Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Have yourself a punky little Winter Solstice

From Drew S.
How would you define the differences between Punk and Ska, both the music and the lifestyles?

Hey Drew S.,
You've got the Jamaica/UK connection that people in the US don't generally know as much about, because it was such a U.K. thing. But reggae was the original soundtrack to punk basically because it was the most happening sound around back then, and they were both kinda rebel music from the underclass. Ska, the music that kicked off Jamaican Independence in the early 1960s, was known for its "rude boys", loosely equivalent of punks or, arguably, gangstas. Right after Punk's first wave of Pistols, Clash, Slits, Stranglers, etc, ska really came to the forefront of mass consciousness. Those Two Tone bands like the Specials and Madness who used lots of black and white in their artwork, were often racially mixed and wore the sort of pork pie hat Brad Pitt goes for, all played ska.

Punk and ska could possibly be seen as a bit alike, just 'cos they're both way up in the BPMs, and their speed makes them both perennials among kids with energy to pogo. But you make an interesting point, Drew, when you refer to the punk lifestyle. Now that means something -- often living somewhat outside of society or even off the grid altogether; trying to act communally to change the problems you see around you. But the "ska lifestyle" as such doesn't exist to the best of my knowledge, other than as maybe an upbeat mentality, or a tendency to dance all night and look sharp in a monochrome wardrobe that always co-ordinates. If you, fierce reader, know of a jumpin' ska lifestyle I've been missing out on, please write so us BBC Americans can all get together and do the ska! ska! ska! Thanks, rude boy! Or is that rude girl?

From Tee Bob:

Lady V,
The term "bottom line" is most often used in business to mean goals based on strict accounting criteria. Is this concept in tune or in conflict with punk ethics and punk business practices? What is the punk business ethic and where does it stop?
Love and Donuts, Neonsandwich

Dear Neonsandwich,
You're basically asking a very Christmas question: how much is enough? Obviously, that's the problem with rampant and unbridled capitalism; the greedy mentality that Bob Marley described as the big fish that eat small fish, who "would do anything to materialize their every wish" in his song 'Guiltiness'. But it seems that so-called socialism in action often fares little better, leading one to think that maybe no system works and humans are doomed to lurch from one misguided attempt at a functioning society to another. Personally I'm a simple liberal humanist with no economic background, but you inspired me to look up "compassionate capitalism" and found that there's lots about it online. Major companies are now becoming aware that giving back to the community is both good PR and a great way of establishing brand loyalty. So it may be in a slightly twisted way, but punk ideas are filtering through the system it kicks against.

When pioneering punk indie label Rough Trade Records started out, they operated a 50/50 system with their artists, and their publishing company gave an unusually generous royalty to their songwriters (who included me.) It was an unprecedented business angle that earned a lot of loyalty; but sadly for the indie spirit, didn't stop their publishing catalog from winding up as yet another asset of the mega-multinational, Universal. But the favorable publishing splits they gave to artists weren't why that incarnation of Rough Trade went down; and their "No Rip Off!" spirit still serves as a good ethical guideline for punky entrepreneurs.

The bottom line is that 'cos it's designed to deal with reality, punk is all about the bottom line.

Love and tofu cheesecake to Neonsandwich, who wants you to check his music and ideas online, please.

Since we last met....

Pioneering trip-hoppers Portishead broke a decade's silence to play at A Nightmare Before Christmas at a kitschy British holiday camp in the seaside resort of Minehead... and Carbon/Silicon finally played NY...

The Clash were one of the main UK punk bands to support hip-hop. Post-Clash, guitarist and songwriter Mick Jones has had other bands, but in his new combo who we've talked about before, Carbon/Silicon, he reunites with one of his oldest mates, Tony "TJ" James. Our Spy at NY's High Line Ballroom was Jody Worth, writer/producer (Deadwood, NYPD Blue) and ex-lead singer of Blow-Up ( OK, he's a mate of the band's -- but the man's punk enough to tell us if they were awful!

