DarkoSuvin Spotty exterior, hides a spotty interior. Critical ways of approaching it have largely revolved around the interface between technology and the body, a cyborgian criticism, or in terms of postmodern theories of the simulacrum, a spectacular criticism, or through postmodern constructions and explorations of cyberspace, and information networks. Much critical attention has been paid to the cyber of cyberpunk—but what about the punk?
This chapter explores some of the ideological implications of cyberpunk criticism and looks a little at the fiction of William Gibson , focusing less on cyberpunk texts than on the critical and cultural debates clustered around cyberpunk, or fragmenting from it. Does cyberpunk maintain or jettison this tradition? I approach this question tangentially, by means of comparative analysis between cyberpunk and punk rock.
Does the punk figure represent a figure of rebellion or resentment against the near-total urban fragmentation of the future, or does the punk constitute a nihilistic, possibly postmodern, acceptance of a decentred, multiple, subcultural cityscape? In order to offer responses to questions like these I look at the retrospective construction of punk rock and its co-optation by science fiction critics, at problems of this strategy, and at some of the reasons for problems.
Source: Photograph by David Swindells, American experiences and constructions of punk rock. But of all the labels pasted on and peeled throughout the early Eighties, one has stuck: cyberpunk. A fiction of the future, cyberpunk is already predicated on the past, touched by nostalgia. In fact, one of the points I want to explore is the extent to which cyberpunk often usually refers back to a more distant moment in popular music history—the s—bypassing the actual music it signals in its name.
First, because it points to a multidisciplinarity of cultural reference. These incongruities are the concern of the rest of this chapter. The double reference can be read as significant though: many cyberpunk plots have revolved around detective and crime plot paradigms. This also raises the point that the punk of punk rock itself refers to two distinct but related phenomena: punk as figure, as altered body, with its strange ways of dancing, and even of walking and talking; and punk as musical form, as aesthetic production and performance.
Also, his examples display an emphatic maleness. Done with. This place. Punk also had a fairly primitive kind of technological eschatology, a do-it-yourself approach, expressed both in the form of the local, home-produced fanzine culture Rutherford ; Duncombe , and in what die fanzines wrote about.
Mark P. This is another. This is a third. Now form a band. Maybe in this punk argument about basic music production we can see a shift: from Mark P. Rucker et al. Do Gibson and Sterling have green mohawks? Does style explicitly link punk and cyberpunk here, or does critical focus on style confuse their differences? This is a song about the semiotics of British subcultural style and the related forms of discourse, in this quotation first punk then hippy: How much longer will people wear Nazi armbands and dye their hair Safety pins, and spray their clothes Talk about anarchy, fascism and boredom?
Practically the only contact the early punk scene had with science fiction was via even earlier s David Bowie albums. Cyberpunk writer and critic Sterling connects popular music and the writing practice by means of a number of formal and thematic threads and metaphors: Many of the cybcrpunks write a quite accomplished and graceful prose; they are in love with style, and are some say fashion-conscious to a fault.
Sterling xii-xiii Clearly there is a confusion of musical styles and chronologies here, one which I think is worth taking the effort to unpack. These are all significantly different in terms of music, political commitment, social context—for example, dating from the early s, early s and late s respectively. So, the musical referent complicates an otherwise simplistic or reductive gendered criticism. Figure 3. Source: Courtesy of Chrysalis Records.
British punk culture was another story So says Andrew Ross —another story of death by parenthesis, apparently. I want to look at a particular critical construction of the interface between cyberpunk and punk in more detail, to suggest that it rests on a problematic, partial, retrospective reconstruction of punk rock, one possibly more suited to North American than to British punk experience.
Both McCaffery and Andrew Ross state that the North American punk experience was different to the British one s , but both proceed then to ignore the point they have just made, McCaffery in particular offering the North American experience as the universal one. This paucity of material is symptomatic: it would seem to illustrate the weakness of the arguments for thematic connections between cyberpunk literary practice and punk popular music.
Rather, I refer to the absence of the socio-political interventions of punk rock I touch on throughout this chapter. Cyberpunk-infected retrospective reconstructions of punk always erase the bit they are least comfortable with, the byte they may not themselves possess. Second: surprise, surprise: America claims everything again. For British punks, it was significant that Presley died in their year, By extension, punk rock is less a critical musical form for McCaffery than simply another mode of that strategy of urban defamiliarisation.
Names of British bands signalling a suburban rather than urban focus at the time included Sham 69, the Ley ton Buzzards, the Merton Parkas, the Newtown Neurotics. Punk invented itself in rural East Anglia in places I knew like Great Yarmouth and Norwich, in fact in seaside town Great Yarmouth before the comparative sophistication of small, regional capital Norwich. In neither of these places are there too many concrete jungles and towering monuments.
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My contention is that there is a gap here, between British punk practice and an American critical reading of punk. Can the punk of cyberpunk be seen as an American construction of punk rock? Gibson offers a future version of this: At least twenty Gothicks postured in the main room like a herd of baby dinosaurs, their crests of lacquered hair bobbing and twitching. The majority approached the Gothick ideal: tall, lean, muscular, but touched by a certain gaunt restlessness, young athletes in the early stages of consumption.
