Did Reagan and Thatcher Really Keep Punk Alive?

reagan_punk_flyerIn the opening scene of the the 2006 documentary, American Hardcore, which was adapted from Steven Blush’s 1999 tome, middle-aged, bald Vic Bondie from Chicago based hardcore punk band, Articles of Faith says something to the effect of, “Reagan was saying it’s morning in America.  It’s fucking MIDNIGHT, MAN!”  This was his way of saying that, in November 1980, when Ronald Reagan was elected President of these here United States, EVERYTHING changed!

It was like Germany 1933 all over again.  Only THIS TIME, there would be REAL opposition to the Nazis in the form of a bunch of 15 – 18 year old kids with crew cuts, combat boots, black denim and cutoff band t-shirts idiotically slamming into one another while a band of middling talent provided the loud, fast, aggressive soundtrack.  Sure a few casualties were rounded up in the form of split heads and severed ears – Jack Grisham of T.S.O.L. admits to slicing kids’ ears off with the spur of his engineer boot – but this was the sound of the YOUTH, a true left-wing opposition to the rising tide of Reaganite fascism.

This of course paralleled the opposition to the equally fascist government of Margaret Thatcher in England, where much more fashion conscious, mohawk wearing punks like the Exploited didn’t waste a moment to call Margaret Thatcher a “cunt.”

By the mid-80s, metal bands like Metallica, Slayer, Anthrax and Megadeth heard the rallying cry of the punks and joined along.  Now the anti-oppressive, anti-fascist message would have better distortion, longer songs and more guitar solos!

By the end of the 80s, the U.S. elected a moderate, slightly less fascist President in George Bush, and, in 1992, fascism was finally crushed – at least, until 2000 – when MTV rocked the vote and President Clinton was elected.  The remaining hardcore punk bands, those that hadn’t broken up, were forced to scratch their heads about what they could possibly sing about.  They had the duel challenge that their righteous, anti-fascist message was now being sold to MILLIONS of people thanks to commie, rap rockers Rage Against the Machine and the fact that, well, Clinton wasn’t a Republican.

So, THANK GOD, that, in 2000, George W. Bush was elected and the bands could get righteous again.

I got the inspiration for this piece when I read Gavin McInnes’ article about how comedians hate Donald Trump and, without him, they’d have a dearth of things to mock, as if the dysfunction of their own lives isn’t good enough.  This same line of reasoning has been parroted about punk rock and, especially its louder, faster offshoot hardcore punk; the 70s might have had some problems, but with the election of Ronald Reagan, now they REALLY had something to complain about, or as the Dead Kennedys sang, “We’ve got a bigger problem now.”

That’s of course if you think music, and punk rock especially, is something more than just a form of entertainment, a loud, fun, raucous way to “get the lead out.”  And unfortunately, for a bunch of free-loading, smelly Anarcho/crust punks, this is the case.

Although there were precursors to punk, bands such as the Velvet Underground, the Stooges, the MC5, the New York Dolls and the Modern Lovers, the general rule of thumb is that the first modern sounding punk rock album was the self titled debut from the Ramones, released in April of 1976.  Johnny Ramone was a Republican who felt that his often copied, down-strumming, “da-da-da” approach was meant to mimic the shooting of an AK-47.  A hippie he was not.

With the exception of maybe the MC5, who largely disavowed their pro-Maoist views, left-wing style revolution was never the first thing on the minds of any of these bands.  Punk, in general, was predicated upon bands who made their stake at being fuck-ups with catchy songs.

By 1977, the major labels gambled on these lovable miscreants and officially called their music “punk rock.”  These new rock groups had funny, sometimes indecent names like the Sex Pistols, the Dead Boys, the Dictators, the Saints, the Clash, the Damned, the Ruts, the Boomtown Rats, the Buzzcocks, the Heartbreakers (not the Tom Petty band!!!), the Vibrators, the Stranglers, the Adverts, the Rezillos, X-Ray Spex, Siouxsie and the Banshees, the Slits and Richard Hell and the Voidoids.

They wrote fuck-up songs for fuck-up kids about fuck-up topics, or, as Johnny Ramone said, “we just want to write about sick topics.”  Punks sang about serial killers, Nazis, rapists, horror movies, beating people up, boredom, juvenile delinquency and, well, being a fuck-up, while bashing out wonderfully juvenile, short and catchy songs that hearkened back to 1950s rock ‘n’ roll, albeit with much louder distortion and snottier vocals.  They also wore funny clothes, making “anti-fashion” statements with torn t-shirts, spiky hair, safety pins, smeared makeup, leather jackets and even swastikas.  Many disguised their attempts at obnoxiousness as “artistic statements.”  Some on the mainstream saw them as a threat; many more saw them as just the new thing the kids are into.