Says Jody:
"First visit to Highline Ballroom, and what better reason? Mick Jones's first appearance on a New York stage in 12 years -- Tony James' in 17. This show is sold out too, punters ranging from teens to 60s. When the band hit the stage it's hard to tell who's happier, the crowd to see them, or Mick and Tony to be there. Two geezers, each in smart, dark suits, like a punk rock version of the Kray Twins. Mick smiled and joked, "What are you cheering for? We haven't done anything yet!"
A job well done! Carbon/Silicon rock the house.
Image courtesy of Astralwerks
Opening with "Magic Suitcase," the connection is instant, and the band rides the wave. Two (loud) guitars and a powerhouse rhythm section comprised of drummer Dominic Greensmith (Reef) and ex-B.A.D. bassist Leo "Ee-zy-kill" Williams, sans samples or DJ. Live, it's definitely more Carbon than Silicon. James and Jones are all smiles, old friends having a blast. One guy out front shouts "This is real rock and roll! This is not bullshit!" Mick, who would never say such a thing himself, grinned widely and pointed, commenting, "That guy! What he said!" The crowd, including ex-Ramones' manager Danny Fields, Gabby Glaser, photographer Bob Gruen, Josh Cheuse, Chris and Tina from Talking Heads and ex-B.A.D. keyboardist Andre Shapps, roar in agreement.

Still magic after all these years - Mick Jones and Tony James.
Image courtesy of Astralwerks
MJ and TJ have forged a classic axe tandem à la Richards/Jones, or Thunders/Sylvain, even staging mock guitar duels. There were no Clash or Gen X covers, but with Mick serving as M.C. and stand-up comic throughout the 90-minute set, the band aired lively, spontaneous versions of most of their new CD, The Last Post, including "War On Culture," "Really The Blues," ("for Mezz Mezzrow") and "The News." Back for the encore, Mick half-joked they were afraid the crowd might have dispersed while they're chilling backstage. The encore "What The F**k!" burns with a familiar scorching Who-derived riff that formed the basis for much of the early Clash catalogue."

An American tour is penciled in for March/April.

P.S: Jody sez check out Brendan Mullen's new book Live at the Masque: Nightmare in Punk Alley.

Carbon/Silicon emerge from the download world.
Image courtesy of Astralwerks

It's a stone fact that as the Clash pointed out, punk and hip-hop are umbilically connected. My key compadre covering British music back in the day was the vivacious photographer Janette Beckman, who became the premiere portraitist of early NY hip-hop, as captured in her new book, "The Breaks: Stylin' and Profilin' 1982-1990" (PowerHouse Books)
Look This Way.
Image courtesy of Janette Beckman
"In London I had spent six years documenting the youthful tribes of punks, skins, rockabillies and ska kids. When I moved to New York in 1982, hip-hop was just beginning," recalls Janette, aka JB. "The Roxy Club was bringing the uptown Bronx rap, graffiti artists, DJs and scratchers to the hip downtown art scene and it was starting to be noticed by the world. Just like the British punk movement which came from working class kids, hip-hop came from the American kids on the streets, who were inventing their new renaissance of music, fashion, dance, style and attitude.
A Hip-Hop-A-Bibbidee-Bop
Image courtesy of Janette Beckman
"Instead of safety pins and Mohawks, hip-hop had gold chains and fades. Instead of letters cut from newspaper headlines like on the Sex Pistols posters, hip-hop had spray-paint graffiti to express its rebellion. Instead of pogo there was break dancing and double dutch. But hip-hop and punk musicians both performed songs about rebellion and criticized the world around them, from the Clash's "London's Burning" to Grand Master Flash and the Furious Five's powerful anthem "The Message'".

I happened to be in JB's Lafayette Street studio in NYC when she shot this picture of Slick Rick. He's holding guns, but I remember how he was extremely twitchy that day, so they obviously weren't making him feel more confident. In his essay for 'The Breaks', writer Tom Terrell describes the rapper: "Slick Rick; black eye patch, bejeweled velvet crown, and rakish gold-toothed grin, gold dookie/rope/link chains around his neck, each diamond encrusted silver ringed hand clutching a gold gat..."

Don't let the photo fool ya. Guns didn't really cheer him up.
Image courtesy of Janette Beckman
Tom's singular text, with its juicy African-American flavor, has become even more precious as along with his lauded liner notes for the recent Miles Davis six CD box set of "On The Corner," they were his last published words; my inspirational friend Li'l Tommy Tee died on Dec 6 aged 57, of prostate cancer.

So this column is dedicated - or livicated as the Rastas say -- to Tom.

Monday, November 19, 2007

The Hope Business

The Hope Business means people who make it their business to spread hope.

Cynicism is the weapon of the weak, someone said, and happily, since we last met. I have been exposed to heavy doses of hope. "I prophesy that before too long, HIV will be RIP!" Bono flamboyantly announced onstage at the AIDS charity Keep A Child Alive's star-studded Black Ball in NY's Hammerstein Ballroom. The Irish shaman was being honored alongside  Dr. Pasquine Ogunsanya of Uganda's Alive Medical Services, and Nick Reding, a British actor who moved to Kenya and founded SAFE (Sponsored Arts for Education.)


