I am finally caught up with all my online class lectures! It’s amazing how far behind I got with that week in New Orleans and my subsequent difficulty in adjusting back to normal life. Good thing, because I start a new class on antibiotics next week!
Today I finished up Week 3’s lectures in History of Rock Part Two, and I loved it so much that I got a little verklempt. It was about punk and new wave in the late ‘70s. That was MY time. It brought back so many great memories of Shane and I (and our friend Steve) discovering all this great music and being so caught up in this movement that was so far removed from what most people at our high school were listening to. They were into Kenny Rogers and Air Supply, and we were blowing pictures off the walls with “Death or Glory”! (Yes, that really happened, and we still crack up over it!)
We seemed to have a knack (Ha! Knack...get it?) for learning about groups before they hit it big here. I recall loving Tom Petty when I heard “Breakdown,” and had a couple of early albums before they hit it with “Damn the Torpedoes.” I had the early Cheap Trick albums before “At Budokan.” We always joked that we should be A&R people! For whatever reason, these small town kids were plugged into the broader music scene and so into finding new music. It was really a heady time in music, and there was so much happening and so much great music. That continued for Shane and I through much of the ‘80s as we loved telling each other about new bands, and it continues to this day as we turn each other on to music we think each other would like. We’re music buddies, so we’re usually in tune on that. Haaaa, I made a pun! In tune.
It was also interesting to me to hear the professor’s confirmation that yes, punk really did originate in New York City. I’ve maintained that since forever, but there are those that feel that it originated in London. No...its roots were in the US, with bands like the Stooges, the Velvet Underground, and the New York Dolls. There was an underground scene going on in New York, and Malcolm McLaren heard about it and created his own version of it with the Sex Pistols. Then it started getting attention because of the Pistols’ bad behavior, and it came back to the US and came up from the underground. The record companies defanged it quite a bit, because they weren’t going to risk their money on unreliable and volatile acts like the Pistols, who broke up very quickly. But what an influence they had! They were like a punk rocket, flaming out quickly but leaving a huge sonic boom in its wake.
Another interesting thing was that this period marked the end of what the prof has dubbed the “hippie aesthetic.” That is the idea that music should be serious and of substance, that the musicians should be seen as professionals and virtuosos in their craft, and that the songwriters, the songs, and the music should be “authentic.” Two very different musical styles set this idea on its head at the same time, for very different reasons. Disco was all about “let’s dance,” and it really didn’t matter who the artist was...all that mattered was getting out and shakin’ what your mama gave you. Punk said “fuck the virtuosity,” and you got kids who could barely play making records and up on the stage. Very much a DIY mentality. There were of course exceptions to that, but that was a pretty pervasive attitude. Definitely a garage band attitude. I had never thought of it in those terms, but that seems dead on to me.
I was also fascinated by the idea that this was a time when bands and artists were looking back to the roots of music and using irony in their approach. The best examples of that are Debbie Harry purposefully taking on a Marilyn Monroe look, and Elvis Costello and his Buddy Holly specs. Rock and roll was old enough by then that it could look back and plumb iconic looks and sounds from the beginning of rock and roll. A lot of us were old enough to understand the cultural references and to “get it.” It was a perfect time and perfect music for people of my and Shane’s age to plug into that.
I enjoyed this week’s lectures so much. I try not to get swamped in nostalgia and I still love finding great new music—and for anyone who says that there isn’t any good music these days, well, you just aren’t looking hard enough, because there is a lot of great stuff out there...seek it out!—but it was a lot of fun to revisit one of the most influential times in my musical development, and look at things a little deeper and in the context of the time.
Rock on, Citizens! You know I will!