In this respect, I am as guilty as the next man/woman (as long as that man/woman isn't Mel Gibson!), and have spun the bottle continually since being energized by the possibilities of recorded sound, sometime in the late 60s. Having come of age, so to speak, in the late 70s, the boundaries laid down by the Punk Rock Police were stringent and harsh: unlike today's eclectic youth, who seem to have no qualms in storing The Ramones or The Clash next to, let's postulate wildly here, Lily Allen, Kings Of Lyon or Zola Jesus, I grew up in relatively more culturally restrictive times. In many respects, I have spent my entire life, post-punk, searching for the next-punk, if only to search and destroy it for not being up to the mark. I recall, as a youngster, laughing at the Teds & the slicked-back rockers at the mops, fairs and flee markets I oft frequented, adamant that whatever may occur in my future, I would never end up as sad as that! Sitting here, typing this now, aged-48, with red spikey hair, and a record collection that is still basically all I possess in terms of cultural acquisition, I'm really not sure if I've turned out to be a fraud, or, even worse, exactly the kind of luddite I swore I'd never become!
Meanwhile, back at the plot, it is the end of another of those aforementioned cycles that I feel compelled to write about this fog-bound Monday morning, warm as toast, in my bed, deep in the heart of rural Warwickshire. As anyone who knows me will attest, my faith in the Seven Ages Of Man (and their Seven Corresponding Chords), as espoused by that infamous son of local yore, William Shakespeare, has not waned since I first discovered it, many, many years ago. As I rapidly approach the next portal in my existence: my 49th year, it is with accrued confidence, and somewhat improved self esteem, that I look backwards as another circle closes, to assess what I have lived and learned.
Music, in many ways, has been my life, and Punk Rock, my religion. Although I have sampled the wares, and worn the t-shirts, of many a passing youth cult hence, my heart has remained safety pinned to the memory of Patrick Fitzgerald, John Cooper Clarke, Mark Perry, and the golden host of generationally significant poets I hold dear to my soul. Despite, or, quite possibly, in spite, of the dub-reggae of the late 70s, the post-punk-angularism of the early 80s, and the subsequent hip hop, acid house, NWONW, americana, antifolk, elctronica, black metal, noize, folk (in all it's varied forms), and world music from all over the globe that has followed in its wake, it is the integrity, sincerity and unbridled energy of Punk Rock to which I return at times like these, and it is that subject, once again, that I will be dealing with here (& now).
I have written before, in the pages of trakMARX (my erstwhile journal, & punk rock resource), of my favourite Punk Rock groups of all time. I must admit that I neither have the inclination, or, for that matter, the vanity (though many would doubtless argue otherwise), to check back to make sure I'm still in line with what I dictated back then, and what follows is a summation of what I have become, not what I once was! This is a theme I find fascinating, one recently toyed with by Kristen Hersh, once of Throwing Muses, in her excellent diaritical (made up word alert!) tome, 'Paradoxical Undressing' (Atlantic - £18.99).
Much has been written about Punk Rock in the ensuing years since its invention and subsequent application. Critics and musical historians alike have argued, at great length, as to who originated it, from the succinct (Kim Fowley), to the pointless (Alan Parker/Clinton Heylin), to the ridiculous (Greil Marcus), the baton has been laid at the feet of everyone from the Cathars, to the Situationist International, to the Beats, to Eddie Cochran, to the Kinks, to Roky Erickson, to Iggy Pop, to the New York Dolls, to the Ramones, to Malcolm McLaren . . . to . . . you know the score . . . but, deep in the heart of the personal, the truth is: Punk Rock is anything you want it to be . . . make it up as you go along! As long as you don't suck the corporate cock of Satan to get to where ever it is you wanna go, that's pretty Punk Rock, baby! No sell out, no Mr Suit, no ties, absolutely no fucking jacket required, no right wing ideology, no racism, no sexism, in fact, no fucking 'isms' of any kind, whatsoever! Conclusion: Punk Rock is everything and anything but The Fucking Sex Pistols! You might as well be inspired to riot by The Monkees!
