1) What do you consider "punk"?
I consider music that is:
aggressive [in either sound and tone, attitude, or a combination]
raw [not transparently “over-produced” or highly polished, emphasizing capturing dynamic performance rather than technical competence or perfection]
honest [at least purportedly conveying genuine human emotions – and not just describing some third person],
contemptuous of authority [whether it’s the government or convention or some ruling style], and
(usually) defiant of convention
to be punk.
2) Why do you think punk was considered so controversial?
By its very nature [especially the “contemptuous of authority” and “defiant of authority” parts], punk is intended in large part to be controversial. Its rejection of conformity means that it intentionally wants to set itself apart from the popularly-accepted behaviour. Its contempt for authority means that it is, even if only slightly, a threat to authority and the status quo – and therefore controversial.
Another reason it’s so controversial is the social and political conditions in England when punk started there in 1976 and became more popular in 1977. Unemployment and dim prospects [“No Future!” ] for young people made an angry, aggressive style of punk music very popular – and very threatening to conventional authority like incumbent politicians and newspapers and the government-run BBC. The Sex Pistols released a song called “God Save The Queen” to celebrate Queen Elizabeth’s “Silver Jubilee” [25th-anniversary as queen] – and the first verse was
“God Save The Queen. She ain’t no human being. She made you a moron, a potential H-Bomb. . . .”
They also released a song called “Anarchy in the U.K.” where the title alone provoked controversy. Both of the records went to the top of the English charts, but the titles weren’t allowed to be shown in the paper, and the BBC wouldn’t play the music on the radio. Finally, When the Sex Pistols went on TV and were goaded by a morning TV host to swear on the air, it caused a huge controversy.
Americans didn’t really care about the politics of England, but the newspapers and TV news shows all got really interested in the “Swearing on TV” controversy, because it could easily be understood in America. So American TV showed all of the sweating and spitting and hair styles of English punks, and then added stories about the punks trying to topple the government and swearing on TV. These reports then lumped in all American punk rock, like the Ramones, and portrayed it as really scary and dangerous.
SO where punk might have evolved into an energetic, “let your feelings go” kind of music that was considered loud and wild, but routine, it instead got an early reputation for being dangerous and dirty. Record companies and promoters got scared off, and continued to funnel punk into the “underground.” Which fed into the punk rocker’s desire to defy authority and to be aggressive and be unconventional.
3) What was your first punk experience?
I had been a music nut, mainly a Beatles nut, from about the time I was eleven. I always liked unconventional and defiant music [The Alice Cooper Band], but didn’t know much about punk. I had read about the Ramones, but didn’t know their music.
In my second year of college, I met a guy who also liked the band Cheap Trick [a somewhat obscure, unconventional band, but not punks]. A high school buddy/fellow Beatles freak and I formed a band with our new-found friend, and the friend started encouraging me to listen to, and play, punk rock covers. This was really liberating for me, because I couldn’t play my instrument well, and punk rock emphasized a raw, authentic style without worrying as much about instrumental competence.
When I went to visit my new friend at his job in a record store in 1978, I heard the newly-released Sex Pistols album “Never Mind The Bollocks, It's The Sex Pistols.” I thought it was a joke. The singer couldn’t sing, the s0ngs were all simple and simplistic. It wasn’t polished like the Beatles records I loved. I hated it.
After playing punk songs for a few more months, I listened to the Sex Pistols album again, and it changed my life. I heard honest anger and smart lyrics, great musicianship, and a raw sound that I could feel as much as hear.
Shortly after that, I went to a Clash concert at the Ontario Theater in Washington, DC, and really saw for the first time that there was a community of punk rockers. They all seemed like . . . me. I was hooked forever.
4) What made you want to join a punk band?
I wanted to be the biggest star on the planet, I wanted lots of girls, and I felt great and free when I played punk rock.
Once in the band, I met friends who were insular, like me, and we had our own little world.
5) What did you enjoy most about being in a punk band?
Performing our songs live – essentially the sound we made.
I liked a lot of the songs; some were really good, and a lot of them weren’t good. But we had a thick sound that I didn’t think anybody else could make, and it was a very physical sound: you could feel it.
Playing our music was a very physical, rewarding experience: it was angry and energetic, and unrestrained. I would scream, and yell, and sweat, and constantly move, and bleed (we always ended up accidentally chopping our hands to bits on our guitars, and bleeding all over our instruments), and while on stage was answerable to NO ONE.
When it was over, I was done.
6) Which band do you consider the most influential in the punk community, and why?
I consider the Sex Pistols the most influential ever.
Although they didn’t invent punk rock
[Iggy and the Stooges, Alice Cooper, David Bowie all immediately preceded punk, and helped invent it or shape it; the Ramones introduced it to the world as a fast, simple, defiant, outsider-y thing]
they combined a genuinely angry, rebellious attitude [young and pissed off and not willing to take it lying down] with a fantastic sound. They were not pretty, and they rejected all the trappings of “rock stardom” that had built up in the ten years before they started. This was adopted by countless bands since. They influenced countless bands and shaped a sound [thick, distorted guitars over a tight, pounding rhythm section, with an angry vocal on top] that shows up everywhere in pop music, even in hip hop.
Sex Pistols, and the bands in the early punk community like the Buzzcocks and the Clash, and lesser-known bands, didn’t sell a lot of records [eventually the Clash sold a good share]. They weren’t even popular during their time – they were “underground” bands that didn’t get played on radio or heard at the mall. But they defined the sound of the generation -- 35-55-yr.-olds who currently work and earn the most money and run households are all inundated with ads featuring punk music. Iggy Pop, the Buzzcocks, Stiff Little Fingers, and the Clash are featured in tons of ads, and TV shows, and movie soundtracks for middle-aged moviegoers. The music that was popular and topped the charts during the late 70s and early 80s is MUCH less likely to show up than the “punk” music that nobody was buying at the time.
So answer the questionnaire
1) What do you consider "punk"?