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LOSTATSEA.NET > FEATURES >

October 5, 2007
Rating: 9.7

Along with scratchy cassette tapes (perhaps now remedied by digital media), one of the most natural ways to discover punk has been through its images. Punk images often elicit two contradictory responses: a recognition that punk is more vast than can be captured in a collection, followed by the immediate need to emulate the dress, attitude, and style of life captured therein.

The first thing to understand is that punk is not a genre of music represented by a style of clothing. It is a way of life that snubs such categorizations. Vivienne Westwood and her Sex boutique commercialized punk through antifashion, and the delinquent style that spread throughout the streets of London in the 1970s sparked outrage that has now become associated with punk in the mainstream. To say the least, its initial statement has been diluted. But, in all reality, punk was about mainstream appropriation and bricolage, creating something out of nothing or emptiness. Punk was very organic. It championed innovation, self promotion, individuality, inclusion, and community. And it brought with it decadence, shock, and rebellion, aspects that are arguably byproducts of its initial impetus.

In Richard Hell's foreword to Punk 365 entitled "Picturing Punk," he posits this thought: "Punk is an idea, not a band. It's a real good idea. It's about subversion, but in the service of youthful pleasure. It's opposed to everything adult. It's against not just success, but good manner, good grooming, and any education or skill. But no definition of 'punk' is true. It's poetic that way." Of all people, Hell (an early member of Television who later featured in Johnny Thunders' first batch of The Heartbreakers before starting his own outfit, Richard Hell and the Voidoids) should know.

Holly George-Warren, the author of Punk 365, solicited Hell with the task of writing the foreword for a reason; he is spot on. We often assign punk various qualities, all of them true in one sense or another, but we can never do the concept justice. Even though Punk 365 features 365 photographs with short write ups accompanying each - reminding us that "punk lives 365 days a year" - it by no means provides a comprehensive depiction of punk. Nor does it attempt to, although it arguably comes as close as any volume out there.

Punk 365 uses broad categorization techniques in order to avoid a futile attempt at an exhaustive, chronological anthology. The book begins with "In The Beginning," a proto-punk exhibition, before moving into concurring and overlapping punk movements: "East Coast USA," "Across The Pond," and "Way Out West." Next, Punk 365 deviates from what we might regard as "punk proper" to "Here There And Everywhere," a chapter devoted to '80's punk stylings: post-punk, dub, and any other act from that era (some surprising to say the least - U2, Madonna, The Beastie Boys) with punk underpinnings. The book finds its logical resting place with "Hardcore," avoiding the hairsplitting that would take place in defining punk in the '90's, where the punk attitude was most apparent in Seattle but other, more contrived bands, inherited the punk moniker.

The book may be too neatly packaged for some, but it moves ahead without adhering to any specific rules - only juxtapositions. There is a rhyme and reason for the arrangement, and in cases when there isn't, the reader can surely make a case for one. A photo of The Specials, an energetic live shot done in the band's signature black and white two-tone, leads into a picture of Mark Bedford of Madness, followed by The English Beat hanging out against a brick wall and, next, Musical Youth standing in a haphazard line, captured as the kids they once were. In similar fashion, a photo of Echo and the Bunnymen is followed by one of Teardrop Explodes, and then the Pogues, The Jesus & Mary Chain, and the Smiths. The connections are there - they maybe subtle and/or geographical, but they allow for some uniformity where sequential order is jettisoned for more a meaningful effect. The book is arranged like a friend's music collection that is - to the untrained eye - arranged chronologically and by genre, but, in reality, it is arranged in autobiographical fashion, where the connections only matter to one person; here, that person is the reader.

Despite attempts to be wide in scope, Punk 365 takes pains to appeal to as many readers as possible. The musicians and bands garnering the most attention are no surprise; Iggy Pop, Lou Reed, Tom Verlaine, Patti Smith, Richard Hell, Johnny Thunders, and Debbie Harry are featured prominently, as is the Velvet Underground, NewYork Dolls, The Ramones, The Sex Pistols, and The Clash, not to mention the pages devoted to the sights from legendary punk venues CBGB and Max's Kansas City.

