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The Death of Punk Rock; or, They Finally Pulled the Plug on the Old B****

I have this thing where I try to focus on an anticipated event in the future with such concentration and detail that it's the next best thing to time traveling. And then, for fun, when the actual event arrives, I try to remember with all possible clarity the past time when I imagined the moment I am currently living. In this way, I will myself unstuck in time.

Back when punk rock meant a lot to me, I tried to imagine the point at which culture will completely consume and digest my musical obsession. And, by "digest", I'm not indicating "cutting edge" advertising (that is, of course, an oxymoron, but you get the point), but the nexus where any possible semblance of the counterculture is bleached out of punk. I had a hard time imagining that happening with punk - but, then again, in 1972, I never thought I would get sick of the greatest rock -n- roll song ever, "Stairway to Heaven".

Today, waiting in line to make a deposit at a Chase bank in Elizabethtown, KY, I heard the original version of the Ramones' "Rock -n- Roll Radio" playing softly in the background. It was followed by Bryan Adam's "Summer of '69".


This isn't Iggy and William Burroughs on Nike commercials. This is at a bank, in a military base/bible belt town. This is it - the end of punk as a countercultural marker. This was the coffin nail. Punk is now only music.

I must admit I felt nothing. Nothing, that is, except the vertigo of sliding back and forth between now and when punk mattered to me.

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Comment by Chris Cruzan on August 25, 2009 at 11:58am

Comment by Vess von Ruhtenberg on August 24, 2009 at 8:28pm
I'm gonna give that a big ol booya.
Comment by Bill Zink on August 24, 2009 at 7:27pm
You know, I thought acoustic blues was nothing but a museum piece by the time they were trotting out all those guys during the 60's folk music revival. I actually got to see Big Joe Williams in '79, but as cool as that was, I understood that I had missed the moment.

However, revival that centered around Clarksdale, Mississippi (and Fat Possum records) made me reconsider. Seeing guys like R L Burnside, T Model Ford, Paul "Wine" Jones, and Robert Cage, and listening to current records by those guys and Junior Kimbrough, the Jelly Roll Kings, Cedell Davis, Elmo Williams, etc.made the blues relevant again. The blues were dead, then they came back. Maybe punk can, somehow, become relevant again.

Or, again like the blues, maybe someone takes punk to a different level, like Beefheart did with the blues.
Comment by Vess von Ruhtenberg on August 24, 2009 at 6:03pm
In short: Punk is not dead, it is only irrelevant.
Comment by Jon Nelson on August 24, 2009 at 3:12pm
I figure punk rock died about the time Ivy League college boys learned how to play Robert Johnson songs, or maybe it died when Ed Sullivan only showed Elvis Presley from the waist up. Nah, it died when I decided I was done with it. Yeah, that's it. It also died when I heard Jimi Hendrix in the musak at a a casino in Lake Tahoe. That was a long time ago.
Comment by Jeb Banner on August 24, 2009 at 9:59am
Hey Mike, we are live with the new design and the new archive and home page! Check it out and let me know what you think. We are still browser testing and won't be supporting IE6 but otherwise hope to have all the kinks ironed out today. You may need to do some "refreshing" of the browser at times to clear out old cached style sheets.
Comment by Ra Bob on August 24, 2009 at 9:53am
Made a T-shirt -- the old school DIY hand-made silk screen way -- to respond to all the corporate mass printed "Punk's Not Dead" T-shirts around the world:

DEAD PUNK'S SNOT!
Comment by mike whybark on August 24, 2009 at 12:43am
woah, new look on the front page! What's the word, Jeb?

On Facebook, a pal just noted hearing the Ramones while at a grocery store. I assume this is a similar mix to that Bill heard. It's worth noting that the commercial-environment division of Muzak, formerly known as AEI, is/was based in deepest hipster Seattle and was a well-known employment farm for musicians and music heads. I can;t vouch that this is still the case, but can definitely state that a significant percentage of drop-in-the-mail demos from Seattle were dubbed on tapes dumpstered from AEI's facilities, less than a block from the storied Comet, Moe, and Chophouse, about six blocks from my former residence of fifteen years. SO... could be I know the person that finally wedged that Ramones tune into the wide distro for Subaru moms and tots. Given how long it took I'm guessing s/he's a fricking VP.
Comment by David Alexander on August 23, 2009 at 10:41am
Yeah, it's not so much a what as a when. The music is still kickass, but listening to it is a bit like looking at a photo album from the when. To hear music is to participate in it, and my experience of the old stuff has a lot to do with how I felt when it was new stuff. Not sure how my kids' experience of the old stuff is different, but it's enough for me that they dig it. Is it dead? No, it happened, and you can't kill a when. So, not dead, maybe, but over. I've got a pretty good now, but that when: I wouldn't trade that when for anything.
Comment by Bill Zink on August 22, 2009 at 1:39am
First, anyone who knows me knows that "just music" is a pretty big deal for me. And yes, I was big on punk rock (not the Ramones so much as Black Flag, the Bad Brains, Wire, the Buzzcocks, and, above all, the Minutemen). What I never got into was the Punk Rock code or the Punk Rock Lifestyle - though, yeah, I was running into y'all in basements all over Bloomington between '84 and '95. Music speaks for itself. Lifestyles earn my skepticism.

In the end, I think its good that we think of punk rock as just music. If doesn't generally bug me when music that was central to me in some way gets appropriated - depending on how it's appropriated. Iggy's "Lust for Life" on TV commercials is ok in a way that using Gang of Four's "I Love a Man in a Uniform" for army recruitment would not be.

For me, much more important than punk rock were the bands that scrapped the orthodoxy of punk: from Richard Hell and Pere Ubu and The Fall through the Birthday Party and Big Black, breaking the rules is more important to me than any orthodoxy, including punk orthodoxy.

Also interesting to me are the great musical figures who haven't yet been (and may never be) co-opted by the mainstream, from Charles Ives and Harry Partch through Captain Beefheart. I'll start really sweating when I hear "Like a Sick Eagle" or "Dachau Blues" in line at the bank. I have more of an attraction for the iconoclastic vision that doesn't lend itself easily to re-terratorialization. Not that I'm only about the outside stuff: I also love Dionne Warwick's versions of Burt Bacharach/Hal David songs, Henry Mancini, and Led Zeppelin.

The death of punk rock? I don't know if it ever lived past '79. Besides, I was just baiting y'all with that title.

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