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Tag: Patti Smith

Punk Pt I - Protopunk

Punk – Protopunk

You have to go out there and do it for yourself, because no one’s going to give it to you.

–Joe Strummer

The Beard – Ep. 3 – Punk Pt. I by Beard Radio on Mixcloud

To whom it may concern,

Hello. During the closing moments of last week’s Beard show on Elvis Presley, it may have sounded as if I were endorsing the lifestyle choices of certain pop stars who focus their attention on their younger fans, which while possibly overlooked in the time and place of that era, remains morally outrageous, and potentially illegal today. In the heat of the moment, clouded from reason by my undying ardor for the mutton-chopped, hip-shaking hunk of burning Elvis of my dreams, I may have inadvertently projected my own childhood obsession and in doing so, ok’d the King’s—and by default all pop culture icons who think they can get away with it—transgression. In doing so I insulted the posterior region of my co-host’s dear mother, the karma of which I will never be able to outrun. I apologize for this. And although I do not apologize for Elvis, who despite tales of his innocent courtship (stuffed animals and pajama parties), was still in the wrong, I’m still all shook up.

Woody Guthrie - This Machine Kills Fascists

Woody Guthrie – This Machine Kills Fascists

Woody Guthrie wrote this “This Land Is Your Land” in 1940, and it was originally called “God Blessed America For Me.” The song is a great tribute to the working class, and an editorial on the distribution of wealth and power in the America. It’s the epitome of the protest song, claiming this land belongs to us, and no one can take that away.

1) Play Woody Guthrie- This Land Is Your Land

What is Punk?

Is it a spiked mohawk? A guitar riff? A persona?

At its heart punk is protest. Looked at in this way, it is almost a natural evolution in the grand tradition of protest music: blues, jazz, reggae and rock and roll. Almost. Today our show will be focusing on the punk bands that served as a catalyst for the movement as a whole spreading all across the globe following its inception.

So…What makes “punk”, punk? How did multiple bands from all different genres come to fame in totally different places throughout the 1970s. The punk movement can be divided into several different sub-genres, so what is it that exactly defines punk?

Punk – Protopunk

Take, The Talking Heads, who are seen as more New Wave than typically “punk” yet were playing CBGB and touring with other punk bands at the time– are they any less valuable simply because they did not follow the typical protocol of the punk archetype? What determines a particular band’s value to the punk movement?

2) Play The Kinks – You Really Got Me
3) Play MC5 – Kick Out The Jams

Bands like the Kinks & MC5 may not be what you might call your typical punk bands, or punk whatsoever, but it’s undeniable that when “You Really Got Me” first played on the air, it spawned thousands of bands. Like Wayne Kramer of Detroit’s MC5, kickin arse n taking names surnames, to be proper. These bands began what was later termed Protopunk.

Iggy Pop & The Stooges - Raw Power

Iggy Pop & The Stooges – Raw Power

When Johnny Rotten says that “We don’t give a fuck what you think of us…” he is being somewhat disingenuous, because he does care. Why else would you change your name from Lydon to Rotten? John Mellor to Joe Strummer. James Newell Osterberg, Jr to Iggy Pop. Jello Biafra. All of the Ramones. There does exist some extremes of artifice and persona. Iggy may exemplify this best of all.

4) Play Iggy Pop & The Stooges – Gimme Danger
5) Play The Velvet Underground- Rock and Roll (INTRO) (Lou Reed)

So how does the Velvet Underground fit into the protopunk scene? Much like the Pixies, they are credited with having influenced every band that came after them, while not selling many records. They certainly had the stagecraft down, playing shows all over NYC and partying at Studio 54 with Andy Warhol and his drug-addled Pop Art entourage. Their image, if not so much their music, is very big punk middle finger to the established mores of the time.

Around the same time, The New York Dolls, one of my personal favorites, was an American protopunk band whose claim to fame was short lived, only surviving from 1971-1975. The New York Dolls not only liberated the musical movement for bands following them, but also had dashing good looks, skintight pants and amazing fashion sense.