Occasionally a band like the Clash would sing about being on the dole, working in a factory or rioting against “the man.”  Occasionally a group of so-called Anarchists such as Crass would try to make you feel bad for everything you enjoy.  Leather jacket?  That’s made out of an animal!  And soon a movement based upon their principles emerged, saying that punk could no longer be about having fun being a fuck-up. NOW punk had to have a message!

Meanwhile, in the United States, by 1979, major labels like Sire (actually Sire was a much smaller label, but it was bought by Warner Bros., bumping it up to major status) had grown tired of their fuck-up bands.  The Ramones, the Dead Boys and Richard Hell and Voidoids weren’t selling millions of their fuck-up records to millions of fuck-up kids like they had hoped.  Instead, the majority of Americans prefered Animals by Pink Floyd, Rumours by Fleetwood Mac or the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack.

So, the fuck-up bands either had to break up or change their approach for commercial appeal, giving us the closest to punk crossover hits with the Patti Smith/Bruce Springsteen duet “Because the Night”, catchy as hell pop songs by Blondie and “Whip It” by Devo.  Meanwhile, the underground was bubbling with activity and new labels such as Slash and Dangerhouse emerged with new fuck-up bands with names like the Weirdos, the Germs, X, the Bags, the Deadbeats, the Controllers and the Dils.

But, just being a fuck-up with really great songs wasn’t good enough.  The Dead Kennedys formed in 1978 in San Francisco and their singer, agent provocateur Jello Biafra had a real message to sell to the kids.  Punk rock wasn’t about fun!  We have to change the world, man!  We have to take the world back from its evil obsession with capitalism.

The irony is that the first Dead Kennedys album, Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables, released in 1980, primarily attacked limousine liberals like Jane Fonda (“Kill the Poor”), rich black people who claim they have a connection with ghetto black people (“Holiday in Cambodia”), shady landlords (“Let’s Lynch the Landlord”) and ultra-liberal San Francisco governor Jerry Brown (“California Uber Alles”).

With the exception of maybe “Chemical Warfare” and “When You Get Drafted”, one could make an argument that Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables was just politically ambiguous satire with no leftist agenda.  Hell the track “Holiday in Cambodia” has the line “bragging that you know how the niggers feel cold/and the slums got so much soul” before bashing Pol Pot, the Communist dictator of Cambodia.  The track “I Kill Children” is just supposed to be shock punk with no message and “Your Emotions” is just Jello telling some broad, “your emotions make you a monster.”

The point?

By 1980, with the death of major label interest in “punk rock” and the rise of “new wave” and “power pop” or the so called skinny tie bands, a younger, angrier, MUCH more antisocial wave of punks hit the scene.  Anorexic, heroin addicted, twenty-something art school types, who spiked their hair up and wore torn blazers with safety pins, were replaced by line-backer sized, beer guzzling, suburban surf jocks, who shaved their heads and wore black jeans with chains for belts and engineer boots.  Safe pogoing (jumping up and down to the beat) was replaced by vicious slam dancing (or the mosh pit, if you will), and hardcore punk was born.

Does any of that sound like the beginnings of a leftist political movement?  None of the music on any of the records by Black Flag, Minor Threat, Circle Jerks, the Misfits, Fear or Bad Brains had a single mention of Ronald Reagan.  Personal turmoil, angst, self-hatred, hatred for society and, in the case of the Misfits, horror movies, were typical themes.

Were there leftist bands?  Sure.  Following the election of Reagan, the Dead Kennedys sang several songs about “cowboy Ronnie forking out his tongue at human rights”, D.O.A. sang “Fucked Up Ronnie”, D.R.I. did “Reaganomics” and Suicidal Tendencies even sang “I Shot the Devil”  about shooting the man, a rather tasteful statement considering the recent attempt on his life (to be fair, the song also talks about shooting Anwar Sadat and John Lennon).  Other bands, with names like Reagan Youth, Corrosion of Conformity, Millions of Dead Cops, the Dicks and the Crucifucks, sang more generic leftist lyrics, typically bashing war, politicians, cops, Christians, teachers, jocks and heavy metal bands; basically anyone that didn’t adhere to their narrow minded view of life.

As a side note, I talked with Paul Bakija of Reagan Youth at a gig they did in Cleveland, and you best believe he collected a princely sum for selling their song “Degenerated” to a Hollywood studio to use in the 1994 comedy film Airheads, starring Brendan Fraser, Steve Buscemi and Adam Sandler as members of a goofy punk metal kinda band called the Loan Rangers.

