KEEP IT DIRTY, vol. a., “Filth” (2017)
THE ROOTS OF PUNK, PARTS II & III (1978-1979)
Hardcore sounds like rolling clods of lumpy excrement with broken bones sticking out, while oi sounds like craters of gruel with patchy tufts of straw poking up. And they say there were limits to what you could do with three simple chords!
We punk rock fans like shit qua shit.
[Lester Bangs’ “The Roots of Punk” originally appeared as a series of articles spread across three issues of New Wave Rock (Aug. 1977; Nov. 1978; Feb. 1979), a glossy magazine published by Jack Borgen and Harry Matetsky. Although “The Roots of Punk, Part I” has been reprinted in the collection Mainlines, Blood Feasts, and Bad Taste: A Lester Bangs Reader, edited by John Morthland (Anchor Books, 2003), neither Part II nor Part III of “The Roots of Punk” has ever been anthologized, not even in the other big collection of Bangs’ writings edited by Greil Marcus, Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung (Knopf, 1987). As is evident by the epigraphs above, Bangs often underlined the association of “punk” with “shit,” “dirt” and “filth.” As he writes in “The Roots of Punk, Part I”: “Punk is treating your 2,000 plus LP collection like dirt.” And yet, by choosing to write about “punk”—and thereby implicitly treating it as something of value—, Bangs inevitably confronted the paradox of “turning shit into gold,” and thus betraying the very thing he was writing about. Hence these lines of auto-mutilation (also from “The Roots of Punk, Part I”): “Punk is ripping up articles like this one” (RP 338). Of course, by reprinting Bangs’ articles here—i.e., by not “ripping [them] up”—perhaps we too are complicit in a certain “betrayal”? Note: this version of Lester Bangs’ “The Roots of Punk” (Part II & Part III) is reproduced with original images and captions from New Wave Rock magazine. Every effort has been made to contact New Wave Rock for permission. —Ed.]
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All right, all right, I’ll do it. I’ll finish off the job of turning punk (ethos, music, style, lifestyle; you name it) into an academically definable commodity so they can hold seminars on it in liberal jr. colleges and so it can be recognized as nothing more than a fucking formula just like everything else; I’ll give you whatever you want. I’m just a freelance hack writer which is merely a synonym for just another fucking hooker, plus which I didn’t have many scruples in the first place or I wouldn’t have gotten so deeply involved in the earlier punk scam and been so closely identified with it that you would ask me to write this article, plus which I need the money from the San Francisco dilettantes who run this magazine [New Wave Rock].
Speaking strictly historically, since when did San Fran have anything to do with punk rock anyway? S.F.’s involvement with the movement now re-emerging under the “New Wave” umbrella dates back to when Rolling Stone [magazine] made the mistake in December, 1968, of putting Rob Tyner of the MC5 on their cover when they hadn’t even seen or heard the group yet. Imagine Jann [Wenner] & Co.’s embarrassment when the album came out. The first thing I ever had published in a real live check-paying magazine anywhere was my review of the MC5’s Kick Out the Jams in [Rolling] Stone. I had bought it on the basis of aforesaid feature, and thought it was a plate of crap. Now I think it’s great, of course, but then again now I would like it even if I still thought it was a plate of crap.
The point of all this is crucial to this whole article: WE PUNK ROCK FANS LIKE SHIT QUA SHIT. The dirtiest word in the Anglo-American lexicon to us is “competence.” What has always made rock ’n’ roll the quintessentially democratic, ultimately all-American artform is THAT IT TAKES NO TALENT WHATSOEVER. Any kid with the nerve and a guitar can get up and do it. Punk in general is a reductio ad absurdam, if you like, of that principle, which, restated in terms Leslie Fielder if not Rolling Stone could understand, means that this is not music at all in the first place, but rather an attitude. It’s a way of carrying yourself, of walking and talking and acting and even fucking. Like I’m starting my own band now, as everyone in the Free World who is sick of the Eagles and [Peter] Frampton and disco etc. should be doing this very moment, and at one of our preliminary rehearsals there’s this groupie cum porno actress there who says she knows a guitarist out on Staten Island, who “is really competent.” It sounded like she said “He eats dogshit three meals a day and plays guitar like Divine twangs her butthole.” She even wrote down his name and phone number on a piece of paper: “John—535-4067—COMPETENT GUITARIST.” Get that! Now do you think there’s a chance in hell I’m gonna call that guy? I’d rather have my landlord’s bitchily virginal repressed Italian old maid sister—at least she’s got her nasty disposition and general frustration going for her.
