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 by nacrowe
during my undergraduate years at RUTGERS i wrote a senior thesis on film noir and a key feature of those films is a corrosive depiction of women as corrupters. often male protagonists impotently speak via voice-overs, attempting to frame a narrative that inevitably they were never able to control.
musician/artist/producer/fashion designer/actress/writer/badass KIM GORDON of SONIC YOUTH fame in her memoir GIRL IN A BAND (HarperCollins, 2015) in a similar fashion attempts to make sense and contextualize the trauma of her recent divorce. in an inversion of the film noir cliche i outlined above, her painful retelling of their doomed relationship if anything doesn't reduce her ex-partner and ex-bandmate THURSTON MOORE to that of a lazy literary trope. it is my understanding that her presenting this information was meant to accurately describe the insight gained from such a painful ordeal that ultimately deprived her a partner and collaborator and place it within the proper context of her upbringing and fraught relationships with her brother and father. unlike those noir films, her compassionate insights into these men ultimately humanizes them, especially MOORE.
what i really appreciated this book was her honesty. no doubt knowing her public image as an icon for female empowerment, the vulnerability she displayed in explaining why she found herself in the familiar trap of suppressing her ego for the men in her life is a daring move. you really get the sense of struggle throughout her entire music/art career. you also get a well-rounded, first-hand look at the early 80s concurrent NO WAVE music scene and burgeoning NYC art scene surrounding street art. she comes across a someone curious and relentlessly fearless in taking advantage of what opportunities came her way. she doesnt not come across as an opportunist, rather as a passionate curator constantly searing for new ideas and inspirations.
i feel a kinship with that as someone who grew up around unfamiliar people in unfamiliar countries. her upbringing in SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA by way of brief stints in HONG KONG and HAWAI'I gave her something of a THIRD CULTURE KID vibe. they say THIRD CULTURE KIDS (children that grow up in a country not their own) are qualitatively better able to navigate life's upheavals, having dealt with such stress during their impressionable formative years. if anything, her curiosity for art, music, design, and love only get stronger as the narrative evolves, almost in contrast to the arc of her personal life.
i'm a fan of her work, both in and out of SONIC YOUTH and recommend this book highly for anyone interested in her career as well as anyone interested in the NYC art and indie music scenes of 80s and 90s by a big player in both. well worth it.
photo manipulation by nacrowe