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.
photo & text by nacrowe
what i found most compelling about LONELY BOY: TALES FROM A SEX PISTOL (DA CAPO, 2017) by legendary SEX PISTOLS guitarist and punk icon STEVE JONES, was not his rehashing of his libido or knack for stealing (although both are quite impressive) or even his heroin abuse and long arduous battle thereafter to attain his sobriety, it was his dispassionate dispelling of the mythology surrounding PUNK ROCK that caught my imagination.
PUNK ROCK is a unique genre in that despite its reputation for being anti-establishment and for breaking rules and crossing lines, it is actually quite conservative. hearing him JONES tell the story of how the SEX PISTOLS got on and by extension PUNK ROCK as a whole is beyond interesting and is eerily reminiscent of the conceit behind LIFE OF BRIAN by MONTY PYTHON. that film almost exclusively is an examination of the power and evolution of ritual. JONES at times is almost gleeful in disparaging PUNK orthodoxy relative to notions of the DIY ETHIC, anti-commercialism, being "in it" for the music and not women, not signing to major labels, etc. for him that is all bullshit that was created by outsiders. outsiders being rock critics at BRITISH publications and fans that followed them post GRUNDY INTERVIEW and post-notoriety. the rituals of "lobbing" and "pogo-ing" and the fashion aspect of it where all stuff that got ahead of the bad and took on a life of its own which was separate from their initial intent, which was largely an insular matter.
its hard to think of a more long-lasting cultural phenomenon than PUNK ROCK. its ethos has infiltrate every youth movement since. for me it is compelling that JONES isnt afraid of showcasing what a lout he was as a youth and how his choices then wouldnt jove with modern notions of what the genre is supposed to exhibit. and why should he?
its also important to look at his womanizing, drug abuse and general laddish behavior in context given his terrible upbringing and sexual abuse by his stepfather growing up. by no means does this excuse his behavior, but i can sympathize with its impact on JONES' psyche and how it contributed to his worldview from a formative youth onward. sadly this type of event is not uncommon. i commend him for being so honest about such a touchy subject as child sexual abuse, took really courage and i respect him for that. this biography is largely a telling of how that damage informed his life and creative output. again, what bravery.
when i see the SEX PISTOLS now in hindsight given all that has passed since then, i interpret their music as a primal scream against that hierarchy and the underbelly rising to the top despite society's (and the music industry's) best efforts to the contrary. the fact that their sound and image was co-opted, sanitized, repackaged and market thereafter is only a testament to its lasting cultural potency.
this is a book well worth looking into if you are interested in PUNK ROCK, POST-PUNK or ENGLAND under MARGARET THATCHER. could not recommend it more strongly.
photo by nacrowe
essentially this is the book on punk.
ENGLAND'S DREAMING (ST. MARTIN'S PRESS, 1991) by JON SAVAGE goes into the cultural and socio-political morass that was 1970s england, which birthed the whole scene in tandem with their american counterparts.
central to the whole story is the singular figure of enfant terrible MALCOLM MCLAREN who was essentially the precursor to what we would now deem an internet troll. his whole cause célèbre was coming up with interesting attention-grabbing press events to both stick it to the uppercrust of the british establishment and promote his businesses, including a boutique store called SEX that he sold garments and wares designed in consultation with his partner VIVIEN WESTWOOD.
so essentially the SEX PISTOLS were assembled to promote a business, which is a fact i love. they are as manufactured with intent to exploit a dormant market as the BACKSTREET BOYS, N'SYNC and NEW KIDS ON THE BLOCK were decades later. its just a fact, i still love them and appreciate their artistic contributions to modern music. its just an interesting fact given the later 1980s HARDCORE and INDIE ROCK scenes that channeled this scene into their own local scenes with a heavy DO IT YOURSELF ethic. this scene was anything buy DIY given that most of the major players on both sides of the pond were on major labels, including THE CLASH (CBS), THE RAMONES (SIRE), PATTI SMITH (ARISTA), TELEVISION (ELEKTRA) and of course THE SEX PISTOLS (EMI / WARNER BROS / VIRGIN).
you can also see punk as a return to basic rock formula's of the 1950s as most of these bands initially started out retreading then 20+ year old CHUCK BERRY riffs, despite their claims to the contrary and supposed revolutionary posturing.
i think the reason later musicians, most notably KURT COBAIN who later sought out SAVAGE for interviews in the british press specifically because of this book, respect this book is due to its empathy for the subject matter without romanticization or worse, hagiography. SAVAGE largely comes off level-headed in his analysis of the movement, at times letting his subjects speak for themselves and complicating a very messy period with a very messy influence on modern music.
bottom line: this book is a must read for anyone interested in punk rock. read this first and then everything else.