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Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Punk is a Zeitgeist

Joey Ramone, originally uploaded by Theresa K.

Here's my old familiar photo of our beloved Joey Ramone from 1977. In the States, we are proud to say that The Ramones started this punk thing, for all intents and purposes. But in the same breath, I always say the New York Dolls were the harbingers of punk with their trashy garage treatment of rock n roll mixed with their fucked up application of the then-current glam look. And then there was the Malcolm McLaren factor.

Meanwhile, over in Brisbane, Australia - about 24 hours by jet plane, across the International Date Line - in this land far, far away, a couple of misfit teenagers had already been exploring an alternative to popular ways of playing rock n roll. The Saints, led by Chris Bailey and Ed Kuepper had recorded and released a total punk-ass single in September of 1976 - "I'm Stranded."

So awesome was their sound and that single that it had EMI Records executives scurrying to sign them. Yes, the label was not going to forget the mistakes made by labels in the 60s. EMI got lucky by signing the Beatles when their competitors dismissed Brian Epstein's offer. They would never forget that stroke of luck and they had quite an experience with the Sex Pistols who immortalized them in song. So, The Saints it was.

Somewhere in 1973, there must have been a music revolution gremlin who visited the NY Dolls and the Saints and said, "This current rock n roll has no balls. Kick out the jams, boys!" Because in 1973, even though the Saints weren't recording, they were exploring and gigging with that sound that would make them famous, coveted and eventually criticized. Little did their critics know that their sound pre-dated the Sex Pistols.

But it all goes to support what I've been saying for years: Punk is a Zeitgeist.

It was simply about time something different happened. I mean, Rod Stewart betrayed us with his Atlantic Crossing. Everyone else seemed to fall into the slow lane. British pub rockers like Nick Lowe set about making cool records and writing songs like "What's So Funny About Peace, Love and Understanding" that would become Elvis Costello's prescient signature tune for years. There was something bubbling under... in British pubs, in Australian high schools, in comfy California suburbs, in the never-ending winters of Minneapolis and Chicago, and in the industrial wasteland of America's rust belt - Buffalo, Cleveland, Akron, Pittsburgh. It was discontent. These kids were "unsatisfied," to quote Paul Westerberg. These kids didn't fit in and music was the way to communicate, identify themselves and perhaps break out of some abandoned post-industrial dystopia. I mean - Youngstown vs. Sheffield - they're both pretty bleak.

Even Southern California, where I'm from, all sunny and bright, had its discontent. Our punks reacted to the conspicuous consumption of Beverly Hills, we deconstructed Hollywood glamour (check out the beautiful Alice Bag for example) and tried our best to embrace the honest to goodness cultural melting pot that was LA, in music, art, fashion and with tolerance and respect. At this point, I'm pleased to mention that Alice Bag has included an interview with me on her website! She has a section for Women in LA PUNK and I'm proud to be included in this fortnight's installment, joining a group of wonderful and often unsung women from the early scene. Read everyone's interview while you're there. You'll see that zeitgeist thing!

Right now, I am bringing up and hailing the Saints, from sunny Australia, because they're making a comeback. Chris Bailey has organized some great players, including my erstwhile friend Marty Willson-Piper, a guitarist of brilliance, taste, panache and a fiery temper. They've just done a jaunt through France, where they played on a bill with one of my favorite current groups who pay homage to the 70s - Detroit's Sirens.

They will appear on American shores soon... very soon. Watch this space.


Carl from El Lay said...

I always thought you looked familiar and now I know why. You are the girl at Island Records who tried to sign all those Australian bands - and you knew them all and everything about every song. A mystery is solved and the Saints are coming to the States! I am a happy happy camper. Are the HooDoo Gurus coming back anytime soon??

dickvandyke said...

Tremendous site.
Keep up the good work, and never mind the bollocks.

M.Ace said...

It's funny... I always feel a bit left out when people talk about the amazing impact of hearing The Ramones for the first time, as I was a little late to hear those guys. I suppose it was a matter of being a couple of years younger and in a small town, where things filtered through in randomized bits and pieces. However it happened, I'm pretty sure I heard The Dead Boys, The Voidoids and The Saints (and maybe more) before I ever heard The Ramones -- so when I did hear them, the impact was diminished. And to be honest, I can't actually remember the first time I did hear them -- though I can't really remember NOT having heard them either. Strange. Yet I heard "Anarchy In The UK" within a few months of its UK release. Go figure. But yes indeedy, the punk seed was blooming all over.

Someone I forgot to mention in that "favorite guitarists" thread, and must, is Bowie's right-hand man, Mick Ronson. He never really got his due in the 70s or now, even. Songs like "Queen Bitch" and "Suffragette City" were pure proto-punk guitar attacks. R.I.P., Mick.