But, it was mainly Tim Yohannan, an ex-Yippie, who was essentially the Saul Alinsky of the punk scene, that tried to fashion hardcore punk into some sort of left wing opposition movement.  His magazine, the ultra popular, Maximum Rock ‘n’ Roll deliberately bashed any bands who didn’t adhere to a strident leftist way of life and, as the 80s progressed, punk rules got more stringent;  being “true” and not being a “sellout” or a “poser” became more difficult with each passing generation, to the point where you have bands today who have the strictest of attitudes of what constitutes “punk.”  Punk isn’t about music, man!  It’s a way of life!  I actually got yelled at by some punks for listening to Bad Brains because, in the 80s, they referred to openly gay bands like the Big Boys and the Dicks as “bloodclot faggots.”  “You just think it’s about if you like the music and don’t care at all what they stand for?”  I’m not kidding.

By 1986, there was both a political and musical backlash; political in the form of New York Hardcore bands like Agnostic Front, Cro-Mags and Murphy’s Law, who blatantly supported Ronald Reagan and musical as hardcore bands moved away from their core sound and tried other approaches.  Black Flag became sludgier and helped invent grunge, the Meat Puppets became a sort of country punk hybrid, Husker Du turned into a melodic rock band, the Replacements became the Tom Petty of the underground. Early bands like Misfits, Minor Threat and Negative Approach broke up so that their singers could form more expansive, experimental bands.

How much of this had anything to do with Ronald Reagan?  I’d say none of it, but I’d be lying, because, in Reagan America, that awful, fascist place where people were oppressed, these bands had the freedom, the wherewithal, the extra capital from lower taxes and the chutzpah to launch their own labels, their own scene and their own little world apart from the major label and corporate/liberal media.  To be fair, labels like SST and Alternative Tentacles were started in 1978 and 1979 respectively, but, at very least, Reagan didn’t prevent these labels from functioning.  They were examples of capitalism at its finest.

The irony is that, in 1986, the Dead Kennedys’ career wasn’t killed by Ronald Reagan and his “oppressive”, right wing regime, but by Tipper Gore, wife of Al “An Inconvenient Truth” Gore, a Democrat, who felt that the insert for their 1985 Frankenchrist LP, the H.R. Giger painting, Landscape XX, a supposed metaphor for corporate America’s alleged fucking of its workers, was obscene.  In other words, it was the leftist liberal Democrat who killed the art.

Book Review: Confessions of an Online Hustler

confessions_of_an_online_hustler

IronCrossIronCrossIronCrosshalf_ironcrossVery good!

Author: Matt Forney

Publisher: self published

Matt Forney claims that he hates blogging and just grinds it out for the next paycheck.  Monster beast God drummer Ginger Baker claims the same thing about playing drums.  Yeah, whatever, if you didn’t like it so much, you wouldn’t have perfected your craft to such an extent.  But, I get his point; you can’t just be a “fun blogger” and expect to get paid.  This is like a second job.  Maybe because I’m a “head in the clouds” kinda guy, the idea of sitting around and writing stuff that could possibly go viral and generate an income seems like lots of FUN, kinda like being in a touring band.

I had never even heard of Matt Forney until a couple of my feminist friends (yes, I still have a couple on my FB friend list even though I’ve hidden their posts from my feed) posted an article he wrote, where he argues against women having self esteem.  On one hand I thought, “what kind of asshole would write an article like that?” and, on the other hand, I giggled that all these feminists were getting so bent out of shape and were providing his site with traffic with all of those clicks.

You see, a younger version of me at least feigned outrage when someone made remarks that I, at the time, at least found kind of offensive, but secretly I giggled at the sheer provocation.

But the bottom line is that, if you had told me I’d be purchasing a book by this guy (or for that matter attempting to go to the Return of Kings meetup), I’d have balked at your claim.  C’mon, I’m anti-feminist, I’m libertarian, but I’m not a supporter of rape and misogyny! Hey, I was a misinformed neophyte!  Even though I claimed I was against thoughtcrime, I too cried “racism!”  Hell, I even called Forney a “twerp” in and old post at my previous blog, The New Paine.  Sorry, Matt.

That’s all in the past.  Since I did the interview with Bernard Chapin merely weeks ago, I felt a new surge of energy to bring the SavageHippie (named after the Melvins song “The Savage Hippy”) out of retirement, a desire to tell it like it is and to forego hiding my views.  This might also have been helped by Christopher Stigliano’s Blog to Comm site, where he has no problem putting his right of center views next to his unending love of old garage and punk records and pop cultural ephemera.