Bono at the Black Ball
The incomparable and tireless Bono

The Black Ball is known for red-hot music -- and that night was blazing, right from the first foot stomps of a South African dance troupe, Juxtapower, and the intense harmony of South Africa's Agape Choir of AIDS orphans.

Justapower Video
Juxtapower - Got Zulu?

The charity's co-founder and global spokesperson is the ludicrously talented Alicia Keys. Unlike many charity-hopping celebs, Keys' is hands-on at KCA's twelve clinics and orphan care sites in seven countries in Africa and India, experiences that have clearly transformed her. No wonder she has a great crew of musical girlfriends, who showed up in force that night -- Sheryl Crow and Gwen Stefani, all in top form.

Alicia Keys
Image courtesy of Keep A Child Alive

Sheryl Crow and Alicia Keys Video
Alicia always hits the right note
Sheryl Crow and Bono and Gwen Stefani
from l to r: Sheryl Crow, Bono and Gwen Stefani

Gwen Stefani at the Blackball

Gwen Stefani lost in the song

The music was outstanding. An easy joy flashed between them as they relished jiving and jamming with sisters of equally formidable powers. They tore up tunes like Marvin Gaye's "Inner City Blues", Sheryl's "Winding Road", U2's "Sunday Bloody Sunday,"  Gwen's "Watcha Waiting For" and Alicia was tender in her delivery of "Like You'll never See Me Again" and Bob Marley's "Turn The Lights Down Low." Keys said, "You don't know what this voice does to me," as she introduced opera singer Kathleen Battle and together they tore up U2's "Miss Sarajevo".


KCA need all the help they can get, and find innovative ways to bring it on, from their original Dollar A Day program to their new Good Cents Initiative.


Nelson Mandela and Bono both big-upped my old friend and hero, Nick Reding, who switched from acting (though you can see him in "Blood Diamond"!) to found SAFE. Perhaps only Nick could have made it happen -- three traveling theatre troupes on the Coast, in Nairobi slums and the wild Masai highlands, performing original plays that make the audience laugh till their hardness to AIDS sufferers crumbles. You may have seen their audacious street theatre in "The Constant Gardener." Truly, Nick's work lives up to SAFE's motto - Compassion, Solidarity and Hope.


Top music at a KCA event is no surprise, as spunky, punky founder Leigh Blake, was a CBGB's regular and Talking Heads cohort in the first punk days. Serious artists gravitate to her work because plebs or celebs, Leigh infects everyone with the feeling they can -- and will - make a difference.

Bono and Padma Lakshmi and Alicia Keys
From l to r: Padma Lakshmi, Leigh Blake, Ali Hewson, Bono and Alicia Keys

Hope is the mission of my mate Mariane Pearl, too. She recently had the (slightly surreal) experience of being played by Angelina Jolie in the film version of her book, "A Mighty Heart", which chronicles  her search for her missing husband Wall Street journalist, Danny Pearl, and dealing with the grim discovery of his video execution by Al Qaeda. She was just in New York to promote her new book,  "In Search of Hope", and to receive Glamour's Woman of the Year award alongside luminaries including Toni Morrison. It gathers her articles Glamour published over  an extraordinary year spent chronicling little-known local heroines on the front lines of Global Warming, the child sex slave trade, and many other flashpoints. Mariane's series received an overwhelming response from American women, whose urge to understand and act on life's inequities has been seriously underestimated. The grandes dames of Mariane's vivid reportage grab their grim fate and shake it till it recedes and is replaced by a positive future.

What's always attracted me to punk is its inclusionary, activist sense of community, and I agree with Leigh and Nick, who both said that when you have service in your life, things get better, and Mariane's positivity proves it.


In signing off, here's a summons from Bono -- "Love thy neighbor is not advice -- it's a command." How punk is that!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

London calling and more from reggae central

Here's This Week's Big Question --
From S.W.

Firstly, a great thank you for turning me onto some great music when I was at school (eg 'Jeannot Ou Est Le Serieux.) Re: NME (the UK music weekly,) when it was putting Sun Ra, etc. on the cover -- do you think that punk can take any credibility for opening up some of this other 'world music' to a wider public, music which seems again to be ignored. The question there somewhere was about Punk's relation to other music, or the music presses brief period of openness. -Question (b) what about music (punky) that you didn't personally like, for example, I don't know Siouxsie and the Banshees? How do you feel about them in retrospect? And is it possible to like the punk ethic (D.I.Y.) and think the Pistols were miserable and wonder why John Lydon always has to sound eternally bored when he opens his mouth. Something to do with Punk's acquired habit of nihilism..? Also, I loved your record with Chantage. Was it a one off?