The graveyard pallor was mandatory, and Gothick hair was by definition black. Gibson —58 In a neat extrapolation, Gibson shifts from music as a subcultural focus of expression and identity to computer-generated scenarios in cyberspace. The Gothicks were into it, whoever. They were thrashing and stomping and generally into major tree-rat identification. It could be argued that such a conflation of referents is itself a strategy of subcultural bricolage, undertaken by the Gothicks and the Kasuals, or a strategy of postmodern cultural production more generally, as practised here by cyberpunk writers.
However, the continuing emphasis on the American—with the essential concomitant erasure of the British— cultural experience by writers and critics should not be disregarded. This is especially so in the case of something like punk, which can so clearly be approached in terms of a discourse of national identity, especially in antagonistic relation to the United States.
An instance of this is seen in Count Zero, when the rival gangs are hired for a joint operation by a powerful agent, representing Maas Biolabs. The slick recuperation of the subculturally oppositional here connects with a reading of punk as constituting the commodification of rebellion. We see the familiar narrative of the recuperation of an oppositional impulse into a marketable commodity.
How far does cyberpunk mirror or pursue that? Where Never Mind the Bollocks is superseded by just Nevermind? Other aspects of the political problem are quite unrelated to music, to subculture, or rather have as symptoms an absence of musical or subcultural reference. One is of the distinct lack of situatedness of the special site of cyberpunk. Cyberpunk…is fully as much an expression of transnational corporate realities as it is of global paranoia itself.
Jameson Cyberpunk may be an effort to represent a postmodern sublime, but significantly not a nuclear sublime. Offering what instead? Ironic detachment? Come on! Wolmark Conclusion The punk in cyberpunk is a suitably awkward figure. It raises a number of issues about multidisciplinarity in cultural forms and in critical approaches, about the retrospective re constructions of punk, about British and North American versions of things.
Also it signals the problems of precisely where we situate cyberpunk fictional practice in the political and social realm. Alternatively, it can be located within a narrative of national culture: a North American cyberpunk reconstruction of punk as comic book alienated boy and his computer, as compared to a British experience of punk interrogating to varying degrees the boundaries of class, social institutions, gender. Acknowledgements This chapter was first written and given as a paper in April , at a British Association for American Studies conference at Sheffield University.
Thanks to conference organiser Dr Tim Armstrong, and to Dr David Seed for chairing the session, and thanks especially to all those who commented on the paper, both during the session and in the bar later. I have shamelessly appropriated the good ideas. Lee Brilleaux of Dr Feelgood. A second version of the paper was given during a visiting lectureship at the University of Southern Maine in September Perhaps a more hip sub-editor at Routledge later gave him some advice: republished as a chapter in Constructing Postmodernism, the epigraph is erased.
Elsewhere McKay I aim precisely to privilege the provincial and rural, to take issue with the contemporary fetishisation of the urban in cultural studies and subcultural studies alike. The book DiY Culture McKay collects together writings by nineties activists and cultural workers themselves and, interestingly, these new young er people actually show little connection with the earlier moment of punk rock. Downing looks at ways in which rock music has used science fiction themes and topoi. The problem partly revolves around viewing punk as postmodern due to its self-consciousness of construction and its wil-ful recuperation by capital, and viewing it as pre-postmodern the last of the modern?
Brooker, Peter ed. Translated by Catherine Porter and Philip Lewis. London: Gollancz. Hieronymus, S. In McCaffery a: — Larkin, Colin ed. McCaffery, Larry ed. Critical Quarterly Spring : — Smith, Mark E. Sterling, Bruce ed. He titles the piece The Punk Rock Movie The film lasts only as long as the Killdozer track.
Punk rock movies are shambolic. Or at least they ought to be. It is interesting how closely D. Films are rarely impetuous. They take too long to watch and longer still to make. Laborious mechanisms, like plot, characters and timescale are generally required. Any integrity the filmmaker might have is answerable to remote influences such as investors. Of course there are exceptions. Several feature films to emerge on the back of punk rock may be classed as genuine examples of Punk cinema—the aforementioned D.
Punk was a transatlantic insurrection, changing the way young people dressed, the way they behaved, and the way they were perceived by their peers. Perhaps filmmakers were unwilling to affiliate themselves with something so crass, something which so vilified patriotism, and indeed, something which appeared to delight in Nazi imagagery? Having its origins in the late s, a distinctive core of independent films began to appear in New York which sought to challenge notions of taste, decency, and the social order while promoting aggressive musical soundtracks.
Zedd Perhaps the two names most commonly associated with the Cinema of Transgression are Richard Kern and the aforementioned Zedd, whose King of Sex and Police State are landmarks in Transgression. Police State see Figure 4. Perhaps Baylor is a special case. Thoughts From the White Walls was soon to follow, a sparse and experimental short focusing upon emotions of bitterness and remorse after a fatal motorcycle accident. With its juxtaposition of narrative and image, it also reveals that Baylor, following the formulaic Our Own Personal Hell, was keen to introduce some ideas of his own to the medium.
Dum Dum sec Figure 4. Did the dummy pull the trigger?
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However, when finally he does confront the girls down a sidestreet, they pull a knife and stab him in the balls. Dead Love concerns a woman living with an abusive partner. When she buys herself a night dress he explodes into a violent rage, and when she burns the toast he holds a lit cigarette to her arm.
