Monday, October 19, 2009

In putting together this week's podcast, I've been contemplating what it means to be an authentic punk. Is that label associated with some sort of a sincere engagement with that subculture? What is a sincere engagement? Who determines that, anyway? Are you an authentic punk if you slavishly adhere to the personal iconography of the movement? If you wash your hair with eggs, stick a safety pin through your nose and struggle into a pair of black drainpipe jeans, does that make you an authentic punk? It sure makes you look like other punks. Perhaps the true assessment of punk credibility is your own capacity to elucidate upon the meaning, practices and values of punk. No doubt that would involve the annoying habit of obsessively clarifying and re-clarifying the punk "status" of the same ten bands over and over again. The Jam? The Clash? The Buzzcocks? They weren't punk! The Damned? The Adverts? X-Ray Spex? They were punk!

I've been thinking about these questions in the context of my own musical identity (and the parts of it which still seem to be evolving). As a movement, punk had always intimidated me. Ever since I was five years old and I approached a bunch of third wave punks in a park in Burnham to ask if they liked ballet, I have stayed some distance away from the subculture. I had a superficial impression of what it meant to be a punk and I knew it just didn't appeal to me. Punk was designed to undermine the music of a group who had meant everything to me up to that point. Even from the outset, I knew that punk required an impossibly high level of personal engagement. I knew that I could never do it. I could never wear a swastika in the name of fashionable antagonism or mutilate myself to somehow prove my punk credibility to a rightfully skeptical Radio One DJ. I could never do it then and I could never do it now.

Pretty Vacant

So, how did it happen then? How did I get involved with punk? I can't remember exactly. It's a bit like describing how you got involved with the boy from the sketchy side of town, it's all been a bit of a haze. What I do know is that it's become a part of who I am now, in a way that I hardly feel compelled to describe or defend it. I love so much of it, even its confusing political ideologies that rarely if ever make sense. Of course, I say all this in the knowledge that I can never be an authentic punk. After all, I didn't contribute musical rants to zines like Loaded or Future Days. I didn't gob on my musical heroes at the 100 Club. I didn't harass or intimidate Chelsea pensioners at any point in time. Even if I wash my hair with egg or stick a safety pin through my nose, every attempt to be an authentic punk is thwarted by the fact that I was born half way across the world, seven years after it all officially finished.

At best, I can only ever be described as a part-time punk, an insipid poseur. Someone who plays their records very loud and pogos in their bedroom in front of their mirror (but only when their mum's gone out). It's a sad state of affairs realising you're a part of the problem. That you're a source of pain and aggravation to the righteous puritans of this musical genre. But you know what? I don't really make any apologies for it. I know that I am authentic in how I represent myself and my tastes. It's who I am and what I like and nobody has the authority to dismiss that.

Cassettes & Chocolate Milk: Mod Podcast #17
The Flys - Love and a Molotov Cocktail
The Damned - Love Song
The Nips - Nobody to Love
The Easy Cure - Just Need Myself (Demo)
The Buzzcocks - Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn't Have)
Patrik Fitzgerald - Safety Pin Stuck in My Heart
Various Artists - The Original Mixed Up Kid
Directors - What You Got
The Fuzztones - Bad News Travels Fast
Thee Milkshakes - For She
The Mystery Guests - Take a Look at Yourself

Download (32.1 MB)


adam said...

the golden rule should have been 'just do it your way, anybody can, individuality and a little effort are what matters' - except there were those clothes and those piercings. They were never for me either - and to be honest neither was the other thing I always associate with 'serious' punks (full time punks?) which was a dedication to the use of less recreational and more destructive drugs, and that general much more practical commitment to self-destruction than I've ever really been into. You don't have to be half a world away or seven years late, I was 8 years old in the summer of 1977 and was therefore just as far away from all that was happening as you were.

Punk's legacy? Culture Club (I think) called their band's autobiography 'like punk never happened'. Many of their playmates claimed that they were the inheritors, that punk led straight into New Romanticism (which was really the great unknown subculture, as somebody said to me the other day, who do you know who actually knew a New Romantic, never mind who was one?)

This comment was meant to be much shorter but it's late and most of the wine's gone.

