Wednesday, December 15, 2004

My Cloud Looks Like an Eagle

Many of my contemporaries in the music sub-industry are where they are, they claim, because of Punk Rock.

At first punk rock was, to me, a big joke. I can remember Walter Cronkite or someone introducing a news segment on the Sex Pistols' Southern tour in 1977 and being fascinated; it was a fascination borne though of watching someone get beat up in public, or watching a toddler throw a tantrum at Shakey's. Funny, maybe. Pathetic. A bit creepy, like that time I watched a cop beat up a black guy in the parking lot of the Food Fair on Broad Street, and remembered later the sound of his head hitting the asphalt, and the sad way his sunglasses skittered across the pavement, the way he wore a pantyhose on his head. I remembered the humiliation of Watergate: I remembered watching news reports of Vietnam. Coming as it did on the tail end of those upsetting precedents, this idea that PUNK ROCK IS KILLING YOUR CHILDREN AND RUINING SOCIETY (pan to a knot of chunky leather-girls in Siouxsie makeup in front of McLaren's SEX shop in Soho, black lips sucking on cigarettes, middle fingers flipping up as if by reflex, smug smiles on pasty faces) took on a darker cast in my pre-teen imagination: this is where we're going, I thought. This is the post-apocalypse.

I had nothing to rebel against. We lived in the city, not in a square suburb. My parents, a lawyer and flower designer, happily gave me all their old rock records, the Beatles, Ike and Tina ("hot and sweaty, moaning and groaning"), Janis Joplin, plus a vast collection of killer 45s from the 50s: Gene Vincent, Fats Domino, Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, the Platters, Johnny Cash, Little Richard. They bought me KISS records for my birthday. They *wanted* me to listen to rock music. Scattered between birthdays and Christmases from first to fourth grade, they, piece by piece, cobbled together a drumset, which is still in their attic in Richmond (none of the drums are the same color; from one year to the next the colors for the cheap Rogers copies got discontinued; the hi-hat stand they got me for one birthday remained sans cymbals until the following Christmas, and spent the 5 month interim with pie plates in lieu of cymbals)...What did I care about Patti Smith snarling and too skinny and so uptight? I didn't know what anger was. I was a free kid in the Fan District. I could walk to Sandor's Bookstore on Grace St. across from Bohannon's head and record shop and next door to what was then the Lee Art Theater ("Art" being Deep Throat, etc.) where I was an avid stand-and-reader of music magazines (contrast this with my friend Will's claim that he did not know what Lou Reed looked liked until high school, well after he'd memorized every nuance of a handfull of LR's records, taped by friends, I suppose; meanwhile, on the pages of various music mags, I'd watched Lou move from junkie tough to queen to chubby but only heard two songs: Walk on the Wild Side and Sweet Jane ). Here at Sandor's among the junkies and freaks, I gleaned from the pages of CREEM or ROCK SCENE , a pretty good idea of where rock and roll was heading.

I recollect now that the very night, while watching the news about the Sex Pistols ruining the South at my friend and bandmate David's house, was the first night I'd tried sausage pizza. David and his brother were hard rockers. I was, too. We talked about chops and bar-chord solos and Bonzo and Mooney and Bruford and who was better, Plant or Daltrey; I had a full-size poster of the cover of Thin Lizzy's LIVE AND DANGEROUS on my bedroom wall and spent hours copying the cover of WEEKEND WARRIORS in magic marker. My hard-rocker mates and I were an embattled crew: the new acolytes of Disco and Punk, these new fashionista cultures that seemed more about clothes and attitude, wanted to make the very music that we loved appear foolish: Rush, KISS, Led Zep, Stones, Who.

It was our duty to protect the rock: we claimed to hate Disco, to hate Punk.

Of course most of punk by that point in the late 70s/early 80s was infantile theater; acting out like brats, gobbing, Nazi fetishism. It was pretty easy to hate if you didn't get the joke, which we didn't. The more politicized or personalized harDCore and West Coast scenes hadn't transformed Punk Rock into the great solipsistic system it eventually became, and which we all ended up benefiting from in our roundabout ways. Anyway, none of us, not me, not David, not his big brother, realized that night in the late 70s that in fact the Sex Pistols were a great rock band. It wasn't until I heard London Calling that I considered that I'd been misled by the media and in fact that's all that Punk Rock was, even though Joey and Johnny Ramone had been claiming such for months on the very pages of the magazines I worshiped: old rock and roll, closer in spirit to the 45s my parents had given me than much of the music I was protecting so valiantly.

* * *

Sticky Brain has been invaluable of late: it's open all the time. Last week I spent a few days typing in passages from 6 years worth of journals into it and now have an easily accessible and searchable list of everything from 'stock male description' to the high school html code that allows me to make links on this page to various conversations ('arm' and 'mountain start') to an easily updatable list of record wants to a quick access list of phone numbers...the free version's running now; will gladly pony of the 40 bucks for the license.


  1. And you gave your friends "Hotel California," I might add, as their very first LP ever that they wanted. (I won a Bread record at the Village Green Fair but didn't ever listen to it.)


  2. An older neighbor had bought Hotel California on a spree his mom took us on to Woolworth's at WIllow Lawn; he bought the lp, meanwhile I purchased the 8-track tape of BTO's Greatest Hits (a band that, incidentally, has not weathered the years very well, I don't believe. Neither have their forebears the Guess Who). I remember not really *liking* the Eagles but liking the older neighbor (who'd recently given me a hand-me-down pair of winter boots) and transferring this like to at the very least the SONG of HC, partic the line about the "steely knives". So I reckon I thought the record was cool and a valid gift. I recall now that we listened to our new purchases in their den, which was dark and featured a player piano; they had a bunch of Joplin rolls; it was the first time I heard "The Entertainer."