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Archive for October 2006

Bands I Should Have Listened to.

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As a former punk (of 1985, not 1977) it’s hard for me to write about the punk movement/era. Here I am, a comfortably-situated bourgeois mom enjoying her life in the USA. For me to reminisce about punk seems an indulgent, gratuitous form of nostalgia. Like the 60’s it never brought about any real political changes. On the contrary, people are less politically active than ever before and becoming less so. Global capitalism is more present than ever. And all that is left of punk is another “era” to influence retro fashion kids of our post-modern future.

And yet, I cannot forget. I can’t forget the punk era for initiating me to a political consciousness, however unpracticed it may be. though I wasn’t aware of this initiation 20 years ago, when I just wanted to hang out at the mall or dye my hair purple and listen to The Cramps or X. Punk also gave me a sort of buffer of personal freedom and expression. I didn’t have to follow the crowd. I could make my own decisions and design my own life and accept the consequences. It led me to follow my passion and major in art history, for example. The consequence of course was that I would have less job options than if I had majored in nursing or law or education. But I haven’t had a single regret.

Politics and personal expression are all fine and well. But the most important gift from the punk era for me was, and still is, a taste for music quite beyond the mainstream and off the charts. As a 15 year old with juvenile tastes, I listened to a lot of punk bands that I wouldn’t listen to today – the Cure, Love and Rockets, Bauhaus and yes, the Sex Pistols. But even immersing myself in the overly dramatic and somewhat juvenile sounds of Bauhaus gave me an ear for the weird and dark and poetic. Punk made me demand and look harder for and get more out of music. And that, over the years, has led me to some of the greatest musical discoveries.

For the past 10 years I have been happily “rediscovering” musicians which I never paid attention to the first time around – the ones with the less fashionable hairstyles that didn’t appeal to me at age 15. The first was Roxy Music. When I first listened to their early 70’s material (in 1996), I was overwhelmed. It was not made for mainstream radio, but was so full of smart, dark, poetic beauty that the extra time spent trying to understand it was very worthwhile. After 10 years I can still listen to “In Every Dream Home a Heartache” or “Sea Breezes”. More recently there has been Wire – with their choppy guitars and intellectual lyrics, not unlike British Marxist dance legend Gang of Four. I have discovered the strange electronic sounds of New York’s Suicide, or the sexy, kittenish hysterics of Lydia Lunch. I look forward to hearing Patti Smith eventually, and revisiting Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers.

But my latest “new old” discovery is the Stranglers. This is a band I paid very little attention to in the early 80’s, with the exception of their hit “All Roads Lead to Rome”, which broke through in the states. The Stranglers are quickly becoming an obsession for me. They, like Roxy Music, change throughout their career from early punk discord and chaos, with songs about sex and hanging out in the streets of London (Rattus Norgevicus), to a sophisticated euro-dance sound (Feline). There are also some albums which combine the two periods, like the wonderful Black and White. Both the early and late periods offer great listening.

I only own a handful of Stranglers albums, but I will continue to buy them over time. For now, they are my poetry. If I put on “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” first thing in the morning, I’m almost guaranteed a good day. “Toiler On the Sea” is the musical equivalent of DH Lawrence and I’m overwhelmed by it’s beauty. “Nice and Sleazy” is a deceptively-titled myth for the late 20th century, full of primordial symbolism. Then there is the album Feline, which I can listen to again and again. It is a slow, romantic homage to beauty and Europe. If Roxy Music’s Avalon is the musical equivalent to looking out over a glittering, endless sea from a Mediterranean hamlet somewhere, Feline is the musical equivalent to sitting in a 500 year old apartment on a dark afternoon in Paris, drinking wine, and admiring the city in a slightly sad mood. The album is all gentle sadness and longing and beauty.

I haven’t read a lot of poetry. I can’t seem to make it through the ones that are longer than a page. I also think that I require music to enjoy the lyricism of lyric verse. However, I think that the bands that I have discovered as a result of my initial interest in punk produce an effect on me that is similar to the effect of poetry. These bands – especially Roxy Music and the Stranglers, have allowed me to imagine beauty and ugliness and despair through words, and that is more than a person can hope for in a lifetime.


Written by nattie

October 10, 2006 at 4:31 pm

Posted in Heather