Hey S.W, I don't know who or where you are, but your letter does strike a chord that zings in my heart. It's so nice you remember that long gone moment when the music press was really experimental, and having a mass youth audience, there was a way that information about stuff you might never have even thought to look for, snuck into your consciousness. Now it's all split up into niche marketing, special interest groups (which can be good), and there are sites like and serving world music fans; but you miss out on that random quality of stumbling across some totally unexpected life changing groove in a style you didn't know you liked.

Just like you, it really was the D.I.Y. punk ethic that got me, babe; though that Rotten snarl trademarked a moment, still gives the chills, and did the job of grating up the charts like nails scraping the paintjob of a new Humvee, Rotten himself was more likely to chill out at home with a wicked dub than a punk 45, and so was/am I. Having said that, "Oh Bondage Up Yours" by X Ray Spex is still a disc to live by/with/for, and the same goes for many punk gems.
The point you make about punk and world music is a good one -- certainly the more complex sounds of post-punk, like Gang of Four or the Raincoats, say, aren't shy to be jazzy; and of course, punk interacted profoundly with reggae, which was the "world music" of the time, as African and other non-Anglophone musics were rarely around. I reckon the rather sad tag of "world music" loosely means stuff that it isn't sung in American or British English.

Gang of Four's - I Love A Man in Uniform

P.S. S.W. -- I love that you remember "Jeannot Ou Est Le Sérieux" and my old Chantage record, "It's Only Money" both from the early 80s! Yes, that twelve inch was our one and only. Maybe me and my mysterious partner in our duo, Moona, should unleash it on the world again. How ever did you find it?


From Drew S.
How would you define the differences between Punk and Ska, both the music and the lifestyles?

From Tee Bob
Lady V, The term "bottom line" is most often used in business usually to achieve goals derived from a strict accounting criterion. How is this concept in tune and in conflict with punk ethic and punk business practices? What is the punk business ethic and where does it stop?
Love and Donuts, Neonsandwich

Since We Last Met:

The Stranglers performed at Camden Town, London's legendary Roundhouse - 30 years to the day since they last played the venue...the Bush Tetras played NY after almost as long away...and arguably the biggest re-reunion of all, the Sex Pistols did LA and London... and here are special reports from our Spies...  

The Stranglers - Midnight Summer Dream

The Bush Tetras - Too Many Creeps



When I labored at punk-rock weekly SOUNDS in London, one of our bright writers was Pete Silverton who went on to co-author "I was a Teenage Sex Pistol" with Glen Matlock, the Tuneful Pistol.

Glen Matlock


Pete Silverton - Our man at the Sex Pistols homecoming happening

Pete reports from London:  "They were the Sex Pistols. They played every song they knew and recorded. It was everything you wanted. It was loud and fun and noisy and familial in a strange kind of way. My son wore my original 1970s black leather Schott jacket, the Ramones one. It was a typical moment of the evening. The audience was far too acute to complain that this was a show rather than the frightening, unstable upheaval of a 1976 Pistols 'performance'. I didn't pay, of course. But I would have."

Jamaican scene maker Wayne Jobson, aka Native Wayne, is a film-maker and top reggae DJ on the West Coast's Indie 103.1. Back in the classic punk time in London, he was a real reggae regular on the scene and had a band back home called Native, together with his wonderful brother Brian. Their daring, haunting album "Rockstone", produced by dubmaster general Lee "Scratch" Perry, is just reissued on the groovy UK label Pressure Sounds. Wayne reports from the Pistols' LA show -- where old cohort John Lydon bigged him up from the stage!

Rare reggae groove from the fabulous Jobson Brothers

"I have seen the future of punk music, and it is the past!" The Sex Pistols stepped onstage at the Roxy in Los Angeles and showed all the clones to the throne like Green Day that they are all still green and that their day has not yet come! Easily one of the greatest front men in history, Johnny Rotten put all the impostors in their place, even reminding the audience that it was the Pistols that started the revolution and not the Ramones! Steve Jones attacked his axe like the crazed Jack in The Shining. Paul Cook and Glen Matlock showed us why they are still "the tightest rhythm section in punk music."

