Explain the asthetics of Punk

Here's a fascinating essay describing the Sex Pistols performance at San Francisco's Winterland, January 1978:
As an old fashioned "peace-love/classic rock" lover, this episode of music completely eludes me. Didn't The Who catch the same vibe but with a lot more musical skill and integrity? Nonetheless, the essay gives a good snap shot surrounding the Sex Pistols and a glimpse into the punk musical phenomenom. If punk had been a satire, it'd be hailed a triumphant post-modern concept piece. The fact it is "real" is even more amazing to me. Excuse me, I have to put on a Judy Collins records to feel "clean again". LOL.
I don't know if the Sex Pistols is the best example. Look at the Dead Kennedys, Clash and yes the Who were the forerunners IMHO
I don't remember who first said it, but some wise man (and wiseacre) once observed that punk music had to come along to remind us all that rock 'n' roll isn't supposed to sound like Fleetwood Mac. I couldn't imagine saing it any better.
The only way to explain this aesthetic is to go back to the source (which is NOT The Who). It is, without a doubt, The Velvet Underground. Listen to the first 3 albums and you tell me.
I think that Chashmal could be onto something here. There is a little of the punk in the early Velvet Underground. But Rock and Roll was first the sound of a rebel cause. It was perhaps a little softer at the start. People were going away from the fifties and into the sixties where it was the time and place of peace love and understanding. Folks we were in the middle of a undeclared war. Remember Nam. The Sex Pistols and the punk groups perhaps remind us that the world is not a very pretty place at times. And there are changes that still need to be made

A few years back I went to Israel for work. As the van I was in was driving up to the gate of a company I noticed the gate guard was holding a machine gun. Sorry you are not in Kansas. I have seen this elsewhere along with poverty that you cannot imagine.

It is not a nice place out there. The US is a very insulated place.
I was in college in the late 1970s and had the great good fortune of having a few friends who turned me on to some fabulous music. I really liked The Clash and The Jam (and still listen to Paul Weller, for what it's worth). There were several camps at the time. The "progressive" bands -- Yes and ELP and King Crimson, for example -- had all gone completely over the edge into their endless, self-indulgent frippery. There was the bloodless muzak of Fleetwood Mac and The Eagles. There was pre-fab foolishness like Boston, who were huge when I was in college. Oh, and there were the punks. Imagine in your head for just the briefest of moments one of the bad songs from that time -- God, there surely are plenty to choose from, but how about "Don't Stop" (Thinkin' About Tomorrow) -- and then consider "White Riot" or "In the City" -- from the first Clash and first Jam albums, respectively -- and you'll then know what a fabulous breath of fresh air the "punks" were at that time. We needed them. Rock 'n' roll needed them. Joe Strummer saved our souls.
Or, put another way, I got yer asthetics for ya, right heah!
First off, The Ramones predate The Sex Pistols by a couple of years and actually deserve more credit. And The Stooges should get as much credit as The Velvet Underground.

Secondly, look at the state of "Rock & Roll" from 1976-82. It was a bloated, self-indulgent, parody of itself for the most part. It was so polished and formulaic that there was very little real feeling left(think Boston). The best years of the "peace-love/classic rock" era were long behind. Punk actually saved Rock from itself.

Punk, or at least, the early years of it, was the antithesis of that. It was raw and visceral. And much of it was at least earnest in it's intent, even if it was technically primitive.

There's a great scene in The Who documentary where Pete Townshend recounts running into the the Sex Pistols' Steve Jones and Paul Cook at London's Speakeasy club and in his ridiculously drunken stupor beseeches them to just finish the job killing Rock & Roll - finish him off, kill him. A pretty pathetic scene.

Which is ironic because the Classic Rock Gods like Townshend were the ones killing Rock at that point. They really weren't trying anymore and were too busy indulging themselves in wealth and excess.

But, here's the greater irony. Townshend stumbled out of the club and passed out in SoHo doorway only to be awakened by a police officer who recognized him and told him he could "go sleep at home tonight if he could get up and walk away"...That run-in with Jones & Cook, in some ways, inspired him to write "Who Are You"(or so legend has it). Arguably, their last great album. It was truly the end of The Who's era.

Much like Nirvana wiped the charts of the 90's "hair" bands, Punk put most of the classic rock bands out to pasture. They were headed that way on their own, punk just sped up the process.
06-16-09: Stanwal
Is this a shortest book in the world contest?

I don't like punk but read every posts here with great interest. These are groups with which I have little or no experience (Ramones, Sex Pistols, Dead Kennedys). Frankly, I'm grateful for any music discussion where I learn something.
I always looked at punk as more of an ideology then a musical movment. We gave the sound of this music the name punk, but I would consider bob dylan punk, early public enemy punk, nirvana, Holden Caulfield, Jack Kerouac. As Grimace says, F U. it's FU to the mass, it's fu to all the fluff and crap that is just accepted as normal and ok. it's frustration and rebellion. I think punk is more in the words then the music, and I think people are drawn to it's honesty.
Hanaleimike said it pretty well... insofar as the ideology, artistic expression is concerned. That was definitely one aspect of it and was the appeal for some/most (?). I would add to his list, eminem. It was simple, honest music/self expression.