A pastiche of Monroe-like bubbleheadness, My Funny Valentine has a girl running carefree in a summer dress. A sentimental Sinatra refrain plays on the soundtrack. Loosely based on the Sunset Murders case that took place in Los Angeles in Slater — , the film opens with a young hitchhiker, Richard, being offered a ride by Carol.
Shortly after arriving in a town and going their separate ways, Richard is conned out of what little money he has, is unable to find the friend who had offered him accommodation in the first place, and has to fall back on the invitation made by Carol. He turns up at her door and she gladly gives him a place to sleep. But Carol has ulterior motives, becoming frenzied when her new lodger brings a girl back to the house later that night. The following day, after he threatens to leave, Carol drugs Richard and blackmails him into staying, courtesy of some compromising photographs involving a local schoolgirl.
She takes Richard to some of her favourite haunts, gets him to partake in her sex games, and eventually implicates him in the murder of a prostitute. The film ends with Carol accusing Richard of the crime and giving his description over to the police. RB: I started making films in What captured my interest was their approach to the media. The emphasis was on the content and the expression, not on the technical skills and budgets. They were able to blend intense musical pieces with intense graphics, creating a complete mind fuck.
I felt that I could film some of the ideas that I had in my own head and, with Phil Vane from Extreme Noise Terror, embarked on the first few shaky shorts. DK: How do you decide on what pieces of music to use? So, it was natural to turn to using music that was scored specifically for the films. I realised the music must fully fit the style and theme or it just sounded like you slapped your favourite track over a bunch of images.
RB: No, after my first film I always brought to the musicians the story or edited together some film clips for them to base the music on. I do have a rough idea of what sounds I think will compliment various scenes, but I seldom film from these—the only exceptions being when I feel a specific piece is vital, as in the seduction scene in Dum Dum where the two main characters are dancing in the living room to the sounds of Frank Sinatra.
DK: In many Transgressive films, the music is as important as the visuals. Looking back at some of my earlier films, I feel that the music often works better than the visuals. Also, my films then were more experimental and contained little dialogue, which emphasised the music even more. Filming such events has taught me to keep one eye outside of the camera, looking for a good side shot—and avoiding the quick soaking of the camera with lager! RB: Yes, and the only way I could get myself over here was to join the forces! I was sent to Ipswich in early England lived up to my expectations—I made a lot of good friends, went to a lot of good gigs and drank a hell of a lot of cider and Carlsberg.
There was a thriving punk movement in Ipswich at the time and it was a fun place to be. While I was over here, I got married to a French woman, Sophie. At the end of , we had to go back to the States to work until I could quit the forces. DK: What was the punk scene like when you arrived? DK: They were big Clockwork Orange fans, too. I think it suited them quite well. Also, they were one of the first—now you have Clockwork Orange references from everyone, from Blur to Marilyn Manson.
It was through the Addicts I met Kayce Harding, who appears in a couple of my films. I was quite good friends with the Kid, Pete and Monkey. The band later added James Harding, another friend of mine, as a keyboard player. While he was over in LA, James met and married Kayce. The two of them returned to Ipswich for a while and Kayce really liked the kind of films that I was making. She has a great screen presence and knows what to do in front of the camera. DK: Have you been in a band yourself?
RB: Yes, a few. The first was back in the early 80s in Ipswich, called Perfect Daze. We played at a lot of the punk venues around and played with the Addicts in London at the Club. After I left for the two-year period back in America, the members changed to include Wolfe Retard from the Stupids and the Daze later got a record deal with Vinyl Solution.
We like to take riffs and sounds from a variety of places and then blend them into a wall of hypnotic noise. Apart from a track on a Works In Progress compilation, no one has offered us any deals…but then again, we have been together longer than the Beatles and still play the same eight songs!
DK: How do you think underground filmmaking in Britain differs to that of underground filmmaking in the US? The difference with working over here, I suppose, is in the distribution and screening of films. DK: In as much as, by law, films have to be certificated over here? DK: Any other problems? I think my problems lie more in a sense of paranoia than in a physical capacity. If I know that my tapes are being made an example of on TV, I half expect to hear a knock on my door. I have since moved all distribution of my films to Paris.
But there are wide differences in approach and content within the group. Many of the original group have fallen away. If any sort of group is left, Jerri Cain Rossi and myself are considered the new members. In fact, there seems a definite move away from the Transgressive influence with Cirsium Delectus. RB: I enjoy a combination of both the free-form and the narrative. Free-form lends itself very well to hit-and-run visuals that can explore a multitude of topics with the blinking of an eye. Narrative, on the other hand, is more focused.
It plays on the assumption that a male loner is far more plausible as a killer than a female loner. I wanted to push myself with Cirsium Delectus and so tried to create more elaborate situations in a narrative style— which meant giving greater detail over to the actors and actresses, scene settings, dialogue, etc. I found that I could come up with some happy accidents in the more experimental style, but had to concentrate one hundred per cent to pull off the narrative. DK: There is also much more light and dark in the soundtrack than on your earlier films.
Howard from the Birthday Party and asked whether his band These Immortal Souls would be interested in working on some music. He turned the project down, but I drafted in the notorious French artist Costes to write some music and there can be no more trangressive artist than him. DK: How have your own tastes in music changed over the years?