They like competence in San Francisco, though—look how long they’ve supported the [Grateful] Dead, who are actually incompetent on purpose which could almost make them punks except that they’re sentimental about it and punks are never sentimental, only hostile or confused. Frisco critics and opinion molders in general always dumped on the instrumental talents in the original Big Brother & the Holding Company, who were about the only group (except for the Flamin’ Groovies) from that decade-old farce who had anything to do with what’s going on now [i.e., 1978 punk], and that was only because Jim Gurley—I think it was Jim Gurley—was from Detroit. One of them was from there anyway, what difference does it make—all hippies look the same—but the point is that true to his Motor City roots he played like an absolute slob, real raw and rangy and grating, a more than passing affection for feedback and general proclivities in the direction of offensive noise, which has never been something San Franciscans in general or R. Stone poobahs in specific have been particularly anxious to sanction. [ . . . ]
If I seem unnecessarily harsh on San Francisco it’s not just to dish that town—it’s only that their city’s sounds dominance over prevalent rock tastes of the late Sixties led so directly to the punk backlash. True, they did have great forerunners such as Blue Cheer with their magnificent Vincebus Eruptum , and even better Mad River, whose first album [Mad River (1968)] was one of the all-time classics of musical bone and nerve splinters frying over a gas flame. I can still remember such wonderous careens as “Amphetamine Gazelle,” “High All the Time” (“And no one looks to me / Like they’ve come here / To see my eyes / Which are burnt and blinded” . . . and then the best lines of all: “Clear it away / This grease that’s on my hide . . .” A more precise delineation of the feel of caked-in putrefying sweat after four or five days up on meth I’ve never heard.) and “Merciful Monk” (“I could take a broom and sweep the burning nostrils into the sea!”).
But Mad River themselves are a case in my point. They got doused so severely for the masterpiece just described that they reverted whole-hog in their second and final LP to nothing less than folkie jams! San Francisco—See how thou afflictest they musical servants with shame and lethargy! And shame be upon thy brows for such calumny!
That’s why so many of us were forced to turn away from your Golden Gate at the time. Far away, far as England (although eventually we rerouted to San Jose), where in 1966 a group called the Troggs had come up with a hit in a truly mindless piece of dinosaur rock called “Wild Thing.” This one group so inspired me that in an ancient (1971) issue of the moldy rock fanzine, Who Put the Bomp, I wrote a 65 page article about them. The preparation of said composition took 26 straight hours and destroyed my host’s typewriter in the process. It also, of course, rambled outrageously—a good deal of the piece was about my own high school experiences of sexual frustration playing footsie with a little Mexican girl in Math-1A. What does that have to do with the Troggs or punk rock, you ask? Everything, obviously. Since I knew almost next to just about nothing about the Troggs, I just blathered on in the context wherein I assimilated them—the reason I liked them in the first place was that I was a fucked up kid who’d never been laid yet and felt really nihilistic about the world in general and dreamed of being a rock ’n’ roller so I could take out my pained confusion on my guitar. The Troggs were that too, in person (I presume) and certainly in their music. “I’ve lost my girl / I can’t express / My grief / My sorrow / My emptiness,” intoned in the most lifelessly mechanical and downright stupid manner possible, followed by a totally tasteless noiserip guitar solo. As for the immortal “Wild Thing,” I almost laughed the first time I heard it. Then I realized that it was almost within my own power to actually play those two or three dumb chords the song was based on, not to mention thinking up lyrics that inane, and singing as lamely as Reg Presley. At that point, quite understandably, I began to get excited. I began to realize, furthermore, that it was all the same—my teenage-dissolution lifestyle and the music of groups like the Troggs, Shadows of Knight, Music Machine, Seeds, Question Mark, Count Five (who were where San Jose came in), etc. They were all full of shit and so was I. And none of us cared. We had all heard the Yardbirds’ brilliant innovations, but since almost none of the above listed groups really knew how to play their instruments, all they could do was bang away in rackety imitation. Which was when I first realized that quality and musicianship and taste actually had nothing ‘whatsoever to do with rock ’n’ roll; in fact might be its worst enemies. Rock ’n’ roll is by definition a deviant artform, a bastard child, designed or destined to be completely unrespectable. It’s just a bunch of junk and shit, but it’s our junk and shit. This has been said a million times.
