This troubling handbill is meant to suggest that we — you and I — should go see the Deacon Bishop Revival combo tonight at Goodbye Blue Monday (see above). Yeah?! Me and what ear plugs? As I think you’ll hear when you play their three tunes here, these three gentlemen spew forth a beatful, thunderous noise calculated to make accountants leave their desks, run into the street and start waving a gun around. It’s the new sound journalists are calling “the punked rock”…but just what IS the punked rock? Let’s take a walk inside my head (squish, squish, squish, squish….)
I started high school a few months after Sid Viscious’s death. Nothing was known of punk in our school until my junior year when a kid named Colin, a junior high friend who’d moved away for a couple of years came back from Detroit with a buzz cut, earring and leather jacket. Some of us were into the Ramones and certain New Wave bands, but Colin brought with him a record collection containing the entire arsenal, the Sex Pistols, the Clash, the Damned, the Dead Kennedys. He was (and remained) the town’s only punk (and in retrospect, a pretty mild one, come to think of it). I hung out with him and another friend Alex quite a bit and for a while we had a band called the Happy Machines. In emulation of my brother (a professional drummer) I played the drums using his castaway kit pieces. I didn’t have sticks so I played with two sawed-off broom handles. We played precisely one gig, in someone’s basement. Though we had managed to fill the room with curious schoolmates, before we”d played a half dozen songs we had driven every one away with our noise. My flirtation with punk (it was never more than that) lasted until I was about 19. One time I wore an Izod shirt to school I had decorated with “bullet holes” and fake blood. Another time when me, Colin and Alex were roaming the school halls after hours, Colin whipped it out and took a piss on the floor. We laughed but I thought to myself, “Geez, they just waxed that.” The last time I saw Colin I went up to stay up at his place in Boston. I was sitting in a broken armchair when a thug he’d stiffed in a drug deal came in and smashed the television I was watching with a metal chain, screaming “I WANT MY MONEY!” I just sat there with a glassy smile glued to my face, pretending I was still watching television. My foray into Bohemia had reached its outer limit.
My commitment to anarchy and destruction had always been less than total. It was more of a Romantic ideal. My interests were more the crackly old surf and British Invasion records my older brothers had left behind. I was a faithful listener of Dr. Oldie on WBRU, the local FM rock station out of Brown University. My main point of intersection with any punk sensibility was an enthusiasm for Nuggets the legendary compilation of garage rock singles.
This burst of nostalgia has been awakened by the Countess, oddly enough. She has been Netflixing all of these punk related movies, documentaries about the Sex Pistols and X, and a movie she loved as a kid, Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains. I’ve been thumbing through her copy of Griel Marcus’s Lipstick Traces, which believe it or not I’d never read. (I’d only previously read Marcus’s The Old Weird America, about Dylan’s Basement Tapes). I’ve also been playing music with Josh Hartung, whose uncle was in the Dead Kennedys. Then there are the recent deaths of Poly Styrene (whose work I didn’t know) and Lux Interior of the Cramps (whose work I did, and really loved). It’s all fed into me looking back into the punk phenomenon, which has become, God help us all, historical. It’s now possible for us to look back at it as a closed system, a thing with a beginning, middle and end. I first realized this when a certain punk band used to show up at my open mike night at the Charleston back in the 90s, all festooned with mohawks and hair dye. Oh, this is a thing now, I thought, really no different than dressing like Fonzie or the Andrews Sisters. That punk band used to bring their toddler to the gigs. One no longer has to be given to spontaneous riots to make punk (if one ever did in the U.S., that was more the British experience, where the movement had a much more political character).
I may seem to be roaming far afield from Deacon Bishop Revival’s gig tonight, but not really. They started this train of thought. The guys in the band are my friends and only a little bit younger than me. We are now the age of those London authority figures who declared that punk was the end of the world in the late 70s. But as we all saw, the end of the world happened last Saturday and we’re all still here. The one thing left after the Apocalypse is “The Apocalypse”.