And more from Reggae Central. You want to play for hours, opening the wee envelope flaps to discover the mini-CDs and memorabilia of "Reggae Scrapbook" (Insight Editions), a very personal statement from actor/broadcaster/archivist and Marley specialist, Roger Steffens of Reggae and African Beat magazine, and photographer Peter Simon. They ransack their visual and memory stash to deliver a glorious, very touchable coffee table book of tricks and tales.

Reggae Scrapbook cover by Roger Steffens and Peter Simon Chocka with reggae tchotchkes.

A last word on New Identity Dance Music: By starting the weekly Basement Bhangra parties in Manhattan in 1997, DJ Rekha became godmother to a global movement that made the thundering throb of the traditional tall dhal drum a regular sound on Ibiza dance floors. Guests at Rekha's album launch at writer/producer/actor/siren Tanya Selvaratnam's Lower East Side pad cheered this long-awaited long-player, which features collaboes with Wyclef Jean and remixes by all the bhangra biggies -- Bally Sagoo, Apache Indian, Punjabi MC.

From l to r: DJ Rekha, Tanya Selvaratnam, Vivien Goldman at the Basement Bhangra bash

Monday, October 15, 2007

Marc Bolan's 60th Birthday Party

From Ron Ramone:

Dear Punk Professor,

Part of your response to the question "Is the UK cooler than the USA"? struck a chord with me. You wrote, "One distinction that I have observed: the English generally tend to prize eccentricity more than Americans, which partly explains why punk flourished there." Let us not forget that punk in the UK was way more a political statement than it was in the US. The Ramones were not singing about anarchy or dead-end jobs like the Pistols & the Clash were. In the US it was driven by boredom with the status quo, how corporate rock music was and how conservative society had become. In the UK it was also more of a fashion statement & in the US it was more of an anti-fashion statement. That said; I believe that you'd see that the East & West Coast of the US prized eccentricity more than the South & Midwest. That is why the punk communities in places such as Boston, New York & LA flourished. So I guess I really don't have a question.

Dear Eric,

Thanks for your interesting points, which all make sense. It's very punk of you to "not have a question"! But negative's the flip of positive and your non-question actually extends the debate on the links between US & UK punk -- what do you reckon about it, rough readers? -- and even takes it a stage further. So here's a non-answer to your non-question. You reinforce a general observation that's cropped up quite a bit in chats with NY people who've moved to Miami, where I'm writing this. Everyone agreed that coastal areas around the world, not just in US or UK, are often more receptive and sophisticated than inland regions; maybe because they're so obviously on the edge, just oceans away from Other Cultures. Anyway, Other Cultures are likely to be sitting next to you on the subway, so we're all Other Cultures now. OK, let's hear it from angry landlocked readers!

I wish you glitter, fierce reader, and plenty of it. Like the glitter that twinkled against the dark trees as a motley crew pranced onto the stage at Marc Bolan's (posthumous) 60th Birthday Party at Central Park's Delacorte Theatre on a recent warm Saturday evening. It was like a carnival "by the light of a magical moon" as Marc sang.

Marc Bolan was an enchanted, enlightening figure in 1970's UK pop who went through many mutations -- almost as many as his frenemy David Bowie -- starting out as a mystic hippie bard ("My people were fair and wore stars in their hair...") and switching teams to become the prototypical glam rocker ("Bang a gong/Get it on...") leading an army of swooning schoolgirls, including me. His shocking death in a car crash in 1977 froze him forever young -- a fey, dirty dandy with dark ringlets and intense kohl'ed eyes. Bolan was a bohemian freethinker who punks adore. A true rock icon.

Marc - Always Amazing
Looking spiffy in a satin waistcoat by designer Zandra Rhodes

In homage, a galaxy of punk rock stars appeared at the Delacorte Theatre in Central Park on a warm Saturday night to show respect. Moby happened to be there celebrating his birthday (though he was careful to point out, it wasn't actually his birthday that day,) and joined a mega-jam onstage. "I'm honored to be playing 'Twentieth Century Boy's visceral libidinous, riff," said Moby. The true Metal Guru, American producer Tony Visconti who helped mold both Bolan and Bowie, played with lots of the bands. He spoke tenderly about when he had a flat in London and Bowie and Bolan were always coming round to jam and party as they both still lived at home with their mums.

Richard Lloyd (Television) 

 Moby, Clem Burke (on drums), and Tony Visconti

Surprise guest Patti Smith took "Children of the Revolution," right to the barricades and over the top. By the power invested in her, Patti chanted Marc's words like a punk preacher, riffing ferociously on "They're trying to take us down, don't be fooled, child!" and relishing my personal fave couplet, "I drive a Rolls Royce/'Cos it's good for my voice."