But at a certain point, large masses of people—large enough for cult status at least—began to become aware of punk rock as something they could think of as valid according to their own deviant (counterculture or whatever) standards and still hold their heads up. When “96 Tears” and Count Five’s “Psychotic Reaction” were hits (late 1966), I was in a band that played the local bowling alley; we were called the Dark Ages and even though we didn’t take ourselves particularly seriously, we did think that we had some taste. I liked “96 Tears,” although I thought its essentially insectivally psychotic nature was more attuned to biker mentality or something than me and my hip doper friends, but everybody in my band thought it was absolute dogshit. Same for “Psychotic Reaction,” although I eventually got to like it for its very stupidity. When I finally broke down and forked over the three-fifty for the Count Five album, my punk rock fandom and perhaps in a way my career/life as a punk was born. I’m sure the same thing must have happened to a hell of a lot of other people. The first record review I ever wrote was of that album. I wrote that I bought it precisely because it was idiotic, that I had known it had been and that since the Who started heading in the direction of rock operas, the Stones slung out slop like December’s Children  (great slop, but still slop), and the Beatles began to get sunshine-oracular . . . well, it was becoming obvious that the whole thing was a big joke, especially with all the ersatz leftoid politicism in the air.
The Revolution, god, I had to gag, and I guess a lot of other people did too, which was how punk rock as a mass cultural entity was born. We just didn’t give a shit about anything but getting fucked up and listening to records, and as the Vibes got heavier it became increasingly difficult to relate to the prevailing Rock Culture stances/attitudes with anything above a mixture of amusement and contempt. We thought Woodstock was a pile of shit, and there was nothing that unusual about Altamont—there were festivals near where I lived in South[ern] Cal[ifornia] where the dopers and bikers nearly tore up towns a la The Wild One, gas-station owners barricading themselves behind broken windows. Then along comes Rolling Stone [magazine] with all this phony, not to mention preachy we-are-all-one-culture business. Not me, brother—when I looked at Leon Russell, I just saw an alien asshole, and something like Crosby, Stills & Nash managed to defile everything that the Buffalo Springfield had stood for in short order. So a whole lot of us just kind of quietly defected. You couldn’t get a word in edgewise with all the world-savers yammering about peace and love and revolution and getting our little bunsitches back to garden anyway.
I don’t think that the “punk” groups that were around then knew what they were the beginning of. They didn’t have any unifying philosophy, they didn’t even know they were a “movement.” They were just a bunch of lousy bands who imitated stuff they’d heard out of England. But in a way we liked ’em better than the masters they ripped off. For one thing, they were the right [sic] nationality. For another, the Yardbirds’ experimentalism always did seem a trifle collegiate, if not downright pretentious and unnecessarily eclectic. “Hot House of Omagarishid”—what the fuck was that? We’d much rather listen to some garage band from San Jose blanging away at the same three chords, playing offkey electric fuzztone ragas, and indulging themselves in feedback, which absolves you from having to be musically capable, to extents so shameless that those heavy English cats like Beck and Clapton would have been embarrassed to even think about them. Beck and Clapton always wanted to be recognized as “good musicians”—proof of it lies no farther than what both are up to these days. Clapton is a nothing who plays laid-back blues muzak so eminently respectable you can’t even hear it, and Beck is trying with a good deal of success to get people to accept the canard that he’s not just some rock jerk, he’s a bonafeed highflyin’ JAZZZZ moosician, just like the big boys. What he doesn’t realize is that the real jazz big boys are all either dead, fed up or fucked up—Coltrane, Coleman, Mingus, Cecil Taylor, Miles Davis (who is trying to make everyone else in the world as depressed as he is, a noble effort for which I thank him). Jazz-rock is garbage noise junk music too, but the crucial difference between it and OUR garbage noise junk is that it takes itself with stultifying seriousness, has the temerity to think that it is not noise junk but important innovative SERIOUS ART, and finally everybody knows it’s totally antihuman and no fun at all except, one supposes, for the masturbatory assholes who indulge themselves with it.
