photo manipulation by nacrowe
i love the idea of long-form interviews as the basis of a research project.
in fact i've made no secret, writing before (linked HERE, HERE and HERE) about my experience as a PEACE CORPS volunteer in ALBANIA where i spearheaded an oral history project aimed at the impact of the KOSOVO conflict on how both sides of the border dealt with the influx of refugees in 1999. it was a taboo subject internally but i thought it was information worth pursuing from the older generation (along with other unrelated topics such as life under the communist ENVER HOXHA regime) so that there was a record for future generations. similarly the questions themselves werent mine but my students at the UNIVERSITY OF VLORA where i was stationed at. my prompt to them was what questions they thought their grand-children would would want to ask their great-great-grandparents. talk about epic, a four generation question! it got them thinking in that scale and those were the questions i asked, not mine as an AMERICAN, i was just the conduit.
i came across the WOMEN OF ROCK ORAL HISTORY project recently online and i thought it was the coolest thing. the contributions of women to the cultural achievements surrounding ROCK N ROLL cannot be understated but are often overlooked.
i feel that i am guilty of this as well. when i look at past playlists for my DEER GOD RADIO show on nonprofit radio station MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC i am often confronted with a list of male artists. while there have been past shows specifically on the RIOT GRRRL movement and prominent artists such as BJORK, KIM DEAL and LADYTRON, as well as other shows that prominently investigate female musicians and artists within wider constructs (example: CAROLE KAYE contributions with THE WRECKING CREW), there is a lack of balance that i recognize. that is something i am working on. in the future i plan to add shows focused on PJ HARVEY, COURTNEY LOVE, KRISTIN GUNDRED, LUSCIOUS JACKSON, NO DOUBT, CHARLI XCX, PATTI SMITH, JOAN JETT, BLONDIE and producer SYLVIA MASSY (MELVINS, TOOL) to the mix. it is a work in progress.
these filmed interviews with the likes of PUNK ROCK / ALTERNATIVE ROCK / NO WAVE / INDIE ROCK luminaries like ALICE BAG (THE BAGS), LYDIA LUNCH, GAIL ANN DORSEY (DAVID BOWIE), KATE SCHELLENBACH (LUSCIOUS JACKSON, BEASTIE BOYS), EXENE CERVENKA (X), DONITA SPARKS (L7), MELISSA AUF DER MAUR (HOLE, SMASHING PUMPKINS), AMANDA PALMER (THE DRESDEN DOLLS), KRISTIN HERSCH (THROWING MUSES) and SHIRLEY MANSON (GARBAGE) among many others are a great resource for all musicians to receive a fuller understanding of the real history of ROCK N ROLL. its pretty exciting since this project is still very much a current operation especially in recent months with the advent of effective COVID-19 vaccines providing an opportunity for in-person, on-camera interviews again.
the WOMEN OF ROCK ORAL HISTORY is definitely worth checking out and revisiting. what a gift to music fans.
photo & text by nacrowe
in the past few years there have been a number of books published to address the critical void in PUNK ROCK history surrounding the LOS ANGELES PUNK ROCK scene that emerged in the late 1970s and transitioned into the more aggressive, militant and arguably influential 1980s HARDCORE scene made up of bands from the SOUTH BAY and nearby outlying counties (ORANGE, VENTURA, SANTA BARBARA and SAN DIEGO). this includes X guitarist JOHN DOE'S UNDER THE BIG BLACK SUN: A PERSONAL HISTORY OF L.A. PUNK (DA CAPO, 2016), MASQUE venue owner BRENDAN MULLEN's WE GOT THE NEUTRON BOMB: THE UNTOLD STORY OF L.A. PUNK (THREE RIVERS PRESS, 2001) and LEXICON DEVIL: THE FAST TIMES AND SHORT LIFE OF DARBY CRASH AND THE GERMS (FERAL HOUSE, 2002) and STEVEN BLUSHES's AMERICAN HARDCORE: A TRIBAL HISTORY (FERAL HOUSE, 2001) among many other notable titles.
what makes VIOLENCE GIRL: A CHICANA PUNK STORY (FERAL HOUSE, 2011) by ALICE BAG of THE BAGS a compelling memoir is not only her unique perspective on the initial scene, which she was an active participant in, and its notable participants (THE GERMS, THE WIERDOS, X, THE MIDDLE CLASS etc.), but also how her upbringing as a LATINA in EAST L.A. affected her worldview. in my estimation, that distinct perspective is what is missing in other recent books on the subject and makes this autobiography a particularly noteworthy and vital addition.
regarding that perspective, BAG presents a scene made up of misfits and artistically-inclined eccentrics with varied interests and backgrounds who created an anarchic, underground and ultimately inclusive community of like-minded individuals. in her description of this early scene there is very much a sense of FREEDOM at play, where PUNK ROCK had opened the doors to personal expression with no expectations. and the initial community, which was quite INTIMATE and SELF-SUSTAINING, supported such. much like other scenes that blew up, its success was its downfall as it transitioned into the HARDCORE scene. audiences from the suburbs flooded in and transformed the scene into something quite different entirely, arguably a more REGIMENTED, VIOLENT and ultimately CONSERVATIVE affair.
much of this book is focused on that of her family and the aggression and rage inherited from her father, who on occasion mercilessly beat her mother in public view of her neighbors. you really get the sense of the generational TRAUMA of such TOXIC MASCULINITY and how it affects and inhibits your ability to interact and navigate relationships and the wold in general. lucky for BAG, her music and the support of her community allowed her a unique avenue for sublimating such for position change, but it is interesting how she feels somewhat culpable for the transition the scene ultimately took towards a more orthodox and less inclusive community that seemed NIHILISTIC in its almost ritual celebration and fetishization of VIOLENCE. her music was violence and aggression as a catharsis and means of deeper communicating and engagement with her audience. what later emerged was music as a background soundtrack to sanctioned random AGGRESSION.
