.” For the Yanks among you, read: rumors of payola, which might as well have been confirmed, and the single and the LP never recovered. The single, though, deserved a real shot, and heralds the fine work of many bands, most conspicuously Pavement. Wire’s still at it though, and good for them. I hope the music’s paying the bills.

For readers of Stealing All Transmissions: even if you didn’t buy the book from amazon (US link, UK link), it’s where people look for reviews, etc. If you have a few minutes, please consider leaving your feedback. It makes all the difference for little books of little publishers. Thanks!

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!

au pairs reprise — new punk (gender) history book

Greetings, all, with a special shout-out to those of you tuning in from Slovakia, Argentina & Peru!

It’s been quite a weekend, with yours truly performing his debut as a wedding officiant for some former students of mine. It was a delightful affair, and if you’ve got secular friends in the region of northeast Ohio looking for an officiant with punk historian credentials, I’m your man.

After Wednesday’s entry for post-punk gems, I simply can’t get The Au Pairs out of my head, and found that there’s even less information about them than most female-led punk combos, alas. I did track down this feature in Mother Jones, from June 1982, on lead singer Leslie Woods, in which she affirmed the punk credo of DIY: “The message we put over is anybody can do it.”

Mother Jones Magazine - June 1982 -- 28

Few bands, though, left us with as many danceable, aesthetically effective, and politically astute songs as “We’re So Cool,” “It’s Obvious,”   and “Pretty Boys”–to name just a few tracks off Stepping Out of Line, the 37-track collection on iTunes for a modest $17.99. A host of these tracks combine the propulsion of The Clash, the melodic funk of Gang of Four, and the feminist urgency of The Slits.  Woods is a big part of it, of course, but bassist Jane Munro (later Nick O’Connor) and drummer Pete Hammond work beautifully together, and on “wax”–a la  their Birmingham comrades The English Beat–the bass is kept high in the mix, and to good effect.

And yet: yesterday I picked up Punk Rock: An Oral History (2012), by John Robb, of Membranes fame, and long-time contributor to Mojo and Louder Than War (in which Stealing All Transmissions was recently reviewed). Give me a few weeks with this impressive beast, and I will offer a more elaborate impression, but it looks to be a solid UK complement to the Big-Apple-centric Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk, by Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain, and a solid contribution to punk rock historiography. The book devotes 400 pages to 1950-1977, and only the last 160 or so to 1978-1984, so perhaps we Au-Pairs aficionados should be satisfied with a fleeting mention as an example of a female-fronted band. Certainly a lot of forces weigh upon a figure like Robb when he’s assembling a doorstop-sized collection of this sort, and odd omissions are endemic to the process. As Jacques Lacan once noted, “I always speak the truth. Not the whole truth, because there’s no way, to say it all. Saying it all is literally impossible: words fail.”

And yet, as the Situationists implored, “Be reasonable, demand the impossible!” So it’s up to folks like you and me, when we’re putting ink to paper, or fingertips to keyboard, to recuperate the histories of our finest “Three Minute Heroes.” See you, Wednesday!