Friday, March 16, 2007

Ask the Punk Professor

You heard Lily Allen say it!

You'd better read your Punk Professor - and yes, you playing with your mouse in the back there, that's me, Vivien Goldman. I'm here to ask questions and answer them - and so are you.

The Slits
(Vivien with The Slits' Arri-Up by Janette Beckman)

I am the Professor of Punk, and not only because I teach a course, Classic Punk & Beyond, at the Clive Davis Department of Recorded Music at NYU's Tisch School of the Arts. Back in the day, as Features Editor of the scrappy punk-rock weekly, Sounds, I was there to track punk's frenetic development. Pistols, Clash and Pretenders, DJ Don Letts, Dennis Brown and various Wailers all partied at my place in London's Ladbroke Grove, and on transatlantic trips, I dropped in on the Ramones, Talking Heads, Blondie and Patti Smith.

This is what I learned in my Punk life class. You have to start doing what you believe in some time, so why not now? And play each gig, teach each class, write each blog, like it was your first - and last. That's punk.

Vivien Goldman Album
(Vivien on Launderette/Private Armies single on Window/99 Records
by Jean-Bernard Sohiez)

Since we're doing Show & Tell, yes, if you are a semi-obscure download/vinyl junkie, I am the same Vivien Goldman who was in the band, the Flying Lizards and made the Launderette/Private Armies single with an all-star crew including PiL's John Lydon and the Raincoats' Vicki Aspinall. Punk freed me as it did other females to tap into parts of my creativity I might never have explored otherwise - and actually I still do music today. The sinuous-voiced chanteuse Jill Cunniff (ex of punk/funk hiphop girls, Luscious Jackson,) called me up onstage when she was playing the Mercury Lounge on the Lower East Side at the weekend, so I got to do backing vocals and bop around a bit on "Exclusive", the song we wrote that's on her first solo CD, "City Beach".

Lucious Jackson
(Jill Cunniff by Deborah Francis)

Every gig Jill plays, she promotes the Surfrider Organization, who clean up beaches around the world. Lucky beachcombers in Miami, Hawaii and Far Rockaway will soon get to hear her on an endangered beach. Instead of Bring Your Own Bottle, why not bring your own garbage bag and really get down and dirty? Hopefully the sea will still be clean enough to bathe in afterwards.

Anyway, I'm curious for your thoughts. How does punk play out in your life today? For my assistant, an entry-level rock star named Moses, it means playing with the Frontier Brothers at South by South West in between editing Lily Allen's shout-out to you.

Frontier Boys
(Frontier Brothers by Janette Beckman)

And there's more soon to come from Lily Allen, Britain's stylish, sassy, punky reggae goddess. Here's a pic from her show at Webster Hall shot by my frequent partner in art, Janette Beckman. Lily strode the stage, dissing fashionistas, looking excellent in her own original style -- a Chloe dress and Nike trainers.



Lily Allen
(Lily Allen by Janette Beckman)

And before we end this session, some of you have already sent questions, for all of which, many thanks. Really, though, straight facts you can find anywhere. But Erik Salgstrom asks a Big One:

Q: "If you're so "punk" why do you work for a gigantic media producer controlled by a gigantic neo-imperialist bureaucracy?"

A: Well, Erik, I'm glad you asked me that. People have been arguing that vexing question ever since the Clash first signed to CBS instead of an independent label. Definitely, context is important - but most important is getting to communicate what you want to express. Looking back, Geoff Travis, the founder of Rough Trade, felt that it was necessary at that time for the Clash not to sign with an indie, so they could reach their broadest audience. Not that I'm the Clash, but personally, I think is a great place for us to meet. In fact, apart from loving "Footballers Wive$," I get a lot more hard news from its cousin, the BBC UK website, than I do from news outlets in America. If we can exchange thoughts right here, it's just as "real" as if we were on a chat group or talking at a gig - maybe more so, as we might reach people who would otherwise never think about what punk means, or why it's still around after all these years. That's what counts.

Class dismissed. We'll get together again in two weeks.

Assignment # 1:  I'd be interested to know if - and how - you see the spirit of true punk in action around you, wherever you are.