What new music I do listen to is only new to me and has been around for years anyway. DK: Several of your films have a religious theme. RB: I have a distaste for the organisation of religion…the mixing of religion and politics, the use of religion as a tool of oppression. And, I suppose, I even have fetishistic feelings about the rituals of Catholicism. DK: Can you tell us more? RB: I was raised in a small, typically quaint, I suppose, little farming community which had more churches than bars. My childhood was spent at Sunday school, morning worship, evening services and vacation Bible school.
As I grew into my early teens, my parents became more involved with the charismatic movement. This involved faith healings, demon exorcisms and speaking in tongues. My father became a self-ordained assistant minister in a small, backwoods church, where they held big tent revivals with loud, barking reverends—and where the country band from the saloon on Saturday night would roll into the church on Sunday morning and strum along to a few religious country tunes!
When I look back on my past religious experiences, I appreciate the fact that I went through it. DK: Hence the theme in several of your films. Do you get much exposure in the US? I think they treat me as an expatriate extension to the New York film style. One of my first screenings in Britain was at the Manchester Fantastic Film Festival, followed by the Scala in London, just before they closed down.
It goes back to the non-narrative form and is based upon the compression of time. The setting is any typical Saturday in a city environment, but compresses the 24 hours into 12 minutes. There is no dialogue, apart from the ramblings of the city inhabitants. The idea is to not only show what goes on, but to open up our eyes to the variety of lifestyles that exist. The idea is to capture everything from a year-old kid getting his first tattoo, to the market stall holders shouting out their goods, to the upper-middle-class couple having a dinner party with red and white wine, to the youth hostel filled with Kentucky wrappers and cans of Tennents.
The point is to juxtapose the more unusual elements with the common, everyday events of the average family across the road. To me, filmmaking, like any form of art, is an expression of the emotional self. Our spoken language allows us to express logic, but fails when we try to describe feelings, moods and anger. My films allow me to express myself in much the same way that the punk movement allowed a generation of youth to vent their feelings about authority and a hypocritical society.
Tattoos optional. Zedd, Nick Totem of the Depraved, California: 2.
The problem of what is meant by punk will be discussed in this opening section. The issues that will be dealt with are largely dictated by the film itself, and they will include the nature of authenticity in relation to punk rock, and the role of visual style in the construction of meaning within the subculture. Punk throws up a whole series of problems in relation to even a basic definition of what it actually is.
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For some writers it is more properly punk rock, a music-based and music-centred phenomenon. For others, such as Dick Hebdige, it is a wider cultural or rather subcultural movement in which style is: …pregnant with significance. Even those who deal with punk rock as opposed to the wider phenomenon are not able to agree—in quite a major way—on what they are talking about. Stewart Home, former punk fan and musician, wrote in …that it would be possible to take the position that, in fact, there was no such thing as a PUNK band, there were only PUNK records.
Punk and authenticity Before looking at the film in more detail it is useful to consider the concept of authenticity in relation to musical forms. This may be fairly straightforward when applied to banknotes, but becomes more problematic, although no less significant, when applied to cultural artefacts. Yet all these fields are fraught with misattributions, alterations and outright fakes. Of course it is true not just in jazz but in other black music forms that white acts have stolen and adapted the style, often making a great deal of money in the process in markets not available to their black counterparts.
But it seems harsh to argue that the bands of Count Basie and Duke Ellington necessarily contain subversive connotations which are not there in the bands of say, Benny Goodman or Glen Miller. Part of the widespread appeal of Ellington, for example, was surely based on the fact that he did not appear subversive. This is just as true of other widely popular black jazz musicians such as Louis Armstrong. When applied to a contemporary music form such as punk, authenticity is still highly relevant and used in a similar way.
Some of the problems with this view will be discussed later. The history of feature films dealing with any subculture and released contemporaneously to that subculture is a largely unimpressive one. Films which capture something of the spirit of a subculture are much rarer. Films like The Wild One or Easy Rider although many would argue that these are also flawed are outnumbered by many lesser films.
Amongst the reasons for this widespread lack of quality are the nature of both the filmmaking process and the companies that have traditionally made feature films. Much of the studio hierarchy have normally been the kind of white, middle-aged males whom the relevant subculture was likely to or indeed designed to offend. Their potential lack of sympathy or understanding could of course be overcome by a desire to make money. So the possibility of large profits from the potentially huge youth market meant that filmmakers have jumped on a series of bandwagons.
Unfortunately their lack of real understanding of each successive subculture has created unconvincing and often risible results. Even if somebody involved with a film has some intimate knowledge of a subculture, the collaborative nature of filmmaking and the fact that ultimate power will reside with producers and studio heads has normally meant that little of this insider knowledge makes it to the screen.
The few films which have managed to capture something of the qualities of a given subculture have often avoided a studio-based hierarchy as far as possible. Easy Rider, for example, was shot with a small crew on a tiny budget by Hollywood standards and filmed on location away from direct studio interference. The technological advances e. It also had the added bonus of being a small-scale film away from major studio interference. Graham Chapman and Johnny Speight then actually produced a rejected script.
