Saturday, August 15, 2009

Top 5 Punky guys.

OK, we now know what I think of Bill Waterson's punky credentials, what were these other top-five embodiment-of punk-as-a-concept people I was talking about? Well, I have a list, it's pretty predictable actually, as long as you don't limit punk rock to music.

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.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Bill Watterson - Punk Rocker?

I was thinking of those lists that many people make, y'know the ones designed to piss you off, or commemorate something only the list writer is paying attention to, and I was thinking of what I'd have for the top five (ambitious, ain't I?) punk rockers of all time. And I realized that most of the people I consider inhabiting the spirit of punk are not, technically, punk rockers. Two of them aren't even musicians. One of them, in fact, drew comic strips.

Bill Watterson is the author/creator of Calvin and Hobbes, a comic strip that many would argue was the best the medium ever had. Obviously, he wouldn't rate so high in my thoughts if I didn't think the same thing, but it's not for his main character's accidental anarchy so much as for the author's own attitude for how his work is presented that he's on my list.

I guess the Clash were the first to make purity and non-commercialism punk ideals, but even then these were hand-me-down values from the folk music movement of the sixties. And many punks and folkies were shouldering the cross of non-commercialism either out of peer pressure or, worse, because they thought it might make them more commercially popular. Their pretensions rarely kept the music honest and often was used as an excuse for sloppiness in writing/performing. Hence the anti-market antimatter was a self-defeating piece of ammunition in both the folkies' quiver and the punks' ammo clip. So what's all this have to do with stuffed tigers?

Bill Watterson fought tooth and retractable nail with his syndicate about the licensing rights to Calvin and Hobbes; them wanting to get Bill's characters on coffee cups, calendars and t-shirts and he not. They cajoled, threatened and waved the contract he signed with them when he was young and desperate (blatantly giving them the right to "exploit" Calvin and Hobbes in the market) in front of his nose. And Bill still was stubborn enough to stymie their efforts to give him millions of dollars. Good for him.

Mild sarcasm aside, what Bill did made most of the people in his particular industry think he's crazy. No-one cared if Charlie Brown was on a coffee mug, or the Far Side told you the date at the doctor's office. But think about it now. Charlie Brown, once the relatable hero of the downtrodden, is a cliche. Garfield went from being interesting to being intolerable. The Far Side, the most durable comic on this list, found it's brilliant commentary on the absurdity of life appear dumbed-down and mean-spirited when taken out of the context it was meant to exist in. Calvin and Hobbes, on the other hand, still retains every carefully crafted inkdrop of its power and innocence.

Don't believe me? Look at this cartoonists representation of Calvin and Hobbes grown up and try not to tear up. I did. I'll join you below when you're ready......

Bill Watterson incurred the scorn of his entire industry both to keep his strip pure and make it the best it could be (the Sunday format that infuriated editors and got his syndicate's salespeople thrown out of more than one office). He lost millions of dollars and was called crazy in order to bring us his art unfiltered, unfetered, and unlimited. Bill Watterson is #2 on my list of Punk Rockers.

And people said they were only comic strips.

- If the music is dead, give it an autopsy and sell the video on Ebay.

(I realize I didn't tell you what the rest of my list for the top 5 Punk rockers is. Maybe next time.)

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Volunteering for Wussiness

Yea, hard rock music, heavy metal, it doth make the blood pump and emboldens the heart of man. It also makes a great many guys feel as if they have more meat hanging above their feet if you follow (I think that's part of the reason that hard and heavy found their way in as adjectives for these genres). I find it funny then, that those who make this music are often obscenely insecure and wimpy.

I mean, any kind of person can listen to this music; you'll see both business execs and football players psyching themselves up with some Death or whatever. But in order to be the kind of person who both defines themselves by, and makes their primary form of expression, a music that's (by definition) one-dimensional, you need to do be completely scared shitless by life.

Allowing nothing but negativity and acts of negation (hatred, violence, all that fun stuff) to consume your entire personality makes one seem tough and scary. But it's not in any form a likeable or admirable sense of toughness, it's the same defense mechanism internet nerds (present!) use to distance themselves from a society that seems to want nothing but to confound them.

In other words: metal is nerd sarcasm made into music. Metal band "looking for members" posters are just asking for people to volunteer for wussiness.

- If the music is dead, give it an autopsy and sell the video on ebay.