6)Play The New York Dolls- Personality Crisis
7)Play The New York Dolls- Trash

For many pioneers of the punk movement it was a way of life. Growing up listening to the Beatles and the Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan led many to the well of music, but having missed Woodstock, what was left? Angst, fueled by poverty, privation, and misunderstanding, and coupled with second-hand guitars gave many the only chance out of the ghetto of the 70s. The Clash, a band we will be devoting an entire episode to in the future, went on to become one of the biggest bands, not only of the punk movement, but of all time. They spanned the entire century with nods to Americana, reggae, rockabilly, soul, and straight forward rock, all the while sneering, and making you dance.

8) The Clash – White Riot
9) The Clash – White Man in Hammersmith Palais

The infamous New York City punk clubs CBGB and Max’s played a paramount role in the punk movement. A lot of these bands really rose from the underground simultaneously, taking the world and its youth by storm. In correlation with the New York Dolls is The Ramones, which is for myself the be all end all of punk rock entirely…and my unexplainable crush on Joey Ramone only had a small bit to do with it. My long lived love affair with the ugliest lead singer ever definitely helped spawn my slight obsession with tall skinny white guys that tend to look slightly malnourished…oh and playing a musical instrument, even poorly, was key.

Here’s The Ramones- “Teenage Lobotomy” off of Rocket to Russia 1977. I chose it because I really identified with the song during my adolescence and stayed up at nights waiting for someone to perform the surgical procedure on me…or for my mother ship to come and take me home.

10) Play The Ramones- Teenage Lobotomy
11) Play The Misfits- Hybrid Moments

The Ramones had a quick, hard hitting style with a 4-chord rhythm, essentially only changing the words to each song making from a long last career from 1974-1996. However, I feel as though with the shuffling of members and the changing of the times, The Ramones kind of fell off the map and strayed away from their true punk roots around 1984 with the release of their album Too Tough to Die… its my opinion that perhaps, they should have let a good thing die rather than running it dry.

Can I ask you a question. Are the Misfits really Punk Rock?

Why do you ask sir?

Dead Kennedys - Fresh fruit for Rotting Vegetables

Dead Kennedys – Fresh fruit for Rotting Vegetables

What about Brian Eno, Roxy Music, Modern Lovers (Jonathan Richman), Television (Richard Hell), DEVO, Patti Smith, Talking Heads (David Byrne), The Heartbreakers (Richard Hell), Pere Ubu, Throbbing Gristle, Gang of Four. What about Garage, Glam & Hardcore Punk? Nazi, Noise, Riot Grrrl & Skate? East coast vs. West Coast? Washington D.C.? Chicago? Toronto? We will focus on the different scenes next week in the second part of our Punk trilogy.

12) Play The Dead Kennedys- California Uber Alles
13) Play The Dead Kennedys- Holiday in Cambodia

What can you say about The Dead Kennedys? Well for one, they are aweeesoome (high pitched)! Also, despite the fact that the hail from San Francisco, rising with the west coast movement, they spawned a punk subgroup known as American-Hardcore…also, they were the first American punk band to have a HUGE impact in the United Kingdom.

Active from 1978-1986, The Dead Kennedys often had to play under pseudonyms because their provocative name tended to stir up quit a bit of controversy. San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen wrote in November 1978, “Just when you think tastelessness has reached its nadir, along comes a punk rock group called The Dead Kennedys.” Caen was referring the controversy surrounding the band’s infamous name, often misconstrued as a jab at the Kennedy Family. However, despite popular belief, the name was not meant to insult the Kennedy family, but according to lead singer Jello Biafra, “to bring attention to the end of the American Dream”.

“California Uber Alles” was a single on their first album, Fresh fruit for Rotting Vegetables (1980).

14) Sex Pistols – “Anarchy in the UK”

Holiday in Cambodia” was the second single by the DK. The record was released in May 1980 on Alternative Tentacles with “Police Truck” as the b-side. The title track was re-recorded for the band’s first album, fresh fruit..,. The cover picture of the single is taken from a massacre in Thailand, and depicts a member of the rightist crowd beating the corpse of a student protester with a metal chair. The song attacks both Eastern totalitarianism and Western materialistic complacency. The song’s lyrics offer a satirical view of young, self-righteous Americans and contrast such a lifestyle with a brutal depiction of the infamous Pol Pot.

