Thursday, November 3, 2011

Smash Your Head On The Punk Rock (Or, What Was Wrong With Me In 1988?)


Why was I so late -- 1989 -- to start listening to the pioneers of the D.C. punk rock bandwagon?

What was wrong with me then?

As much as I'd like to blame all the frou-frou 4AD stuff I was listening to from 1986 to 1989, I can't; I was listening to UK punk at the same time: the Sex Pistols, The Clash, X-Ray Spex, and The Buzzcocks were all in my regular rotation.

I even paid close to $30 USD to get the first Siouxsie and the Banshees singles compilation on CD!

I think part of my animosity sprang from the fact that I'd always preferred UK bands to begin with. X were great but they never could have written "I'm So Bored With the U.S.A." and gotten away with it.

Another factor was that in 1988, when I worked at the Record and Tape Exchange in College Park, Maryland, the owner would bend over backwards to kiss the asses of the Dischord folks who would come in to drop LPs off on consignment. It was especially sickening since I knew the owner mainly listened to Krautrock and electronic stuff -- the same stuff the punks in the UK set out to wipe off the musical map.

Really, I owe an enormous thanks to Rich from The Now for practically forcing me to listen to Bad Brains and Fugazi. Working at the Record Co-Op at the University of Mayrland gave me access to new music and people with different opinions than my own and, gradually, I did broaden my musical horizons, albeit a bit tentatively; I wasn't about to become a skinhead at 22.

As I sat in my car today in an inexplicable traffic jam -- one without an apparent reason, I might add -- listening to "Complete Control" by The Clash at deafening volume, I felt angry and alive. My rearview mirror was throbbing to the force of the song and I got chills when Joe Strummer nearly screamed into the mic:

"This is Joe Public speaking!
I'm controlled in the body, controlled in the mind!"


The guitar spirals away and it's the sound of a plane going down, like a jumbo jet that drops into a nosedive and four guys just happen to reach for their instruments to belt one out before the horrible and inevitable crash. Forget "Light Aircraft on Fire" by The Auteurs, this is the sound of the world ending.

But not before a burst of life. The sound and fury of Strummer swoops in to save the day!

What got me thinking about all this this morning? Why did I rifle through my CD crates in the car -- I don't have an iPod hookup in that P.O.S. -- to find my Clash mix CD?

'Cause I needed to hear some punk rock. All because I found this video on Comcast's On-Demand feature this morning.

Needless to say, these D.C. legends listened to The Clash and they learned a few things from those London lads.

I don't see how anyone can listen to The Clash or Bad Brains and feel nihilistic.

How can you not feel alive when you hear this, or see this awesome clip?

Bad Brains - "The Big Takeover" - Live at CBGB's, 1982