Punk Fiction

This show, the last in a four part documentary on punk, looked at the US Punk scene. Dave hosted playing interviews and tracks from the bands concerned.

"This is the fourth part of Radio 1's series on punk and if you've caught the last three programs you'll be pretty clued up on the Sex Pistols, the Banshees, the Clash and the rest of the British scene. In fact when people talk about punk what they're usually referring to is 1977, Mohicans, Safety pins and 'Anarchy In The UK'. But on this side of the Atlantic there is a second punk family tree which has it's roots in the Ramones and it's branches in Offspring, Green Day and my band Foo Fighters. So here's the big finish to the series for the next hour be prepared to experience Anarchy in the US."

"In the next hour you can expect The Ramones, Television, Patti Smith, The New York Dolls, Debbie Harry, Offspring, Nirvana, Green Day, Presidents of the USA, Rancid and the Foo Fighters. In my mind there's no doubt that punk changed the course of American music and it certainly made a huge impact on my own musical tastes. Those 1970's punk bands were long gone by the time I started going to shows and buying records, I was only 7 when the Sex Pistols first came to the states, so for me and countless others of the same age it was a question of re-discovering punk at a time when America was being smothered by MOR."

"What shocked me out of listening to Boston and Pat Benatar was switching on the TV and seeing these two bands; Devo and the B 52s. Growing up in suburban Virginia it was an extreme experience to see the B 52s on Saturday Night Live with their weird hair cuts and strange dances, and Devo with their pseudo-intellectual lyrics and plant pots on their heads. I'd never been interested in superheroes or cartoons and all of a sudden I was hit by this bizarre combination of music and sci-fi. From then on there was the possibility that music could be weird, challenging and inspirational so I went to seek it out."

Living just outside of Washington DC was a Godsend I didn't appreciate at first, getting hold of difficult music was no easy task at the best of times, especially at a time when Thin Lizzy where considered leftfield, but I stood a better chance of finding something interesting in Washington DC than Anytown USA where I grew up. What I found in a downtown record shop blew me away; the first Ramones LP, imaginatively titled 'The Ramones' this collection of explosive 3 minute power pop songs changed the face of music. What I loved about them was the way they counted off songs by yelling; '1,2,3,4' then pausing for 2 seconds before launching into the track, I used to wonder why they did it because surely by pausing they'd lose the momentum which was the whole point of counting down into a song, but when I started drumming I realised it was pure genius, most bands aren't even good enough to launch right in after the count of 4 and so by pausing after the countdown they had time to get it together."

"The other great thing about the Ramones was the way they looked, black leather and sunglasses was the epitome of cool for high school kid not to mention future punk rock drummers and I'm not talking about me but Don Bowls of The Germs. One of the tracks on The Ramones first album 'I Wanna Sniff Some Glue' inspired the British Fanzine 'Sniffin Glue' which was started by Mark P and Danny Baker. It's their influence which sticks to this day, Nirvana opened for them in Belgium in 1991 when we were first on the bill and they were last. I can remember not being able to wait to get home just so I could tell everyone that we played on the same bill as The Ramones."

"The New York venue that became home to The Ramones was of course CBGB's which is short for Country Blue Grass and Blues. This somewhat scummy club in the run down Bowery neighbourhood boasted a number of legendary regulars, one of my favourites was the band Television. Television's bassist Richard hell was the picture perfect punk rock guy, a skinny wasted looking kid with spiked hair and a ripped t-shirts, he often claimed to have invented the word punk though most people give credit for that to the journalist Legs McNeil who invented the 1970's magazine simply called 'Punk'. But Hell can take credit for the 'punk look' which Malcolm McLaren adapted for the British scene. Musical inspiration came after Hell left the band when Tom Verlaine took over the reigns and Television released the classic 'Marquee Moon' in 1977."

"Another regular at CBGB's was the punk poet Patti Smith who was known for her intense live performances. If you caught Justine Frischman's show earlier in the series you'll know part of the story of punk is the story of women's liberation. In the mid 70s Patti Smith and Debbie Harry seemed like women from a future age, Debbie was a waitress at CBGBs who formed the band and released her first album in 1976 called Blondie. the last of the big CBGBs bands was the glamtastic New York Dolls they were excepted by the Punks, though it's hard to see why today when you see photos of then with their glamtastic bad hair days. Interestingly the Dolls had a British manager who went on to have some influence on punk himself, Malcolm McLaren."

