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!

 

 

 

 

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parsing punk covers–and why Lester Bangs was right about James Taylor

Welcome back to W-SAT, where I’ll be spinning some punk and post-punk platters in just a few more syllables.

The boys over at Crave-online have come up with their 100 kickass songs under two minutes (it’s always boys, isn’t it, making allegedly definitive lists?), and there are plenty of tunes to celebrate here. I’m not sure how Beck’s “Cyanide Breath Mint” or anything by Soundgarden gets in above The Clash’s “White Riot,” but each her own–unless you omit The Replacements, then I’m taking issue. When half the songs on their debut LP start-n-stop within 120 seconds, they’ve earned the right.

Back in the day, amid many glorious and inglorious-ly drunken performances, The Replacements were regarded as the best cover band in the 1980s. The reputation was solidified one night when their road manager confiscated a newly recorded tape from a fan in the balcony and, after the band found the recording to be decent, sound-wise, and representative of their live shows, they released it on cassette as When the Shit Hits the Fans. Oddly enough, no one’s put the whole thing up on YouTube yet, but here’s a sample to whet your aural appetite.

The gesture of the cover, though, is more than merely indulging a few vocal fans. Once The Beatles–and, as a result, seemingly every other white band of that era–stopped offering tributes to their forebears, and started composing everything themselves, rock celebrated artistry. In turn, (white) people grew more earnest, stopped dancing, and abandoned joy altogether–i.e., they bought albums and went to concerts by Jackson Browne and James Taylor. The “singer-songwriter” appellation is not only racist, as a rule–e.g., Smokey Robinson sang and wrote songs, as did Stevie Wonder and George Clinton–but their music largely codified boredom, celebrated narcissism, and encouraged people to sit down rather than stand-up.

Punk as a great refusal p-shawed such navel-gazing, and reclaimed the joy of dancing and the glory of interpretation with fantastic and–in the case of the ‘Mats–fantastically blasphemous cover songs. As they did on so many fronts, The Sex Pistols arrived early, and helped ensure successive generations would offer The Modern Lovers their due.

The Clash followed suit, in part, with more earnest adulation for their Black Atlantic musical forebears. (Check out the brilliance of Topper herein.)

The Ramones, too, were a helluva cover band, and Joey is so adorable live in their version of The Trashmen’s “Surfin’ Bird”:

I don’t know how The Slits have so effectively escaped their due attention in punk annals, so let me make another nod in their direction, via their cover of “I Heard It Through the Grapevine.”

Before Chrissie Hynde offered the greatest act of fandom-devotion to Ray Davies by having his baby, she offered a brilliant cover of The Kinks’ “Stop Your Sobbing.”

Right around that time, The (English) Beat took stock of their influences and dialed up a lovely cover of a late 60s by Smokey Robinson, in a time when even the best bands had to lip-synch through TV appearances.

Their comrades from Coventry also dialed up some brilliant covers–including this double-time tribute to Toots and the Maytals:

I’ll wrap up with one of the more poignant tracks, in which one of the shabbiest bands pays tithe to true masters of rock artifice:

If spring’s arrived in your neck of the woods, please send a bit of it to your brethren here in the midwest. Have yourself a week rich with melody and delight.