Earlier this week, I spoke to Ginny Miller’s Journalism 101 class at Tupelo High School.
I talked about how important it is to be fair when you’re writing about your favorite or your least-favorite band. I said I think it’s a good idea for music writers to have a healthy respect for all styles of music. My own musical taste has grown so much since I was a teenager – at 15, I refused to listen to anything but rock ‘n’ roll, but these days I listen to everything from dance to pop to singer-songwriter to hip-hop to country to rap to rock, and a few things in between. I said I especially love punk and rap.
That’s when those teenage faces curled up. “What’s punk?” one student asked. I was shocked. I rolled off the names of a few classic punk bands, like the Ramones, and more current punk acts, like Royal Headache and METZ. Nothing rang a bell.
So, for anyone, young or old, who wants to learn more about punk rock – this post is for you.
Note: I’d link to websites and/or YouTube videos, but there are so many – I’ll leave it to you to explore for yourself.
Punk rock is rock ‘n’ roll’s snotty, bratty, messy younger brother. Don’t go to punk looking for slicked-up hair and high fashion. Think dirty, holy Chuck Taylors, ripped jeans and T-shirts, filthy hair and a snarl on your lips. (of course, fashion designers took note and have stolen the look over the years, but that’s a post for another time)
Punk started in the late 70s. It’s built on a DIY attitude – you create and release the music yourself, you’re probably booking your own band, that sort of thing. No labels for you; the label is the man, and you’re against anything and everything that has to do with the establishment.
Punk music has changed over the years, but basically, it’s almost always loud, fast and messy. As a general rule, don’t expect the instruments to be played well. There are few songs longer than two or three minutes. Sometimes the lyrics are nonsensical, but a lot of times they’re politically/socially-driven.
Some of those first punk bands that shook the world include the Sex Pistols and The Ramones. Other influential bands include The Stooges (led by the “grandfather of punk,” Iggy Pop),The Clash, New York Dolls, The Germs and The Dead Boys.
Punk can seem like a boys’ club, but there are some incredible women punks out there (X-Ray Spex, Siouxie Sioux and the Banshees, etc). I’m partial to the riot grrrl movement of the 90s that gave us incredible female-led punk bands like Bikini Kill, Bratmobile and Heavens to Betsy, and later Sleater-Kinney.
Punk inspired other styles of music, like hardcore (Misfits, Bad Brains, Black Flag), new wave (Blondie, The Cars), glam rock (Queen, T Rex), post-punk (Joy Division, Gang of Four). There are a ton of off-shoots from punk, just like there are for any other genre, like straight-edge, ska and pop punk (Green Day, Blink-182).
There are a ton of amazing punk bands out there today. Some of my favorites (and I consider all of these punk, whether or not they do) include Royal Headache, METZ, Jay Reatard (he died a few years ago but I am still in denial), King Tuff, Terry Malts and Eagulls.
If you’re looking for books on punk, please check out Sara Marcus’ “Girls to the Front,” which focuses on the riot grrrl movement, as well as the definitive oral history on how punk began, “Please Kill Me” by Legs McNeil.
It is incredibly difficult to sum up such a powerful and influential style of music like punk, but this is, after all, just a 101 post. There’s so much to explore with punk music, so have fun, follow your ears, and happy listening.