You either were one of the tribe and understood it or you didn't. No one really cared what you thought of it.

For me, the genre of music I listened to first was punk, or more precisely American hardcore. I never paid much attention to the lyrics, or political statements and didn't care much about being anti-establishment or anything like that. It was just about the way the music made you feel.

Most of it was absolutely terrible to listen to, but the good stuff was just pure unadulterated aggressive sonic energy. It made you want to slam down your beer, enter the mosh pit, dive off the stage, jump off a 30 foot cliff on your snowboard, slide down a 10 stair hand rail on your skateboard. Perfect compliment to a 14-21 year old male lifestyle.

The hardcore bands out of Washington DC and suburbia USA/Canada exemplified this sound:

- Bad Brains "Banned in DC" (the best punk/hardcore band in my books..great reggae as well)

- Black Flag
- Circle Jerks
- Bad Religion
- Misfits
- Minor Threat, DOA, SNFU, Agnostic Front, Pennywise.

Not exactly punk, but Metallica was also capable of serving up heavy doses of adrenaline with their music (listen to Justice for All).

There is a documentary called "American Hardcore" that attempts to explain the appeal and history of punk rock. It's at least good for a laugh.

A better one is "Metal: A Headbanger's Journey".

I rarely listen to this stuff now, but wouldn't trade the loss of hearing, scars for anything.
Nonconformist teenage angst, pushing the envelope further away from convention. Just part of the evolution of Rock. Punk doesn't even sound so punkish anymore!
I think that it's fair to say that Punk was an angry attempt to reverse the increasingly "corporate" or commercial character that began to dominate rock music after the '60's, when business realized that there was real gold in them thar hills.


PS - Jaybo & Hodu, Sebastian's point re: Fleetwood Mac is taken. For the record (pardon the pun), cue up "Come" from Fleetwood Mac's "Say You Will". None of the punk bands mentioned here has (to my knowledge) recorded anything with the seething anger and crazed intensity of that track. Lindsey Buckingham is absolutely deranged - and I say that with the greatest respect and admiration. I also think that he doesn't like Stevie Nicks very much.
One more thought: Fleetwood Mac has got to be THE most misundertood band in the world. People think of Christine and Stevie when they should think LB. "Tusk" was a purer rejection of commercial interests (it ain't Rumors II, and from almost anyone else, you can bet that it would have been) than anything from the Punks, because Fleetwood Mac put REAL MONEY at risk by delivering quirky, challenging music when no one wanted it. For me, Tusk is on the very short list of truly great RnR records.

it was a response to corporations deciding what 'the message' would be. the germs, the adverts, the buzzcocks, penetration, stiff little fingers the only ones, and on and on and on....thousands of bands. as is always the case, the corporations now package it as nostagia in TV commercials, etc(and censor like everything else). For the uninitiated, start with the clash-london calling, and buzzcocks-singles going steady....if they don't 'knock you out' no harm done, and go back to Fleetwood Mac(sorry to use them as an example..I love them too). Its all poetry at this point anyway......Anarchy In The UK by the pistols is the ultimate loudspeaker 'killer'. It will destroy any speaker not up to the task of rock music....try it.
Punk was not an 'asthetic', it was an attitude. An essential punk primer is the Ramones documentary "End of the Century".
I too was into Punk music in my college years and did a lot of reading after the movement died down in the mid to late 80's before bands like Nirvana started to show a strong punk influence in the early 90's.

The typical historical time line that you read about started in the 60's with bands like the Velvet Underground however it was the Detroit area bands that are even more influencial like Iggy Pop who is considered the Godfather of punk and the MC5. Then the New York scene popped up with the very important Ramones (high energy, simple 3 cord progressions). The Ramone then were suppose to have played in England and sparked bands like the Pistols, Clash, The Damned, etc. Soon after the Hard Core scene popped up around the country, first in LA (Black Flag, Minutemen, Circle Jerks, Germs), and then in San Francisco (Dead Kennedys, Fear) and my favorite, DC with Minor Threat. Of course there were bands all around the country and in Canada. I was lucky to have seen many of them.

This was all very underground at the time but at some point punk went commerical with bands like Green Day, the Offspring, etc. Good bands but a big part of the punk movement was the underground nature of it.

