Remembering Punk

by John James

Whoof! I’ve got goose bumps ‘— and an urge to pogo ‘— from the time-traveling rush of two new books that wonderfully chronicle the magic age of punk and ‘“post-punk,’” a candy land, faraway time when creative, disenfranchised youth on both sides of the pond were set free to try anything, encouraged by a vibrant, young record industry. Under the explosion of new recording technology, MTV, photocopiers, drum machines and synthesizers, the DIY battle cry of punk unraveled everything in 1976, and communities of like minded souls found families in the mosh pit, the community radio station or under the 3 a.m. glow of the florescent lights at a Perkins restaurant, after a sweaty, all-ages show. Getting lost in George Hurchalla’s terrific Going Underground: American Punk 1979-1992, I can almost smell the spilt Fosters beer and rancid bathrooms of the many punk palaces across America that kept it lively back then, from the 9:30 Club in Washington, DC and Club 57 in New York City, to the Gilman Center in Berkeley and the legendary Jockey Club in Newport, Kentucky. Chapter by chapter, Hurchalla captures each major cities’ contribution, with the formation and rise of seminal clubs, bands and indie record labels, all told through the anecdotes of the musicians, club promoters, zine publishers and scenesters themselves. Peppered with original show flyers and rare photographs, this anthropological perfect storm might leave latter-day punks thirsty at the trough, as baby, those were truly the golden years. ‘“Honey ‘— what’ll it be tonight? The Necros, the Dickies, Bad Brains or Die Kreuzen?’” Keeping with the indie spirit of its contents, look for this one under the Zuo Press imprint. The British side of the single is fantastically captured in Rip It Up and Start Again: Postpunk 1978-1984 by Simon Reynolds, well worthy of NME’s pick as Book of the Year in 2005. Stateside, Penguin Books has just issued a domestic paperback ‘— perfect for smudging up a little with Coppertone, poolside this summer, pretending your iPod is a vintage Walkman spinning the wheels of a C-90 mix tape packed with Bow Wow Wow, Madness and the Fall. Reynolds takes the geographic approach as well, with the disco, dub and reggae influences that sparked London, Manchester, Sheffield and Leeds to fire, as well as the No Wave movement in New York City, the strange drinking water in Cleveland and Akron that spawned Devo and Pere Ubu, and the genre-twisting histories of Goth, 2-Tone and synthpop. If you ever thrilled under the weekly pages of a vintage Sounds and Melody Maker magazine, or lusted over an original metal-tin edition of PiL’s Metal Box in a record shop window, this is dizzy, melancholy daydreaming at its finest. Highly recommended.