LA Weekly's Punk Rock Fantasy

Ramones, by the Ramones

Ramones, by the Ramones

About a week ago Nicolas Pell wrote this article in the “unpopular music opinion” section of LA Weekly:

You did a really good job of being dismissive and insulting to the fans of Punk Rock (especially the ones like me who are above the age of 40).

But, I am not writing this to be a jerk and I don’t want to mock you or make fun of your piece.

I guess I am writing this in the spirit of setting the record straight and engaging you in a discussion over your perceptions of what Punk “is.”

Hopefully, anyone reading will also get a deeper understanding of the Punk genre.

Here are the assumptions/arguments you make about Punk in your piece:

* Punk is a formula - apparently about showing your parents you have opinions * To be Punk, you follow the formula or you aren’t punk (“It’s the class apple polisher pretending to be the class rebel). * Punk is not transitive to anything “on the edge” - “NWA” is no more punk than Sham 69 is hip-hop. * Punk has had nothing interesting to say in 25 years * Punk is about confrontation and shocking people

Let's address you arguments.

What Happens When Building Houses Of Straw (And Glass?)

he Velvet Underground, White Light White Heat

he Velvet Underground, White Light White Heat

First, and maybe most important, IMHO you are building what people in formal logic classes might call “Straw Person Arguments.”

That is what happens when you make up a definition of something then use the imaginary standards you created in your definition to tear it down.

Your description of punk makes punk sound really terrible.

Luckily, for me and the rest of the ‘geriatrics with Mohawks’ set, your scholarship on the history of Punk is a bit shallow.

Punk mostly, and it is hard to generalize, started out as a reaction to the growth of thirty minute songs, slick overproduction of records, and the over-professionalization that became the norm in the Rock and Roll of the 70’s.

Punk was, in many ways, a call for a return to 50's Rock and Roll (and to the garage). At it’s “core” (a word you like to use) was the idea that DIY was a better ethic for music than practicing so much that you could plot out a perfectly reproduced fifteen minute guitar solo.

It is rock because it has never been independent of the genre that it was commenting on.

You make an argument about genre purity in Punk, but that argument doesn't make much sense to me.

The first issue of the magazine that coined the term “Punk” as related to rock music had Lou Reed on the cover.

Nothing fits your idea of Punk orthodoxy like Lou and The Velvets right?

If punk is a genre of strictly held genre rules, can you explain how Iggy Pop, The Ramones, Patti Smith, The Velvet Underground, and Television were all original members in the Punk club?

Can you explain the lineup at the legendary 100 Club Punk Festival?

And where were those strict "Punk Police" you alluded to?

Punk has ALWAYS been a movable feast, it has always been about IDEAS as much as it has been about anything. Ideas like:

* That DIY is a better ethic than professionalism (in most everything) * That since exploitation was inevitable, artists and producers might as well be part of and benefit from the process of exploitation * That it was okay to be who you were, embrace outsiders and outsider cultures, and perform yourself in ways that were not traditionally acceptable

Sometimes, there was also a political component, and this component often shifted from band to band but usually had to do with identifying with outsider politics.

You call it something like letting your parents know you have your own opinion.

Here are a few of those "opinions"

* For The Sex Pistols it was about social class struggle. * For The Clash it was about embracing World music and diversity and finding common cause in global struggles like anti-poverty and race struggles. * For Bad Brains it was about all kinds of social justice and race struggles * For Minor Threat and Fugazi it was about all kinds of models for living a better lifestyle as well as anti-corporatism. * Later for bands like Bikini Kill it was about gender equality. * For Queercore bands it was about sex, gender, and orientation equality. * For bands like MDC it was about all of these things. * For Downtown Boys it is about all kinds of social justice and anti-war struggles (think they recorded an album in 2015 - is that in the last 25 years?).

Sadly, for some bands, for a short time, it was about messages of intolerance and fascism.

What Does Time Mean Anyway

The Sex Pistols, Never Mind The Bollocks

The Sex Pistols, Never Mind The Bollocks

Things get even more confusing for your arguments when you put the term "Punk" into its actual context.

Punk most literally refers to the period of music played by punk bands until the end of the Sex Pistols era in the UK. Virtually all experts define Post-punk as the music after the fall of the Sex Pistols.