Of course years have gone by and my tastes are much more tame now, but it was a fun time then. Sorry to ramble on, just an interesting topic.
Jaybo, The Clash album to start with is "Give 'Em Enough Rope", still my favorite.
As always Audiogoners are a smart bunch. I guess I understand the "spirit" of punk more than its specific artists. Nonethless, I recognize how horribly indulgent much of my favorite "classic rock" artists became as the business model of corporations took over popular music and commodified the music and related markets (concerts, audio equipment, etc...)

Unfortunately, that business model hasn't changed much so hearing truly original or authentic music is hard even in this tech-media heavy age. The fact that Adam Lambert of American Idol is considered a hot new talent is a joke as he epitomizes how much "show biz" has captured "rock" (sic).

Hmmm, maybe I understand the need for punk more than I let on.

Rock on...
In tenth grade(1979), some friends at my new high school took me to a concert at a small club in Hermosa Beach, CA called The Sweetwater. The show blew open the doors of my perception about how rock & roll should be. Big stadium rock couldn't hold a candle to the intensity.

It was Black Flag, and nothing was ever the same, for me.
I got one word for you, the "Monks"

I got one word for you, the "Monks"
Now that's some fun sh#t. If that's Punk I need to buy some.

Earlier in the thread someone mentioned Nirvana and Eminem, I like both and have most of their LPs.

I see the "angry" connection mentioned by several people, all I know is Kurt Cobain is equal parts Indy rock and soul (to me) and Marshall Mathers managed to get me to listen to RAP, something I claimed I would never get into.
Re: Anger and Punk

The Clash's Punk Declaration (from "Clampdown"):

"Let fury have the hour,
Anger can be power"

This sentiment may not be unique to punk music, but it is central to punk music.

English punk is powered by exclusion, stagnant social classes and political abandonment.

American punk is powered by ennui.
"aesthetics?, we don't need no stinking aesthetics!" Now THAT is the spirit of punk.
Orig nuggets comp seeds troggs etc or nuggets box fun stuff predates punk itself! Ha sorry green day ...move over... Something meatier
I was a roadie for The Clash's North American Tours and worked with many of the seminal bands in 1975 on. My brother was with Iggy during that period. So I was a witness to it all. I was 15/16 years old, so you can imagine seeing this through those young eyes.

As mentioned above, the movement is really linked to the Detroit bands like the MC5 and Iggy in 1969. The intention was to get back to the roots of rockabilly and 50's rock, where it was more about raw feel than precision, which these Michigan bands represented in spades. Another influential band was the NY Dolls. In my conversations with Joe and Mick of the Clash, they were the bands mentioned the most as influences. Joe was also very much influenced by seeing the early Pistols at the Nashville, a pub in Fulham Road in London. He quit his pub rock band the 101ers to form the Clash with Mick and Paul after seeing them play those shows. They admired the Ramones (more on this in a moment) but never talked about them much in my conversations with them.

Malcom McLaren, the manager of the Sex Pistols, had visited NY to see the Dolls in 1973 and that band was used as a template to launch a response to prog rock and pub rock that was the prevailing sounds in the UK at the time.
The NY Bands and the English bands that followed fed off this need to re-energize the music around simple chord structures and energetic time signatures. The emergence of the Ramones in 1975, and their landmark show in July of 1976 in London, launched forty bands in its wake in London alone. The Damned were a direct response to these shows.
Malcom ran a bondage shop called SEX that became the defacto shop for what became the punk look.

The thing I remember most was the shows were very small. In LA, The Dickies, The Circle Jerks, The Germs, X, the Alley Cats, and Fear all played to crowds that averaged 50 to 500, so despite what anyone says, this was music for outsiders. The NY clubs were no bigger.

To my knowledge, only the Clash really broke through, and played at the US Festival in 1983 in front of 100,000 people.

Thanks for sharing your experiences. Man, that must have been fun. There is great anectdote in the Ramones documentary (referenced above) about their legendary 1976 London show. It is said that only about 20-30 people were at the show but they all started bands. Attendies at that show included Johnny Lyndon (aka Johnny Rotten) of the Sex Pistols, Deborah Harry (Blondie), Joe Strummer & Mick Jones (The Clash), etc.

It was more nuts than fun. Very polarized environment. Small core fan base against a skeptical Public. Crowds got very crazy after 1976, especially in London. Lots of fights and objects flying toward the stage. Not for the Meek or Weak. But the music was real.

I had a 11 year old son when the next wave of bands hit in the mid 1990s, bands like the Offspring, Rancid and Green Day. We had some great conversations about the good old days. I told him I felt we lost the battle by 1983, when most of bands were done and gone, but won the war a decade later. Much more connected community was there to embrace his bands. And it was great to see sales in the tens of millions. The Vans Warped Tour did a great job at breaking new bands.

