An Era Of PunkSex, drugs, and rock and roll was the rallying cry for a movement that changed American culture forever. Rock androll first startled the American scene in the mid-1950s, but no one then could have predicted the remarkable vitality and stayingpower of this new music. The early tradition of rock has gone through many transitions.
Provocative and outlandish stage attireand behavior have been an important resource since the birth of rock and roll. Decades following the birth of rock and roll, manyhave witnessed a steady ever changing parade of hair styles, costumes, gestures and props. As the level of tolerance andacceptance grew, rock stars adopted more bizarre and shocking images. It is in this context that punk rock, seen by some asa startling new direction in the late 1970s must be considered. Rock music achieved a new respectability and power at thesame time (Ward, Stokes, Tucker, Rock of Ages, 547). Punk was rocks most notable attempt in the late 1970s to inject angry,rebellious, risk taking notations into the music.
The musical style called punk rock developed in the United States out of raw and energetic music played by thegarage bands of the mid-sixties. These bands were mainly teenagers playing basic guitar chords, and failing away at drums andcymbals in their own garages. This resulted in sounds that were rough, raw, and musically undisciplined, which expressed theirinterests and brought music to their level (Charlton, Rock Music, 204). Given that the greatest garage bands could barley play,we may assume not only that virtuosity has nothing to do the form, but also that the Utopian dream of every man and artist cancome true right here, in our suburban land of opportunity– the ultimate proof that rock and roll is the most democratic andall-American of art forms (Miller, History of Rock & Roll, 261). While teenage garage bands were becoming a hit and making it onto the pop charts, slightly older, artistically trainedbut jagged musicians were writing poetry and singing about urban decay. This artistic expression was not the first, this sort ofidea far artistic expression had been at the root of several literary, artistic, and musical styles in the twentieth century, includingthe dadaist movement and the Beat movement (Charlton, Rock Music, 204). The dadaists, a group of artists from Switzerland,expressed their views of madness and chaos exemplified by World War I.
The dadaists saw this kind of devastation anddestruction of human life that took place during the Was, and expressed their views by fashioning artwork out of trash or othermaterial put together in a chaotic form. The same fear of the potential human animal had for violence, along with the awesome power of modern-dayweapons, influenced many later artists to share the concerns and emulate the work of the dadaists (Charlton, Rock Music, 204). The Beat poets and writers of the fifties, directed their feelings of anger towards society in their poetry and writings. The mannerin which the Beats openly confronted the problems that most people ignored, as well as the dada, influenced desire to producean anti-art to express the belief that society had lost all sense of value was at the philosophical root of the punk movement,which eventually spawned a style of music (Charlton, Rock music, 204). The grandest example of a risky, aggressive, cynical yet ambitious sensibility worming it way into the rock world wasthe man many called a godfather of punk: Lou Reed (Ward, Stokes, Tucker, Rock of Ages, 547). Lou Reed stands as crucialfigure in 1970s rock.
Reed wrote poetry about street life, prostitution, and drugs in New York. He was Classically trained to playthe piano, but felt he could not express what he had to say about society playing Mozart (Charlton, Rock Music, 204). Reedcombined controversial common places with a profound cynicism to yield music. Reed maintained a highly adversarialrelationship with his audience.
He would insult them one minute and challenge them the next. Reeds influence on others, goodor bad, can be heard in the work of other rockers, such as David Bowie and The New York Dolls.Before there was Lou Reed as a solo artist, there was the Velvet Underground, a band that in the midst of the utopian,freedom-loving, feel-good 1960s, proffered apocalypse, addiction, and feel bad. The Velvet Underground left traditional rockand roll styles aside to experiment with new forms of expression. The Velvet Underground consisted of Lou Reed, SterlingMorrision, John Cale, who was later replaced by Doug Yale, and Maureen Tucker. Reed recited his poems to simple andrepetitions melodies while Cale played a continuos, pulsating drone on his electric viola. True to the Style of the dada artists ofthe past, Maureen Tucker sometimes added trash-can lids to her drum set (Charlton, Rock Music, 205).