Mind you, I’m not putting down either masturbation or self-indulgence. In fact, they’re what the whole ball game is about, which was something nascent punk fans were just beginning to realize in the waning days of the Sixties. The Syndicate of Sound’s “Little Girl,” the Leaves’ “Hey Joe” (and everybody else’s), Love with Arthur Lee (a black guy imitating white Mick Jagger imitating Arthur’s black forebears), great garbage-Doors/Love-L.A.-expressionism like Clear Light, even greater garbage-psychedelia-cum-James-Brown-L.A.-excess like Black Pearl, New York alleycat yowlings of the Fugs and Godz, the heritage of the Troggs, the Pretty Things, who played the same Jimmy Reed riff in almost every song (which come to think of it maybe makes them the Ramones’ real precursors), or the Downliners Sect, a post-Stones British R&B clapegation who were truly crappy and were not ashamed to be obnoxiously aggressive about it . . . it’s not like it happened in a single day, but suddenly a whole beautiful new vista seemed to be opening up to us. That vista’s name was CRAP. Or GARBAGE, if you prefer. SHIT. We realized that we loved shit for its own sake and there was no reason to be embarrassed about it when the rest of the fools were actually walking around taking the Doors seriously, even thinking Cream were great improvisational virtuosi, and in general paving the way for the present terminally disgusting international institution of rock ’n’ roll as a Superstar Factory. It was like, look, there you were stoned on nutmeg or Romilar [cough syrup], and down you went to the record store with some bucks in your pocket, and faced with the choice between Stephen Stills and Al Kooper and Mike Bloomfield indulging themselves in fantasies of virtuosic genius on Super Session , or Sky Saxon and the Seeds indulging themselves in a bunch of dumb rattly (ratty, too) doper songs that all sounded alike capped off by 16 minutes of moronic repetition of the words “Up in her room” on A Web of Sound  . . . well, which one sounds like more fun to you? It was obvious that the fun was beginning to go out of the major-industry international rock scene as early as 1968, and by 1971 it had fallen completely apart leaving us with James Taylor, the all-time simpy narcissistic snotrich phony-angst introspective idiot . . . we just didn’t want to discuss it. We thought it was time for a change.
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It came. I’ll never forget the first time I heard the Stooges. I was in San Francisco, it was September, 1969; Rolling Stone [magazine] had flown me up to check me out since I had been writing for them for about six months. I guess they wanted to see if I was executive timber. I guess I wasn’t, because not only did I get moved from Greil Marcus’ to Langdon Winner’s house after about two days, but I thought it was as curious that they sat around not even smoking pot but listening to Mother Earth and Creedence [Clearwater Revival] with absolute seriousness, as they were bewildered by my penchant for guzzling whiskey all day while blasting “Sister Ray” at top volume. Most of them had never heard that piece of music before; most of them didn’t particularly care for it. They couldn’t even hear it, in fact, except enough to want to leave the room. The Velvet Underground was just about the only group I could take with total seriousness at the time. Langdon Winner, an editor of R. Stone and catholic enough in taste to be an aficionado of someone as avant-garde as Captain Beefheart, asked me of the Velvets: “Are they still doing fag stuff?”
So here came this album by this dopey looking group called the Stooges—“a rather Chocolate Watchbandish group from Michigan, produced by his eminence John Cale,” as Greil Marcus described them to me in a letter.
I was up at Langdon’s house the first time I heard The Stooges ; you know anybody that thought the Velvets were “fag music” (even if they were) was just going to regard something like “I Wanna be Your Dog” as a total joke. [Rolling] Stone gave the album to Ed Ward to review, and he treated it with a mixture of condescension and amused affection-in-spite-of-his-better-instincts— “I’m sure all the neighborhood kids think they’re really tough,” that sort of thing. Of course, on the East Coast they approached Iggy with a lot more respect from the beginning—all those endless reams of blahblahblah in Crawdaddy! and Rock about the metaphysical implications of Iggy’s onstage self-abuse, Artaud blah blah blah, art period blah blah, etc. . . . just a bunch of jackoff jive if you ask me, ’cause every one of those “conceptualist” rock-crits missed the point with the exception of R[ichard] Meltzer.
