I’d like to think that one day two or three blokes, one named Harold, were sitting in Harold’s bedroom, bored beyond belief. Nigel (a friend of Harold’s) said, “Right, let’s start a band.” Harold pointed out that they did not play instruments, sing, nor know anything about music. Nigel responded, “Oi, we’d best invent punk rock then.”
The beauty of punk was that anyone could do it. Music of the Sex Pistols and their contemporaries was simple, imprecise, distorted, a shouting match of political lyrics. This guileless mind-set was nearly inconceivable in the context of the highly technical progressive rock that ruled the airwaves in the 70’s. A do-it-yourself movement quickly swelled and punk’s muse birthed a litter of exciting bands.
It’s hard to remember how shocking punk was at the time of its inception. Back in the day, every new song hurtled listeners on a rickety roller coaster of adrenaline towards a certain grisly death. Listening to these bands nowadays seems somewhat like a gentle carriage ride through halcyon fields.
Here in America the Ramones, leather-clad Beach Boys on musical steroids, provided perhaps even more of an easy listen. Songs were simple as can be, three distortion-driven chords with lyrics that might consist entirely of “I don’t wanna be a pinhead no more, I just met a nurse that I could go for.” Yet the Ramones continue to be one of the most influential rock groups of the last 20 years.
And now punk has run the full gamut, from a rebellious musical revolution to the soundtrack for 21st century commercials. Iggy Pop’s Lust for Life, an ode to drug culture, appears in ads for the Royal Caribbean cruise line. The Ramones turn up in a surprisingly large number of commercials, including one for Pepsi. And, most surprising to me, abstract post-punk band Gang of Four features in Microsoft ads. Perhaps not one of the signs of the apocalypse, but still disturbing in its own right.
The point being, punk of the late 70’s is the music of my generation. And some demographic genius in upstate Vermont determined that I have significant purchasing power, passed this well-researched data to swarthy middle-managers on the rise who then implemented a “business plan,” and presto! the songs of my youth became a Pavlovian soundtrack designed to free up some space in my duct tape wallet. Which is an interesting irony, perhaps disturbing to some, but simply amusing to me.
I’m sure that Harold and Nigel are laughing all the way to the bank.
Stay tuned for future punk-related posts. In the meanwhile, meditate on these meaty lyrics from the Dead Kennedys:
My ambition in life is to look good on paper
All I want is a slot in some big corporation