Ready? Here goes: 5. William Burrroughs
4. Bob Dylan
3. Joey Ramone
2. Bill Watterson
1. Joe Strummer
Each of these guys embody some sort of punk principle that fits into my definition of what punk is (or at least was meant to be). Let's examine, hmm?
OK, Bill Burroughs is here because he embodies the idea of being an outsider (I'm sure he's in at least the rough draft of "Rock'n'Roll Nigger"). I suppose it's an old artistic notion that to really be an "Artist" - yes capital "a" - you need to be an outsider, always viewing and considering on accepted mores and structures and values of whatever period of time you happen to be in. But almost having the Federal Government ban a book of yours simply on the basis of it being "obscene" is going a touch far eh? William takes number five with the weight of a Supreme Court ruling.
Mr. Bob Zimmerman-the-former finds himself in my musical thoughts often, but he's most often overlooked when it comes to his indirect influence on punk. Dylan takes the idea of emotion over professionalism, and makes it breath. The way Dylan sang opened popular music up for all sorts of "unprofessional" singers - punks, garage bands, metal shriekers.... none could have had a chance at an open market without his unpolished and creaking voice hitting the airwaves. His recording style even more so: one to three takes, completely live in the studio (whether solo or with band) warts-and-all. His spontaneity has allowed him to capture almost the inspiration behind the song itself, recordings so fresh and emotional that contrivance seems impossible. Would that every punk band could manage that (often it's just an excuse to be sloppy or lazy). Dylan warbles his wobbly way to number four.
Three is our good friend Joey Ramone. Embodiment of community, the Ramones were the most accepting-sounding of all bands, letting all the leetle chillen live in their punk tent, giving the sense of both spreading a gospel and letting everyone feel welcome.... no matter how much of a pinhead you might be. Joey's gangly demeanor, his goofy (but surprisingly rich) singing voice, and yes, those biker-boy leather jackets he wore along with the rest of his band made joining a street gang armed with guitars seem natural. Natural to God-only-knows how many future musicians who saw them. Joey jumps in at number three.
Now, if I didn't make it clear enough before, Bill Watterson makes the list based on his purity and authenticity. No amount of money was worth cheapening his work or compromising it. I've said plenty about Bill before, so let's just say he's number two and get to:
Number one. Mr. Joe Strummer. Strummer is number one partly because he has all the values of the above, but even more because he did one thing better than anyone. Righteous anger.
Now, you may say that's not really a virtue, but a big part of bringing all these punk values into focus is giving it a voice that's capable of communicating them without spelling it all out. And for a voice to do that in this context it requires an anger that's not forced or overly sarcastic, pedantic, or melodramatic.
Joe Strummer sounded like a crazy man on the street corner, trying to get everyone's attention because he thought the end of the world was coming. He was crazed and desperate even when he was being funny. He sounded like the everyman, yes, but also like himself (punk don't mean nothin' without pers'nality), and nails the number one spot by being in the back of your house at night while living by the river, and capturing all that it means to live and die (honestly - no fucking overdose) by punk. Stay angry wherever you are, Joe.
- If the music is dead, give it an autopsy and sell the video on ebay.