Invention in Punk Rock

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Invention in Punk Rock

By: Kirk Stadnika

Invention in Writing

Everyone has their opinion on how punk rock music began in the world, but the impact punk rock music has had on society is tremendous. Throughout the years punk rock has changed its style immensely, but the societal and political messages it delivers have not changed. The punk rock bands of today have used and expanded the messages that older punk rock groups (some of which are still around) attempted to express. Punk bands of today have used the inventive process by continuously adding on or revising the original political and social message that some of the first punk bands introduced.

The original message punk rock music can be heard when listening to the instrumentally simple, but powerful music put forth by the Sex Pistols (1) and other British punk rock groups, such as the Clash (2), the Damned, and the Buzzcocks. Their music, though comedic at times, serves as a rejection of the traditional values, a controlling economic system that left them near poverty, expensive clothes they could not afford, and a British social system that left them feeling oppressed or left out.1 The Sex Pistols (3) took the Detroit punk rock sound (I.e. MC5 and Iggy Pop) (4) and the New York punk rock sound (I.e. the Ramones) (5) and combined both sounds with their anger towards the British government and society.2 This combination started a highly charged anti-government anti-society movement, against the British government and its most respected figure, Queen Elizabeth II. Songs such as "God Save the Queen" and "Anarchy in the U.K." are examples of the animosity the Sex Pistols had towards the government in England. (6)

The influence that the Sex Pistols and other British punk bands had on America (especially the West Coast), gave rise to a new form of punk rock called hardcore punk. Like the British and early New York bands that preceded them, "The aesthetic was intangible. Most bands couldn't really play that well, and their songs usually lacked craft. They expanded little effort achieving prevailing production standards. However, they had IT-an infectious blend of ultra-fast music, thought provoking lyrics, and a fuck-you attitude."3 These new hardcore punk bands focused their anger still on social and economic issues, but they also took strong political issues such as war and foreign policy to another level.4 The emergence of the Dead Kennedys (7), Bad Religion, Black Flag (8) and Social Distortion (though the later two focused more on social issues) brought a politically charged rougher edge to punk rock. The lyrical content of these bands and others like them condemned the United States government and its leaders. Their lyrics also contained detest for the religious influenced government and moral values they promote. Off of the album, “In God We Trust”, a remake of the song “California Uber Alles” that attacked California Governor Jerry Brown, was released, entitled “We’ve Got a Bigger Problem Now”. This song demonstrates a loathing for Ronald Reagan and the values he promotes and it presented in a sarcastic manner (taking on the personality of Ronald Reagan), similar to the Sex Pistols sarcasm. At the end of the song the song takes a direct approach, pointing out that describes the contempt the Dead Kennedys (or lead singer Jello Biafra) has for Ronald Reagan.

Digital Media

1. sex pistols
2. rock the casbah
4. Ramones
5. Anarchy in UK
6. Pretty
7. buzzbomb
8. Nervous Breakdown
10. How Could Hell, Suffer, Let Them Eat War
11. nofx
12. Anti-Flag
13. Pennysise-God Save the USA
14. Rise Against
15. True Believers

Dead Kennedys’ “California Uber Alles” WE’VE GOT A BIGGER PROBLEM NOW

”I am Emperor Ronald Reagan / Born again with fascist cravings / Still, you made me president / Human rights will soon go ‘way / I am now you Shah today / Now I command all of you / Now you’re gonna pray in school / I’ll make sure they’re Christian too”

“Welcome to 1984 / Are you ready for the Third World War?!? / You too will meet the secret police / They’ll draft you and they’ll jail your niece / You’ll go quietly to boot camp / They’ll shoot you dead, make you a man / Don’t you worry, it’s for a cause / Feeding global corporations’ claws / Die on our brand new poison gas / El Salvador or Afghanistan / Making money for President Reagan / And all the friends of President Reagan”

Another song, by Social Distortion called “1945” questions the dropping of the atom bomb over Hiroshima in World War Two, again in a sarcastic manner. (9)

The progression of punk rock after the mid to late 1980’s, featured a tamer less hardcore version of punk rock. Bands such as Bad Religion that previously had a hardcore edge became more toned down, but they still remained politically, socially, and religiously rebellious.

Throughout their history Bad Religion has taken a stance against religion and its involvement in politics. The song “American Jesus” explains the Jesus’ influence on society is all around, including in the white house.(10)
Recently a new song by Bad Religion was released entitled, “Let Them Eat War”. (10) This song, though not religiously influenced, explains how President Bush uses working class Americans by sending them to war, instead of trying to help them get jobs or better jobs. The fact that Bad Religion has not attempted to change their message about American and global politics shows that the original punk rock message can still be heard today, even if the circumstances in American politics have changed.

The punk rock bands of today, though some of them still remain from the 1980s, have taken the same stance against the current republican run government that is in place today, especially George W. Bush. Bands such as NOFX that previously did not sing about political issues (they primarily stuck to social issues) have now directed most of their music towards politics, particularly the subject of war. NOFX also has used the same comedic and sarcastic style that the Sex Pistols and the Dead Kennedys had used. (11) Other bands that have used the inventive style of revising, by sticking with political, economic, and social issues that earlier punk bands instilled but changed the subject matter of these issues include Anti-Flag (see quote below) (12), Pennywise (I.e. "God Save the USA" promotes the same message about saving a corrupt system as the Sex Pistols "God Save the Queen" does). (13), the Dropkick Murphy’s (especially economic issues), and similar to the way NOFX adapted their style so have the Bouncing Souls (14). Rise Against is also a punk band that have a distinct musical sound, but they have still kept the same anti-establishment message that was originally thought of over thirty years ago. (15)

Anti-Flag quote describing their band:
Rolling Stone Magazine's description of Anti-Flag states they are "A caricature to some but heroes to a growing number of disenfranchised youth, these Pittsburgh gutter punks have emerged as leaders of the Old-School Punk revival. But more than merely reviving the sound, Anti-Flag have captured the spirit and energy of their Brit Punk heroes. Giving the finger to nationalism and fascism, the band rocks through infectious, fist-pumping songs with inspiring choruses that will bounce around your head for weeks."5

Although I have not covered all the bands that began or continued the inventive process involved in punk rock I believe that the bands I have presented have definitely made a contribution to invention in punk rock. The process of invention in punk rock will continue as long as there is a need to continue striving against unjust systems.

1 Charlton, Katherine. Rock Music Styles: A History Third Edition. McGraw-Hill: Walnut, Va. 1998. 208.

2 Charlton, Katherine. Rock Music Styles: A History Third Edition. McGraw-Hill: Walnut, Va. 1998. 208.

3 Blush, Steven. American Hardcore: A Tribal History. Feral House: Los Angeles, Ca. 2001. 9.

4 Charlton, Katherine. Rock Music Styles: A History Third Edition. McGraw-Hill: Walnut, Va. 1998. 211.


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