But the real kicker was that, not only could I write about this stuff, but I could make money doing it?!  I felt like some force from beyond was telling me I’d found my calling, or something like that.

Sheesh, if I knew that half the battle was being a good – well, maybe not good, but, at very least, an entertaining, writer  – and the rest was a bunch of technical jargon, making friends with people, constantly posting and re-posting my articles and writing a measly book about my thoughts on the world, maybe I’d have done this YEARS ago.  So, thanks Matt, Confessions of an Online Hustler, along with Gavin McInnes’ How to Piss in Publicmight be two of the most inspiring books I’ve read in a very long time.

So, why did I give it half an iron cross short of a perfect score?

While Forney does a fantastic job of giving the step-by-step, play-by-play of what to do and what not to do, what applications to use and which are completely useless, I think he makes a few too many assumptions of what Luddites such as myself actually know.  A perfect examples of this is when he talks about picking your blog’s “theme.”  I had NO idea what a “theme” was in the way he was using the term.  What’s my blog’s theme?  Underground music, cult-films and right of center politics!

It turns out a “theme” is a just a professional looking site design.  When I figured THAT out, I spent two hours looking for a “theme” where they list the author of the blog.  It turns out my “theme”, which was called “skeptical” (after all, I’m a skeptical dude), both a.) looked like shit and b.) didn’t list my name.  Now my site looks a WHOLE heck of a lot better (well, at least I’d like to think so).

Another example is a “widget.”  What the fuck does a “widget” have to do with website design?  Last time I checked a “widget” is a unit of measure used in economics courses.  It turns out a “widget” is just one of the bells and whistles you add to your site to increase its functionality.  Well, gee, couldn’t they call those “features”?  The same can be said for RSS Feed and SEO; I have no idea what any of that means!  The moment I read about those things, I went onto my wordpress editor and immediately searched through it to add those things.  I STILL don’t know if I did it right!

On the other hand, I very quickly took his advice and added my contact address and an email template.  Sadly, I still haven’t gotten my first death threat.  What is WRONG with people?  I thought I’d have Antifa all OVER my ass for writing this article about Skrewdriver!  On the plus side, I’m pissing people off on twitter for supporting Trump and I think some feminist bitch blocked me, so I’m moving up.

He mentions anonymity and, as far as I gather, I don’t have anything to worry about.  I work a lower level office job, so I doubt any of what I write will get back to my higher ups, or, if it does, I don’t think they’ll give a hoot one way or another.  He also mentions losing friends over your blog and views.  I’m glad he made this point.  Over the last year or so, people have complained that I’ve changed.  I’ve seen friends who I’ve had for years drop off my FB friend list and out of my life.  Some say I’m a real douchebag now.

I can honestly say to a man.  This is BULLSHIT.  The only people who have dropped out of my life are extremely politically correct leftists.  I kid you not.  Former friend Jess, whose fat ass I took to Maryland Deathfest, deleted me out of her life for not being a full fledged Bernie Sanders supporter.  I told her plainly that he doesn’t represent my interests.  She took that as “you’ve become a selfish, capitalistic asshole” and then wrote a lengthy essay on her FB wall about how she had to drop a friend who she knew for years because he isn’t the same person anymore.  I’ve experienced this a number of times, and I think it’s honestly because people on the left, the ones who strongly adhere to those beliefs and refuse to question anything, have a severe mental disorder.  To them, not following the narrative makes you into a narrow minded bigot.  And I’m talking friends who I’ve known for more than a decade, who I’ve had private conversations with merely weeks prior to extricating me from their lives.

I can guarantee that I’m the same loud, lovable, charismatic, punk/metal/noise/freak, buy a drink for the whole group, guy I was years ago.  It’s only the people who judge me by my views who think I’m a bad person now.  So, as Matt Forney wrote, “fuck ’em.”  Actually he said, “if your friends are offended by your writing, they aren’t your real friends.”  It honestly does sting when people literally don’t want to know you because you don’t believe in affirmative action, you think BlackLivesMatters people are nothing but leftist agitators or you plan on voting for Donald Trump.

But, whatever, we’ll see who wants to be THIS guys’ friend when I’m a huge internet superstar!  All joking aside, I LOVE attention, including negative attention, and I would love to become an iconoclast blogger, commentator, pundit or dude who sits on TV surrounded by other people and says witty putdowns of the opposition.

And I think this book will help lead the way.