The High Priestess of Punk

An honor roll of NYC's original CBGB's posse brought Marc's music back to its home away from home -- it turns out that Bolan recorded a lot in the Village. Backup through the show and "Born To Boogie" were performed by NYC punk heroines, Tish and Snooky, who used to be in the Stilettoes with Debbie Harry before Blondie. Now, best known for Manic Panic, their vivid line of punk hair dyes, they're still a rainbow riot. The drummer for Blondie, Clem Burke, lived up to his hype by Moby as "the best rock drummer of all time." Richard Lloyd from Television did "Jeepster".

Rocking très glam/trash leopard-skin jeans as he put some passion into "Ballrooms Of Mars," was Ivan Julian, ex-Clash/Richard Hell and the Voidoids. Two of the New York Dolls did two separate sets, Sylvain Sylvain rampaged through "Get It On" and Steve Conte growled "Rip Off." The Bongos' Richard Barone swanned through "Mambo Sun" and Joe Hurley, who was a prime mover in the show along with Joe's Pub and Bill Bragin, gave "Life's A Gas" some spine-tingling vibes. There was also a dazzling version of "Dove" by a barefoot Icelandic flower child called Ragga.

NYC punk heroines, Tish and Snooky
Ivan Julian
Two New York Dolls get it on again with Tony Shanahan
Joe Hurley
Barefoot Icelandic songbird sings a spell

A funky living link to Bolan is pop's own Irish eminence grise B.P. Fallon. Like Zelig, the ageless, elfin B.P. has been scene making since pop began. Not so much a publicist as a vibe conjuror, B.P. promoted people like Elvis Costello at one of the original punk indie labels Stiff Records. Now he has three books out, has a globally roving club night called Death Disco with Alan McGee (who founded Creation Records of Oasis fame.) As always, B.P.'s skating merrily along the cutting edge and now he's managing a very tall, very genial bloke called Justin Tranter, of rad glam band Semi Precious Weapons, who looks as good as Grace Jones in his high fetish heels and corset.

Looking dashing in Bolan's own stripey black/silver satin waistcoat by designer Zandra Rhodes (value: $20,000) Justin kindly lent his own silver waistcoat (value: $20.00) to The Scissor Sisters' glam man, Jake Shears, who joined him along with Steve Conte as Justin conveyed Marc's feline ways on "Metal Guru" and led the multitudes through "Hot Love."
Jake Shears, Justin Trantor and Steve Conte

From the past, look to the future. Right now B.P and Justin are pushing on through the mist of confusion round the music business. They are giving away their new CD, "We Love You," (and I love "Her Hair Is On Fire,") free in stores like Urban Outfitters, and even Barney's, where Justin sells his SPW glam/punk jewelry line. B.P sees it as a way forward for musicians, though even he agrees it's not much help for broke musicians who are only good at music and want to work at it all the time. These days, the Children of the Revolution gotta multitask.

Semi Precious Weapons' "We Love You" is out October 30 on Precious Records.
All pix by Kevin Yatarola/Joe's Pub & Bruce Alexander 

Monday, September 24, 2007

Welcome to Punkville

From Angela Jaeger: Can punk become an ideal to live by in a post-modern global community?


Go, Angela! Tell it like it is! That's why I'm writing this column now. The ideals you mention are clear to punk bands all over the world, united by their urge to change things like the ongoing rape of the planet or the unfair system they're living in (and they're all more or less unfair, except maybe Scandinavia and the Netherlands.)


It's like Punk is a huge encampment, call it Punkville, sheltering various bods who'd maybe never meet if they didn't all dig hanging out there. Some move in permanently, others drop in for a weekend, but they all have Punk stamped somewhere on their personal, intimate profiles. Rabidly anti-materialistic crusties living off the grid, fashion designers nostalgic for their wild youth, (or still wild,) vegan bakers, Professors yet, and of course musicians, including artists who aren't obviously punk, like Michael Franti and Manu Chao. Punk bands identify with the outsider, the oppressed -- that's why Bob Marley's more punk than, say, the lovely lads of The Police, who are more likely to be filed under Punk. Punk-ish bands exhibit varying degrees of commitment to the real ideals of punk -- but if the thin boy singer has artful holes in his clothes and wears black eyeliner, it's a fair bet he's punk-identified. How punk are they really? More on the punk-o-meter in the next question from Eric....



