Friday, May 20, 2005

And I -- I Wanna Beeeeeeeee-eee Anarchy

HW Saxton says I Was A Punk Before You Were A Punk. Regular readers know that I love punk rock and was into the music back in the day. I grew up in Northeast Alabama, not exactly a hotbed of punk shows, so I didn't get to see many bands, but I bought music and magazines at a furious pace. The folks at Charlemagne Records in Birmingham used to love to see me coming because I would regularly drop $60 to $100 every visit.
A long time ago, back before The Ramones could count to 4, before the Black Flag so proudly waved, before The Clash had enough rope, before X marked the spot and before the Sex Pistols backfired punk was knocking at the door. Now in 2005 "Punk" is just another genre in your local music emporium. A product to be bought and sold at the local mall.

Even the most suburbanized suburbanite can now take a trip to their local mall and come out two hours later as an Insta-Punk. Just add beer, a little attitude and voila: Dude yer a punk. Just walk the mall, any mall, anywhere U.S.A from Maine to Mississippi, Alaska to Arizona, Nevada to New York and you too can be Punk Rock and I mean it maaaaan. Stop by Hot Topic pick up some creepers, a pair of Docs or some Chuck Taylors, drop into the local hipster hair emporium "Hair 'Tis" or whatever, get pierced, tattoed, pick up some black clothes and a handful of CD's and there ya have it. You are a punk rocker, congratulations.

Well anyway you have the outward trappings of some such a thing. You are an individual, different than everbody else, into something new and hip, not just another jerk in oversized clothes & a backwards baseball cap (speaking of which no one should be allowed to wear but catchers) no, you are walking and talking statement on the vitrues of non-conformity just like the other 7 or 8 million of the non-conformists out there. Punk Rock, shmunk rock. There was a time that I thought it was new, interesting and cutting edge. Well it was new and interesting for a couple of years. But like any other pop culture movement in crashed and burned within a few years of inception in regards to momentum but it did leave behind it an interesting recorded history.
I understand the sentiment. Back in the day, I wore t-shirts and jeans and had a Johnny Ramone-style bowl cut. But I listened to a lot of English prog rock, American metal and hard rock too; I also wore my leisure suit and polyester print shirts with stack-heel shoes at the disco on the weekend. Yeah, I know....

But that was the point. Go look at the earliest pictures of punk rock bands and their fans. They dressed exactly like the mid-Seventies suburbanites and city dwellers they were! It was only after the Ramones went to England and ignited the punk rock movement there that the "punk rock look" was codified. The English took the Ramones' leather and jeans and added the studded bracelets and spiked hair and wild makeup. That was the influence of the English art school students who were disproportionately among the early punk fans.

But the ethos of punk, regardless of Saxton's bitterness at its cooptation by Big Music Companies, was "anyone can start a band." You didn't have to be good looking, you didn't have to be polished or professional, you didn't have to be smart, you didn't even have to be able to play! Just get up there and make a noise. Play what you want to and the audience will find you.

It happened with the birth of rock and roll, when what we now call rockabilly bands exploded all over the country. Then, when the Beatles came, it happened again. (Watch WKNO's schedule for the episode of Memphis Memoirs that deals with the phenomenon locally.) The late Sixities psychedelic explosion. Punk rock. Grunge. Any day now, we'll see yet another rebirth. It's about time.

The next generation throws off the shackles of the previous, rediscover the simple joys of making noise and start the cycle. Companies move in to make a profit, but being businesses they have to channel and control things for distribution and marketing purposes. Everything's codified, packaged and sold. Rules pop up, then stereotypes. Then the next generation throws off the shackles....

Punk rock was my turning point. You can look at my record collection and see the clear divide in pre-1975 and post-1975 music. I still listen to a wide variety, as I always have to the consternation of friends, but a short, fast, clever song played with gusto will always win my heart. Doesn't have to have great production, nor great playing. The singer can be nearly incoherent or inchoate. If I can hear the infectious love in the song, the sheer joi de vivre of playing, then I'm there too.
Up and down the Westway
In and out the lights
What a great traffic system
It's so bright!
I can't think of a better way to spend the night
Than speeding around underneath the yellow lights

London's burning!
The Blogcritics entry now has a pretty cool discussion thread going. There are first-hand reminiscences of the early LA scene and the police brutality that marked it.

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