The most famous false start for the film involved the hiring of cult soft porn director Russ Meyer. But the cultural gap between the Hollywood maverick though highly successful Meycr, and McLaren and the Pistols soon led to the shelving of the project. Julien Temple had already been involved with McLaren, directing short films and videos of the Pistols, and was now working on a documentary for him to be called Four Stars are Born.
But there were serious problems in the making of a Sex Pistols film—the lack of money was put into perspective by the fact that the group were disintegrating. Johnny Rotten had left the group and refused to have anything to do with shooting new scenes. Sid Vicious also wanted to leave and only performed under duress and with the handicap of his worsening drug problem. Their common art background meant that when McLaren asked him to work with the Sex Pistols in there was a feeling that the graphics, packaging and imagery surrounding the group could be of vital importance.
Both were interested in, amongst other things, the ideas of the Situationists and Marshall McLuhan. The influence of the former on punk as a whole has been much debated. Savage Stewart Home is particularly vociferous in his opposition to the idea that there was any real connection. Home argues quite convincingly that there was no serious or significant sense in which punk was a product of Situationist ideas.
He also points out that a key element in the supposed connection, the British King Mob group, was expelled from the Situationist International. But, through Reid and McLaren, Situationist ideas and slogans began to feature in punk designs. McLaren may well have just been toying with these ideas for effect, but the link is nevertheless there. Punk, for all its apparent nihilism, was born out of a very specific political situation in s Britain. Reid This does not mean, of course, that anybody looking at the T-shirt, or even Paul Cook who was wearing it, would be aware of, or even care about, its Situationist origins and meanings.
All of them featured a conventional portrait of the Queen with various images overlaid—swastikas in her eyes, a safety pin through her mouth and so on. The portrait itself was blown up large enough to display the halftone dots of the original photograph quite clearly.
This in itself has the effect of emphasising the technical nature of a fairly familiar image. But this effect is confounded by the collaged images placed on top of it by Reid. Although still immediately recognisable as a photograph of the Queen, not least because of her still visible tiara and necklace, the words rob the face of its human characteristics.
There is also an inherent violence in the image because the words are placed across black strips that have simply been ripped out of the photograph.
The connotations of the blackmail type cut-up lettering are various. It implies an anonymous, criminal message, with a hint of threatened violence. It is, in effect, a highly recognisable corporate logo. This was also not the first time that mis-matched letters had been used to create dramatic and shocking typography. In another tenuous link through Situationism this type of lettering has overtones of Dada. Hebdige solves this paradox by using the concept of homology to describe the way in which apparently random elements of a subculture fit together.
The role of McLaren as narrator and manipulator within the film will be related to his self-professed role as the creator and manipulator of punk itself. However, perhaps rather like some other aspects of punk itself, a closer examination of the film reveals a hidden order and system beneath its apparently chaotic surface. The film is like a mobile equivalent of a Jamie Reid collage—for all its apparent randomness and rule- breaking, the pieces are in fact carefully placed and arranged. Added to this is documentary footage of various Sex Pistols performances and other events and animated sequences.
Table 5. One of the main points of the table is to indicate the basic way in which the film is constructed from archive footage, animation and new footage which has been shot specially for the film. Inevitably some of the sequences are slightly arbitrary—the structure of film is a notoriously complex area which has been the subject of much theoretical writing. One of the striking things about the structure of the film as revealed by this analysis is the way in which archive footage stops being used after sequence Fake Johnny Rotten number one. Cartoon version by Animation City.
This was certainly the impression that was gained by many viewers. Fake Johnny Rotten number two. The film also constructs its meaning by juxtaposing archive footage with recreations and voice-overs. Its unconventionality lies at the level of its sequences and the way in which it mixes animation, documentary, recreation and fictional scenes almost seamlessly. If sequence 5 of the film is examined in more detail it is clear how artificial even the apparently documentary sections of the film are.
The performance shots have appeared in other documentaries, in colour, without the crowd shots, so it may well be that the audience were from a completely different venue at a different time. Even the contemporary material is mainly located within a punk sensibility only by the vocal performances of Rotten or Vicious. I think most of these groups would be vastly improved by sudden death. The worst of the punk rock groups I suppose currently are the Sex Pistols; they are unbelievably nauseating. They arc the antithesis of humankind.
I would like to see somebody dig a very, very large, exceedingly deep hole and drop the whole bloody lot down it. You know, I think the whole world would be vastly improved by their total and utter non-existence. On one level they are hardly worthy of consideration—their vitriol and lack of understanding of anything about punk make them virtually meaningless.
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On the other hand, of course, along with many tabloid headlines, they illustrate that in one sense punk worked. Its attempt to shock and disturb were hugely perhaps overly successful. But there is a problem in the way that it is extremely easy to offend the British establishment, the middle classes, and an awful lot of people over 40, whatever their class or income.
Almost anybody can break fashion and behavioural taboos, and when combined with songs which attack the Queen or make jokes about Belsen, they can create an effect which will have people queuing up to be offended. Dick Hebdige sees this outrage as the first stage in a consistent strategy by which subcultures are defused by mainstream society.
The next stage is incorporation, where the images associated with the subculture are re-used and made safe by society. He wanted to sell a lot of trousers! According to Hebdige the commercialisation of a subculture is an inevitable part of its incorporation into mainstream culture. For all their protestations, each subculture, no matter how extreme, inevitably undergoes this process.
