My Punk Renaissance

It started like it always does–this week something random piqued my interest, I clicked over to Wikipedia, that informational dump that always leads to more things piquing my interest, and the next thing you know I’m looking at all the Robert Mapplethorpe pictures I can find (not just the nudes) and ordering Patti Smith’s autobiography Just Kids.

Tracing my relationship to punk music and figureheads is like skipping a stone across a large pond–over time I’ve consistently stumbled across and appreciated random people tangentially related to the punk movement, like Janis Joplin, who died before punk ever got off the ground, and embodied more of punk’s spirit and ethos than it’s sweeping musical changes anyway. I’d say the most accurate way to describe my relationship to punk is that I’m moving backwards in time, working my way in reverse to the classics.

In high school, I was really into groups that would be classified now as pop punk or mainstream punk, namely Green Day, My Chemical Romance, The Ataris, and one of my all-time favorite, most nostalgia-producing, shameful-secret bands: Blink-182. I can’t even tell you how excited I was when I heard they were getting back together again. If you don’t already hate Blink and all they stand for, here’s a sampling of the type of criticism they generate: Christine Di Bella of PopMatters.com wrote a pretty scathing piece about Blink representing “new school bubblegum punk,” saying, “It’s punk taken to its most accessible point, a point where it barely reflects its lineage at all, except in the three-chord song structures and the prevalence of audience members with hair dyed in primary colors.”

Enter college life, when I started exploring musical genres that employ, if not fewer, less crude curse words. Another bonus: exposure to songs about experiences beyond breaking up with one’s girlfriend and other high school-ophilia. I inched closer to punk in that era by listening to a lot of bands Wikipedia classifies as “post-punk revival,” including The Strokes, Franz Ferdinand, Arctic Monkeys, and The Killers (yes, this is another example of my poor taste, and yes, The Killers are about 95% pop and maybe 5% punk, but I’m just going by omniscient Wikipedia here).

Then there was post-college and my familiarization with feminism (why that didn’t happen during college I have no idea; but I distinctly remember being invited to a feminist student group meeting and being like, “Eh”¦”). All of a sudden “grrrl” wasn’t just something I used as a greeting in middle school notes (“heeeeeey grrrrrrl!!”), it stood for a movement I was mad that I had missed, which made me determined to make up for lost time. So I listened to Bikini Kill and Sleater-Kinney and I read about Kathleen Hanna and zines, and somehow this all got mixed up with my love for Liz Phair and “Exile in Guyville,” and I decided it was a good time to be female.

In the past few months, I’ve watched The Runaways and been turned on to the wonderful fierceness that is Joan Jett (I could listen to her cover of Crimson and Clover for hours). I wasn’t quite as enthused by the actual music of The Runaways (this may be sacrilege, but Cherry Bomb makes me want to stuff my ears with Q-tips and scratch my eyes out), but the movie was great. And then there’s been the gradual addition of more Ramones songs to my iTunes line-up, my foray into and rejection of Sex Pistols music, and the very recent Patti Smith exposure (I had never seen or heard of her Horses album cover until a week ago, if you can believe it).

I’m still working my way back to the greats. Siouxsie and the Banshees is up next in my punk-exploration mission, and I have really high hopes for that group! Who do you recommend I listen to or read about next?

To set the mood:

Editor’s note: the blog ate Meghan’s original video, so I’m throwing my goddess Siouxsie up here.  ~o

12 thoughts on “My Punk Renaissance”

  1. Tilt, Soviettes, Lunachicks, Tsunami Bomb and Original Sinners – check them all out.

    I love me some punk rock.

    Also, these guys don’t have a female lead, but they’ve got GREAT feminist lyrics – BoySetsFire

    I especially suggest Tilt’s “Minister of Culture”

    Here’s a sample of the lyrics:
    A woman in a western home is under house arrest
    A drunkard is her jailer he’s entitled to molest
    Her daughter is passed over when she tries to rasie her hand
    The likelihood of her success is not an even chance

    The minister of culture
    He’s wringing his hands
    He keeps on laughing
    As he demands-
    “No human right applies here
    Our women will agree
    Our property has spoken
    No cause to intervene”

  2. Lite punker here, AKA poseur. Good recommendations by Slay Belle
    I’d also add Violent Femmes, Adam Ant, Bauhaus.
    Song recommendations: “Never Say Never” by Romeo Void, “Go” by Tones on Tails.

