Thursday, March 19, 2009
Punk Rock: An Oral History by John Robb
i have read about two hundred pages of this in the past week and i have to say, it's one for the fans!
you don't get a lot of second-hand analysis of what it all meant, but rather a reflective play by play account of how it all went down by those who were there.
in case you don't know who john robb is, he was in the membranes, this is about the english punk scene...
as with any oral history, my favorite part is listening to those involved track their influences. studying aesthetic lineages in punk is one of my favorite pastimes. it involves hours of research and hanging out, studying the private record collections of people who have been around longer than you, asking them questions, listening to how they discovered what means the most to them and learning how what they unearthed evolved into their own art and how it provided them with the tools to create a meaningful existence and try to change things via participation...to be more than a consumer...to realize your place in history....that history forms you ...and then to try and use that same methodology to impact future history...to use being in a band or making a fanzine as a way to create the world you want to exist...and to recognize that this is totally possible because it has happened before and it will happen again.
there is something i miss about the pre-internet times. people used to come over and hang out because i have a lot of records and they were interested in the stories behind them. now i post anecdotes online for whoever to read, but i am less upfront in some ways, because who wants to share intimate details and acquired knowledge with faceless strangers? i used to have entire friendships based on talking about records. now it seems like people are vultures, waiting to get 'your list' so they can go home and secretly download it and wait to mention it to you again after they have read the wikipedia page!!!! like, 'hey have you heard this'...hmmmm, maybe (quickly google) then they come up with some kind of 'informed anecdote' and formulate an opinion based on being indifferent and detached...i feel like people are so dismissive these days. i hear people dismiss the sex pistols (johnny rotten, so amazing!) or subway sect (Vic fucking Godard!!) or the damned (the Captain!) or sham 69 (jimmy pursey's first sentence in this book: I Was Born Punk!!!!!) or generation x (Tony James!) or the ramones or patti smith even and i'm like, seriously get over yourself! what Do YOU LIKE? duran duran? donovan? the shirelles? i like (some of) that shit too, but it does not compare to punk! i mean, if they are young kids in groups starting their own scene then this would be a healthy rebellion, but most usually they aren't. they are just consumers who aren't in bands. or if they are in bands, they don't challenge the status quo, they uphold it. that's not punk. it's poser.
i'm not saying that pop music isn't ever transformative or meaningful...but it is punk that gives us an entry point into the culture. pop keeps us on the outside looking in, fulfilling our prescribed roles as consumers...fans. punk demands that we act and question 'the way things are'...to get out of the audience and destroy the stage! at its worst it's cacophony and aimless, ignorant rebellion. at its best a means of active resistance, a meaningful life, community, participation. you win whether it's good or bad then, innit. as a style it might be tedious, but as a method it's always fresh because it allows the dispossessed, often in the form of the kid, to intervene in the world (i.e. start a band) however they see fit at the moment they are alive.
anyhow, there are still aesthetic evolutions, but they are less linear and the chronology is sorta confusing, in that anyone can reference any tradition from any time period sorta instantly....which is really overwhelmingly exciting yet simultaneously so daunting as to make you not even care enough to try...well that is sometimes how it makes me feel. i wrote about this recently, but who cares how many mp3s you have on your hard drive if you can't even listen to them? the upside is we get these extreme trends like all the awesome screamers-influenced bands of the early 2000's. but sometimes it just comes off like pastiche or tribute bands.
and what will future oral histories have to tell us?
"I remember when that one blog said bla bla bla and then I downloaded bla bla bla and that's how it all started"
so this book is reminding me that the stories and how we tell them to each other are what it's all about....if we don't do anything except check email or listen to 'demos' on myspace and watch everything on youtube and occasionally see people we know at 'the bar' then really, what is happening?
i want to use the internet for storytelling, i try to do that, but it seems like people are looking for instant gratification rather than impact. i have a lot to say, all the time about everything...i want it to sink in. i think books are best for that kind of storytelling. but friendships can be good for that as well...
"remember that time we all drove to portland to see unwound and then the car broke down.... and someone had a gun in the back yard and the cops came.... and then your mom got pissed because we were late but she didn't know that we lied to her... and then i bought the zero's record but left it at the 3rd street house and then the frumpies wrote that single based on 'cosmetic couple'..." etc so much better than 'remember when we checked our email and then went to work and then went to the bar and then came home and checked our email again'.
i like the idea of doing stuff just so that you can have something to remember later...that has always worked for me as a motivating factor. pretend your life is a movie and you are a fictional character. that is what this book is reminding me...the difference between real life and a mediated, virtual existence. punk to me=real life living. to be alive, to be open, to care enough to fuck shit up.
oh, and that i fucking love the clash:
let fury have the hour/anger can be power...don't you know that you can use it?
WHAT ARE WE GONNA DO NOW!?!???