Punk rock of ages

Pasatiempo - - Restaurant Review -

that about ev­ery 30 years, Amer­i­can pol­i­tics shift to­ward the right, and in re­sponse, rock mu­sic trends a lit­tle more to­ward the anti­estab­lish­ment. The 1950s saw a surge in the pop­u­lar­ity of rock ’n’ roll, in some ways a youth-cul­ture re­sponse to a racially di­vided nation — an av­enue, how­ever nar­row and rife with ap­pro­pri­a­tion, to some sem­blance of cre­ative and so­cial equal­ity.

Skip ahead to the 1980s and the birth of hard­core punk. The Rea­gan years pro­vided vol­umes of fod­der for dis­en­fran­chised kids and young adults — some of them white, male sub­ur­ban­ites just an­gling to piss off their par­ents, some just want­ing a re­lease, and oth­ers sick­ened by pub­lic pol­icy and hop­ing to af­fect real change.

The bands they lis­tened to were never short on grist for the spiked-wrist­band mill. From Dead Kennedys’ “We’ve Got a Big­ger Prob­lem Now” and Bad Brains’ “Big Takeover” to Youth Bri­gade’s “Moral Ma­jor­ity” and MDC’s “Bye Bye Ron­nie,” a mu­si­cal sub­cul­ture could be heard gnash­ing back against The Man in the grim­i­est of clubs and the stateliest of homes. Around the same time, hip-hop pi­o­neers Grand­mas­ter Flash and the Fu­ri­ous Five re­leased “The Mes­sage,” with its le­gendary re­frain, “Don’t push me ’cause I’m close to the edge, I’m try­ing not to lose my head, It’s like a jun­gle some­times it makes me won­der how I keep from go­ing un­der …” And po­lit­i­cal hip-hop was born.

I can’t dis­count the hip­pie years be­tween rock ’n’ roll and a hard­core place. It was an era rife with lightly strummed folk-protest songs and psych-rock an­thems that of­ten bred more drug use than use­ful dis­sent. (Sorry if you were at Wood­stock or lied and said you were, but keep­ing to the 30-year the­ory, I have to leave these great mu­si­cians and my thoughts re­gard­ing them for an­other time. You, too, met­al­heads).

So here we are in 2010, three decades af­ter the re­lease of The Ra­mones’ fifth stu­dio al­bum, the Phil Spector-pro­duced backpedal­ing in a new po­lit­i­cal soup you can con­ve­niently hate, love, or fear from the com­fort of your own home via com­put­ers, smart phones, iPads, and cable-news talk­ing heads.

The way young peo­ple pri­mar­ily com­mu­ni­cate and so­cial­ize now — through the In­ter­net — has had as much of an im­pact on pol­i­tics as it’s had on the cre­ation, dis­sem­i­na­tion, and ap­pre­ci­a­tion of mu­sic. Af­ter the elec­tion re­sults rolled in last Tues­day, friends of mine, young and old, be­gan post­ing vin­tage videos and lyrics from Rea­gan-era punk bands on so­cial net­works. There was noth­ing new to be said or sung, ap­par­ently. It was more ef­fi­cient to just re­cy­cle the past in the ser­vice of ex­press­ing frus­tra­tion over the present. The 21st cen­tury and the tech­no­log­i­cal con­ve­niences it pro­vides have cre­ated a dearth of ag­gres­sive, quick ’n’ dirty, po­lit­i­cally charged mu­sic. How­ever im­me­di­ate the In­ter­net makes some mu­sic seem, the bulk of what it of­fers, es­pe­cially punk rock, is crap.

So, where do we go from here in the next 30-year cy­cle? Who’s bring­ing the sub­ver­sion, and who’s con­struct­ing the next au­di­ble wall of angst that moves peo­ple to chal­lenge and in­tim­i­date the sta­tus quo be­yond its wildest ex­pec­ta­tions? An old friend ex­plained to me a few days ago that the re­sults of the midterm elec­tions have an up­side: it’s a great op­por­tu­nity for a true punk-rock resur­gence. Not one that ends up on Broad­way or the MTV Video Mu­sic Awards, but one that stirs a younger gen­er­a­tion to take con­trol of its destiny by im­pugn­ing its flawed lead­er­ship — con­ser­va­tive or pro­gres­sive, punk doesn’t dis­crim­i­nate — in cre­ative, and some­times un­pop­u­lar, ways. And be­sides, if we older folks can’t peel our asses away from

long enough to vote, we’re gonna need all the help we can get, and soon.

— Rob DeWalt

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