Some commentators who were close to punk did not resist this phenomenon. For all its twisting of the facts it includes particularly in the early sections much interesting performance and interview footage, but more importantly it gives Malcolm McLaren the opportunity to present his own view of the group and the rock industry. Whatever the shortcomings of his account it is a direct insight into the mind of a man who may not have invented punk, but was central to its development in terms of both music and fashion. Although a conscious piece of myth-making it also touches on notions of class.
Dave Laing estimates that nearly a third of all punk rock musicians had been mainly art students. Source: Melody Maker 7 April In the film, one illuminating section is the arrival of Jones and Cook in Brazil to meet Ronnie Biggs, where they appear to get on a lot better with Biggs than they had with Rotten. As they discuss the petty crimes of their youth they look nothing so much like three London wide boys beginning an overview of careers. Of course subcultures are never as homogenous as they can appear from the outside, particularly when portrayed by a hostile press.
Subcultures are normally a fluid phenomenon, very loosely tied together and made up of people who disagree quite violently with each other. I want friends. In recent attempts to re-evaluate punk by cultural historians and the media in general there has still been little consensus. Those involved certainly do not agree. And as for the politics, I gag. I find the politics more embarrassing than the music. We were so naive. It is important as a document, but its significance probably resides as much in the lies that it tells as the truth that it reveals.
Some of the attendant problems are identified in Staiger and Thompson. Bibliography Davis, Julie ed. Staiger, J. John Lydon has arrived safely in a blizzard-stricken New York. Snowed in and abandoned, Sid speaks on the phone to photographer Roberta Bay ley. Comics, with their crude vitality and immediacy of communication, but forever excluded from the mainstream of cultural life, seemed to provide an ideal medium for the expression of punk ideas.
In searching for punk influences in comics, a number of difficulties present themselves. In a graphic medium like comics, do we confine ourselves to those which share a certain drawing style, and if so, what are its defining parameters? Or is it a question of subject matter: punk characters, gigs and bands? Can we identify a defining punk attitude, and is it constituted from the above concerns or from a more general desire to shock, offend or subvert? Finally, since punk influenced many a young mind in the late 70s and at all times since, we might seek out later flowerings of punk-tinged sensibilities which may not resemble the earlier varieties very closely.
Both encouraged the expression of individual identity in a conformist culture, questioning of authority, and mis-trust of the established political process. The original underground comics of onwards played a large part, alongside the music, in expressing and communicating the essence of hippy to a wider world.
They included the violent, darkly sexual strips of Greg Irons, S. But plenty of influence went the other way, so that later cartoonists who seem to be quintessentially punk may have some or all their roots in the underground. Another 60s crossover is the European Situationist style, using pictures or whole pages reprinted or traced from straight comics, but detourned by the re-writing of the word balloons.
Many British and US underground papers, well into the 70s, took up this simple and graphically exciting way of getting across oppositional political messages Davidson ,70—73, 82, 94, , etc. Certainly punk gave the notion a fresh currency in the late 70s and is probably responsible for most subsequent usage, but attention must be paid to dates: e. Admittedly this phase had burned out by Conservative forces rallied in the editorial offices and an era came, for the time being, to an end. Blondie slows her roots In some important ways, the origins of punk itself are closely linked to the comics medium.
Holmstrom enthusiastically adopted the name; it had been attached to garage bands of the s, especially by Creem magazine, and had a lineage including Shakespeare, gangster movie and prison slang. Punk quickly boomed from 2, copies to 10,, and netted a publication deal with Tom Forcade of High Times. Holmstrom-esque comics of varying quality are a common feature of the zines, to be found even in more intellectual examples like Scumbag a UK zine which concentrated on punk poetry see also Vague —13, 34, A fine UK example by an unknown artist, reprinted from a fanzine called Skum, graces the cover of one early Sex Pistols bootleg LP.
The strip is a history of the band; its crude, amateurish drawings are typical fan product, but the caricatures are serviceable and the strip has undeniable verve. The fortuitous match of style to subject matter seems more than appropriate both for the rough-and-ready bootleg quality of the disc and the very essence of punk itself. Pouncey, while a fan of much punk music especially US varieties , was even more cynical about the music business, especially the marketing and hype associated with punk, than his New York contemporaries. His animal characters, closely observed caricatures of bands, fans, record company execs etc.
He has illustrated record sleeves for the Lurkers, Sonic Youth and others, and played in punk and noise groups like the Art Attacks and Pestrepeller. Moore was heavily into punk music at the time, though his background was in the underground press and the Arts Lab scene, and he never sacrificed his trademark beard and long hair to the punk style.
His self-published comics of the period show the punk influence clearly, e. As with many artists and writers who used the energy of punk, these two had other strong influences in their creative mix, including Dada, Surrealism and Skinhead. Their graphic novel Skin the hard, economically told story of a thalidomide skinhead and his revenge on the establishment is arguably a punk comic in everything except subject matter. Jimbo is a spiky-haired youth in a tattered vest, equally at home or equally alienated, more to the point in hellish punk-ridden LA alleyways and futuristic or prehistoric dreamscapes.
