Of Punk and Purity: Part 3
In the last part of this debate, we examined the DIY purism that constitutes a large part of the punk underground of both past and present. In this next post, we will provide a counterpoint to that argument, and explain a side of punk which embraces more wide-open possibilities than simply going by a rigid independent ethos. There are and have been many within the punk world who have voiced a dissatisfaction with what has often been seen as a strict musical and operational code of rules, and have decided to use punk rock as a way to go against the grain of what is expected from a musical community.
Firstly, the matter of authenticity has been a major concern for punk bands and fans alike since the mid-70’s. In the early days of the genre, there were generally two sets of people drawn to the punk revolution; those who saw it as a break from tradition and used it as a means of laying waste to the old ways of music and culture, and those who saw it as merely a continuation and reclamation of rock n roll as it was supposed to be. Bands like The Ramones, with their buzzsaw-pop aesthetic, incorporated elements of classic 60’s bubblegum, The Beach Boys and Phil Spector in their sound just as much as the anarchic protopunk renegades they idolized in the early 70’s. Even notorious first-wave punks The Dead Boys have been described by others as more of a straight-forward rock n roll band than anything “punk”.
In an interview with Eric Davidson (author and frontman of 90’s garage punks New Bomb Turks) in promotion for his book “We Never Learn: The Gunk Punk Undergut, 1988–2001”, he mentions that by the end of the 1980’s, whenever the term punk rock was mentioned, the connotations involved were “…super political…vegan hardcore band…” among other things rather than what he describes as “fun, fast rock n roll”. This implies a great alienation for those who purely connected with punk rock as a musical force rather than a social/political force, and a disinterest in the seriousness to which much of punk rock had become.
This sort of outward commercial influence within many punk bands also calls into question the issue of “selling out”. Both The Ramones and Dead Boys were on a major label (Sire Records, a subsidiary of Warner Brothers), as were countless others, despite the fact that many early punk bands were marketed under the oft-bastardized term “New Wave”. This is proof that while punk rock may be an inherently underground movement, it is plenty guilty of reaching for commercial viability.
To many punk fans and musicians, “selling out” is seen generally as a non-issue. Eric Davidson also mentions that many of the bands profiled in his book may have been punk, but were rock n roll bands at heart, and gladly would’ve taken major label money in an effort to make music their living. In a 2010 Scion debate panel, Spits singer/guitarist Sean Wood reflected “Selling out used to mean changing your music, not paying off your demo bill.”
Such seriousness and self-righteousness is taken down a few pegs in an essay by Jim Goad, titled “The Underground Is A Lie”.
Generally, the attitude of these artists and fans is one that keeps within the “no rules” ideology of punk, where the ultimate goal is to not be stifled, and many of them feel that the punk underground is and always has been a stifling environment.