The Sunday Magazine: P is for Pandemic and Punk

Being at home for so long I have been looking for places where music can provide a respite. The beauty of having been an early iPod adopter is I have a massive music library with many custom playlists. There was a day a few months ago when I wanted to scream at the world. It felt like tiny things were piling up with little I could do about it. I decided I needed some music. When I saw my “punk” playlist I realized that was just what I was looking for. For the next three hours I vigorously bobbed my head, beat on my air drums, slashed my air guitar, and sneered the lyrics to the air. It was just what I needed. It also got me thinking about punk rock and how it has lasted for 40+ years.

One of the things about rock music in the 1970’s it was a DIY enterprise. There was an industry, but they were also still figuring things out. By the time we got into the middle of the decade it was bifurcating. One was the desire to co-opt more and more of other music. There were concerts which featured an orchestra on tour with the band. It was still rock and roll, but it felt like it was pandering to our parents. Look Mom there’s an orchestra behind the guitarist.

Sid Vicious (l.) and Johnny Rotten of The Sex Pistols

I would learn I wanted my version more stripped down. Which was what I encountered when I was given a copy of “Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s The Sex Pistols”. This was the music I wanted. It seethed with emotion. I couldn’t see Johnny Rotten, but I knew the lines were being sung with a sneer. I was hooked and began learning of the American versions in The Ramones and Patti Smith. England was the epicenter as many of the bands grew out of a disaffected youth who felt their future was stalled. The Clash, The Stranglers, Siouxsie and the Banshees sang of that world. I can’t say my middle-class American life gave me insight into the lyrics. What did get me was the energy of quick bursts of drums guitars and vocals with an edge. For about seven years, into the early 80’s, the punk rock scene found a niche. Then it faded away a bit.

It all seemed to revive for good in 1994. This time it came from Southern California and the skateboard scene. Literally playing in garages bands like Green Day and Rancid were signed to labels to make records. It would start the second age of punk featuring diverse versions like Rage Against the Machine, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Blink-182, and others. As it was with the first generation the middle-aged dude didn’t necessarily feel the lyrics personally. I did appreciate the energy behind the delivery and this time via videos I could see the sneer behind them.

There is a beauty to any artistic enterprise stripped down to its essentials. Punk Rock is that for Rock-and-Roll. It also makes a handy substitute for a primal scream during the low points of a pandemic.

Mark Behnke

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