The point for me and my friends in El Cajon who sat around every night of the week getting fucked up on booze and weed and speed and downs and whatever else we could lay hands on while listening to “Sister Ray” and The Stooges and MC5—which I’d learned to love—and Black Pearl and anything as long as it was noisy and offensive, the point was just that “1969” was just two chords crashing into each other like downed-out meteorites, that trained monkeys (meaning somebody like us) coulda played ’em, that “1969” featured the only use of wah-wah that I had ever liked on any record (mainly because Ron Asheton didn’t do anything with it, no flash bullshit, he just blanged out a chord and let the technology play its own self), and most importantly of all, THAT IGGY DIDN’T GIVE A SHIT ABOUT ANYTHING AND NEITHER DID WE. We knew that over in Michigan his lifestyle was nigh-identical to ours, just getting fucked up all the time and trying to find the girls who’d fuck us and usually failing. Fuck the establishment, fuck the counterculture, fuck the Beatles after that white atrocity, fuck rock ’n’ roll for that matter, everybody being so goddam protective about it like it was some sickly child or something, fuck the government and fuck the war and fuck the college and fuck the hippies and fuck everything. Fuck you. I’m fucked up already. Listen, when one of your best friends is slumped in your room stoned just this side of death on Seconals, drooling on himself and mumbling “I dunno, man, lately I think I been turnin’ into a vegtuhble . . .” you really don’t want to listen to Abbey Road [The Beatles, 1969] much less “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” [Crosby, Stills & Nash, 1969], a title I can’t even type without sneering.
The autobiography of the only generation I’ve ever called myself a part of . . . if they made a movie about us, it wouldn’t be like Getting Straight [dir. Richard Rush, 1970], The Graduate [dir. Mike Nichols, 1967] or something. More like Getting Fucked. It took us a little while to realize that there were other purposeful zombies like us all over the place—I can still remember trying to play the Velvets when I lived in a hippie pad and having one of my roommates bawl out “Fucking faggots!” Another one thought I was gay just because I liked the album; he used to treat me to these knowing leers all the time, especially when I was too fucked up on grass to defend myself, which was a lot of fun.
To make a dismal story mercifully short, I discovered a magazine in Detroit called Creem, whose staff was so crazy they even put the Stooges on the cover. Of every issue! So I left my job and school and girlfriend and beer-drinking buddies and moved to Detroit where my brand of degenerate drool would be not only tolerated but outright condoned, and over the five years I worked at Creem we used our basic love for it to exploit the punk aesthetic and stance in just about every way humanly possible. Go back and check out those issues circa ’72-’3, just before glitter came in and we jumped on that bandwagon—every goddam page you’d find some guy hammering away at punkism and how so and so was an exponent of it and who gives a shit and all the rest until we almost began to bore ourselves. (At different times I wrote record reviews, the main thrust of which was that both Burton Cummings/Guess Who and JAMES TAYLOR were punks. The Troggs piece I’d done for Bomp had been called “James Taylor Marked for Death,” its most notable sequence being a fantasy of gouging out his guts with a broken Ripple bottle, but by the time he got around to making One Man Dog  I’d decided that anybody who was that big a junkie and even so lazy his record company actually had to come out and record the damn elpee at his house just to get some product out of him, obviously gave even less of a shit about the eternal verities than I did.) Dave Marsh [music critic and founding editor of Creem]—who has changed considerably over the years, in a highly comical way—me, Robot Hull, we all thought we were punks, that having rejected the counterculture as a lot of horseshit now we and Iggy and even Alice Cooper for a while, along with all the other depravo fuckyou rock musicians and fans, had a scene going which was the only possible alternative to all the mainstream garbage going on around us, whether it was Grand Funk [Railroad] or Manassas [Stephen Stills, 1972] or Chicago.