My only complaint about the entire work is that my favorite punk bands aren't featured as prominently as others, not to say that I would voice any complaints about the godfathers and original brothers and sisters of punk mentioned above getting a little more face time. When flipping through the pages for the first time, I found myself questioning George-Warren's selections: "Really, only one Wire photo? Wait, where are the rest of Pere Ubu, The Fall, Fugazi? Only a pair of the Gang of Four? Seems irrational. Only a handful of The Damned? No Hüsker Dü!?" By no means do I believe my favorites are any better than yours or the next reader's, but that's precisely the point. Every reader will react the same way, that is, with a passion for his or her bands, those that he or she finds most endearing (because, critical about the selections or not, these bands are endearing).

However, the thing that all readers need to keep in mind is that it is the images, not the bands, that are the book's focus. This book is about the idea of punk, not the names to hang our collective hat on, and the book's text is background to put the images of that idea in some sort of context.

For example, Robert Matheu's photograph of The Stooges at Goose Lake festival in 1970 showing Iggy Pop bent down over his mic-stand is a representation of the band's raw power. Matheu's photograph of fellow Michigan act MC5 at the Detroit Pop Festival in 1969, of Rob Tyner lifting his arms to the crowd like a rabble-rousing preacher and Fred Smith pulling his outstretched guitar over his head, is awe inspiring, if not indicative of their incessant volley of energy.

Other images that caught my attention by capturing the overall feel of punk are as follows: the Heartbreakers 1975 photo session, taken by Roberta Bayley, has them in white, blood-stained shirts with an assortment of zombie-like, pained, and machismo expressions; The Dead Boys' first New York gig at CBGBs standing under a handbill that reads "Punk is Coming" in a photograph by Bayley in 1976; charismatic band Th' Cigaretz donning no shirts and sport garb ranging from suspenders and three pairs of sunglasses to a serape and sombrero, while one member is bound and gagged, taken by Russell Boone in 1978.

Then there's the New York crowd who got their start at CBGBs. At a CBGB show, fellow Talking Heads give rhythmic support to David Byrne's gyrations, a photograph taken by Godlis in 1977; also in 1977 Stephanie Chernikowski caught fellow CBGB regulars Blondie - with a new lineup - hanging out in all black, save for Debbie Harry's bleach-blonde hair and white and red Coca-Cola pants, looking oh so cool; and yet another CBGB fixture The Ramones play at their favorite spot in 1978, and they do so with such unrelenting speed that it's a wonder Bayley caught it on film.

Over in London in 1977 we find a host of images: The Sex Pistols goof around in a dumpster with Johnny Rotten playing class(less) clown in a photograph by Janette Beckman; The Saints, the punks from down under, find themselves up on top live in London by Jean-Gras Veuige; The Cortinas, one of a slew of teenage groups to follow in the wake of the Pistols, mock squares passing in the street in a photograph taken by Jill Furmanovsky; and The Jam's Paul Weller, who blended modish style with punk sensibility, leaps vertically in front of a banner featuring their In The City logo in an image by Jenny Lens.

Had I the time or the space I would go on tell you about all the sights Punk 365 has to offer, like Stiff Little Fingers outside the New York pub Manhattan Molly Malone's, or Darby Crash covered in safety pins and in the gutter on the Sunset Strip, or Mission of Burma looking, well, just really freakin' cool in front of a industrial warehouse wall backdrop. But really this book is for individual discovery and rediscovery of one of the indefinable ways of music. Through its images, punk will continue to live in new generations by individuals who, for instance, decide to pick up a Black Flag album after seeing Henry Rollins devour a microphone. The rest, they say, is history. Enjoy.

SEE ALSO: www.hollygeorgewarren.com
SEE ALSO: www.hnabooks.com

--
Patrick Gill
In in a state of suspended adolescence, Patrick Gill can be found hiding away in northwest Ohio, where he spends most of his time rediscovering shoegaze, noise pop, britpop, slowcore, sadcore, lo-fi, neo-psychedelia, post-rock, trad rock, and trip-hop music. In his spare time he teaches college English.

See other articles by Patrick Gill.

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