The Velvet Underground met op with Andy Warhol who was a pop artist well known for his transformation of soup cans intoimages of art. Wharhol painted the banana on their first album, the Velvet Underground & Nico, and had them ass ChristaPaffagin to sing on some cuts. Reeds sounds concentrated on the harsh themes such as drug addiction and sadomasochism. The music on the album was repetitions, unemotional, and only vaguely related to most commercial rock. The Velvets secondalbum called White Light/ White Heat, expressed themes such as drugs on the element of street life. the albums title was Reedsanthem to amphetamines. Traditional song and musical forms were ignored and repetitious drones occasionally interrupted byscreeching feedback, were established to accompany Reeds monologues (Charlston, Rock Music, 205).
This expressed thecoldness and gloom Reed saw in the world. Reeds contributions to the band included the furious White Light/white Heat andthe ultimate drug-rock songs Waiting for the man and Heroin. Reed was writing beautifully detailed, emotionally and lyricallycomplex songs such as Pale blue Eyes and Beginning To See The Light.The Velvet Undergrounds first efforts influenced the development of punk as a musical style. Their emotionlessportrayal of themes centering on alienation from human concerns and their use of repetitious musical ideas becamecharacteristics of both punk and new-wave. This highly emotional expression of anger at the heart of most punk music camefrom the garage band sound.
Musically, this anger was expressed though a constantly pounding eighth note beat and shoutedvocals. A traditional rock back beat was played behind the fast throbbing pulse of guitar and bass (Charlton, Rock Music, 205). Other influences on the development of punk music were the MC5, Iggy Pop and the Stooges. The MC5 developedout a loud and angry style. Their first album, Kick Out the Jams, which expressed obscene lyrics, was criticized and refusedairplay. The MC5 combined the power of heavy metal with the raw garage band sound combined with their own belligerent,indigent attitude. Iggy Pop and the stooges played repetitious, angry, and pessimistic music.
Iggy Pop would act out his disgustwith society and hit himself the microphone. Iggy pop would also cut himself on stage with pieces of glass and smear the blood. John Cal, formally of the Velvet Underground, produced their first album called the Stooges. It was James Jewel Osterberys,a.k.a.
Iggy, self-destructive image the had a great influence on the movement of punk music. The loud, raw, rebellious sound of the MC5 and the Stoogies and the alienated attitude of the Velvet Underground waspicked up in the early seventies by The New York Dolls (Charlton, Rock Music, 206). The New York Dolls has a glam-rock style,they added some glitter to punk and then passes it onto other New York groups and to the angry youth of London. The finemembers of The New York Dolls wore lipstick, heavy eye make-up, and stacked heels to perform songs about bad girls, drugs,and New York street life.
The New York Dolls had a less serious attitude but their themes were similar to the VelvetUnderground. From the Stoogies and the MC5, The New York Dolls used heavy distorted guitar lines and a powerful poundingbeat which they combined with Rhythm and Blues. On the groups debut album this can be heard in the song Personality Crisis(Charlton, Rock Music, 206).The Middle of the decade, brought the first stirrings of a nascent music scene. In 1975, Hilly Kristal, owner of anondescript Bowery bar called CBGB and OMFUG (Country, Blue Grass, and Blues and Other Music For Urban Gourmets)allowed a few local musicians to talk him into using the rear of his long, narrow bar as a stage on which to perform for free.
Before long, Kristal had a list of regular bands rotating at CBGBs (Ward, Stokes, Tucker, Rock of Ages, 552-553). CBGBs wasthe starting place for many New York bands, including Television, The Patti Smith Group, and the Ramones. Word wasbeginning to spread among hip arty types that CBGCs was the place to be; both to hear music that stood in stark contrast to thepolished stuff that was coming to overrun the rock industry, and to be seen in the new in spot.Television member, Tom Valaine tried to emulate French symbolist poet Paul Verlaine with his use of symbolism,metaphor, and lyricism in the lyrics he wrote for the band. Televisions first bass player, Richard Hell, spiked his hair and woretorn clothing. Their image would later become a standard for British punks. Televisions music combined a Velvet Underground- influenced punk sensibility with melodic lead guitar lines and psychedelic – style wandering improvisations (Charlston, RockMusic, 207).
Poet and protopunk Patti Smith moved in for a seven-week stint in Mid 1975 and established CBGB as a beachhead ofthe rock and roll avant garde (Ward, Stokes, Tucker, Rock of Ages, 553). patti Smith began reading her poetry, latter singing itto simple guitar accompaniment by Lenny Kaye. John Cale also produced The Patti Smith Group debut album, Horses, whichcombined the musical simplicity of the Velvet Undergrounds with Smiths gusty and energetic vocals and a pounding punk beat. The album included a new version of the song Gloria in which Smiths singing of male text was intended to shock the averagelistener in the same was the Beat poetry had also done before (Charlton, Rock music, 208). Smith also had a new version of thesong My Generation in which she shouted obscenities, making it clear to every one that her generation was new and angrier. Most of the Ramones songs did not last more than two minuets, but it was arguably the most exhilarating half-hour inrock and Roll.
