the punk stance — pigeon-toed singers, unite!

Good day, readers! I’m diggin’ in deep again today into bits from chapter 4 of my book on The Clash breaking America, going back 38 years and few weeks, to a March 11 gig of The Clash, The Buzzcocks, Subway Sect, The Slits — and get this — “Late Night Kung Fu Films.” Awesome! So rock writer extraordinaire Nick Kent was on-hand, and noted for NME:

“Strummer’s stance sums up this band at is best, really: it’s all to do with real ‘punk’ credentials–a Billy the Kid sense of tough tempered with an innate sense of humanity …”

Kent proceeds to discredit Johnny Rotten and his “clownish co-conspirators,” but my

The transcendent pose (Chris Walter, 1972).
The transcendent pose (Chris Walter, 1972).

interest here is in Strummer’s stance–i.e., the way he and other punks actually stood onstage. Now, we don’t actually have pix of Billy the Kid’s shooting stance for reference, alas, and since it’s a blog post, I’m not aiming for an exhaustive sample here, but the punk stance was fundamentally different than the classic rock stance, as embodied by The Who’s Roger Daltrey, Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant, and Paul McCartney.

Daltrey and Plant, of course, didn’t pick up the guitar (as a rule, in Daltrey’s case), and were free to move about however they saw fit. One of their favorite poses, though was the transcendent pose: feet apart, leaning back (which just happened to emphasize the elasticity of their jeans in particular places), with chin tilted towards the sky.

The voice (and the hammer) of the gods (photographer unknown).
The voice (and the hammer) of the gods (photographer unknown).

And it’s not just the singer’s inclinations, of course: these singers had to do something to rival the impressive solos turned in by their virtuosic band mates. It also had to do with art, which allegedly transcends the street and the marketplace. The rock gods and the hippies favored leaning back, and swaying from side to side (see Janis Joplin, and even Patti Smith to a certain extent).

Wings, taking it easy (photographer unknown).
Wings, taking it easy (photographer unknown).

In his tenure with Wings, McCartney rarely struck the transcendent pose, but rarely performed with true urgency, either, and even found it appropriate to take up a chair during certain interludes.

Rotten leans in (1977, AP Photo/Virgin Records).
Rotten leans in (1977, AP Photo/Virgin Records).

Punks, of course, especially in the early days, didn’t take it easy at all. Johnny Rotten appeared a true original in this way, but his pose here recalls teen idols leaning out over the audience–but this time, of course, it’s to egg on their disdain, rather than to solicit affection.

 

No Beatles, Stones, or transcendent poses, in 1977 (photographer unknown).
No Beatles, Stones, or transcendent poses, in 1977 (photographer unknown).

The Clash struck intricate poses, more pigeon-toed than bow-legged in the beginning, as if the urgency of the message and their affection for their fans drew them right to the lip of the stage. (Strummer recedes here, to honor Mick’s take at the mic.)

 

Get the balance right (1977).
Get the balance right (1977).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The pigeon-toed pose, of course, owes a-plenty to Elvis Costello, and the cover image for his first LP (before we got to see him reproduce this pose–and the accompanying dance steps–live and on MtV).

Siouxsie and the Banshees, 1977 (photog unknown).
Siouxsie and the Banshees, 1977 (photog unknown).

I’ll leave you with two more images: Siouxsie in stark black-and-white, from 1977, Paul Weller with The Jam in 1978 — not quite pigeon-toed, I suppose, but the mic placement, the urgency of the music, and the crowd had him up on his toes, channeling anger as an energy.

Send along your favorites if you’ve got ’em.

The Jam in Boston, 1978(Jeff Albertson/CORBIS).
The Jam in Boston, 1978(Jeff Albertson/CORBIS).

 

potpourri for punks (and mothers) — pix, Stagger Lee, etc.

Happy Mother’s Day all, and thanks for checking out my blog once again–or, if you’re a first-timer, welcome! My book’s been out for two whole days now in the UK, so it’s too early to report whether it’s got much traction with the home team fans just yet.

There isn’t much in the book that’s maternal-themed, but I’ve got to work a tie-in, so here goes. When putting the book together, I was under such a tight timeline, I wasn’t able to pursue permissions for the photo below of two of the key protagonists. In the book’s section on WPIX-FM, the NYC radio station that was brilliant, hilarious and all-too-short-lived with Joe Piasek and Meg Griffin at the helm, I describe the photo below from New York magazine. (Here’s the link to “Is Real-Rock Radio Normal?,” which appeared in the same issue as “How Politicians Stay Out of Jail”–if only “abnormal” radio were still with us, and the most nefarious politicians were locked up, I wonder if we’d have this global warming problem solved by now.

piasek griffin -- 1980

(The thematic aside: I cannot, alas, find the actual audio footage, but Griffin reported in our interview that, in an early in-studio interview with Tom Petty, each of them exited their respective booths, and when Petty looked aghast in Griffin’s direction, she asked what was wrong. “Well, Meg,” Petty drawled, “I guess I’ve never seen a pregnant deejay before.” And, for the Clash-o-philes among you, here’s a clip from that interview of Griffin talking about the gracious Mick Jones.)  

Piasek and co.’s WPIX station was amazing, and here’s one of the playlists from August 1979, kindly provided by Will Keller, a PIX-o-phile who–when we were last in touch–was working on his own version of the brief-and-boisterous history of that moment in New York radio history.

WPIX -- general playlist -- aug 10 79

Is it possible? Charlie Daniels, Wings, Nick Lowe, and Lena Lovich, along with The Clash, ELO, Ellen Foley, and Supertramp, all on the same playlist? For a fleeting moment, the “From Elvis to Elvis” format worked brilliantly, with live broadcasts of shows from CBGB and a host of fun radio stunts. But the bean counters at WPIX couldn’t sit still long enough for the public to catch on–and for their own good, too, as the station showed a financial turn-around just before they decided, once again, to modify “the format to improve the product to make it more mass acceptable,” according to the New York Times (Rockwell, “Pop Life,” March 21, 1980).  

Following the format change (and mass firing), Piasek bailed from radio, worked for Nickelodeon for a spell, and currently staffs the helm at WIOX-FM, in Roxbury, New York, a distinctive model for private-public partnerships in community radio. I met Joe for lunch and conversation last summer, and he’s still as lively as ever, and remains excited about the possibilities of radio, music that matters, and a community of engaged listeners.

Meg Griffin, of course, still spins discs for Sirius XM Radio, and is one of the subjects featured in a new documentary: I Am What I Play, “a feature length documentary about the heyday of rock radio.” I’m certainly sympathetic with folks trying to balance the day job and the after-hours project, and wish them all the best putting the final edit together.

On the potpourri tip: this morning I encountered crossword puzzle query about Lloyd Price’s hit from 1959 (answer below), and on wikipedia a featured article drew my attention to Danie Mellora contemporary Indigenous Australian artist of no relation to another Mellor we know, I figure.

Oh, Stagger! What would your mother have made of this mess?

Have a delightful week, culture comrades!