They could well have been the work of year-old punks off their heads on solvents evidently the effect the artists were after. Still, when his Simpsons spin-off comics were successful, Groening also gave Panter his own Jimbo comic Parallels between punk music, with its up-from-the-streets, back-to-basics, anyone-can-do-it attitude and these energetic, primitive drawing styles are easy to make, but we should remember that Holmstrom, Panter, Groening and Pouncey had all been to art school, as well as reading a variety of comic strips for years.
The ratty line echoes the naive drawings of children, the look of African and Polynesian art so beloved of Picasso and Matisse, and the cave paintings of Lascaux etc. In the cartooning media, we can also find primitive stylists like Thurber and Schulz to add to Kurtzman, Baxendale and many others who influenced the punk generation. Just as the various strands that made up punk music did not come out of nowhere, so the comics styles which accompanied it had their own rich lineage. Up from the Underground Despite a shrinking market in the late 70s, Berkeley publisher, Last Gasp, was still managing to bring out an occasional issue of the seminal underground comic Zap.
In they launched another infrequent title, Anarchy Comics. Editor Jay Kinney clearly hoped to pick up a share of the punk market with this very political comic. His Situationist-flavoured strip in issue 1 is either post, post or a bit of both. Panter gets into 3, and the front covers of 2 and 3 feature archetypal punk characters. Many of the strips, despite an international variety and vitality, had no actual punk connections, though the comic probably broadened the mind of many a young punk reader. Both the the ratty line crew and Anarchy have far more direct links with punk than Raw, launched in Autumn , which is often thought of as a punky magazine.
They were failing to advance the comics medium to its potential heights as an artform; how much more debased the New York punk comics must have seemed to his refined taste. Spiegelman also fell out early on with Holmstrom, over Ramones and Dictators songs which Spiegelman saw as glorifying Nazism. Raw published underground comics artists, and younger Americans like Charles Burns and Gary Panter, alongside numerous European creators.
Few of its contributors, Panter aside, had much to do with punk. Unlike Punk magazine, it was nearly all humorous, cartoony comics, mostly dropping the interviews, articles and reviews. King and others developing the comics style of Punk in new directions; less specifically to do with punks, more with cars, girls, beer and vomit in a wider sphere. Peter Bagge introduced enduring characters like suburbanites- from-Hell the Bradley family, and also gave a positive review to a new comic from England called Viz.
Its 9-issue run again mixed comic strips by King, Bagge, Kaz, Weiner and Bruce Carleton with interviews, reviews and articles. It was also committed to a street-tough anti- authoritarianism; this political aspect, as much as the blood and guts, caused widespread controversy and the comic was closed down see Barker — Concerned parents and the media all but ignored it, because it seemed like harmless fantasy. In fact, strips like Judge Dredd, and later ABC Warriors and Nemesis the Warlock, were able to question the authority of police, army, state and church on a regular weekly basis.
Neither comic was actually influenced by punk, though they could be said to have much of the same attitude. They grew in the same soil as punk—the cynical 70s, the hippy dream in tatters, unemployment rampant. Grant Morrison and Brendan McCarthy. Mad Max 2 was a huge hit which fed back a punky look into many areas of the culture, including US superhero comics themselves.
Like Milligan and McCarthy he has an awesome array of other influences in his arsenal, and also moved on to AD and DC Comics, where he has consistently been one of the best comics scripters published in the mainstream. In issue 2, punky young English artist Andy Johnson a. Geerdes did not see fit to answer back; the term had almost certainly been co-opted independently in the US. It was in this area that the term New Wave, derived from French cinema and attached to the more commercial punk era music from its early days, stuck to comics.
By , comics historian Jay Kennedy was using the term Newave, rather than New Wave, so as to distinguish these comics from any musical phenomenon Kennedy Matt Feazell whose stick-figure mini-comics like Cynicalman were very influential in their own right. Kennedy and Geerdes continued to see the Newave as a continuation of the underground. Pioneers of this time included John Bagnall who was strongly influenced by punk, and continues to produce music zines to the present day , Eddie Campbell and Phil Elliott. A similar DIY approach had produced the Underground comics, but post-punk there was a greater acceptance of the basic, even primitive, level of ability so long as it had something worthwhile to say.
One other factor probably fuelled the small press boom more than punk: the photocopier, increasingly available in offices, libraries and high street shops after This is a piece of paper. This a photocopier. Photocopiers meant you could print as few as you needed, then give them away or sell a limited print run to break even or make a modest profit. Networks emerging from selling copies on the street, at comic marts and market stalls and by mail order consolidated around two centres in London and the South. From , Fast Fiction was both a distribution service and a small press anthology comic of the same name edited by Elliott, then by Ed Pinsent from to its demise in Escape liked Raw, sharing its respect for the undergrounds, classics of the past like Krazy Kat, and European comics, but was also proudly British, running strips by Elliott, Campbell, Pinsent, Bagnall and others.
Escape also published graphic novels, including Violent Cases , with co- publisher Titan , written by Neil Gaiman. They initially intended to do a punk fanzine, but were advised by local punk personality Arthur Comics to do humour strips instead. Viz strips appeared in serious punk zine Vague, but Viz suited the mood of the times in a much wider sense, and went from photocopied local success to runaway nationwide best-seller. It sold about a million copies every two months at its peak, and spawned a slew of imitators.