    1. Man, Tones on Tails. I haven’t listened to them forever. Yeah, ‘3’ by the Violent Femmes is a classic (did you know they were on Sabrina the Teenaged Witch as themselves?!), ‘Press Eject and Give Me the Tape’ will give a great overview to Bauhaus’s career, and Adam Ant is the guy who changed my life.

      If you (Meghan) like Bauhaus and Siouxie, you’re probably getting into the Goth side of things, in which case, you need to listen to Sisters of Mercy too.

  3. Siouxie starts out in the punk scene, but she quickly moves over and is one of the earliest members of the Goth movement, which is a direct offshoot of NYC punk. Both Billy Idol and Robert Smith were in early versions of the Banshees.

    Punk pioneers that I think are essentials: X, particularly the album ‘Los Angeles’, Dead Kennedys, The Germs, Fugazi, The Raincoats, The Slits, Blondie, early Talking Heads, The Buzzcocks, The Cramps, early Cure, Stiff Little Fingers, The Clash, early Police, The Heartbreakers, ….

    Seriously, I could go on. However, if right now you’re listening to Siouxie, I would suggest looking up X. I think you’ll find their female singer (they sang in harmony, which is pretty unheard of for punk) Exene Cervanka pretty interesting. She has had a very interesting life and is an artist, a spoken word performer, and a librarian.

    To get a good overview, pick up these two compilations from Rhino: No Thanks! 70s Punk Rebellion and Left of the Dial: Dispatches from the 80s. They are excellent collections.

    Also, feel free to contact me if you want. I grew up in the punk scene and I write about it academically, which a particular emphasis on SoCal punk, so I’ve got a list of suggestions as long as my arm.

      1. I did. That’s actually how I got into him — he has a very large collection of punk memorabilia and art and curated a show a few years ago in LA. I mean, be still my heart. He was married to and had a child with Exene, he’s an actor, he’s multilingual, he writes poetry, and he’s easy on the eyes.

    1. Slay Belle, I knew you would have good suggestions! Now that both you and kperfetto have recommended Rhino, that’s probably the direction I’ll head off towards next–and yeah, once I’m more familiarized, I think it would be awesome to talk more in-depth about what growing up in the movement was like for you. Punk fascinates me for reasons it’s kind of hard to explain, and I always like learning more about it. Thanks again!

  4. I was almost a little too old for riot grrrl. I wish something like it had existed when I was in high school, or if something did, that it was a little more accessible.

    I always feel like I’ve failed third-wave feminism by not liking Bikini Kill, Hole, or Liz Phair. I respect their contributions they’ve made, and I’ve sort of learned to appreciate them, but to say they affected my life the way they have other women my age would be dishonest. I have a few criticisms of riot grrrl in general — mostly its being a largely white, middle-class movement. I know a lot of that comes from mainstream media’s perception of it, but being a working-class girl living in a conservative part of the country, I never felt it was “for me.”

    I do like old school British punk. Why it makes the grade, I don’t know. I think that it’s so far my own experience — and at least a decade removed from me — it seemed glamorous. Maybe it’s because I felt an odd kinship with those working-class British toughs that I didn’t with music from my own generation.

    Recs? In the early 90s, Rhino put out these comps of little known or unheralded punk bands from the 70s and 80s. I know CDs have gone the way of the dinosaur, but they’re worth digging through the cut-out bins for. I didn’t have older siblings to hip me to stuff, so they sort of functioned as surrogate cool kids.

    1. Liz Phair is the only of the riot grrrl-type acts (and she’s not even punk) that I discovered and enjoyed by chance. The others I mostly sought out and listened to until I developed a taste for them. I don’t know why I like Exile in Guyville so much–maybe because in general I tend towards acoustic and lo-fi stuff? That and, despite the fact that I’d been in a happy relationship for two years when I first heard Exile, I could still relate to the messages in songs like Fuck and Run, about being afraid of loneliness and that I’d just screw up everything.

      I think you’re onto something with the theory that being removed from a movement makes it more appealing. I was in elementary school when riot grrrl was big, so it’s just far enough in the past to be intriguing. Compare that to some of the “cool” indie rock going on now, and most of it I just don’t get. I certainly like some of the music, but I feel like, unlike punk, there’s no unifying theme or driving motive for making the music.

      Thanks for your recommendation! I’m going to troll ebay and see if I can find any of those CDs.

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