So, without further ado, I lead you to the first of my selections, Metal Urbain. At this point, I think it's only fair to front up: connective histories for all five of the following groups are widely documented elsewhere, in both the pages of trakMARX, and in Punk Rock literature at large, what follows is merely my opinion, my perspective, my experience . . . I first discovered Metal Urbain sometime in 1978, when my chum & Domestic Bliss bass player, Darren Guy, got hold of their debut 45, 'Panic' (Cobra Records), on import. He was obviously very proud to have discovered them first, and from the moment the needle hit the plastic, I was consumed by jealousy, and the need to own a copy myself. Needless to say, despite much bartering action and incessant pestering, Darren remained resolute in his reluctance to part with said item, and I had to wait for the band's debut 45 for Radar Records, 'Hysterie Connective', to actually own a slice of Metal Urbain. By the time Rough Trade Records launched with MU's 3rd 45, 'Paris Maquis', I was hooked, line and sinker! The group's sound was unique: the gtrs buzzed like filth encrusted barbwire nailed to driftwood, the riffage, man, the genius riffage . . . these are the PUNK ROCK GTRS those neighbours complained about in the Members''Sound Of The Suburbs' . . . the drum machine patterns propelled the songs with even more gusto that yr average punk rock drummer . . . the malfunctioning electronic bleeping, the lack of bass, the terrace-gang-chant vocals sung entirely in the group's native French only added to the mystery! The sound of the future today, that's what I thought then! The fact that this still bears testament to this day says everything you need to know about Metal Urbain, they tick every one of the boxes alluded to above, and still sound like nothing else ever committed to tape, over 30-fucking-years apres their creation. The group's sole LP, 'Les Hommes Mort Sont Dangereux', is, in my humble opinion, one of the greatest Punk Rock albums ever! No filler, no fuck ups, no cessation to the sonic attack. Metal Urbain are well represented in terms of re-packaged, re-mastered, re-evaluated product, as a trawl across the internet record shops of contemporary music retail will soon reveal. In terms of recommendations, 'Chef D'Oeuvre' or 'Antholgie 1977-79', push all the right buttons, and for the committed and the patient, the vinyl is still accessible at reasonable prices.
My second chosen group is LA's Germs . . . blissfully ignorant of them back in the day, I have since learned to love them beyond compare. The Germs encompass everything prerequisite for Punk Rock existence: a homosexual front man, a girl bass player, a mixed race gtr-ist and a flamboyant exhibitionist of a drummer. For an enlightening oral history of The Germs, score a copy of Brendan Mullen's 'Lexicon Devil' (Random House), or for a more definitive account of the LA scene en masse, the same author's (with Marc Spitz) 'We Got The Neutron Bomb: The Untold Story Of L.A. Punk'' (Random House) is essential reading. Musically, The Germs invoke everything UK Punk threatened, but failed to deliver. Just a single ride through 'MIA' (Rhino), The Germs anthology, is all the proof you're going to need that Punk Rock was most effective in exactly the kinds of places its so-called designers never intended it to flourish! There are some Americans who will tell you that The Germs were a joke, that the group themselves drove around L.A. depositing copies of their debut 45, 'Forming', in dumpsters, so embarrassed were they by the record! True or not, I wish they'd dumped a few copies in my oddfellows local wastebin, I have thus far only managed to score a reissue, albeit on totally huggable pink vinyl! Flea (Red Hot Chili Peppers) may well be a dick of the highest order, but his strapline for 'Lexicon Devil' holds a lot of flat cold water: "Forget about London and New York and fashion and politics. The Germs wrote and played the best punk rock songs of all time". The Germs sole studio LP, 'GI', is available on 180g vinyl on Rhino, as are various represses on both 'Forming' and 'Lexicon Devil' . . . but, be warned, original copies of The Germs back catalog can go for silly money: i.e. a copy of 'Lexicon Devil' went for £250 on Ebay only this week! The Germs singer, Darby Crash, has retrospectively been painted as the US equivalent to Sid Vicious, but, and it's a fucking big BUT, he was a zillion times more talented, mesmeric, and ultimately relevant to musical history than our sad clothes horse in studded leather could ever of dreamed of, even in the midst of a smack induced haze! The Germs gtr-ist, Pat Smear, was also later recruited by that other famous son of opiate and needles, Kurt Kobain, and we all know what a clever little tea leaf he was . . . great taste in music, appalling taste in women!