15) Play Woody Guthrie- Goin’ Down The Road

Labeled by their elders of another generation of lazy hippie ne’er-do-‘wells pissed them off. Written off as impotent adolescents, they were increasingly incensed by the continued imperialist agenda of their homelands abroad—Vietnam, Guatemala, Chile. Spurred on by the new style of no-holds-barred media coverage, kids in the U.S. and the U.K. rebelled openly. Their anger palpable, many went for the only form of expression allowed them: music. But rather than the saccharine stereogum replayed ad nauseam on the radio and tv, they opted for the rawness of unfiltered guitar, machine-gun drums and patchy basslines.

The Kids Are Alright

The Kids Are All Right

“Everybody passing through here is somebody, if nobody in the outside world.”

                                                        — Patti Smith, Just Kids

In one of my favorite scenes in Jim Jarmusch’s Coffee and Cigarettes, two disheveled old men raise their glasses for a toast. One says, “To Paris in the 20s.” the other pauses for a moment, considering his own heroes: “To New York in the 70s.” Both are wistful of generations mythologized and eulogized, beloved and altogether gone. They were societies where artistic impulses thrived over commercial ones and yet, ironically, because of their brilliance and decadent grandeur, these urban neighborhoods have become prohibitively expensive and are thus unlikely to spawn the kind of anarchic creativity that marked those cities in more carefree, dangerous days. For those of us who were never there, the closest we may come are paeans from persons who knew it best.

It’s no surprise therefore that Patti Smith’s Just Kids, a memoir of that heyday era should be a bestseller. New York in the 1970s: a crossroads of Avant-garde and street movements, hippies putting away tablas and sitars, giving way to a younger generation of punk kids turning on electric guitars and rage. Smith’s rise from a starving artist to household name straddles this evolution in taste and form, the arc from flower power giving way to the aesthetic fuck off. Those of us born in its aftermath can only YouTube those times with great envy, navigating our own generational malaise with characteristic longing. If that weren’t envy enough, Just Kids is a record of Smith’s “making it,” appreciated for her own peculiar hybrid of poetry, rock and roll, and shouting. Even if like me, you’re not a fan of her music, credit is due: rock stars aren’t born, they’re made and it takes time, luck, talent, and of course, the thing that counts most of all in the end, persistence.

The Kids Are All Right

Patti Smith Just Kids (HESO Magazine)

Patti Smith - Just Kids

Through it all, Smith had a friend in the battle, the late photographer, Robert Mapplethorpe, who was her closest friend and greatest confidante in those transformative years and for whose memory this memoir is indubitably dedicated. Smith writes tenderly of her memories of Mapplethorpe, the gay, pixie prince who became world famous for his Polaroids of S&M carnality and the censorious rebukes his work engendered. But in the Summer of 1967, they were ‘just kids,’ a couple of dreamers from the American suburbs. Smith left a factory job in Jersey to make it as a poet in New York (does that still happen anymore these days? the hungry poet in the big city?), sleeping in the park and taking day-old loaves from charitable bakers. In the beginning Smith had absolutely nothing to live on, save the faith she belonged somehow to New York and that it would be all right. We don’t know what might have happened otherwise, but it seems that her meeting Mapplethorpe might have saved her from danger or worse, the disaster of giving up and going back to where she came from, never to return.

It’s a love story between friends and to feel Smith tell it, those impoverished years when Mapplethorpe was her greatest companion is worth all the gold records on the wall. Click To Tweet

Mapplethorpe dresses the dandy–when she fell in love with him he was into beads and a sheepskin vest but he went through a sailor boy phase and Lizard King leather, among other personas attempted and discarded, “searching, consciously or unconsciously for himself.” In 1967 he didn’t own a camera– for him photography was getting your image snapped on the Coney Island boardwalk. A talented dilettante, he dabbled in jewelry design, collage art, drawing; he did not read, though he was Smith’s first audience when she recited her poetry.

A lapsed Catholic obsessed with good and evil, he flirts with Satanism, tarot cards and the occult. Smith recalls there was something indefatigably childlike about him. He drinks chocolate milk and loves grilled cheese sandwiches. He could not keep a job– Patti was the breadwinner (she’s an ace at uncovering rare first editions, Henry James, The Golden Bough, for instance, and unloading them on customers when she worked at Scribners). As long as he followed his artistic aspirations, she was happy to provide for the both of them.