They drew flyers for punk clubs, as well as their own comic strips, influenced by a wide variety of artists including Robert Crumb, and Dan DeCarlo of Archie comics Hernandez and Hernandez ; From —81 they produced the pages which ended up in the self-published Love and Rockets 1. Local publisher of The Comics Journal, Fantagraphics, published it from to the final issue in As with AD, his dark, subversive approach had much in common with the punk attitude.
Frank Miller used a similar mode for his mega-successful Batman series The Dark Knight Returns, in which a gang of mutant punks terrorises Gotham City, only to be subverted as a force for social change by a newly politicised caped crusader. Deadline, mixing post- punk and dance music with comics, was originally the brainchild of AD artists Brett Ewins and Steve Dillon. Frank Wynne, editor from —95, brought in many small pressers, and punky artists like Savage Pencil and Andy Roberts. Deadline also reprinted Love and Rockets strips.
I like Hate While still a contributor to Stop! Crumb was a major driving force in the original underground comics, and highly influential on creators like Holmstrom, Bagge, Alan Moore, the Hernandez brothers, and virtually everyone in the small press. I was attracted by punk graphics, even the records and music. Crumb started by publishing his own controversial strips and photo-fumettis, and punk material by J. King, Bagge and Dave Geary. Bagge also had his own magazine of humour strips, Neat Stuff Fantagraphics, —89 , but his most successful project was Hate onwards, see Figure 6.
Anarchy in the Uk again The small press has become a flourishing international network in the 90s, going far beyond its Underground, punk and Newave roots. The mini-comic fad, mainly part of the US scene, also spread back to Britain in the later 80s. Here the well-known Tom Anarchy , for example, retains a punk influence. Gane was four years old in Between and there was a fundamental shaking up both of the comics mainstream and alternative publishing.
Since , US publishers have struggled to consolidate and continue those advances. The entry of British writers like Neil Gaiman, Grant Morrison and Peter Milligan into the mainstream directly following from the successes of Alan Moore and Frank Miller brought punk-influenced subject matter like oppositional politics, alternative sexuality and the everyday life of ordinary people into the medium more widely than ever before.
Though punk played a part in these changes, it was not as dominant in comics as it was in music, nor as all-pervasive as the input from hippy had been before it. The 60s counterculture was arguably more easily assimilated by the mainstream than punk for many reasons.
Punk offered an angry, nihilistic creed and a doctrine of hatred. For a story telling medium like comics, there was perhaps another fundamental problem: fuelled by beer, amphetamines and solvents in the UK at least , punk lived for the spiky moment. Nonetheless, it has managed to leave notable marks, if often indirectly, on the graphic narratives of the comics medium. Holmstrom is today the publisher of High Times himself. Bibliography Barker, M.
Crumb, R. Davidson, S. Feazell, M. Green, J. Groening, M. Hernandez, G. Holmstrom, J. F--k it — life is pretty silly. On Feb. And coinciding with the album's release was a new single called " Longview. Featuring a very well known opening bass line from Dirnt, the track pulled in listeners. Armstrong and Dirnt would later reveal that the bassist was under the influence of LSD at the time of coming up with the line and while he almost forgot it, the parts he remembered formed the musical starting point for the song.
It just came to me. I said, 'Billie, check this out. Isn't this the wackiest thing you've ever heard? With the beat in place, Armstrong then wrote lyrics about boredom and masturbation. Upon its release, the band issued a hit video to MTV and the song took off at radio, climbing to No. Though it's gone on to become a fan favorite and did well at radio, the track was somewhat eclipsed by "Basket Case" which was issued a short while later. The track initially turned up on the band's sophomore set Kerplunk, but after making the jump to Reprise, the band decided to give it a second try with a less grainy sound.
As stated, " Basket Case " was released a little over a month after "Welcome to Paradise" and bit into the audience a little bit. The track claimed the No. Buoyed by a brightly hued video in which the guys appeared to be patients in a mental institution, the song also got major love from MTV, where it received nine MTV Video Music Award nominations. Once again, Armstrong drew from a personal place for the track, expressing his anxiety over his panic attacks.
Years later, he would tell Rolling Stone, "'Basket Case' became this loser national anthem. But to say it's about panic attacks is limiting. It's about going through total confusion. I think of a song like 'American Idiot' as feeling, 'OK, there is a lot of chaos in the world, people getting murdered. You feel like a victim of it.
Armstrong penned the track about his split from his girlfriend Adrienne after a blowup, but after writing and recording the song, the couple reconciled and she eventually became his wife. It also became the band's biggest hit off the record at Mainstream Rock radio, peaking at No. The final single, " She ," was not issued commercially, but did enjoy a strong run at both Modern Rock and Mainstream Rock radio. Armstrong had penned the song about a girlfriend who showed him a feminist poem. When the couple split and she moved away, he decided to use the song and it's become a fan favorite over the years.
As we now know, Green Day knocked it out of the park on their major label debut. The band exploded to superstardom, graduating from a "bookmobile" they used for touring to playing around the world. Their infamous "mud fight" during Woodstock '94 got them plenty of attention, and an appearance on Lollapalooza helped them to continue catching lightning in a bottle. That's not only why it works, but also why we didn't get killed. Armstrong says of the disc, "Back then, I just wanted to write songs I could be proud of and be able to play in five years.
Mission accomplished, Billie Joe.
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