From The Burro said...

Great Podcast. Found you on twitter and I'm looking forward to more podcasts. Have a feed on itunes or thought about getting one?

Your insight into punk was dead on the money. you voiced it much better than I ever would have.


Eleanor said...

Thank you both for your thoughts! I very much appreciate it!

I could probably think about this topic for ever and ever and not come up with an adequate analysis of the "authentic" punk. I suppose the best I can do is suggest that "authenticity", just like "individuality", "DIY" and "anarchy" are a few of the many buzz words associated with that genre. It invites interpretation, argument and consequently opportunities for one-up-manship. Opportunities to insist that your appreciation is far more genuine than the next gimp decked in black and lined in zippers.

But then again, it also invites the opportunity to come up with your own idea of what punk is, what it means to you. "Just do it your way, anyone can, individuality and a little effort are what matters", that is inspirational to me, that is punk to me.. and just as you say Adam, I'm not totally willing to submit myself to a debilitating drug habit just to be in with the cool kids of thirty odd years ago. It's a totally pointless venture and I don't see how I would be authentic if I were to do that. I certainly wouldn't be authentic to myself.

The legacy is rather a contentious issue. Just to be extremely simplistic, it very much depends whether you believe punk existed in its ethic or its appearance. If you believe that it existed in its ethic, then punk led onto the New Romantics. If you believe that punk existed in its appearance, then it led onto the hardcore movement. Think CBGB's in the mid 80s. It's not an issue that interests me particularly, there are so many "splinter" genres and subgenres that pick up from punk. At the end of the day, they're just words, opportunities to musically pigeonhole poor bands.

And thank you for your support too, Dave! Can't begin to tell you of the anxiety recording this beast, for all the "authenticity" reasons I discussed above. I too have downloaded a number of your podcasts and I look forward to listening to them through! Take care!

El x

Tom said...

thanks for the Tv shows and podcasts the 7 ages of rock one is crazy awesome, that's a technical term there probably doesn't relate to punk but anyway...

Eleanor said...

That's cool, Tom, anytime! I knew you'd love it, it's probably my favourite Britpop documentary of all time. Makes my tummy do flip flops.

China said...

Oh goodness, I thought you'd ended the blog back during the summer and so I'd not checked back to this post until now. Glad you started back up - this podcast has got a marvelous playlist.

It's a funny thing about this topic, I always wondered what separated punks from hippies, to be honest. They can both stand for freedom (not in the patriotic sense but in terms of individuality), and are all about purity in a way, not being a yuppy shit who takes more than what is needed, while going largely the DIY or practical route. I tend to think of certain non-rock musicians as being very punk rock in attitude (Georgia Anne Muldrow, who makes earthy hip hop, is someone to whom I'd applied the term, because she very much does things on her own terms in the studio and her lyrics are honest and blunt).

When I was younger, perhaps around high school, I'd always associated the genuine punks with those who were a bit darker and had a more cynical mentality, who questioned all that was mainstream but didn't necessarily do the indie hipster thing in claiming something and then pretending it never happened once it'd become mainstream. Punks always seemed quite smart to me, and - at least those I knew of - always seemed well-read and well-informed so that they could be proper cynics. Hrm.

Eleanor said...

It's so great to hear from you, China. Yeah, I'm not surprised to hear that you thought it had all ended. It took so long to get this podcast off the ground. All these kinds of thoughts, "but am I really a punk? Do I have the authority to be doing this?" thwarted my attempts to get it together. But it's all good and the podcasts are coming more regularly now.

It's fascinating what you say about the punks and the hippies. It reminds me of that part in almost every BBC music documentary where they say, irrespective of the genre, "We were almost like punks! We were doing it for ourselves! Sticking it to the man! Yeah!" Everyone from the New Romantics to Stock Aitken Waterman. It's true in some respects, in the aspirational ideals of punk, you know, the confidence and creative freedom, the sense of belonging. Everything you say about the hippie movement. It's there!

But I don't know, it's hard to figure out. I guess I'll have to have a D&M with Don Letts about whether punk is in the style or the attitude.

Please keep in touch, oki? It'd be great to hear from you xx