The only time the rock culture was really a totally cohesive society was for a couple of years in the mid-Sixties. Just as it originally developed out of an alienation from the prevailing society, so with its own fragmentation we got more alienated from rock itself with a few exceptions by the day. That’s the way it always works—the only way anything good’s ever going to happen, any worthwhile change, is if people just get terminally fed up, fed up enough to just say fuck it all and go out and make their own scene. Which is obviously exactly what’s happening now [i.e., with punk, 1978-9], with things like this magazine [New Wave Rock] and everything it represents.
Speaking in purely personal terms, and again not to come on proprietary or I-was-there-first, but when I first began to hear all this talk about “punk rock” coming back a year or so ago I got a distinct feeling of déjà vu, not to mention mixed feelings. Part of the punk mentality is that you don’t want anything to “come back” you just toy with whatever’s around until you get tired of it, then throw it in the garbage. American punks are just arrogant slobs, consumers who kind of revel in their own crassness. It also seemed to me that all this talk of a “Punk Rock Renaissance” was going on that anybody could give a cat’s turd about, the whole thing was just a media scam. At which point I began to get a little miffed. I’m almost 30, and although certain elements of my lifestyle have remained as dissolutely constant as in 1971, I have to admit that I’m just not into drinking half a gallon of Gallo Port and listening to Black Sabbath’s first three albums in a row, which is what I did every single night the winter of that year. I just don’t feel as nihilistic as I used to, and while I’m not going to do a Dave Marsh and tell you what a gifted artist Mr. Peter Gabriel must be, I do feel a little alienated. I feel alienated from my own alienation, or perhaps more accurately, the institutionalization of it, the packaging of nihils to teenage slobdom as a marketable commodity on the mass scale. It’s not just Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s Punk Couture, with Zandra Rhodes designing Punk Gowns that run $750, although that is pretty funny in a nauseating sort of way. The thing that really irritates me is how goddam hard, damn near impossible, it is to be a deviant of any kind whatsoever anymore. There’s a long road that began with Brando in The Wild One [dir. László Benedek, 1953] and ends with Fonzie, and the Fonzie industry means certainly that the juvenile delinquent is finished unless you happen to live in Rumania or someplace. I remember going to school with guys like Fonzie; they were the sort of real cool guys who would think it was a real sharp, funny idea to come up to you in the schoolyard and scrape the point of a churchkey across your forearm, or jump out of a car as you were walking home at night and beat the shit out of you just for the fun of it. Now Iggy’s on the Dinah Shore show, poor Dinah, all motherly, wondering how and why that poor dear boy mutilates himself onstage. Meanwhile, Dave Marsh, who has finally and completely turned into Ralph J. Gleason, writes a column about how in his day punk stood for something noble, some bullshit in the neighborhood of loyalty, friendship, the rites of passage and the code of the gang. This from a guy who used to tear After the Gold Rush [Neil Young and Crazy Horse, 1970] off the turntable when I’d try to listen to it and scream “That guy sings like he’s only got one ball!” Nothin’ but flatout hammerdown heavy metal allowed around here, buddy! And today a lot of people will try to tell you that if it doesn’t conform to certain ultimately rigid preconceptions having to do with noise and grooming, which obviously is just another formula, why then it must just be more old, useless, retread shit unfit for the Modern World. (Like at the recent Max’s debut of a new band which shall remain nameless, where everybody seemed to like ’em except Village Voice critic James Wolcott, who complained about the occasional presence of R&B elements in the music: “Urummh, (clearing of cattrrh from the throat) . . . not white enough.” Or the little jerks from Punk magazine, who when I invited them to a party at my house and put on great mid-Sixties Motown and Stax-Volt sides so everybody could dance like we used to do at parties in Detroit (of course, nobody dances in New York except disco creeps—they’re all too cool), complained: “Hey, Lester, why doncha take all that nigger disco shit off?” (Otis Reading was playing at the time; I took him off and put on Silver Convention [Silver Convention, 1976]; they all huddled in the kitchen, so I put on Metal Machine Music [Lou Reed, 1975] to see if I could drive them out the door.)