The Ramones very simple, fast high-energy music and monotone vocals became a prototype for much punk rockto follow (Charlton, Rock Music. 208). The Ramones were the first of the New York Bands to tour extensively, and theirappearances in England in 1976 was later cited by many English punk bands as the original inspiration for that countrysdo-it-yourself rock revolution. This high energy can be heard in their album calls Too Tough To Die. Groups of British lower- and middle- class teenagers in the mid-seventies had grown to detest the lifestyles andtraditional values of their parents, and had come to believe they were caught up in an economic and class ridden social systemover which they had no control, one they viewed as relegating them to a life of weak poverty with no hope of jobs that would payenough to better themselves (Charlton, Rock Music, 208).
Many of these teenagers copes with their feelings of anger andfrustration with violence. Many were antigovernment, antisocially, and antifashion. They adopted a way of dressing in tornsecond- hand clothing with large safety pins holding the pieces together. This look reflected their rejection of the standard imageof respectability and became a symbol of their feelings of alienation (Charlton, Rock Music, 208). Realizing the financial potential behind these sociological traits, the astute Malcolm McLauren kept an eye on the rockmusic underground as a bell whether indicator for the British youth. It was here that McLauren recognized they highly visible,widely energetic and ant-social punk was the heir apparent for the youth of the UK.
in order to capitalize on this new sound andevolving trend, he bean promoting the Sex Pistols. The Sex Pistols evoked disgust every where they went. Their music had the constant pounding a loud distorted guitarthat had been part of the punk sound in Detroit and New York, but unlike The New York Dolls, The Sex Pistols were not justtoying with rebellion. they were completely caught up in highly emotional anger.
The Sex Pistols wanted to repulse theestablishment and provoke authorities into retaliating against them (Charlton, Rock Music, 208). This notion attracted more funthen their music itself. The Sex pistols had such a bad reputation that many other bands began copying their sound and look. The energy levels were high and violence at their performances became common. The pogo dance was started at the SexPistols concerts.
The lyrics of God Save The Queen were so foul and insulting that the song was banned from Britishtelevision and radio. The Sex Pistols were so popular underground that they made it on the pop charts as a black line. The Damned, another British band managed by McLauren, played fast and angry music. Damn engaged in punkactivities such as taunting and spitting at the audience. They were the first British punk band to release a single, New Rose onthe album Damned, Damned, Damned.
The Damned traveled to New York to play at the CBGB. The Damned played fast, hardpunk music that stressed anger for angers sake. they toured the US, and along with the Sex Pistols served as a major influenceon the development of punk in California.
The Clash, one of the longest lasting groups of the British punk movement expressed the multidirectional anger theSex Pistols has, their songs zeroed in the causes of punk rebellion: youth unemployment, racism, and police brutality. Inaddition to using punks familiar rhythmic throb, they took Jamaicas music of rebellion and added a reggae beat to some of theirmusic (Charlton, Rock Music, 210). The Clash had two top forty us hits, with Train in Vain (Stand By Me) and Rock TheCasbah.
Other bands followed expressing these same similar feelings. Chelsea expressed the anger of unemployment and theRight To Work, Generation X in Your Generation. X-Ray sex brought a violent feminist message to punk with the single OhBondage Up Yours!. The Buzzcocks expressed youthful attitudes in Breakdown and Boredom. The energy level andsimplicity of punk soon spread beyond its original antigovernment and antisocially causes and themes.
The Jam hammered away at a fast pulse similar to British punk groups. The Jam was in effect a group of latter-daymods who mixed a punk beat with music by earlier Mod groups, particularly Motown-stle soul. The Jam had a different look tothem then the Sex Pistols. They wore conservative suits and ties and were openly supportive of the British Monarchy andgovernment.When British punk bands toured the US, they struck a nerve in California and started a punk movement in both SanFrancisco and Los Angeles. Despite the American teenagers having jobs, food, and clothing readily available to them they didnot keep the anger and violence out their music, However, they did have plenty to say about their ex-hippie parents and thegovernment involvement in politics. The Dead Kennedys, a punk band formed in San Francisco, played fast, heavily distortedmusic with shouted monotone vocals that condemned the US government and other institutions for a multitude of offenses, andyet displayed a sense of humor (Charlton, Rock Music, 212).
