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?


McLaren, New York Dolls, Walter Benjamin, New Music Rules in 82

Happy Sunday, music people, and thanks for tuning in to Radio K-SAT!

In my efforts to get the word out about Stealing All TransmissionsI have had the pleasure of making the acquaintance of former Clash associates, one of whom recently suggested that I hadn’t give Malcolm McLaren his due in terms of the New York-London connection. Granted, McLaren arrived to elaborate the abject qualities of The New York Dolls (see below), by dressing them up in red leather, providing a Soviet-inspired stage backdrop, and thereby extended by a few months their demise. As Jerry Nolan noted, “Malcolm caught us at a very vulnerable moment” (Please Kill Me, p. 191).

McLaren, likewise, tried in vain to recruit Sylvain Sylvain to front an early line-up of The Sex Pistols, and he stepped in to perform one-man interventions with Johnny Thunders, Jerry Nolan, and Arthur Kane. According to Bob Gruen, McLaren saved their lives.
Still, I like to imagine McLaren as a poacher of the New York scene, rather than either a shaker or a mover. He inserted himself into the ebb and flow of proto-punk life on the mean streets of New York, but he did little to sway the tide.
McLaren’s post-Pistols’ success with Bow Wow Wow and on his own reflect a real vision of mass/pop culture, as exemplified in the clips below from the July 31, 1982 of Billboard.
Billboard -- kozak July 82 - 1
If McLaren drew liberally upon the politics and aesthetics of the Situationists for the Pistols, he channeled here his inner Walter Benjamin. Benjamin’s writings from the Weimar years, including “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” inspired the generation of intellectuals coming of age during punk and after. In “Work of Art,” Benjamin sees the aura of the unique objet d’art under assault, and posits “the reactionary attitude toward a Picasso painting changes into the progressive reaction toward a Chaplin movie” (Illuminations, p. 234).
Likewise, Benjamin notes,
Billboard -- kozak July 82 - 3 “The characteristics of the film lie not only in the manner in which man presents himself to mechanical equipment but also in the manner in which, by means of this apparatus, man can represent his environment” (Ibid., p. 235).
 McLaren, as noted in the clip on the left, celebrates the boom-box-toting kid in New York City, and the virtues of the cassette. “That fellow can become, in his own right, his own DJ … they can collate their music without the added neurosis of having to go out and purchase musical instrument or records of expensive studio time.”  The shift is on, from reproduction to composition, and with music in its digital form, consumers can produce in a rich variety of creative ways–if those ways do, in many cases, minimize the physical movement once entailed in making music.
(If these images appear too small, you can find them here, on pp. 3 & 58.)
I’ve included below more coverage from the New Music Seminar of 1982 on the matter of marketing (dig the pic of X in the upper right), which includes notes on the importance of record shop workers knowing the actual music (!). “People would come in asking about the song with the waitress in the cocktail bar when the Human League song first came out,” recalled Bruce Godwin, from the Record Rack, in Houston. (See p. 14 from the link included above.)
 billboard -- kozak July 82 -- retail - 1billboard -- kozak July 82 -- retail - 2
And, now that you’re thinking about The Human League …
Thanks for checking out the whole set here at Radio K-SAT! Do let me know if there are sections of the book that you think deserve elaboration here, or related subjects you’d like to see taken up here.

music theory for the lay-folk, myself included: The Clash, The Who, NY Dolls, and more

Happy Sunday folks! I hope you’ve got a warm coffee in ya, if that’s your thing. I gotta tip a couple cups a’day to keep me right, and a third one on the weekends can be just the thing.

I have the benefit of getting a bit of musical wisdom now and again from my partner, who teaches a bit in the local music school. Music theory can be an odd discipline, and one of her pet concepts is “extraneous intensifier,” which describes the apparently gratuitous “ooh” or “aah” that fails to add meaning to the song. I thought of Ray Charles and tracks such as “I Can’t Stop Loving You.” (I know it was a big to-do upon its release, but I find my joy in Mr. Charles on LPs other than Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music (1962)).

As a devotee of popular music writ large, I was hard-pressed to imagine the bastion of intensifiers on some of my favorite tunes as extraneous: think of Roger Daltrey, at 7:50 below, when he’s called upon to affirm a bit of resilience (I’ve attempted to cue the videos below to play 20 seconds ahead of the mid-song intensifier of note):

David Johansen with The New York Dolls, on “Personality Crisis” (here on The Old Grey Whistle Test), frames the song with intensifiers from the get-go–and I can hardly imagine the song without them.

I think there’s even a couple hundred words otherwise captures in the low growl of Glenn Tilbrook at 3:30, in this tale of betrayal and wonder:

Elvis Costello indicates with a few opening bars of not-quite-sweet-nothings that this narrative may be motivated by something other than revenge or guilt–as you may know, his self-proclaimed first principles in songwriting.

I had the ending of Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy” in mind, too, but want to wrap it up with a ladies’ choice (and The Clash), and I’m thinking of Elastica’s Justine Frischmann at 2:04 in this narrative of automobiliaphilia, which is oddly contradicted by the sci-fi video:

The Clash, oddly enough, are difficult to pin down in terms of a solid integral intensifier. There are of course the “ooh-aah” backing vocals of “Protex Blue,” “Police and Thieves,” and others, but rarely, if ever (among the songs I know, and I do know most of them), did Joe or Mick (or even Paul or Topper) elaborate a stanza with a integral or extraneous intensifier. The one that comes to mind is a gem (@ 4:01 especially), and you’ll find it below.

(This video clip resisted embedding, for some reason. There’s a prelude of interview clips that are fairly amusing, and if anyone knows what Opie’s doing introducing The Clash, I’d be delighted to know the context.)


Have a delightful week! Please check in on Wed. for a midweek gem, and be sure to catch The Baker’s latest musings on The Clash — this time on Hell W10 here.