Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Punky Mummies

OK, class, it’s time to reflect on the role of the Punky Mummy. On first hearing, that might sound like an odd combo – but that’s only if you haven’t seen the teensy onesies advertising CBGBs or The Ramones. You in the back – is that a Mother’s Day card you’re writing? Go on, pass it over. How very thoughtful. Oh, I see, it’s a print out of profiles on your dating site. Looks like a shopping list. Well, that’s how it works today. Not that punk was a really romantic era, as such. It’s rather a relief that the punk slang for the act of coitus has been long abandoned – it’s “squelching,” which has a louche, even unhygienic, subtext of snatched seconds in mucky lavs. The Sex Pistols “Bodies” is a loathing song, not a love song, or the invitation to unbridled lust the title might imply. Nonetheless, all that, jumping up and down pogoing, did stir the blood, and unleashed an excess of energy, that had to go somewhere – and not always that far, as evidenced by the fact that the daughter of Sex Pistols’ drummer, Paul Cook, and Jenny, lead singer of the Belle Stars, now sings with the Slits.

Loads of punks are mothers. In fact, Patti Smith’s daughter Jesse is now a musician herself, and both singer Arri Upp and her old Slits-mate, Neneh Cherry of Cirkus, have bands with their children.


Offhand, though, I can’t think of a Punky Mummy’s love song to her child, like the way Lauryn Hill’s paean to her child, Zion, is as touching as any great love ballad; nor of any song about hating your mother, like Eminem’s. Please email me with thoughts on any I may have missed or blanked on.


Stu: his musical, Passing Strange, is strangely memorable

Being an essentially anti-authoritarian mode, though, it’s not surprising that the punks and their mums arena can be a bit problematic. Certainly, it’s the obsession of the protagonist of a memorable musical, “Passing Strange,” that I saw at the Public Theater obsesses over it. Bearded, bespectacled, burly, wry and professorial Stu, mainman of San Francisco’s band The Negro Problem, basically plays his younger self in this touching, bittersweet musical co-written with his mate, Heidi Rodewald, directed by Annie Dorsen and co-produced by Joe’s Pub’s innovative music booker, Bill Bragin. Punk is pivotal to the piece, a lively and thought-provoking narrative with an engaging six person cast, based on his coming of age as a budding, bookish black beatnik more likely to go Om than Yo coming up in 1980s Compton, LA, who’s the sole son of a strict church-going single mother. Starting a punk band liberates and emboldens Stu to go adventuring in Europe where hilariously, he re-invents himself as a threatened gangsta, rather than a fugitive from the church choir, to get some cred with the radical, free living and loving squatters in Berlin and Amsterdam. But he’s so busy looking for himself on the road, that he can kid himself he’s not just running away. Ultimately, it’s his unresolved maternal scene that trips him up, and makes this pioneering Afro-Punk re-consider what being radical really means.

 Mamarama is the roller-coaster of balancing family and creativity


 Punk Love by Susie J. Horgan 


 Truth has a lot to do with it, of course, and nothing’s more punk than the truth. And to tell the truth, back in London, in the Goldman Towers of my youth, it was understood that Mother’s Day was a load of bollocks designed by the greeting card companies, and we were never to mind it. The point being, every day was Mother’s Day for our merry little nuclear unit; though whether that was really so, I slightly doubt, in retrospect. Anyway, discovering how a woman who was previously all about free self-expression, i.e. a Punky Mummy, can make every day Mother’s Day, is sometimes a tough one. Finding a community can be a lifesaver, as writer Evelyn McDonnell and photographer Susie Horgan, two Miami P.M’s, discovered.

Evelyn is well kitted out with kids – two stepdaughters and a son, all charmers – and Susie, whose husband is in a wheelchair, has an adopted boy. In their freewheeling punk days, they hadn’t necessarily anticipated such complicated though enriching domesticity, and they’ve both chronicled it in their own way.

In her “Punk Love,” Susie re-visits her youthful photos of the early D.C. punk scene, when she sold ice cream in a Georgetown store managed by the future political bard and TV personality, lantern-jawed Henry Rollins. He contributes text, alongside musician Ian MacKaye, co-founder of Dischord Records. Susie’s photos of soft-faced boys ripping out harsh guitar chords, are very immediate and innocent, and show how the full-frontal attack of DC punk really was born with a bang.


Henry Rollins proves - Punk really is a love fest, after all

“Mamarama” is writer Evelyn McDonnell’s reflection on her roller-coaster evolution from the kid who camped under the stars with her parents and brother, through their divorce, her two marriages, (one happily ongoing), participating in guerilla media on the east & west coasts, plus the aforementioned Punky Mummy thingy – all the while listening and responding to music. She’s currently Music Critic at the Miami Herald, but in the basements of the early 1990s downtown Manhattan’s Nuyorican Poetry scene, Evelyn and her buddy writer Jana Martin, kinda adopted me. We formed a sustaining writers group and punky collective, the Fictionaires (watch out for Jana’s book of short stories, ‘The Russian Lover,” by the way.) Between us, we’ve delivered four books and one baby in the space of a decade, not bad going. Though we’re all scattered, the Fictionaires still critique each other’s work and lives, so it was no surprise when “Mamarama” turned out to be a bonny, bouncing book weighing in at approximately eight ounces. Evelyn says Mamarama means, “Balancing your life and the family thing and the freedom thing, mothering without losing your sense of adventure and the culture at large.” Susie laughs, “Me and Evelyn have these chats – ‘What was your Mamarama today?’”

Evelyn’s receiving quite an emotional response, particularly as it’s one of the few cool commentaries available for young women – or hey, even aging-almost-imperceptibly women – who are trying to invent new ways of mothering and re-envisaging womanhood, without throwing the baby out with the excess fat.

This book will help any woman, any time 


Talking of motherhood and excess fat, you really don’t need to be a Punky Mummy to find that yoga is as lifesaving as a community of reliable and endlessly amusing mates. To be gagging for yoga, you don’t need to be lugging laundry or a baby. It could be a big briefcase or, as in my case, a big bust and a job as a writer hunched over a laptop – or simply a load of angst. If it weren’t for the work of Mr. Iyengar, and his daughter Geeta, who wrote the foreword for “The Woman’s Yoga Book”, and particularly its author, my teacher Bobby Clennell, my knuckles would definitely be trailing on the tarmac, in the style of our ancestors the Neanderthals. “I’m keen on doing yoga as a woman, not a man; coming back to our nature, but in a progressive way,” she explains.

Over some four years, Bobby has distilled her knowledge of woman’s yoga for every phase of life and combined it with her old skill as an illustrator – she used to be an animator– into a completely original and very necessary handbook to keeping your head on straight and your limbs in the lotus position.

And you in the back there – is that the lotus position, or are you just copying the answer from your mate? Now if I were your mother, not your Punk Professor…