Kill The Poor had a strong satirical statement against those whoput money into the development of the neutron bomb, but resisted governmental aide to Americas poor. A large hard core punkculture developed in Los Angeles during the late 1970s and early 1980s, including such bands as the Black Flag, The Germs,X, and Catholic Discipline. Black Flags music had fast beats distorted guitars, and monotone vocal style of British punk bands,and their short songs expressed their anger towards everyone. latter on they began to break away and included some very longsongs with heavy metal charastics such as distorted guitar solos and repeating drones, but often added occasional touches ofcountry music, rockabilly and heavy metal styles. Around the late seventies, many rock fans began to fell that the music wasgetting old. Fans felt that their needed to be a new energy that was less violent and antiestablishment then punk music.
Punkshalf beat pulse, monotone vocals, and emotional alienations were adopted by groups that played within more mainstreampopular rock styles and the term new wane began to be used to catorgize this music (Charlton, Rock Music, 213).Many of the bands formed during the mid to late seventies played with enough of the musical characteristics of punk ornew wave to gain a population within those styles, even though much of their music did not really fit into the new wave genre. the group Blondie fit into this category. After Blondie put out their first album, Blondie, it put the group on the commercialoutskirts of new wave, but their music had even less characteristics of this style (Charlton, Rock Music, 215).
Blondieexperimented with all types of music. Blondie toyed with disco in Heart of Glass, and Call Me, and with reggae in The Tide IsHigh and also commercial brand rap in Rapture. The Cars combined the unemotional vocals and pounding beat of punk withChuck Berrys influenced guitar and angular version of rhythm and blues beat to form a traditional rooted new wave style. theCars expressed a sense of allegation from emotional attachments in My Best Friends Girl. Once again, these new styles of punk made there way back to the British.
As New York had the CBGBs, England hadpubs. This pub rock influenced many artists. Elvis Costello expressed relationships, the insecurity, women, and politics. Costello was also influenced by the different styles of rock music in Less Than Zero, he influenced pop rockabilly style, andwith reggae in Watching The Defectives. Costello began to move away from the pop rock into the new wave. his songs beganto deal wiith powere struggles, in (Wahts So Funny bout) Peace, Loce, and Understanding.
He made songs aboutrelationships such as Baby Plays Around but nevertheless still wrote about poltics in Tramp the Dirt Down and Let HimDangle. Other artists begain to be influenced by this change in music style. While Elvis Costello began his career by portrayingan extreme example of male insecurity in modern culture, Chrisse Hynde displayed a strong, tough, and yet somewhatvulnerable female image (Charlton, Rock Music, 217). Hynde soon formed The Pretenders which had a heavy strong backbeatand heavy-metal-influenced guitar lines in ehich gave The Pretenders a hard rock sound that was new wave beacuse ofHyndes vocals were generally viod af any sort of tender emotion. The energy, and often the anger, of punk was present, butHynde made the element of melody, whether it was her singing or Honeyman-Scotts guitar playing,more important than the fast,pounding punk beat. such great melodies can be heaerd in the 1994 album Last of the of the Independents, Stand By You. Messages of song lyrics differed from one style to the other, with punk generally expressing multidirectional anger andnew wave displaying a cool, modern, detached approach to life, unaffected by emotional concerns.
Both styles were trimmeddown from the grandiose rock styles of the seventies, which had created an unbridgeable distance performer and the audience. Punk was a way for teenagers to express their feelings through their music without having to have the technical proficiency toplay. They were able to perform music that was meaningful to themselves and to their peers. As punk music has influencedothers from its beginning garage band sound, nothing new had happened togay, it still carries those same energetic pulses thatin had in the past. Punk is still here, it has set the trend today with its histiric style making it the norm of today.
BibliographyWorks CitedCharlton, Katherine, Rock Music Styles, A History, McGraw-Hill Co., Inc., Boston, Massachusetts, 3rd ED., 1998.Miller, Jim, History Of Rock & Roll, Random House, New York, New York, 1976.Ward, Ed, Stokes, Geoffrey, Ticker, Ken, Rock Of Ages, Summit Books, New york, New York, 1986.Music