Music, But Barely: LA Punk

blackflag-latimes.jpgAlphaStX.jpgtumblr_me0epkapZq1rlyq9do1_540.jpgWhen asked how the whole “rock scene” started, Wolf Frenzy responded, “…I think it was the night the bass player in the Noise offed himself. He was really pissed off, because he’d been getting a really good sound out of his equipment, so he jumped off the top of his bass stack, breaking his neck and impaling himself on his tuning pegs. There was a really spontaneous reaction from the crowd… they all laughed at that.

LA punk seizes the Sid Vicious thread and sadistically unravels it. Musicality ceases to exist; what remains is illiterate syntax suffocated by noise in the most savage sense of the word. I have always described punk rock as being deceivingly simple, and secretly complex. There is nothing deceptive about the barbaric simplicity of LA punk. The Germs, Black Flag, and X exploit their inherent primitivity. LA punk is an inflammatory, and yet impossibly enticing, instance of rage. It is “the thrill of shouting ‘FIRE’ in a crowded theater–or even in an empty theater.”[1]

[1] Marcus, Greil. “The Last Sex Pistols Concert.” Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the Twentieth Century. 20th Anniversary ed. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1989. 71. Print.

  • “Lexicon Devil” (Germs)
  • “Fix Me” (Black Flag)
  • “The World’s a Mess; It’s In My Kiss” (X)



Let Fury Have the Hour: the Clash


theclashlondoncalling.jpg“Let fury have the hour, anger can be power”

Clampdown (1980)

The disease? The politics of consensus. The symptoms? Inflation, unemployment, and union strikes. The juxtaposition of regal and metropolitan was irrelevant: garbage bags obscured London’s edifices, and squatters festered inside of them. Punk rock prescribed the feral nihilism of the Sex Pistols, or the fervent activism of the Clash.

  • The Sex Pistols were anarchists, the Clash were leftists; they did not prescribe the liquidation of order, but rather a new order
  • The Clash did not intentionally afflict themselves with prophecy; that is, they saw themselves not as bound to solve the world’s problems, but rather to make people aware of them
  • Despite that the original incarnation of the Clash was punk, they survived because they adapted; their music metamorphosed into other influences
    • There was no puppet master to gag them with strings of manipulation (cough cough, Malcolm McLaren)
    • They were not in turn outside the inside joke of their own inception

– “Career Opportunities”

– “I’m So Bored With the USA”

– “White Riot”

– “London’s Burning”




Not a conclusion.


“Punk rock is just another word for freedom.” – Patti Smith

“…the whole philosophy of punk rock: taking everything that’s shitty, and celebrating it and making it good.” – Legs McNeil, founder of Punk magazine

In conclusion, there is no conclusion. Having spent the past eight months sniffing the fumes of punk rock, I learned a few things. I learned that the Ramones were once mistaken for “retarded boys” at a gas station in rural Texas. I learned that punk’s preferred tartan plaid has always been the personal plaid of Queen Elizabeth II. But most importantly, I learned that to answer my own essential question, “why does punk matter,” would be the least punk thing that I could do. Although I have proclaimed myself a punk aficionado, I remain outside the unabashedly inside joke of punk rockI have no authority to define punk, but even if I did, I wouldn’t want to. As soon as punk has a dictionary definition, it becomes unclear whether meeting its own expectations is punk, unpunk, or some other variation on the word “punk.” Punk rock’s power lies in its amorphous existence. By the end of Great Britain’s year of punk, 1977, the musical counterculture mirrored a black hole collapsing in on itself. The media, the government, and every World War II romanticist in between, took it upon themselves to decide what punk rock was for the sole purpose of annihilating it. What they did instead was amplify its inherent paradox: punk is provocative, but with provocation comes reaction, and with reaction comes opinion, and not just from the punks. Subsequent celebrity and commercialization entered its bloodstream like a lethal injection. Punk evolved into a kamikaze mission, running full speed at a brick wall; its decimation was inevitable. All it could hope was that its imminent implosion was as loud and obnoxious as possible. 

I will, however, say this: punk doesn’t die–it reincarnates. It rises out of its own ashes, rebels against its previous self, which is the very reason why we get GLAM, PUNK, NEW WAVE, and GRUNGE. I refuse to define punk for you; I’ll leave that to Patti Smith and Legs McNeil, the original punk writer.

The Library/Movie Theater

The complete list of works I’ve used to rip, tear, and glue back together what I consider to be the narrative of punk rock. Don’t worry–I left the glue sniffing to the Ramones.

Andersen, Mark, and Mark Jenkins. Dance of Days: Two Decades of Punk in the Nation’s Capital. Berkeley: Soft Skull Press, 2001. Print. Washington D.C. saw rise to hardcore, as well as the DIY aesthetic. Further, the location allows for an interesting examination of the relationship between punk and politics.

A Band Called Death. Dir. Mark Christopher Covino and Jeff Howlett. Drafthouse Films, 2012. Film.