Next up, The Dead Kennedys: by the time 'California Uber Alles' dropped on Fast Records in 1980, a distinctly post-punk landscape was already emerging from the industrial wastelands of the UK . . . by this stage, the majority of our home grown Punk Rock groups were beginning sound like parodies of the very groups they'd been instructed not to idolize or imitate by our glorious leaders back at the onset of year zero! Along came the DKs, Hardcore Punk pioneers out of SF, California . . . they made the likes of The Cockney Rejects and The Angelic Upstarts sound like the talentless wankers they actually were. 'Holiday In Cambodia' and 'Kill The Poor' rammed the point home in rapid succession, and DKs' records inspired spontaneous outbursts of proto-moshing and nascent slam-dancing where ever they were played out. The group's perfect LP, 'Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables' (Cherry Red Records), shreds today as it did then, simply untouchable, in many respects. History has oft been unkind to the DKs legacy, the group successfully sued their leader, Jello Biafra, for unpaid royalties, and Biafra himself was badly beaten up by crust punks in the early 90s for the crime of 'being a rock star', something that couldn't even have been imagined back at the dawn of the 80s, even on the best acid available! As is the way with all the best Punk Rock, it was all downhill for the DKs following 'Fresh Fruit', as evidenced by increasing patchy further LPs as their spirit writhed and, eventually expired, right there on the moshpit floor! Their only LP that matters is still readily available of both CD and vinyl, the 25th anniversary CD edition includes an essential visual history: 'Fresh Fruit For Rotting Eyeballs', which includes a wealth of contemporary live footage that illustrates exactly what a tight-as-fuck live unit the DKs were, and what an exciting frontman Biafra himself was. In terms of rarities, a copy of the LP on vinyl featuring the 'heads on' shot may tax you to the tune of around £30, but nearly everything else worth owning is eminently affordable.
My fourth inclusion are San Francisco's Crime, a group that weren't actually that keen on being referred to as a Punk Rock group back in the day, anyhow! Obviously, I was way too young, and unhip, to have even heard of Crime until decades after they'd split up . . . and the History of Punk Rock bibles had begun to appear . . . two by two, like animals onto the Punk Rock ark! It was not until I began trakMARX, back in the late 90s, that I finally dug up the corpse of Crime, eventually being lucky enough to interview the group's Johnny Strike for the journal back in 2005. To me, Crime make one of the most disgustingly effective noises ever created by four dudes with a couple of gtrs, a bass, a set of drums, and a handful of microphones. Their 45s, such as the awesome 'Hotwire My Heart'/'Baby Y're So Repulsive' and 'Frustration'/'Murder By Gtr', are as rare as rocking horse shit on a golden wand, and hardly ever pop up on Ebay, or anywhere else, for that matter. Thankfully, Lady Butcher Records, out of SF, US of A, have lovingly compiled the essential CD collection, 'Piss On Yr Turntable', so you don't have to shell out hundreds of dollars on vinyl copies of their scant catalog. I am hoping to talk to Johnny Strike again soon, for an as yet to be named online venture, and I intend to extract full details of the recording sessions that produced the vital sounds captured on 'Piss On Yr Turntable' in full.
My fifth and final selection represents NI Punk, and Ulster in particular . . . Belfast's Rudi remain my favourite of the Good Vibrations groups by a country mile . . . as trailed elsewhere, they are truly the band that time forgot! The first time I heard 'Big Time' was on the John Peel Show . . . the opening solo burnt a hole in my tiny mind, instantaneously . . . those raging gtrs, the spectacular riffs, the insistent melodies . . . all combined to knock me off of my arse, and onto my bedroom floor, in total wonderment! In those days, I was still taping stuff directly off of the radio using a condenser mic and my mom's tape recorder, and I just managed to hit the 'record' button as Peel announced the debut 45 from a new NI record label, Good Vibrations. I ordered a copy from Small Wonder mail order as soon as I saw it listed in Sounds, and its subsequent arrival though the post heralded the beginning of an obsession with Good Vibrations vinyl that has extended to this very day! In fact, I have owned nearly every 45 ever released by the label at least twice in the past . . . I won't go into details, those who know me know . . . needless to say, I can laugh about it now, but at the time it was terrible! Anagram Record provide the simplest route into all things Rudi, their comprehensive 'Big Time: The Best Of Rudi' contains practically every note the group ever threw down: studio recordings, demos and a couple of live recordings of unrecorded gems, 'Cops' and 'Frozen By Your Touch'. Principally inspired by the maelstrom that was the New York Dolls, Rudi's main songwriter, Brian Young, remains one of the most talented individuals the Emerald Tigerland ever produced, and his unique combinations of Punk Rock gtr and irresistible melodies remain as addictive today as they were from 1978 to 1982.
Jean Encoule – mudKISS.com – January 2011