Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Dave Marsh on "Punk"

Dave Marsh, writing in Rolling Stone in 1977:
Because of a certain churlish attitude and a deep-seated distaste for elites and the effete, I have myself sometimes been described as a punk. This would be endlessly amusing to those hard guys back on the block. But however vicarious my experiences, the punk sensibility (as I define it) is at the heart of what I care about in American culture, not least of all in rock and roll.

For me, the punk sensibility in its original form offered something better and deeper than a way to walk and talk, or an excuse for petty crime and amateur nihilism. Punk in its fifties sense could never be merely music or merely fashion. The pose implied a set of standards, a code of behavior, founded on friendship, carried out as a matter of principle. This sensibility runs through American folklore from the mythic (if not actual) Billy the Kid to what once were known as antiheroes—Cagney and Bogart, later Dean and Brando. That sort of punkitude reached its greatest glory with Elvis Presley, who could bring teenage women to the edge of orgasm while dedicating songs to his mother. The punk code is simple, direct street philosophy: loyalty and self-respect are its highest values, the camaraderie between friends the only society it recognizes.


I mourn the prostitution of true punks by performers for whom public vomiting is a rebellious act of stagecraft, but that’s not what really disturbs me. It's the idea of the dilution of that concept as another symptom of rock’s loss of moral force. That’s not to say that the Ramones and the Sex Pistols are immoral—though they’re definitely a little mixed up. But what these performers and their fans (not to mention their promoters) mistake for rebellion—the honest stand—is too often merely marketable outrage....

A few years ago Esquire called me the last man in American who believed that rock could save the world. I responded that I was, instead, the last who believed that rock could destroy the world. But I never expected to see my prediction confirmed so soon.

Image via PunkiLadd

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