Friday, January 16, 2015

Early Punk and The Rages of "Boredom," Buh Dum Buh Dum

Full disclosure: I'm a grayhead.

So old, in fact, I remember the '80s – firsthand. I remember the hoary early days of Punk that preceded it. I remember how it felt: a growling soundtrack to a revolution about to happen. The truth is, as powerful as the music was – some of it, anyway – the music was almost ancillary: Its real power came from its anarchy. Bands were releasing their own records, printing their own 'zines, cobbling together their own fashion, and foregoing the institutions. Unlike the  Surrealists and the Dadaists before, this was not a intellectual or elitist movement. It wasn't even a populist one – it was tribal and marginal by design. It was anti-cultural, anti-institutional, anti-establishment, and antisocial to a degree. It was like a rare earth element, destined to exist only for a moment in time.

Soon, the riffraff came – those with a pathological attraction to Punk's impudence and implied violence – and took things in another direction. Sid Vicious was the icon and the original genius of the movement was lost.

But, Punk's initial rages were rendered so authentically by the vanguard bands it was inevitable to quickly morph into a kind of institutional mediocrity as the sub-culture swelled. And now, a generation later, those first couple of years still remain a comet-sized fiery spitball that blew up Pop Culture.

My romance with Punk was a brief one: it died with the end of the Sex Pistols. Over the long haul, youthful rage deserved much more nuance than Punk was able to provide and to that purpose Post-punk seemed to be the answer: The Fall, Joy Division, Wire, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Gang of Four, Echo and the Bunnymen, etc. Some of them, for better or worse, are still with us.

Still, Punk was the fuel and momentum and its echoes still resound even now (see Perfect Pussy).

In this post- Green Day and Rock the Casbah era of mega-platinum "pop-punk," the rawer output of the first wave of bands may sound quaint by comparison. Despite their limited market exposure – MTV's 120 Minutes was still at least eight years away – their cultural influence was considerable. Beyond its tonsorial and sartorial statements, it was its rage for shaming the megastar dinosaur bands of the time where punk really made its mark. Punk seemed to quicken their slog into the tar pits of irrelevance. (Much of what would end up on Coda was Led Zeppelin's attempt to draw their swords against the attack.)

For those of you too young to remember, among those seminal late '70s punk bands was the original Buzzcocks. Before the assembly line of hits, their first release was a four song EP called Spiral Scratch and was essentially a très British rendering of the first Ramones album (which only preceded Spiral Scratch by less than a year). At this juncture, Pete Shelley was relegated to guitar and vocal back-ups and Howard Devoto was the vocalizer and lyricist. Soon after the recording, Devoto would depart and form the great post-punk Magazine.

Above, hear the classic iteration of the Buzzcocks run through Boredom live; Below, Magazine's decidedly more buttoned-up and padded shoulder take.

If you're interested, hear the entire Spiral Scratch EP here:

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