New York Punk & New Wave-An Introduction

An Introduction-

Punk Rock was born in 1975 and died in 1978. Or was it born in 1973 and died in 1979? No no, it was definitely born in 1976 and died in 1977. The answer, like many things in life, depends on who you ask. It is either still very much alive and kicking in 2019, or has been diluted from its origins and heights past the point of recognition. My own experience with punk has been very limited for much of my life in all honesty. The Sex Pistols emergence went unnoticed. I was only 9 when Never Mind The Bollocks, Here’s The Sex Pistols came out after all!

The first punk band I properly knew was The Clash, though the first couple of songs I heard-Should I Stay Or Should I Go Now and Rock The Casbah came from what die hard punks thought was an attempt by the band to sellout. After all those two songs became acceptable to play on ‘classic rock’ radio stations slotted right next to the types of bloated, over sized pretentious rock that fueled the punk movement in the first place. Great though those two songs are (and they are of course) they are stylistically and musically different compared to what The Clash had done on earlier pure punk tracks such as London’s Burning or White Riot.

Around that time, say 1983 or thereabouts, I was probably more familiar with some of the second (or ‘new’) wave bands that were hitting the air waves and that more recent invention-MTV. There were a whole flock of new bands making very different sounding music compared to the more straightforward rock and roll I was accustomed to.  Though I did not understand the roots of the music, new wave was the most popular and direct movement to come out of punk. Musically quite different, but as I started doing research for this post I realized where there were definite similarities.

Some hard core punks might disagree that bands like The Slits or The Ramones had anything whatsoever to do with Human League or Talking Heads, but as author Simon Reynolds points out in his book ‘Rip It Up and Start Again (Postpunk 1978-1984), what made the two forms related was a shared disdain or any sort of reverence for much of the music that came before. They also shared some aesthetic similarities that as I have dug into researching this project I feel are still in place today in all sorts of music as a result. Punk may have started out as pure attitude, but it is appropriate to say that it gradually became a movement, and one that has had a lasting effect not just on music, but on art, fashion, sexuality and culture as well.

It is so much of a movement in fact that I realized that short of writing a book of my own on the subject matter that I needed to narrow the focus for this series. In the history of punk arguably the two most critical cities the music flourished and grew in were London and New York. Of course there was punk and new wave all over from San Francisco to Leeds, Dayton to Paris.  The pivotal innovations may have come from elsewhere but were fed through the filter of the larger music scenes in cities like New York and London.  And since I live in New York I decided that was an obvious area to focus on.

So what this series will look into is both the history and places, the art and the fashion of both punk and new wave in New York. I wanted to explore the lineage of the music which began with the art school sensibilities of The Velvet Underground in the late 1960’s straight through to the harder sounds of The New York Dolls, the pivotal contributions of Patti Smith and Blondie, to the 1234 count in of the Ramones, and the sophisticated yet funky sounds of Talking Heads and so much more in between. I wanted to find what remains. Not just the physical memories like the site of CBGB’s or Max’s Kansas City, but also what remains of the spirit of the music, and everything else we deem to be ‘punk’. So join me over the next few weeks as I dive into New York Punk.

Photograph By Robert P Doyle

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Photo Shuffle-Clampdown

I pressed ‘Play’ on my Ipod and this is what I heard…Clampdown, By The Clash.

The song that popped up today on the shuffle has provided probably the easiest song and photo pairing I have ever done. Much has been written about the importance and history of The Clash over the years. A band that came along at the right time in rock and roll history with little regard for playing it safe, and a middle finger raised upwards to anyone who got in their way. The aggression and attitude in the music and songs was balanced by great music. Punk rock sometimes gets erroneously labelled as three chords played fast and aggressively. Hearing The Clash you realize how incorrect an assumption that is with music that is tinged with reggae, ska, funk, and with a nod to the early roots of rock and roll. Maybe even more importantly, their song lyrics spoke to a generation of disenfranchised kids in a way that mainstream rock and roll was not doing.

That can be said about much of the punk ethos in fact.  Much like with hip-hop, punk inspired art and fashion (not to mention hairstyles) soon developed. Like most anything that becomes popular the original intent can sometimes become diluted, and the music and fashion become very different than the origins. One area that I like to think keeps some of that punk ethos that I am seeing more of lately is street art. It isn’t something I paid much attention until this year I have to admit.

Moving earlier this year from Manhattan to Queens one thing I noticed early on was that it was everywhere. On fences, walls and metal shutters you can scarcely walk a block and not see some form of it. In fact not far from where we live is an entire area dedicated to it called the Welling Court Mural Project. Building and property owners agree to let artists use their space as the artist’s canvas. The art varies from esoteric and dreamlike, to that more subversive and punk aesthetic. The overall Street Art movement seems to be growing. Now that I am more in tune with it, I seem to spot it everywhere now, and not just in my neighborhood. So it was that in May I noticed this great memorial to the late great Joe Strummer of The Clash in Greenwich Village. Which is why my choice of photos here was so easy!

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Clampdown-Written By Joe Strummer & Mick Jones

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*Photo Shuffle is a new, very short slice of my regular blogs based on setting my Ipod on shuffle and matching up one of my photographs to whatever comes up.