"As I said earlier I was only 7 years old when the Pistols toured America but I can vividly remember the photographs of the band during that era, these vicious looking guys in ripped clothes, Sid Vicious covered in blood. If you wanted to be big in America at the time you needed to be a perfect musician like Boston and Bad Company, these bands were trained professionals they sounded slick and polished. Can you imagine what it was like to hear the Pistols? A band who couldn't play and what's more couldn't care less. What made them special? It was that guitar sound, the way Johnny Rotten said his Rs, it was a moment in time. I went around all day singing 'Bodies' what a disgusting subject for a song, abortion, and how fantastic it was we could sing about it."

"I got into the UK punk scene in a big way, The Buzzcocks, The Banshees, at the age of 14 I even did a cover version of 'Nobody's Hero' by Stiff Little Fingers. I bought every record I could find and they'd be worth a fortune today except I loved them so much that when a friend told me how to keep vinyl clean I believed him. Under his instructions I lovingly cleaned them all with alcohol, after a while I noticed they'd all developed a doughnut style glazing so I washed them all in soap and water and that was the end of my collection."

"My other great favourites were GBH, Crass and Discharge, though I couldn't experience the full lifestyle that British fans could. It was pretty difficult to find bondage gear in the states and I couldn't stomach the idea of having studs at the top of my head."

"One of America's bastions of punk is LA which was often looked down on in the late 70s as being inferior to New York although the city produced classic bands like The Germs. I was weaned on the second wave of hardcore bands like Black Flag and was overwhelmed by their combination of loud raucous noise and catchy melodies. Growing up in suburban Virginia I wasn't far from Washington DC which had a fantastic early 80s hardcore scene, the city was home to Discord one of America's purest independent record labels. They had an amazing roster of bands: Minor Threat, Faith, Void, Fugazi, Ignition, to name a few. Yet I didn't realise how lucky I was until I went to visit relatives in Chicago and explore the hardcore scene there, only to see people shake their heads in wonder at what was coming out of Washington DC it was only then that I realised what was in my backyard, I guess I thought every city had a music scene like ours. Over on the West coast another musical scene was fermenting in an unlikely place; Seattle."

"Sub Pop became the Mowtown of the 90s with Seattle as the new Detroit and yet it was a mystery to outsiders when they saw blurred black and white photos of those early bands with a beer in one hand and a bass in the other because Seattle was the centre of logging and salmon fishing not rock music. "

"Nirvana had roots in punk, in the Ramones, the Clash, the Pistols, the Buzzcocks and Black Flag. But we considered ourselves a pop band, we liked the Beatles as much as the Pistols and we loved powerful melodic songs, and we couldn't understand how people could listen to the inane sleepiness of songs like 'Stairway To Heaven', we wanted an intensity of sound and pace and we hated long tracks. Even if a song had the sweetest melody we'd play it as loud and as fast and as raw as we could make it. If I had to pick one song that exemplifies the punk ethic or sound in our music it'd be 'Tourettes' It has a stripped down simple structure, it wasn't planned at all, it just kinda happened in rehearsal, Kurt started playing this riff and Krist and I jumped in. I don't think there were any lyrics to it at all, to me it just sounds like a bunch of screaming and mumbling."

"While Seattle was being invaded by a thousand journalists and record company reps California's punk scene was being reinvigerated too. Epitaph and Bad Religion had spent years in the wilderness failing to get the attention they deserve, but that was about to change with the commercial success of Offspring, L7 and Rancid."

"What do I think about punk? I admire the way Rancid stepped down from a bidding war to sign to Epitaph and I'm all for independent labels instead of majors, who often don't understand the music they're releasing . But a lot of what gets classified as punk these days isn't the genuine article, punk as a term is dead, the only reason it lingers in the mouths of journalists and musicians is a nostalgic one, we feel that by letting the term die will let the idea of real, exciting music die with it. Every now and then the cry goes up 'Is techno the new punk rock?', 'Is west-coast ska revival the new punk rock?' The answer is that punk is an ethic, an attitude. Every generation is visited by that punk ethic, for some it's rap for others it's techno and what I experienced as punk, the Ramones, the Pistols, the DC hardcore scene, is what inspired me to get off my ass."