Thursday, December 3, 2009

FFB: The oral histories of the NYC, LA, and SF punk scenes

when I was a kid back in the bad old days of the late 1970s and early 80s Punk Rock was a force to be feared, demonized and marginalized. TV shows went after punk with everyone from WKRP in Cincinnati to CHIPS exposing the evils of the music, the pre-CSI show Quincy famously had an episode where the cause of death was listed as "Punk Rock". Why? where did all this animosity and hate come from? I know why the older people hated it, but why did the baby boomers feel so threatened? The answers, they ain't blowing in the wind, they partly explored in the three Oral Histories that make up my Friday Forgotten Book(s) for this week.
Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk by Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain was the first book of the three to come out and in many ways is the model for the other two. The authors went to the sources, the musicians, the managers, the club owners, the photographers along with friend and family tell in their own words the story of punk from from the Velvet Underground to Iggy and the Stooges to the Ramones. The authors simply take the stories they have been given and shaped a narrative out of it. This is one of the most brilliant elements of all three books multiple points of view and version of events are presented and by in large the journalist stays out of the way.
We Got the Neutron Bomb : The Untold Story of L.A. Punk by Marc Spitz and Brendan Mullen was the next to hit the shelves. The LA punk scene had long been the forgotten little brother scene to what was happening in NYC and London, but ended up giving the world the bands that would carry punk rock from the 70s through the 80s and into the 90s alternative explosion. It was the LA second wave of punk that really spread the gospel of what punk was really about across America and around the world. The constant touring of Black Flag, the DIY ethic and the irony that these bands were living in the back year of the record industry who wouldn't touch them all play into a fascinating narrative about and time and place that many never knew existed and many would like to forget.
Gimme Something Better: The Profound, Progressive, and Occasionally Pointless History of Bay Area Punk from Dead Kennedys to Green Day by Jack Boulware and Silke Tudor is the newest entry for the oral history of punk book shelf. Drawing from the same format as what came before-- well the title says it all. Where the other books are weighted towards the events of 1970s and into the 80s, this one has a lot more to say about the 90's and into the present day. Part of the reason is that after Nirvana and the alternative scene broke wide open punk was embraced by many as the immediate precursor to the sounds that dominated the popular media for a few years. One of those bands was Green Day who have extensive roots in the Bay Area. The book also explores the early days of the scene when bands like The Avengers and the Nuns played at the Sex Pistols final show, and the Dead Kennedy's had yet to fall to Tipper Gore and her PRMC crusade against the evils of Rock Music.

With three books about various scenes out I hope that other will start exploring what was going on in their areas, and look forward to oral histories of: London, Vancouver, Seattle, Minneapolis, Detroit, Chicago, Rochester NY, Boston, and DC. I also hope that someone will do a oral history of; Horrorpunk/deathrock, Cowpunk/ Paisley Underground, Psychobilly and the Garage Rock Revival of the 1980s.

thoughts, comments, favorite punk songs or bands?

(More Friday Forgotten Books over at Patti Abbott's blog)

10 comments:

pattinase (abbott) said...

I know less than nothing about this. Very interesting though.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Can't read an author for the third one.

irenzero said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
irenzero said...

Patti it is.

Jack Boulware and Silke Tudor.

I've been trying to get the text color to change, but it just isn't working.

Todd Mason said...

I hope you've seen OUR BAND COULD BE YOUR LIFE and BANNED IN DC over the years...

Iren said...

Todd: I've read Our Band Could Be Your Life, and a bunch of others-- American Hardcore, Hardcore California, Punk '77, and a few other are on or have been on my bookshelf. I should take a look at Banned in DC. I know there are a number of others. It's more the Oral History format that I think makes the noted books work better for me.

Evan Lewis said...

My journeys into punk have been very limited, but my favorite group of all time is the one punkers revere as gods - The Sonics. "The Witch", "Psycho", "Shot Down", "Cinderella", "Boss Hoss", etc are the root of it all. The band reformed a couple of years ago, and there are now a bunch of videos on YouTube.

Iren said...

Evan, I know the Sonics (and their older brother band The Wailers) Well. In fact one of my buddies in Finland who is a huge fan, his band The Flamin' Sideburns-- just opened up for them last week in Helsinki. I know that as we get further on down the line that the 60s Garage Era and the 70s Punk era become more and more aligned.

Todd Mason said...

Well, even the term "punk rock" was already in place in the earliest '70s, no later than the Stooges, before the Ramones. "Have Love, Let's Travel" is certainly one of the best singles of 1965...in a year when there were Beatles, Kinks, Yardbirds, Byrds, Miracles, Animals, Zombies, Beach Boys, Who, Rolling Stones, and other ferment all around...

Todd Mason said...

BANNED IN DC, being a Cynthia Connolly book, is mostly photography, but is also an oral history collection. But, then, most of the histories of punk are largely interview-based.