Bolton, Andrew, et al. PUNK: Chaos to Couture. N.p.: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2013. Print. Even if punk is “dead,” its ramifications in the world of fashion live on. PUNK: Chaos to Couture was written to accompany the Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibition by the same name and details the emergence of punk fashion (designers such as Vivienne Westwood and her SEX clothing shop), as well as its evolution and subsequent influence on high fashion. In addition to speaking to the garments themselves, this book also interprets their deeper meaning within the context of the punk movement, how they were another outlet of expression for a musical activism.

The Decline of Western Civilization. Dir. Penelope Spheeris. Media Home Entertainment, 1981. Film.

Gordon, Kim. Cinderella’s Big Score: Women of the Punk and Indie Underground. New York: Seal Press, 2004. Print. Live Girls. The women in punk rock are the essence of the movement itself: rebellion against society’s definition of conventional gender roles, in an especially “in your face” kind of way.

Hell, Richard. I Dreamed I Was a Very Clean Tramp: An Autobiography. Reprint ed. Manhatten: Ecco, 2014. Print. Richard Hell is arguably the godfather of punk rock, thus I find his personal narrative especially revealing regarding the feelings that drove the movement.

Heylin, Clinton. Babylon’s Burning: From Punk to Grunge. Edinburgh: Canongate Books, 2007. Print. Another synthesis piece, Babylon’s Burning provides a more complete narrative to the transformation of punk. Heylin speaks to punk on both an aesthetic and a social level, beginning in New York, and concluding in Seattle.

Marcus, Greil. Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the Twentieth Century. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1990. Print. Lipstick Traces chronicles the entirety of the counterculture that emerged in the seventies, providing an understanding of punk rock in the context of pop culture.

McNeil, Legs, and Gillian McCain. Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk. Reprint ed. New York City: Grove Press, 2006. Print. Please Kill Me was the keystone of my research paper, giving an impressive array of uncensored interviews, capturing the history of punk rock (or what remains in light of the drug-addled haze that clouds many a memory), as told by those who made it.

Moore, Ryan. Sells like Teen Spirit: Music, Youth Culture, and Social Crisis. New York City: NYU Press, 2009. Print. Sells Like Teen Spirit will fit nicely into my final trimester, which is dedicated to synthesis. This work examines the evolution of punk, concluding with grunge, in the social context of history, and the invaluable role played by the youth. A key theme (referenced in the title) is the commercialization of the genre, which will help me to understand the unsustainable nature of the original, East Village sound.

Reynolds, Simon. Rip It Up and Start Again: Postpunk 1978-1984. Westminister: Penguin Books, 2006. Print. Rip It Up and Start Again is what came next: new wave. This is an explanation as to how the seedy, East Village sound morphed into the likes of Talking Heads, something all together different, and yet, in many ways the same.

Savage, Jon. England’s Dreaming. London: Faber & Faber, 2005. Print. England’s Dreaming speaks to the eruption of punk rock in Great Britain through the lens of the Sex Pistols, chronicling their infamous rise and fall. England is particularly relevant to the geographic spread of punk, as bands like the Sex Pistols and the Clash greatly influenced the movement through their pointed political critiques, using music as a channel to highlight the shortcomings of their government.

Smith, Patti. Just Kids. Reprint ed. Manhatten: Ecco, 2010. Print. Patti Smith is assuredly the godmother of punk rock, and so her own story not only speaks to the essence of punk, but also what it meant to be a women in a male’s movement.

Spitz, Marc. We Got the Neutron Bomb: The Untold Story of L.A. Punk. New York City: Three Rivers Press, 2001. Print. We Got the Neutron Bomb provides a narrative for the L.A. incarnation of punk, which gave a distinct, new sound to an established philosophy. Examining different subsets of punk by geographic region will allow me to attach greater meaning to the movement as a whole by determining its relevance within the grand scheme of American history, what gave it the ability to continually reinvent itself.

Stop Making Sense. Dir. Jonathan Demme. Prod. Gary Goetzman. Screenplay by Talking Heads. Cinecom; Palm Pictures, 1984. Film.

Stosuy, Brandon. Up is Up, But So Is Down. New York: NYU Press, 2006. Print. CBGB (& OMFUG) served as a physical cornerstone to punk rock, fortifying a motley crew of musicians, groupies, and ex-lovers into a movement. Up Is Up chronicles the downtown scene that emerged as a consequence of CBGB’s existence: guerrilla journalism, graffiti, and activism, punk rock serving as the score. This work attacks the social and artistic components of Lower Manhattan, providing appropriate context for the rise and fall of punk.

Thompson, Dave. Your Pretty Face Is Going to Hell: The Dangerous Glitter of David Bowie, Iggy Pop, & Lou Reed. N.p.: Backbeat, 2009. Print. To comprehend punk, and what came after, one must also understand what came before, which is glam rock. David Bowie, Iggy Pop, and Lou Reed were the musical dissenters that served as inspiration to later punk rockers, an essential piece of the puzzle that is punk rock.

Velvet Goldmine. Dir. Todd Haynes. Miramax Films, 1998. Film.