Punk rock: Ex­pand­ing the mu­si­cal palate

Chattanooga Times Free Press - ChattanoogaNow - - VOICES - Con­tact Shawn Ryan at mshawn­[email protected]

I was not a fan of early punk rock. The first al­bum I ever bought was The Bea­tles’ “White Al­bum,” so mul­ti­lay­ered har­monies and sub­stan­tial melodies were my guide­posts.

When the Sex Pis­tols’ “Never Mind the Bol­locks” came out in 1977, I couldn’t un­der­stand the at­ten­tion. They said the F-word on TV in Eng­land — so what? They dissed the Queen. Big deal in the UK. Who cares over here? I was al­ways one who thought you needed to be able to play your in­stru­ment at least a lit­tle to ac­tu­ally be a mu­si­cian. I still feel that way and think “Bol­locks” is one of the great scams of mod­ern mu­sic.

I will ad­mit it gave thou­sands, per­haps mil­lions, the re­al­iza­tion that even if they weren’t mae­stros at their in­stru­ments — or maybe even barely ad­e­quate — they could ex­press them­selves mu­si­cally and emo­tion­ally. A huge pos­i­tive.

“Punk” is far too broad a term to lump un­der one ban­ner that cov­ers the Pis­tols, although they’re a touch­stone for many. The essence of “punk” is sim­ple. Change the equa­tion. Break the rules. For­get niceties. Say what you feel in what­ever way you want to say it. Sure, play fast if you want — or don’t — but say some­thing.

But there have been many bands that took the punk aes­thetic and ex­panded upon it. Green Day, Ran­cid, Off­spring and oth­ers all in­clude melody and har­mony without sac­ri­fic­ing emo­tion or speed, if speed is needed. Green Day has writ­ten rock op­eras, for the love of all that’s holy.

To get to the back­bone of the melodic-punk move­ment, Shawn Ryan how­ever, you must go back to Bad Re­li­gion, whose ma­jor-league de­but came out in 1982, well be­fore any of the oth­ers. Bad Re­li­gion melds the fe­roc­ity of punk with three-part har­monies and melodic cho­ruses. Lead singer/ song­writer Greg Graf­fin has a Ph.D in the his­tory of science from Cor­nell. He grew up lis­ten­ing to folk, blue­grass and hymns. So har­mony and melody are part of his DNA, but the in­tel­li­gence of a doc­toral pro­gram is, too. He has writ­ten about the Big Bang, the Mid­dle East, tech­nol­ogy, re­li­gion, mod­ern so­ci­ety and gov­ern­ment, and that barely scratches the sur­face of his songs.

Bad Re­li­gion — along with prog­eny like Green Day — prove that har­monies and melodies don’t dampen the force of punk. They make it more pow­er­ful, give it the abil­ity to reach a wider au­di­ence who feel the same way emo­tion­ally, but who don’t want to hear some­one who picks up an in­stru­ment and sim­ply thumps it with a fist to ex­press anger and dis­dain.

If you can get peo­ple to ac­tu­ally lis­ten to what you’re say­ing, as well as re­act­ing to the sheer fe­roc­ity of the mu­sic, you’ve won.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.