Punk Rock/Over analyzing Punk
QUESTION: Do you think Punk is being over analyzed? Do you think studying about what is and isn't Punk pulls away from the objective of what Punk was meant to be? And did you know that Punk is being studied in classes and how do you feel about that?
So very sorry for taking so much time to answer you...it is an interesting question, and I simply didn't have the time to devote to a reply...until now.
No, I don't think punk is being over-analyzed...and I think it only human for intelligent people to discuss things they are interested in. We can often learn from other's perspectives. I actually feel it has contributed very positively to modern life, and deserves to be understood more thoroughly in terms of its' pervasiveness, and so I welcome intelligent discussions in schools, bars, living rooms and street corners. For some people, artists in particular, it is an instinct, a natural understanding of a path of action. However, it is also possible to define this somewhat and make it useful for those to whom it is not automatically obvious. In a fundamental way, punk is about freedom, and certainly should not be kept a secret.
I suppose a lot depends on what you mean by 'what punk was meant to be'. To me, it simply 'allows' a transgression of untenable rules. Fashion, film, literature and painting have all had punk movements, (and, of course, post-punk, or no wave, brought them all together for a brief moment). So, the very freedom of discussing it, of sharing individual takes on 'what punk is' can be punk itself. Why not? The opposite of punk is repression, conformity, and a foolish consistency.
I also think, from an artistic perspective, that a fuller understanding of what punk has achieved will make it easier for others to discern what is, and what is not 'punk'. Ezra Pounds' dictate to 'make it new' carried a lot of weight with me, and so nostalgia is not what I'm looking for in art. Certainly none of the superficial aspects of cartoons make anyone/thing punk (leather jackets/buzzsaw guitars/1977). And so a thorough understanding of history, with a beady eye on the future, would make a welcome discussion in a classroom...or anywhere intelligent people happen to gather.
Just curious: By whom do you think it's being over-analyzed? I rarely see it mentioned in the New York Times, or the Guardian, I'm not sure the last time I heard it mentioned on t.v...., but it wasn't this month...nobody in my local grocery store seems to be debating whether the Clash were 'true punks' or just another good rock band...so why do you ask the question?
I hope this helps somewhat, and I'm truly sorry that the conspiracy of circumstances prevented a more timely correspondence.
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QUESTION: It is my own perspective that I think Punk is being over-analyzed. I am not of the Punk era or movement, and I personally did not ever pay attention to punk. The thing is I am taking a class on Punk and having all these conversations on what is and isn't Punk and the different types of punkers, it makes me feel that I'm corrupting Punks true identity. I feel that talking about what is and isn't Punk is giving it broader definition and is a gateway to argue that almost anything is Punk.
The first thing we learned about Punk is that it started because people were not happy with government and they were not willing to conform. If that is why punk started then why is it not the main focus? Shouldn't the focus be on the philosophy and reason of punk rather than anything else?
More good questions...here's what I think. Life is messy and history is complicated. History in particular is a funny thing, and can have as many perspectives as there were eyewitnesses and interpreters. What you say about punk's origins-growing out of a political discontent, is true if you are coming from the point of view that punk began in England in 1975. There are others, myself included, who think a strong case can be made for punk to have begun in America. It depends on what you call 'punk'. Sure, the cartoon image, personified by Sid Vicious, with the heroin and the hair, the damaged drool, etc. is English. But all that I've named, and much of what we think of externally as Sid, was copied directly from American musicians, especially the Ramones, who should have patented the leather jacket/jeans look.
Richard Hell had the haircut and the nihilism first, and Malcolm Maclaren knew him in New York. Hell rejected McLaren;s offer to go to England and start a band, so McLaren went back and helped organize what became the Pistols. Hell and Tom Verlaine had already been playing out for many months as Television, and again, if Hell had patented HIS look, he'd be rich, too.
Punk, as I said in my original letter, is not a sound or a look. It is a spirit, an approach to life. Thus, movies, books and art can be punk...even just the way you live a life can be punk. The American bands tended to have no interest whatsoever in politics, being rather more inward-looking. This may have been augmented by a widespread use of serious class-A drugs, but there were various sociocultural influences on all of this. So, to directly address your question (backwards!); the philosophy and the focus of punk is much wider than any one thing (British politics), and if you look at what are generally considered to be the first wave of punk bands (you could make an excellent case going back to the 60's and include the Velvet Underground, the Stooges and many of the 'Nuggets' bands, but for brevity's sake we won't right now)...Television, Ramones, Blondie, and, I don't know, let's say Suicide, none of them looked or sounded anything like the other. I repeat: none of the original punk bands looked or sounded like the other. Television made searing, soaring urban poetry, with not only long songs, but guitar solos! Long ones! The Ramones channelled 60's surf pop and Motown through aggressive glue-sniffing ennui, Blondie also drew on 60's girl pop but threw in Andy Warhol and ironic distance, and Suicide...they were so punk AND downtown NYC art-rock that they didn't even use guitars...two people, intense aggression and emotion.
So, yes, almost anything can be punk, once you understand where it comes from (drink the kool-aid, as it were). And many non-musical things were. Certainly the films of Richard Kern, for example, and Lydia Lunch's spoken-word, and Jean-Michele Basquiat's paintings were all influenced by punk music, and retain the spirit and trajectory.
But, not everything that glitters is punk. It is easy to dress up and imitate the superficial aspects of punk, and, especially in America, we are so under-educated that many people wouldn't know or care about the difference, Green Day being an easy example. Not punk, never were. You can't tell by looking at them if they are or not-well, Green Day and others like them you can- In fact, if they are that obvious about it, be very suspicious. If they do the loud/fast Ramones-type sound, well, what are the lyrics then? Nick Cave and Michael Gira both tend towards softer sounds at times, but when they unleash their demons it is positively savage, and they are punker than fuck. But-and this is important-their softer sounds are punker than fuck, too, because of where they're coming from.
Corrupting punk's identity has to do with exploiting superficial aspects (clothes, sound, attitude, politics) and not being either true to oneself or original. True punks a) don't care what they're called or who cares, and would prefer not to be labelled at all, and b) tend to be both true to themselves AND original.
Hope this helps some!