Real punk had always been a cultural slow-ball. A mistimed pitch meant to fumble the normals, it succeeded in flaring up the next cultural generation with anti-authoritarian impulses sending the current one a-scatter. Those who fear ambiguity and irony might get institutional patronage to stomp on its shaved head — the narcs and undercover cops in the second wave of American hardcore scene, for example; or the frantic finks trying to protect society from its own creepy shadow — but punk laughter rang far beyond the gutter.
This is probably the end of the age for punk, something can’t perpetually be the symbol of ultimate rebellion, can it? The recording of its initial era on record and in film is toppling our ability to withstand its presence. According to SST publicist Joe Carducci, it might have been born as a culture when Lee Abrams goose-stepped into radio programming for the straights during the decadent free form reign of FM, about 1973, as LPs by the Velvet Underground, the Stooges, and reissues like Nuggets had already been digested by middle America. The sap-suckers would be sold on soft rock, but time looping instant nostalgia gave the kids the New York Dolls, and the raw art rock sounds of DIY Ohio and New York. Dave Thomas of Pere Ubu claims “indie” was all a new corporate marketing trend to get kids to keep buying 45s and keep the “see your favorite shocking band on TV” vibe alive. But the mystery religion of underground music in the 60s had been slaughtered on the altar of arena rock, as downers and booze flowed like communion to pacify those whose nerves had been shaken to bits by Watergate clarity.
Basically, mass media took some snap shots of restless kids cranked up on mommy’s speed and made monsters of us, putting these gruesome caricatures into movie theaters, and signing up most of the first wave of punk bands instantly (into a world where they got no radio play, thus successfully assimilating and destroying them).
“Yeah, I thought it was dumb as hell,” Fugazi’s MacKaye is quoted in a ripping good chat in the slobbery-gorge-mongous new Fantagraphics coffee table crusher and consumer-seducing guide to celluloid anarchy, Destroy All Movies!! “And I’m sensitive about this stuff because I actually don’t think punk is a joke.” MacKaye is specifically referring to his appearing in cult fave Another State Of Mind, which featured Social D., Youth Brigade, and his own salad days unit, Minor Threat. Kids for years have been inspired by the flick, but it wasn’t exactly a heralded movie at the time by those who took punk politics and art seriously, and MacKaye had contempt for its somewhat faux-documentary pacing and scene manipulation. “The idea that a punk is this lazy guy picking his nose or sniffing glue or whatever is just absurd.” (Um, well, Ian never spent any time with me in 1981, that’s fore sure.) On the other hand, “Maybe it’s just as well; maybe having that kind of representation is a little bit like having a totem pole or a gargoyle, just something that keeps the kooks out.”
That accepted if ambivalent use of punk as a dialectical “No Squares Allowed” image, especially in its peak and gone-underground years, is extremely well covered by Destroy All Movies!! Edited by VHS junkies, one-time punk record store owner and movie house curator Zack Carlson and Vulcan Video tastemaker Bryan Connolly, Destroy All Movies!! is a $35 pink-splattered mind-bomb of enthusiastic but not uncritical assessment of high quality films loyal to the cause (Suburbia, Repo Man, Decline of Western Civilization), and annoying to the cause (thousands of Quincy punk afterschool-special type fair).The eagle-eyed authors spent thousands of hours assimilating their assessments by staking camp at Seattle’s own utterly awesome Scarecrow Video. It shows in as much knowledge as passion for the material.
Sure, I’m enraged that Over The Edge (1979, dir. Jonathan Kaplan) didn’t make the cut (?!), but Carlson and Connolly encourage us all to get in touch with additions in the back of the near 500 page beast. Destroy All Movies!! has many pages of colorful VHS covers and movie posters. Its zine-packed but very readable assortment of opinions and facts kicks off also with a typically shrewd introduction by Richard Hell, and the reviews flow around high quality interviews with punk and movie creators and experts Penelope Spheeris, Chris D., Nick Zedd, Mary Woronov, P.J. Soles, and many others. These conversations alone make the book worth buying, but Fantagraphics really went all out in the design and production of this compendium as well. Have sushi and don’t pay for it, but buy this book.