More Punk 





From Eric Siegel: Do you think there's a band that doesn't deserve to be called punk and a band that does?


A great and challenging question, Eric. Thanks. If punk is in the heart, as I believe, then I stick to identifying bands as "punk" primarily where they offer not only energy and attack, but also some sense of social engagement and a desire for change. That narrows the field and I would love readers to write in and let us know which bands are inspiring them right now. MIA's music is cosmopolitan and danceable but also angry and thoughtful. She's very punk. Good Charlotte rock the punk tattoos, smeared eyeliner and jagged Mohawks, but their music is power-pop. They mock the rich on "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous," but I wonder if singer Joel Madden feels the contradiction now he's a full-on tabloid celeb? Ah, how to still be angry while you're sipping champagne in your Jacuzzi! Always a problem! On "World Is Black," G.C. bemoans the state of the planet; still, their approach is more in tune with emo's all-about-me meanderings. So they give solace to many, but Good Charlotte ain't as punk as they look. 



Punk via Sri-Lanka 


Is this really punk?  Or does it just dress like it? 



Angela and Eric, thanks for your questions. Keep ‘em comin'!


Lastly, a big Punky Birthday 2 U to for their tenth anniversary. Founder and videast Joly is a true punk legend, uncompromising and quite a visionary. A New Yorker for some 22+ years, Joly's imprint, Better Badges, were first to use the humble badge as a guerilla medium in London in the first wave punk time. I always remember his Patti Smith badge, the first time that she and her band, including Lenny Kaye and the dear departed Richard "DNV" Sohl, hit the UK. The Patti Smith people were some of the few original US punks to identify with reggae and dub, so Joly put her distinctive profile on a red, green and gold badge that went everywhere and said it all. It's amazing how Joly is still always down with the key underground action; he got some of the last footage of Joe Strummer when he visited NY with the Mescaleros, and the first of bands like the Yeah Yeah Yeah's.


The Yeah Yeah Yeahs image courtesy of Joly


Being a bit of a mathematical and technical whiz, Joly was hot on the internet while it was still obscure boffin stuff, and typically, got the potential of the new medium. He's been recognized in the Village Voice as an indispensable New Yorker, and recently both Wired and Rolling Stone rated punkcast among the hottest video podcasts. When I teach Punk at NYU's Clive Davis Department of Recorded Music, I always ask Joly to come in, bring some of his fanzine collection and tell us how it really was and is. Big up Joly in Punkville!








Sunday, September 23, 2007

Marley's 'Exodus' 30 Years Later - (NPR)

"Thirty years ago, reggae superstar Bob Marley released his highly acclaimed album "Exodus."

Veteran music journalist Vivien Goldman says it was a response to a politically motivated attempt on Marley's life.

Farai Chideya talks with Goldman, author of The Book of Exodus: The Making and Meaning of Bob Marley and the Wailers' Album of the Century."

Click here for the interview!

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Lost Women of Rock FOUND!

From Pedro Marazzi: What is your view of modern-day punk bands? Particularly those we in the US are subjected to. In the UK there was deemed to be three generations of punk bands. The first generation, which you seem to belong to, being Pistols, Clash etc. Generation 2 being Stiff Little Fingers, Ruts etc. Generation 3 being Anti Nowhere League, Exploited etc. Due to my age I came in at Generation 2 and initially felt like I'd already missed the party. First generation punkers tend to be too easily dismissive of most punk that followed, probably due to less originality. What is/was your view?

Thanks for the astute question, Pedro. Your breakdown is very precise 'specially as the waves you mention came quite close together. But who do you think is less original -- the late-wave musicians, or the people (not) listening? I'm assuming you mean the musicians, in which case I'm glad you dig the under-appreciated Ruts. If only their wonderful singer, Malcolm Owen, hadn't OD'd on heroin so young... he was gorgeous and had a great intensity that was very compelling and seductive but seems to have burned him right up. You're probably right anyway, Pedro, in that seeing any style, e.g. punk, coming round the cultural conveyor belt yet again can prompt yawns from the been-there, done-that dudes. Not those neck tattoos AGAIN?

There's also the nostalgia factor -- people get all smooshy over the music they first snogged to. So it's partly too-blasé-to-bop, and partly that original punks like the Clash had a commitment that still inspires people.

But the sign of a lively mind -- crucial to punk - is not to get locked into one era. Keep cruising for compelling voices! Lily Allen is this column's reigning Punky Reggae Princess; Tanya Stephens is our Rebel Queen; and the mighty Manu Chao, whose new album La Radiolina, breaks a six-year silence, is the artist Joe Strummer would have liked to be. So it's never all hopeless, even when it's a bit grim.



