Top Ten Incidental Moments in Punk
his isn’t a real, ranked list. There are numbers, but it’s mainly so when you read something ridiculous, you can refer to it more easily. I love me some Wild Gift, EP-LP, & Feeding of the 5000 as much as the next guy, but sometimes it’s more fun to look at all the bizarre tangents punk’s shot out upon us over the years.
10. Waldorf Worldwide
I didn’t get out much in high school, all right? I’m doing you a favor by giving you an opt-out here: the first show I ever attended that had anything to do with punk was six years ago, at Austin’s La Zona Rosa. Some friends, whose musical paragon at the time was Weezer, got me sufficiently excited to plunk down 12 bucks for a pop-punk extravaganza. The headliner was MxPx, the first opener was Slick Shoes, and the second opener was an entertaining bunch of rubes who jumped in unison, covered “A Hard Day’s Night,” and inserted “Austin” into the lyrics of their biggest hit at the time. The band was… Good Charlotte. Pre-MTV, pre-lotioning the old folks, pre-post-Cure call-girl makeup jobs, and I’ll rescind my Stylus pass in the morning.
9. Fugazi’s Instrument
Specifically, the band’s interview for an eighth-grade news show. Bonus points to Ian for explaining what “fugazi” means without deploying the f-bomb.
8. “Our Wedding”
For those who haven’t gotten there yet, Crass were among the punkest. There’s lots of revivalist talk about those Sheffield pop bands and their attempts to ruin rock by wholeheartedly embracing the rock business model, but the Clash were on CBS, the Pistols on EMI, the Stranglers (who were old and thus may not count) and Buzzcocks (after Spiral Scratch) on United Artists. But while many saw this as opportunity, Crass decided it was assimilation. Their brand of punk was all about self-sufficiency, provocation, and demonstrable results. And, the occasional prank. “Our Wedding,” the final track on 1980’s Penis Envy, was submitted as a giveaway single to Loving magazine, a rag aimed at the inward institutionalist groanings of young British girls. The magazine happily distributed the milky ballad (credited to Creative Recording And Sound Services), informing its readership that it was “a must for that happy day”. The album came out and all was revealed, but Crass still had Thatchergate…
7. Polyester (1981)
The late Stiv Bators: Dead Boy, Lord of the New Church, and John Waters pawn. As Bo-Bo Belsinger, Stiv’s the lunk boyfriend of Lulu Fishpaw (“I’m going to get an abortion and I can’t wait!”), who dances for quarters in the lunchroom. Doubtful he could have parlayed this role into a career of Waitsian proportions, but it was a fine effort in any event. Oh, and “The Last Year” is one of the best singles ever.
Yeah, the hardcore punk exercise on the Roots’ 2002 release Phrenology. More pointless than GG Allin, McFly, and the Gang of Four remix record put together.
5. Whatever became of Dirk McQuickly?
Thank God for Eric Idle snapping the title All You Need Is Cash, otherwise some Oi! band might’ve copped it. The moment to which I direct you is at the end of the film, when Eric’s Dirk McQuickly and his wife Martini (Bianca Jagger) form the band Punk Floyd. Just thinking of Idle walking down an alley with a giant safety pin in his skull, shooting the greatest gob, gives me the vapors.
4. “From the Cradle to the Grave”
What was once obnoxious or discrepant in music was, with the arrival of punk, explained away as the essence of punk rock. (God bless ‘em but) Beat Happening writing bassless winking-waif cuddlecore? Black Flag releasing sludge metal LPs? Green Day crafting DOA acoustic weepers? That’s punk rock, simply because it bucks someone’s expectations of style and place. Even aping punk’s most diametric genre, prog, could be justified in this way. Punks not being punk is exponentially punk. Enter Subhumans UK. Conflict had “Cruise,” but the title track to the Subs’ 1984 LP was ambitious as punk could get, at least in terms of sheer length. At almost seventeen minutes long, the song catalogs the thousand sly tactics employed by UK society to pin the working class in its place. Veering from pogo-punk to quasi-reggae to blazing rock, it’s a completely dour exercise, but not without several major moments of genuine power. From the band with the cutest logo in punk.
3. That car commercial
Mentioned in Azerrad’s Our Band Could Be Your Life, this is the 1993 spot in which a Central Casting grunger enthuses “This car is like punk rock!” If he was referring to the concept of planned obsolescence, sure. I’m with you. Anyway, I saw the ad once that I can remember; it might’ve been my first time to hear the word “punk”. Watch for Kid Koala, or possibly the Anticon crew, to sample it on some forthcoming project.
2. Punks Not Elected
In 2003, I used my flimsy credentials as KANM music director to get in to a TSOL show, with my brother Jeff as the photog plus-one. While the openers raged on the outdoor stage, my brother interviewed bassist Mike Roche in the band’s RV. Nearly all the lights were out, as Mr. Roche had just finished a nap. For nearly thirty minutes, he waxed gently and thoughtfully about being in a band full of fortysomethings, and coming to terms with his reckless past. It was a great interview, and I had every intention of submitting it to KANM’s music ‘zine. But we didn’t have a music zine. Still, every so often I pull the tape out and remember a chill November night. The show itself was great fun, with frontman Jack Grisham haplessly failing to get a rise out of the crowd. He demanded that cups be thrown at him, he mentioned encouraging his underage daughter to get some action, he yelled at us for throwing cups at him. Every few songs he’d stop to revel in his defeat in the infamous California gubernatorial race. He claimed the state offered him a few hundred thousand to drop out of the race, but he sneeringly refused. Bet there’s regrets.
1. Bushy the Pinhead
As long as I’m fixated on punks punking up punk with non-punk, it’s hard to ignore the Ramones’ induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on March 18, 2002. The late Johnny Ramone was long known as one of the few explicitly conservative punks (again, ignoring that whole Oi! morass). It was upon his insistence that the band retitled “Bonzo Goes to Bitburg,” settling for the almost-as-cool “My Brain Is Hanging Upside-Down”. When it came time for the Gabba Gabba bunch to receive the VH1 stamp of approval, Johnny stepped to the podium and accepted with a terse “God bless President Bush, and God bless America!” Bitter old rockers in attendance squirmed. Hey, anything that makes Eddie Vedder look more ridiculous than his schizoid mohawk-and-Ramones-shirt get-up, yes? Yes.