Thursday, May 30, 2013

Whatta Punk!

OK; time to switch gears a little...focus on a different "genre."  I have been rambling on about classic bands, great guitarists, musicians who played their last gig, the ultimate super-group, and the sheer beauty that is progressive rock.  I think maybe it's time to let loose, put on some ripped jeans, crank the amps up to 11, rattle the windows, and just rip it up.  That's right; time for a little punk!

From the late 70's through the mid 80's, many a band tried to wear the punk moniker...but true punk was a world unto itself.  At some point there came a division in the ranks and the term "New Wave" was born.  I know my parents couldn't tell the difference--they hated it all.  But for me there is no comparing Squeeze and The Pretenders with The Slits and Black Flag...

Some bands landed somewhere in the middle; Siouxsie and The Banshees, Gang of Four, Lene Lovitch, Romeo Void, (early) Elvis Costello, and the Buzzcocks could arguably fall on either side of the discussion...but I would classify this group as New Wave artists--not that there is anything wrong with that.  Some crossed into multiple genres and built careers that are pretty damn impressive.  Still others, Joe Jackson, Nick Lowe, The Three O'Clock, XTC, and Ultravox among them, are a little harder to define.  Not Punk, not New Wave--and please don't get me started on that "Romantic Era" crap.  Every time I hear someone mention that term out loud and there are no history books on the table, I throw up in my mouth just a little bit...

So back to the topic at hand.  I believe punk was born out of necessity; disco was emerging around the same time--and starting to get a death grip on the airwaves.  I remember flipping the dial in my youth desperately trying to find something that wasn't making my ears bleed.  I may be labeling myself here--I like to think that I am open to (almost) all things music--but there are still a few genres I am unable to find pleasure in...and pure unadulterated disco is one of them.  One can only listen to so much Donna Summer, Lipps Inc. (get it?), and the Bee Gees before doubting the meaning of life.

Punk brought the establishment to its well dressed knees.  No one really knew what to make of it, and most of the bands that really had something to say were not getting much airplay outside college radio stations.  Then along came 1977 and the axis of the music world tilted just a bit...The Sex Pistols released "Never Mind the Bullocks Here's the Sex Pistols," Talking Heads released "Talking Heads: 77," and The Clash released their self-titled debut.  Radio stations outside New York and L.A. were not too sure what to make of it.  I still fondly recall making a request to the local radio station where I lived to play "Psycho Killer" only to be told, "We don't play that shit" by the how times have changed... I remember my dad thinking it was therapy session time when I brought two records home one day..."Buddy Holly Lives" and the aforementioned "Never Mind the Bullocks;" I think it put a new spin on "shock and awe."

But punk music was (fortunately) here to stay.  Bands like The Ramones, Dead Kennedys, Killing Joke, and  The Exploited were making their mark and not going away--quite the contrary.  Looking back, one could say these bands were  blazing a trail for other punk bands, much the way Dusty Springfield and Nancy Sinatra blazed a trail for women in rock 'n' roll.  Many excellent, and not-so-excellent, bands came from the fruit of the 70's punk tree.  Spin Magazine at one time rated The Ramones the "seventh best band in the world"  and Pete Townsend once referred to The Clash as the only legitimate band with something real to say.  Green Day owes a debt of gratitude to Johnny Rotten, Joey Ramone, and Joe Strummer.

Punk was a necessary step in the evolution of Rock 'n' Roll...much the way onion soup gratinee was a necessary step in the evolution of cuisine...something great that led to something better.  Mainstream music started to get pretty stale during the 70's; top 40 was dominated by shallow pop tunes and record labels were aiming for the middle of the road--what I call the "Vanilla Section" of musical taste.  I know there was still still some good music out there--Pink Floyd, Yes, The Allman Brothers, and a host of others were still cutting great albums--but the airwaves were clogged with shallow 3-minute songs about nothing...and then along came punk, and just in time...

The Clash were a breath of fresh air on the music scene, and Talking Heads went off in a direction previously        unexplored.  Their version of "Take Me to the River" still rates as one of the best covers of all time.  While The Clash sang about defying authority and standing up for what you believe in, Talking Heads were exploring new musical ground with every LP released.  As is the case with most things in life, some bands lasted long enough to put one LP together and others outlasted the celebration entirely...still others stayed the course of the local bar scene, building a loyal local fan base but little else.  Some bands made a quiet noise; leaving their mark and moving onto better things while never being quite able to get that smash hit that would have propelled them to stardom.

If anything important came from the punk movement--and certainly something did--I believe it was a determination to never give in to what we are told to think, say, and do.  Punk gave us our nerve back; music had been numbed-down to meaningless bubblegum ditties that were synthesized and so smooth you slid right off.  There was no depth, no soul, no guts.  Even some of the stars that cut their teeth in the early 70's were jumping on the disco bandwagon...and then a movie came out in 1978 that almost made me throw out my turntable...Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.  It wasn't so much the movie itself--I knew enough to stay away based solely on the movie trailers--it was who was in it that crushed my spirit.  Elvin Bishop, Johnny Winter, Alan White, Bonnie Raitt, John Mayall, Wilson Pickett, Nils Lofgren, and Nona Hendryx were among a  myriad of stars that performed the title song at the end of the show.  Billy Preston actually had a role in the movie.  George Martin even worked with Robert Stigwood to put this celluloid cancer together...this to me was the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back.

The world needed a music transfusion and punk was in the right place at the right time.  While The Ramones were busy kicking the shit out amplifiers and each other, The Clash was attacking everybody and everything held in any regard...and The Sex Pistols just shot a load of heroin into the whole thing.  Punk was the kid brother who kicked the cat when Aunt Alice wasn't looking, laughing the whole time and flipping everybody off while you took the blame for it.

Punk was the next step in the evolution of Rock 'n' Roll.  New genres and hundreds of bands made their mark post-punk; some good and some not-so-much...but all owe their existence to the thumb in the eye that is Punk Rock.  I chose the post below mainly because I believe that while it is impossible to capture the entire punk movement in one song, this comes about as close as one can.

I'd flip you off, but it almost seems redundant...


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