Image courtesy of Blake Zidell.



In the Wailers dressing room after their fantastic, packed out show at the High Line in Manhattan, Tré Cool from Green Day, a huge Wailers fan, was there to big up the band with his super girlfriend, Sarah Belger. He insisted on having his photo taken with the Punk Professor and bass legend Aston "Family Man" Barrett, and rather impressed me with his glee at how the band's smash hit, 'American Idiot' had distressed President Bush.



Drummie Zeb, Tré Cool, Punk Professor,
Aston "Family Man" Barrett. Image courtesy of Sarah Belger.

Emotion and excitement bubbled like the champagne at the lunch in London's hip Portobello Road that writer, artist and activist Caroline Coon put together for 'The Lost Women of Rock Music: female musicians of the punk era,' (Ashgate Books) by Dr. Helen Reddington. It was old home week for first wave punk rock grrrlz, and British punk legends, Lora Logic, and her old bandmate in X Ray Spex, Poly Styrene, were both there with personality-packed daughters! There were also various MoDettes, Belle Stars, and others.



The Punk Girls' Token Bloke: keyboard player Steve Beresford,
Slits bassist Tessa Pollitt and Slits manager Christine Roberston.
Image courtesy of Vivien Goldman.



 Tessa Pollitt (the Slits), Christine Robertson
and Jane Crockford, bassist for the Mo-Dettes.
Image courtesy of Shirley O'Loughlin.




(left to right) Ana da Silva (drummer for the Slits), the elusive
Lora Logic (saxophone for X-Ray Specs and solo artist),
Gina Birch (bassist for The Raincoats), Jane Crockford.
Image courtesy of Vivien Goldman


Caroline gave a great speech, which you will be able to see a bit of right here (coming soon!). The author used to play in a Brighton punk band called The Chefs as Helen McCookeryBook. Classic punk rage at how girl punk musicians have been ignored and written out of history -- see, that's why it starts with "his"! -- inspired Helen to write this valuable book. It began as an academic thesis but will reach much further.


Vivien Goldman (aka Punk Professor), Dr. Helen Reddington
and Caroline Coon. Image courtesy of Kieron Tyler. 


The seriously cool guys, like Kurt Cobain, who championed the Raincoats, and Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore, do get the greatness of the girls. Supported by London's original punky reggae female rockers, the Slits, Sonic Youth performed the whole of their 'Daydream Nation,' at McCarren Pool, a hipster hangout in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Onstage Moore hailed up the Slits and called Ari Up "My hero!" Although Thurston later humbly said "I just kept my head down and tried to get through to the end," the show really felt like a journey, epic and emotional. Kim Gordon is a sultry, brooding rock star, with a fluid, forceful bass style, who scores double 'cos guys love her and the females in the audience all sense she's a sister.



    Kim Gordon, Thurston Moore, unidentified woman and
Ari Up (The Slits). Image courtesy of Peter Remke.




  The eternally cool Kim Gordon (Sonic Youth)
Image courtesy of Peter Remke.



The audience had never seen anything like the Slits, who played many of their old school gems like "Typical Girls" and some of their newer material, too. Sadly, the listings were wrong so keen Slits fans like the girls of "no age jungle riddim vendors", Gang Gang Dance, missed them. Backstage, GGD's Lizzi Bougatsos and Jess Holzworth introduced their own sister in punk, the smashing actress Chloë Sevigny, joking, “She's a star!" Nice Chloë practically crawled into the room in a major just-a-regular-gal attack! They're old friends and Slits fans forever.



Chloë Sevigny with Ari Up (The Slits)
Image courtesy of Peter Remke.


The new generation of Slits, like Hollie Cook, keep the vibe alive. Hollie is original punk rock royalty as her father's Paul, the drummer of the Sex Pistols, and her mother is Jennie of the Belle Stars, who was in great form at the Women In Punk lunch. You can also hear Hollie on 'Milk And Honey,' the single from a new release that I love, called "Survival of The Fattest: Battling the forces of evil with hippy reggae," by Prince Fatty. It's the new project by Mike Pelanconi, the producer/engineer who made the smash "Alright, Still," with Lily Allen.



Image courtesy of Mike Peloconi



Hollie Cook (The Slits).
Image courtesy of Peter Remke. 




Hollie Cook (The Slits).
Image courtesy of Peter Remke.