The Kids Are Alright

The Kids Are Still Alright – Patti Smith live at Fujirock

Smith paints a picture of an enviably adorable couple: never mind they were among the beautiful people; they understood one another’s needs like few lovers could. That his homosexuality precluded longtime physical compatibility did not mean that their friendship could not thrive. Together they had their songs, signs, a coded language. Inspiration was the sustenance that they fed one another. Their mutual role-playing had always been founded on muse more than lover. Through it all, they are one both with and against the world: “Nobody sees things as we do, Patti,” Robert tells her.

In those days, an artist could catch a break or two that is difficult to contemplate happening today. Many struggling, broke, down-at-the-heels types stayed at the famous Chelsea Hotel. Some went delinquent on their bills, trading in their portfolios to management as collateral. When Smith and Mapplethorpe arrived there in 1969, sans a dime and Robert suffering an abscessed mouth and ailing wisdom teeth, they did just that, trading in their work to Mr. Bard, the manager and shouter extraordinaire, as most of the residents were lousy with jobs, rent and various real-life obligations. Robert and Patti rented a small room with neither windows nor physical space to set up their workstations. Nevertheless it was the very best thing that could have ever happened to them, for if the art world is a beast (and many will attest it is exactly that), then they had landed themselves in its belly. The Chelsea Hotel had dirty shared bathrooms, an irresponsible clientele, and brownish tap water but it was also was a community within a larger society.

Smith and Mapplethorpe made fast friends, eventually finding themselves regulars at Max’s Kansas City, with its rowdy transgenders and Factory crowd, enjoying the Velvet Underground, the occasional house band. This was more Robert’s thing as he idolized Andy Warhol. Smith and Mapplethorpe were more conspirators than lovers at this point and she drifted into friendships with scenester Bob Neuwirth and Todd Rundgren. She learns intimately from poet Jim Carroll and the playwright, Sam Shepherd. Patti is privy to Janis Joplin’s boy troubles and Jimi Hendrix tells her his dream of a new musical language.

Smith’s own language sometimes feels that she read On the Road at an impressionable age and never quite got over it. Her prose has some affectations: she calls fellow Chelsea Hotel residents, “inmates… guitar bums and stoned-out beauties in Victorian dresses.” Making art is “an unholy ritual.”

The Kids Are Alright

Patti Smith live at Fujirock

She has hippie-dippy superstitions; birthdays of famous poets are often propitious. Hipspeak colors her interactions (maybe this reviewer, with his allegiance to many formalities of language would be too “square” for the scene he idealizes) and she and Robert often speak of magic. So she may have had a beat fetish, I will grant her this: she was a friend to Burroughs, Ginsberg tried to pick her up (he mistook her for a ‘pretty boy’) and she loaned money to Corso to support his junk habit.

There are a lot of famous names in Just Kids, but Smith does not drop them to prove her worth–she seems as much at awe at her good fortune as we are. But for all their fame, the rock stars and celebrity artists are only background characters here. The story through it all belongs to the kids, Patti and Robert. The memoir begins and ends on a cold day in March 1989, when Robert dies of AIDS complications. By then, they’d drifted apart, Smith to a family and recording career in Detroit, Mapplethorpe to a stellar artistic career as a photographer. They reconnect because of his illness and once in touch, the old patterns return and they understand anew a quality of friendship that is uniquely theirs. It’s a love story between friends and to feel Smith tell it, those impoverished years when Mapplethorpe was her greatest companion is worth all the gold records on the wall. A trip to Coney Island in 1969 suggests the purity of this friendship beautifully: “We were just ourselves that day, without a care… Only weeks before we had been at the bottom, but our blue star, as Robert called it, was rising. We boarded the F train for the long ride back, returned to our little room, and cleared off the bed, happy to be together.”

So what is a kid in New York City with paint on his hands a tumblr site that no one visits is supposed to take home from all this? It could happen to you too and that might help a person navigate optimistically the next couple months as he struggles to pay his rent and make the time to create something that might find an audience, or better, a champion.

Patti Smith Live at Fujirock

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