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!

(post) punk gems v. 16 — The Cortinas

Welcome back to Radio K-SAT, where all things are in bloom — finally!  I’ve got year-zero of punk on my mind, and Legs McNeil’s fascination with The Dictators in particular: “I hated most rock and roll, because it was about lame hippie stuff … There really wasn’t anyone describing our lives—which was McDonald’s, beer, and TV reruns. Then John found The Dictators, and we all got excited that something was happening.” Then he caught The Ramones at CBGB—“the best eighteen minutes of rock & roll that I had ever heard”—and Joey & co. agreed to an interview with Punk. “They were like us,” McNeil remembered. “They talked about comic books and sixties bubble-gum music and were really deadpan and sarcastic” (Please Kill Me, p. 203, 206).

Across the pond, the same impulse took hold in a bunch of young Bristol lads (average age = 16), who signed to a new label run by Miles Copeland (of IRS fame, and brother to Stewart, of course) and Mark Perry (of Sniffin’ Glue). In a chat with NME, drummer Dan Swann reported, “we chose the name because it represents something cheap and nasty.” The Cortina, you may recall, was a Ford model produced through 1982.

(In December 1991, Chris Salewicz interviewed Joe Strummer about life as a Pogue, and he noted, about post-Clash life, ” … it all gets murky and people have to get to move on and have wives or partners and children and buy and sell Ford Cortinas.”)

For their debut single, which bubbles over with the energy of ’77, The Cortinas take on the fantasies of puppet governments (“Fascist Dictator”) and execs at the BBC (“Television Families”).

I love the youthful angst, which of course is tempered by the joy of finding a collective groove, of tapping into something greater than the repetition of the loathsome teenage voices filling up your head. The vocals are rather high in the mix, and seem to be inspired by the harmony (?) vocals lent by Paul Simonon and Terry Chimes (and even Keith Levene) on The Clash debut (April 1977). The connection is more than fortuitous, as The Cortinas’ rhythm guitarist Nick Sheppard secured employment in 1983 with The Clash, following the dismissal of Mick Jones.

I hope you’ve seen the pix from the Met punk gala–there are two words I never thought I’d string together. Yikes.
Have a joyous, riff-filled week!

George Saunders, Punk Lit Icon — Echoes of Sniffin’ Glue

Happy Sunday to you, and thanks for spending a few minutes checking out my latest musings on cultural rebels, then and now. George Saunders, author of a host of brilliant short story collections, including the frightfully dark CivilWarLand in Bad Decline, the tempered, but still delightfully acidic Pastoralia, and the must-have kids book The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip (among others), has recently released Tenth of December: Stories, which once again has left me gobsmacked. Saunders knows capitalism, its effect on the psyche, and reprises a host of questions, one of which is fairly sympatico with The Clash ethos: when you don’t know how you’re going to make the next set of payments on the sofa (or a girl), what can you do to maintain a semblance of honor or dignity in a world gone absurd? In this latest collection, he ups the ante from previous chronicles of dead-end jobs in dystopic theme parks by extending the logic of better-living-through-chemistry to include drugs of reverential eloquence.

Likewise, upon reading a handful of the new stories, I thought of Mark Perry, of Sniffin’ Glue fanzine notoriety (see here), and his iconic review of The Clash’s debut LP back in 1977.

sniffin glue -- Clash review -- 77

I especially like the parallels between The Clash and Saunders, since Perry’s initial sortie against The Clash decried their decision to sign with a major label: “Punk died the day The Clash signed with CBS.” Likewise, I figure some people might have already abandoned Saunders since he’s been conferred with comparable establishment credentials (he’s a recent recipient of the MacArthur genius grant). But don’t be fooled: like The Clash in ’77, there’s still plenty of punk left in Saunders.

In turn, here’s my Perry-esque review of Tenth of December.

The Truth –> George Saunders

Tenth of December (Random House short story collection).

Victory Lap/Sticks/Puppy/Escape from Spiderhead/Exhortation/Al Roosten/The Semplica Girl Diaries/Home/My Chivalric Fiasco/Tenth of December.

In “Chivalric Fiasco,” Ted works in a dystopic theme park, and his dependents include his mother, father, and Beth, his wife. Mom needs a tilting bed. Dad needs a back brace and meds for pain. Beth needs meds for shyness. His job, for six years, is in janitorial, until he catches Don Murray, his boss, with Martha, a co-worker, in coitus interruptus.

“So Ted, Don Murray said. Last night you witnessed something that, if not viewed in the right light, might seem wrongish. Martha and I find that funny. Don’t we Mar? I just now gave Martha a thousand dollars. In case there was some kind of misunderstanding. Martha now feels we had a fling. Which, both being married, we so much regret. What with the drinking, plus the romance of TorchLightNight, what happened Martha?
“Martha: We got carried away. Had a fling.
“Don: Voluntary fling … Ted, you’re also moving up. Out of Janitorial. To Pacing Guard …
“Which was amazing … Hooray, I thought, finally, a Medicated Role.”  (My Chivalric Fiasco, pp. 204 – 208)

TENTH OF DECEMBER IS LIKE A MIRROR. IT REFLECTS OUR SHIT, OUR WEAKNESS, OUR COMPASSION. IT SHOWS US THE TRUTH. IT’S AS IF I’M LOOKING AT MY LIFE IN A YOUTUBE VIDEO. A STORY OF LIFE IN ELYRIA OHIO, BUFFALO NEW YORK, OR OKLAHOMA CITY. A JOB THAT REDUCED ME TO A CHARACTER WITH NO DIGNITY, FOR THE AMUSEMENT OF OTHER CHARACTERS, EYES FOREVER CAUGHT IN THE GLARE OF THEIR MOBILE DEVICES. THE TOXICITY OF THAT BARGAIN IS NO LONGER IN THE DARK.
GEORGE SAUNDERS TELLS THE TRUTH!

George –>

I hope you’re having a fine weekend, and that you’ll check back on Wednesday for another installment of post-punk gems. Cheers!