The Point of Punk

I tend to do some of my best thinking in the shower. This morning, it was this. The point of punk rock is not so much a strictly anarchical or rebellious theme, as it is (or rather, was) a rebellion and anarchical look at music of the time. At its very heart, true punk rock music is comprised of all emotion, not just hatred or vehemence.
Punk music came about out of more than just anger. Besides, there’s usually an underlying emotion to all anger, if you really think about it. In this case, the anger was a direct result of the frustration and disappointment a generation had with what had become known as “rock” music. The original rebellious strains of pioneers like Chuck Berry had become homogenized and put through the wringer that is business. No musical style can completely survive the conversion from underground phenomenon to moneymaking enterprise, and punk itself was no exception in the late nineties and into the beginning of the naughts. However, at the time of punk’s birth, it was seen as a cherishing of the original ideas of rock ‘n’ roll, far from the overblown area rock that had begun to become the norm. No offense to arena rock, as it serves its niche, but it is a far cry from rock ‘n’ roll, which hung its hat on simple, uncomplicated three-chord melodies with a driving drumbeat as opposed to complex guitar lines, drum solos and, dare I say it, the occasional unholy sin against true rock, the synthesizer. This was no longer rock ‘n’ roll, and people wanted rock ‘n’ roll, ergo Punk.
Do me a favor. If you can, pull up the Dave Clark Five’s song “Bits and Pieces” whether it be in your mind, on your computer, or maybe an old 45. Apart from seeming quaint and cute as “oldies” tell me what else you notice about the song. This was later in rock ‘n’ roll’s heyday, while things began to be put through the wringer, but even then this song speaks to the roots of rock, the simplicity of rock. An uncomplicated, pounding, remorseless song that could well be considered proto-punk in its design, even though it came from a shameless “pop” band. The music is simple, the tune is catchy, and the lyrics have the be all and end all to true rock music, EMOTION. Yes, there is a reason why the term “emo” is a negative one, because that subculture relies too much on overblown, unrealistic, histrionic emotion to drive their music, and as such comes off as laughably melodramatic. This could be a symptom of the modern culture at large, but that is a topic for another day. Songs like “Bits and Pieces” or “Hound Dog” or even “Johnny B. Goode” while apparently seeming to just be pop ditties, actually encase the very spirit of rock ‘n’ roll, and that spirit is emotion.
I won’t lie. I think that the Who’s “Baba O’Reilly” is a wonderful song, but I don’t know if it’s ever really touched me like solid rock ‘n’ roll has. I sort of get lost in the spectacle before I can dig whatever they’re trying to say. There might be some really interesting emotion in there, but I can’t hear it over the infernally catchy electronic organ riff. Compare that to, say, “God Save the Queen” and there’s much more of am emphasis on the words, and the emotion behind them, as opposed the music. Yes, the Sex Pistols were bits of sellouts themselves, but the point remains valid. What I’m trying to say, ever so laboriously, is that you can put anything off of Social Distortion’s album “Sex, Love, and Rock ‘n’ Roll” against the top Pop album of the same year and I can swear to you that you will be moved more by the former’s music than the latter’s, even if the music is secondary. The point of rock ‘n’ roll is to affect you on every front, with music, lyrics, and emotion, and punk rock does that far better than any other of rock ‘n’ roll’s offspring, making it the true successor to the throne in my book. When a song gets stuck in your head, it’s well written. When it get stuck in your heart, it’s truly a good song. Yes, there is better music out there, but who cares if you can’t make it connect? I’d take the simple splendour of Bach’s Jesu over anything needlessly complex and nerdy DreamTheater cranks out.
Music isn’t just about sounding pretty, it’s about conveying an emotion, a real emotion, that can make you cry as the sensation washes over you. Social D’s “Don’t Take Me For Granted” has done that. Bad Religion’s “Sorrow” has done that. The Bouncing Souls “The Something Special” has done that. What we call mainstream rock today has not. Mainstream (as horrible as that word is these days) lacks the soul which makes music powerful, which is not uncommon. Even in Handel’s day there were tons of schlubs making copycat oratorios and whatnot to make a quick buck. Whenever something gets popular and stops being underground, it will lose a bit of its soul and cease to be as effective as anything other than a nice distraction and a catchy tune to hum on the subway…but it won’t stir your soul. Rock ‘n’ roll, and its favorite son Punk, can connect themselves to the great composers of yesteryear because they understood that music must be felt, and not played, bled, and not performed. Hearing Mike Ness sing “Under My Thumb” will ultimately have more power than whatever Miley Cyrus or Kelly Clarkson can scrounge up. The emotion any kind of emotion, is bigger and better, and that is what makes truly good music.

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