Sadly, The Ramones never had a real pay day for their innovative work.
The thing I remember most was the shows were very small. In LA, The Dickies, The Circle Jerks, The Germs, X, the Alley Cats, and Fear all played to crowds that averaged 50 to 500, so despite what anyone says, this was music for outsiders.
In Southern Cal we had some great venues - First and foremost - The Masque in Hollywood which was a regular venue for X, The Germs, The Mau-MauÂ’s, The Weirdos, The Avengers, The Dils, The Skulls and others. The Go-Gos rented practice space there. Cathay de Grandem, Madam Wong's, The Starwood were other Hollywood haunts

The Golden Bear in Huntington Beach - home for Agent Orange, The Adolescents, TSOL, etc. Cuckoo's Nest was another. Fender's Ballroom in Long Beach

Sweetwater in Hermosa Beach and The Fleetwood in Redondo Beach - pretty much home for Black Flag

Dancing Waters in San Pedro - home of The Minutemen and Firehose
I told him I felt we lost the battle by 1983
The US Festival(Saturday, May 28, 1983) felt like the last gasp to me.
The Vans Warped Tour did a great job at breaking new bands.
I worked the Warped Tour in '97 for Gatorade, great time. 26 shows in ~30 days over North America. That, had the feeling of bands in it for the love of music. Just everybody piled in buses bouncing from city to city. There wasn't really any room or money for prima donas. Not to mention, no band was really big enough to think so.
I saw or worked all the seminal shows at the Masque, Madam Wong's, Cuckoo's Nest, Al's Bar, The Golden Bear and the Claremont Colleges (which hosted the Ramones and NY Dolls).

My business partners are the founders of the Warped Tour: "Fish" from Vans and Ray of RK Diversified. They can't believe it celebrated its 15th Birthday this year.
I forgot all the great Ska shows that took place at the O.N. Club in Hollywood. You also need to bring in the aspect that punk was also very much aligned with reggae and ska music in the early days. Lee Perry was used on a number of albums and Don Letts, the great London DJ, was instrumental in linking those two world together in 1976. Bob Marley commented on this in his single "Punky Reggae Party."
Jwong and Albertporter

Here are good representative songs that speak to that Era:

The NY Scene:

Blondie "Denis"
The Dead Boys "Sonic Reducer"
Heartbreakers "Chinese Rocks"
Jonathan Richman & the Modern Lovers "Roadrunner"
Richard Hell & The Voidoids "Blank Generation"
Television "See No Evil"


X "Los Angeles"


The Clash "White Man in Hammersmith Palais"
Generation X "Ready Steady Go"
The Jam "All Around The World"
The Only Ones "Another Girl, Another Planet"
The Pistols "God Save The Queen"
Wire "Outdoor Miner"

How can you recommend a Richard Hell song other than the immortal "Love Comes in Spurts"? Perhaps the greatest song title in the annals of rock music history.

Bongofury - went to an exhibition of Raymond Pettibone's art at Bergamot Station Gallery in Santa Monica a months ago. Lots of singles and album covers from the early days along with his comic books.

Also saw and Anna Suma photo exhibit of her 1977-84 LA Punk scene/shows. Amazing stuff with great shots of Wendy O Williams(Plasmatics), Darbi Crash, Black Flag at the Music Machine, The Clash and Strummer '81 at the Roxy, Iggy Pop at The Palladium '80, Sex Pistols at the Olympic Auditorium '80, Johanna Went, The Bags at Hong Kong Cafe '80, Lena Lovich at Roxy '80, lots of X, The Slits, Adolescents, Los Lobos, Circle Jerks at the Starwood '82...Not to mention great shots of just the overall scene during that period.

Brendan Mullen also did a slideshow of photos from his coffee table book "Live at the Masque: Nightmare in Punk Alley" that night. Lots of great stuff in there. I was about 2 years too young to catch the Masque heyday, but ended up seeing most of the bands that got their start there.

Some of the landmark shows I saw were Los Lobos at La Raza Park in East LA, the original lineup of the GoGos and X at the Masque, Fear, Germs and the Alley Cats at Madame Wongs, Iggy and the Clash at the Palladium.

Do you recall who played loudest?
Just curious, 'cause my head nearly exploded at one of those early Los Lobos shows. Among non-punk shows, memory dictates that Smithereens were also incredibly loud, as were Jethro Tull and The Who.

Bongofury writes-"Sadly, The Ramones never had a real pay day for their innovative work."

Maybe I just don't get it, but from what I've seen the appeal must have been seeing these incredibly unattractive guys on stage playing the same chords song after song and getting away with it to an audience that did not care what the lyrics were about(not that they were intelligible to begin with).

So many disaffected youth went home and decided,"Hey, we really don't need talent to play in a band! We can just be our angry, uncoordinated selves!!!"

The lead singer for the Ramones was so spastic it hurts watching him sing live onstage on youtube clips.

To me punk was never about the lack of commercial appeal to the broader masses but about a lack of talent and musicianship-and anger at being white and shyte out of luck in a white man's world.