The great thing about late-70’s punk, it always seemed to me, was that it said there were no rules, in fact asked you to demand the license to make up your own, about everything. The awful thing about late-70’s punk is that it has ended up being perhaps the most conformist trip of all, a perfect flip-side to disco in every way. There are a few things more disgusting than people doing what they think they’re supposed to do, instead of whatever it is they might actually want to do (am I talking about repression? Hmm . . . ), and I’d just like to ask some of these spikedomed little assholes if they think when Iggy formed the Stooges he sat down and said, “Okay, boys, let’s be punks: we’ll get fucked up all the time and act like assholes and make a point of not knowing howta play our instruments! It’ll make us famous!” No, trying to be a punk is like trying to be gay: you can’t because you either are or aren’t, and most real punks never even thought of calling themselves that, much less bragging about it (fact, they usually got called that, scornfully, by somebody else). Most of them, in fact, wanted to be men (cf. Iggy), and ’twas the striving so hard and the utter failure by any of the usual standards that got ’em called punks in the first place.
So as far as I’m concerned the fact that fantastic groups like the Clash, Richard Hell and the Voidoids, Suicide and the Ramones are popping out all over the place just isn’t sufficient compensation for the social odoriferousness of the vaunted Punk Revial. Because look, maybe the most basic thing about being a punk in the first place was that WE DID NOT GIVE A SHIT. You don’t try to be a punk—you just are one. You don’t try to do anything but jack off. Iggy didn’t contrive a persona when he started out, much as appearances might have indicated the contrary—that kind of shit’s for the Bowies and Alices, the basically nothings who come along to cash in on the real rock ’n’ roll animals. Iggy was just a fucked-up kid who took too many drugs and wanted to have the most fucked-up band in history so as to externalize his own inner turmoil. Now you open up a rock magazine, or especially the English trades, and here’s all these groups imitating that, a bunch of jerks that you know damn well are not crazed busting their nuts trying to wank up a fraction of the sabretoothed fury that was the Ig at his peaks. I mean, I like the Damned and Eater and Adverts and all the rest of those groups, but the Original was like something from the night of prehistory, come hurtling out of nowhere at us to inflict nothing but carnage and disorder; some of Iggy’s most feral concerts could have ended in actual cannibalism. Which is just about a far from fraternity as you can get, not to mention some twerp like Fonzie. All the English bands have plenty of energy, plus they got their dismal political/social situation to fuel ’em with authentic rage, while our groups are diverse and often really imaginative. It’s great that everybody’s getting inspired again, but I don’t suppose at this point in time there’s any way they could do it without being self-conscious. But the only pride of a pariah is that he knows the society above and around him finds him hideous, insulting, downright dangerous or at least a major irritant. What have you got left when you tell a pariah that the powers that be have decided to declare the rabbits comprising the rest of society that he is now socially acceptable, even a real fun guy? Nothing. You’ve just killed the poor bastard, taken away his one solace, rendered him totally impotent. He now stands for nothing. It’s gotten to the point that when I finally got myself a black leather jacket, I went out of my way not to let it get wrinkled and kicked around; I tried to keep it squeaky clean and spanking new. It was the only way left that I could think of to rebel against something. Every goddam kid in CBGB’s is wearing a T-shirt with Iggy’s face on it. A far cry from having your roommates tell you they think you’re a fag just because you listen to the record, but I’m sure as fuck not gonna wear one of them fucking shirts. I ain’t joinin’ no clubs, from the Kiss Army to Marsh’s chivalrous fraternity. I’m gonna rip this picture of Julie Andrews’ face on the cover of People [magazine] out, along with those wonderful headlines like “After years of flops and analysis, she’s a devoted Mary Poppins—to her Viet orphans,” and “Boston: Rock’s Brainiest Band,” and take it down to the place where they make up T-shirts to order and have ’em stick that old twat’s ridiculous mug on one of ’em for me. Everybody knows that Julie Andrews is far more offensive to humanity than Nazi regalia. Then I think I’ll find a store where they still sell smile buttons, and start wearing one—or maybe three or five, or maybe 39—all the time, all over my body. That’s gotta make people vomit. Then I’m gonna get videotapes of John Denver’s Christmas special and the most nauseating segments of Donny & Marie and the Captain & Tennille, and project them with volume turned up to the pain threshold whenever my friends come over. I’m going to serve my guests nothing but Tiger’s Milk. I’m gonna yap on about what great men Reverend Moon and Bob Hope are at the drop of a hat and great length. I’m going to buy every album Wayne Newton ever made, and throw all my copies of Metal Machine Music out the window; there’s something creepy about that album, I think it’s amoral, I’m afraid it might corrupt somebody. Then I’m gonna plaster all the walls in my house with giant posters of Farrah Fawcett-Majors, or maybe better yet, Benji, the cinematic dog, and when people come over I’m gonna physically restrain them from leaving until they jerk off staring rapturously right up into Benji’s lovely face. And any time you see me in a crowd, my opening conversational gambit will be the same: “Hey, have you heard about Jesus?”
