Monday, November 22, 2004

The punk phenomenon

An important feature of punk rock was an evident desire to return to the concise and simple approach of early rock and roll. Punk rockers rejected what they saw as
the pretension, commercialism and pomposity which had overtaken rock music in the 1970s, spawning superficial "disco" music and grandiose forms of heavy metal,
progressive rock and "arena rock".
Punk rock emphasised simple musical structure and short songs, extolling a "DIY" ("do it yourself") ethic that insisted anyone could form a punk rock band (the early
UK punk fanzine Sniffin' Glue once famously included drawings of three chord shapes, captioned, "this is a chord, this is another, this is a third. Now form a band").
Punk lyrics introduced a confrontational frankness of expression in matters both political and sexual, dealing with urban boredom and rising unemployment in the
UK—e.g., the Sex Pistols' "God Save The Queen" and "Pretty Vacant"—or decidedly anti-romantic depictions of sex and love, such as the Dead Kennedys' "Too
Drunk to Fuck" or the Sex Pistols' "Submission."
The influence of the cultural critique and the strategies for revolutionary action offered by the European situationist movement of the 1950s and 60s is apparent in the
vanguard of the British punk movement, particularly the Sex Pistols. This was a conscious direction taken by Pistols prime movers Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne
Westwood, and is apparent in the artwork of the Situationist-affiliated Jamie Reid, who designed many of the band's graphics.
The punk phenomenon expressed a whole-hearted rejection of prevailing values that extended beyond the qualities of its music. British punk fashion deliberately
outraged propriety with the highly theatrical use of cosmetics and hairstyles--eye makeup might cover half the face, hair might stand in spikes or be cut into a
"Mohawk" or other severe shape--while the clothing typically modified existing objects for artistic effect--pants and shirts were cut, torn, or wrapped with tape, safety
pins were used as face-piercing jewelery, a black bin liner bag (garbage bag) might, and often did, become a dress, T-Shirt or skirt.
Punk devotees created a thriving underground press. In the UK Mark Perry produced Sniffin' Glue. In the United States magazines such as Maximum RocknRoll,
Profane Existence and Flipside were leading a movement of fanzines. Every local "scene" had at least one primitively published magazine with news, gossip, and
interviews with local or touring bands. The magazine Factsheet Five chronicled the thousands of underground publications in the 1980s and 1990s
The UK Punk magazine Sniffin' Glue reflected a change in drug taking habits. The hippies had smoked Cannabis which resulted in a relaxed mood. The punks were
rebelling against the last decade's values and that included Cannabis. Punks wanted drugs which gave the user energy and the vapours from glue and other solvents
gave an easily accessible heady rush of energy as did various pills. These had the side-effect of increasing aggression as well as energy and some such as
Amphetamine-based drugs which had the added advantage of allowing users to stay awake for long periods and also increased a user's pain threshold. Some like Sid
Vicious of the Sex Pistols worked their way onto more addictive narcotics such as Heroin which also numbed pain and allowed Vicious, for example, to cut himself
extensively on stage as part of the stage act.


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