an aspect i really appreciated about this memoir was how it was written and structured. BAG has a real gift for being direct and concise while providing intimate details of what it was like being an adorable music-obsessed dork growing up in the 1970s complete with loving descriptions of her clothing, hair and that of her peers, especially with regards to her fandom and emulation of ELTON JOHN. the book is structured as a series of short chapters that almost serve as small vignettes, each one providing a glimpse into a wide narrative without making it to fragmented in the process. it is a remarkable narrative strategy that more than mirrors the ethos of her music, which likewise is VISCERAL, MEMORABLE, CONCISE and ultimately quite IMPACTFUL.
i feel that VIOLENCE GIRL: A CHICANA PUNK STORY is an effective introduction to the story of the LOS ANGELES PUNK scene and its transformation. given her perspective as a minority and a woman it is really interest a treat to explore her experience in the scene. it makes me wonder why more of these books do not exist regarding PUNK ROCK in general as the community is far more diverse than the literature would suggest. after this i am definitely primed to seek out THE SPITBOY RULE: TALES OF A XICANA IN A FEMALE PUNK BAND (PM PRESS, 2016) by SPITBOY drummer MICHELLE CRUZ GONZALEZ.
if anyone is aware of other titles hitherto not reviewed in this forum, please let me know.
photo manipulation by nacrowe
PUNK: ATTITUDE (3DD PRODUCTIONS, 2005) by legendary DJ / MUSICIAN / DIRECTOR and original PUNK ROCK scenester DON LETTS is probably the most comprehensive documentary about the beginnings and evolution of PUNK ROCK, both stateside and in ENGLAND. it includes an exhaustive yet entirely impressive cast of participants, many now deceased, whose insights provide an appreciation for the wide array of interests and backgrounds that led to the formation of the genre. this includes, but not limited to, musicians such as JOHN CALE (THE VELVET UNDERGROUND), JELLO BIAFRA (THE DEAD KENNEDYS), MARTIN REV (SUICIDE), CHRISSIE HYNDE (THE PRETENDERS), DAVID JOHANSEN, SYLVAIN SYLVAIN & ARTHUR KANE (THE NEW YORK DOLLS), MICK JONES & PAUL SIMON (THE CLASH), DARYL JENIFER (BAD BRAINS), POLY STYRENE (X-RAY SPEX), HENRY ROLLINS (BLACK FLAG), WAYNE KRAMER (MC5), PAT SMEAR (THE GERMS), SIOUXSIE SIOUX (SIOUXSIE SIOUX & THE BANSHEES), TOMMY RAMONE (THE RAMONES), CAPTAIN SENSIBLE (THE DAMNED), ARI UP (THE SLITS), STEVE JONES & GLEN MATLOCK (THE SEX PISTOLS), THURSTON MOORE (SONIC YOUTH), K.K. BARRETT (THE SCREAMERS), RAY CAPO (YOUTH OF TODAY), GLENN BRANCA (THEORETICAL GIRLS), KEITH MORRIS (BLACK FLAG / CIRCLE JERKS), ROGER MIRET (AGNOSTIC FRONT), PETE SHELLEY & HOWARD DEVOTO (THE BUZZCOCKS), DEE POP (THE BUSH TETRAS), ALICE BAG (THE BAGS), RICHARD MANITOBA (THE DICTATORS), JAMES CHANCE (JAMES CHANCE & THE CONTORTIONS) and film director JIM JARMUSCH, CBGBs owner HILLY KRISTAL and various managers, writers, artists and photographers.
i think one strong suit of this documentary is its ability to elucidate the long line of influence that followed one band to another over time. how bands like THE DOORS influenced THE STOOGES who influenced THE SEX PISTOLS and BLACK FLAG and NIRVANA and so on. in essence you see how bands such as THE VELVET UNDERGROUND, SUICIDE, THE DEAD KENNEDYS, PATTI SMITH, THE DAMNED and THE RAMONES (among many others) are all linked and part of a greater movement towards challenging, complicating, questioning and, in turn, revitalizing the form of ROCK AND ROLL.
examples provided included the concurrent POST PUNK and NO WAVE that came about after the first wave of PUNK ROCK. both took the ethos of originality and freedom and applied such to the music, creating new takes on song structures and experimented with expanded palette of instruments.
the HARDCORE scene of the 1980s was the opposite of such in that songs got condensed and sped up even faster. scenes that began with first wave PUNK adherents more interested in art and originality were taken over by HARDCORE bands that were largely aggressive and violent. part of that anger was political at the REAGAN administration as well as a feeling that their lives were set to be disrupted by economic uncertainty. that scene begat the ALTERNATIVE ROCK scene of the 1990s, or as JELLO BIAFRA puts it "punk inspired rock bands." as the 1990s dragged on you get bands like KORN and LIMP BIZKIT with their dumbed down break down sections and shocking lack of social consciousness.
there was nothing revelatory about this documentary, but it serves as a welcome definitive statement about a genre for anyone new or interested in the place of PUNK ROCK in music history. it really gets at the core idea of the genre in spite of its many permutations: that being the value being an individual. finding your voice, whatever that may be, and speaking your truth vociferously with an almost disregard for the opposition. thats a healthy sentiment for anyone to learn.
my only gripe with this film is that they spends way too much time talking about THE CLASH and JOE STRUMMER, but that is my own personal bias making itself apparent. i still find that band, despite their influence, to be full of themselves. just my opinion.