It’s the last frontier.
First epigraph: Lester Bangs, “If Oi Were a Carpenter” , in Mainlines, Blood Feasts, and Bad Taster: A Lester Bangs Reader, ed. John Morthland (New York: Anchor Books, 2003), 125. Second epigraph: Lester Bangs, “The Roots of Punk, Part II,” New Wave Rock 1.2 (Nov. 1978): 53.
Lester Bangs, “The Roots of Punk, Part I” , in Mainlines, Blood Feasts, and Bad Taster: A Lester Bangs Reader, ed. John Morthland (New York: Anchor Books, 2003), 338. Hereafter cited as RP.
 [See Lester Bangs, “The MC5: Kick Out the Jams” [April 5, 1969], in Mainlines, Blood Feasts, and Bad Taste: A Lester Bangs Reader, ed. John Morthland (New York: Anchor Books, 2003), 33-34. —Ed.
 [Bangs, of course, is overlooking many early “punk” bands—most notably the NYC duo, Suicide—who even jettisoned the guitar. —Ed.]
 [“Divine” (Harris Glenn Milstead) was an actress who appeared in the early films of John Waters, most notably Pink Flamingos (1972), which featured scenes of shit-eating and singing buttholes. —Ed.]
 [See Lester Bangs, “Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung: A Tale of These Times” , in Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung, ed. Greil Marcus (New York: Knopf, 1987), 5-19. —Ed.]
 [“Sister Ray” by the Velvet Underground closes side two of their LP, White Light/White Heat (1968). Clocking in at 17 minutes, 29 seconds, “Sister Ray” features a repetitive, droning, distorted guitar and lyrics concerning drug use, violence, homosexuality, and transvestism. It is, perhaps, the perfect antithesis to the (hippie) peace and love “San Francisco sound” critiqued here by Bangs. —Ed.]
 [El Cajon is the Southern California city where Bangs grew up and attended Grossmont College. —Ed.]
 [See Lester Bangs, “James Taylor Marked for Death” , in Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung,” ed. Greil Marcus (New York: Knopf, 1987), 53-81. —Ed.]
 [Ralph J. Gleason (1917-1975) was an American Jazz and popular music critic for the San Francisco Chronicle and a founding editor of Rolling Stone magazine. Gleason helped foster the idea of a “San Francisco Renaissance,” an era of cultural vitality that began in the mid-1950s and peaked in the mid-to-late 1960s. —Ed.]
 [James Wolcott, music critic, author of the article, “A Conservative Impulse in the New Rock Underground,” Village Voice (August 18, 1975): 6-7. —Ed.]
 [John Holmstrom and Legs McNeil, co-founders of “Punk” magazine, which published 15 issues from 1976 to 1979. —Ed.]
 [For a very different reading of “disco”—and its radicality in terms of race, gender and queer politics, specifically—, see Alice Echols, Hot Stuff: Disco and the Remaking of American Culture (New York: Norton, 2011). —Ed.]
 [Bangs’ essentialist jargon of authenticity here would be later challenged in semiotic readings of “punk” as a kind of postmodern play of signifiers. See, for example, Dick Hebdige, Subculture: The Meaning of Style  (London: Routledge, 1981). Similarly, his take on gender/sexuality is challenged by notions of “performativity” put forth by “queer theorists” such as Judith Butler. See, for example, Judith Butler, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (New York: Routledge, 1990) and Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of “Sex” (New York: Routledge, 1993). —Ed.]