The whole concept of Post-Punk exists because the music “after” this period still had a great deal of punk in it, but deviated from the strict genre rules (that really barely applied anyway). So, most bands beyond this time (even when self-classified as punk are usually post-punk).

Punk is in most Post-Punk and you can find Punk in any kind of music because it was a criticism of HOW music was being made (not really an independent form itself).

You're argument that punk cannot claim other genres, just doesn't follow.

There is not (and never has been) a “PURE” punk sound. First wave doesn't sound much like Hard-Core or Speedcore etc.

Much of First Wave Punk borrowed from outlaw 50’s Rock and Roll themes, and even within the First Wave were multiple styles (see above).

There is massive diversity across all of the other waves and styles. Punk has always been part of, and not independent from, Rock and Roll and all of its trends and styles.

Punk was a commentary on, and reaction to, styles in Rock and Roll - It was always part of all the styles it was commenting on.

Two Turntables + A Cheap Guitar

Can't Stop Won't Stop, Jeff Chang

Can't Stop Won't Stop, Jeff Chang

You next make some arguments about Punk and Rap that frankly are just ahistorical.

Most people assume mash-ups between Hip-Hop and “Rock” were started with Run DMC and "King of Rock" and "Walk This Way," but this is not at all true.

Pretty early on, there was a linkage between hip-hop and punk. “This is Radio Clash,” a song explicitly filled with hip-hop sampling and lyrical imagery and influenced by Mick Jones love of rap, came out in 1981 (The Clash were recording in NYC and became - or, at least, Mick Jones became - entranced with Rap and Rap Culture).

Time Zone's World Destruction (a collaboration between Bambaataa and John Lydon) happened in 1984.

Malcolm McLaren's third act was curating the very popular rap album Duck Rock in 1983.

Don’t just take my word for it, check out hip-hop expert Davey D.

Or just read this portion of his article:

“It really began when acts like Afrika Bambaataa and Grandmaster Flash who were just starting to record records were starting to be invited to perform at some key downtown spots like the Mudclub or the Roxy which was frequented by punk/new wave kids. The parallels between the hardcore Hip Hoppers from the Bronx and the Rebellious Punk Kids soon became obvious. Both groups had reacted organically to a stale, formulaic music industry that was serving the public watered down disco and arena rock.”

Punk has ALWAYS been a movable feast.

Punk and Hip-Hop have ALWAYS been linked, they are both “urban roots” music.

At the core of Punk and Hip-Hop are the same two tenets:

* Use the tools you have available to you - cheap guitars or turntables * Try to control or be in the exploitation stream of the production of your own music

NWA might not have been punk, but there was a lot of punk ethos in NWA.

I consider widely diverse bands to be Punk, I always have and I always will. There is no purity test because: There is no 100% Punk.

Punk the way you see it never existed and probably will only ever exist in your straw-person fantasies (and in online Punk Rock GIF collections).

For you punk will always remain a fantasy place where we all wear leather jackets, combat boots, and have Mohawks (and walk only with the assistance of canes apparently).

Politics That Matter

Dead Kennedys, Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables

Dead Kennedys, Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables

I hope I have made my point. But one last thing:

Punk bands have throughout their history been at the core of important political struggles.

Just since the 80’s punk bands have been in the vanguard fighting against the bomb, for women’s choice, for gender equality, for sex and sexual orientation equality, against racism, against corporatism (The Clash, Minor Threat, and Fugazi alone often refused ticket prices or album prices above pre-set prices).

I see the tools used by The Clash and by Bikini Kill used all the time in grassroots organizations and equality movements today.

I have been to hundreds of Punk benefit shows for hundreds of causes in my lifetime.

Punk has contributed as much to the political discourse and to political change as any genre. There really is no need for you to be dismissive and insulting about its ongoing contributions.

Does Punk Still Have Interesting Things To Say Today

Downtown Boys, Full Communism

Downtown Boys, Full Communism

I suggest you listen to Downtown Boys or La Misma, and if, after hearing them you think our genre has nothing good to add to musical discourse we will just have to agree to disagree.

Of course, there are lots of other acts I LOVE to listen to, if you want to know what they are, I suggest reading my blog or blogs of other people who care about this form of music (http://ihrtn.net/ springs to mind).

At the very least, I hope you will learn more about the bands, history, and contemporary record of Punk Rock.

Josh