Hassles, Idiots and Values
Written by Alan Kiddings
This is a post about these guys, Iggy Pop and Lou Reed. It's a post about capitalism and money's role in the music industry and the 1970s as a time of economic degeneracy. And finally, it's a post calling for emotionally genuine aesthetics that respond to big political tragedies and singular personal traumas alike.
What did I learn from my visit to the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum? I went there to gain some insight into life in the late 1970s when Carter was in charge. I can’t say what my expectations were--or if I were to say, I would probably embarrass myself, so suffice it to say that politics seems to have a lot less to do with music and especially with rock ‘n’ roll than is commonly suspected. It’s nice to imagine secret meetings in the catacombs underneath Capitol Hill between Lou Reed and Iggy Pop and David Bowie and Jimmy Carter, and they all coordinate messages and schedules; they maybe gossip some, then their conversation turns to current events, shifting national attitudes, and then they really get down to business to plan the next record. What we want is a big business meeting between them. We want the memos and payroll documents at the Presidential Library that evidence these meetings. That’s maybe what I hoped to find, even if it would not necessarily teach me anything. It’s easy to imagine collusions between politicians and musicians. What we want is a big business meeting between them. But that’s not what we get.
Look at how contented it made these three guys to come together. Looks like a candid photo, too, like Iggy was just on his way out to a balcony to smoke. David is in the middle of an animated conversation with someone else, someone just off to his right, and he is delighted to have the composure enough to still smile in what for him amounts to a memento of an interruption. And Lou, with such subtlety of expression, is worried and bemused all at once; he’s wearing the smile of the catatonically stoned. The three of them together, embracing together, are like the 70s’ Three Fates, standing out on one edge of its canyon as admonitions, representatives, allegories for the looming, onlooking decade. This photo being from 1971, it does look like that, doesn’t it? So fuck, I wish I’d spent my time researching these guys for this piece! This here is the secret meeting, the big business meeting of the 70s. It’s essentially--we might call it the Watergate of the 70s.
It would be other big business meetings with bigger businessmen, men with bulky suits and big clanking jaws, mafia men, that eventually bled into politics. At the nexus of music and politics in the 70s are these men. They had that big scandal right in the middle of the decade, not Watergate but the the one where a bunch of CBS Records execs were fired, had to testify against their own kind, some of them made to disappear. Even then they were submitted to the haranguing and humiliation of the television-watching public. The CBS network even ran a special on it--their own kid company, they whipped their ass with a belt--it was called The Trouble with Rock, and it was littered profligately with lines like “Davis has decline to talk with us.” “Mr. Rubino refused to meet with our phoney baloney investigators,” “We made repeated attempts to get into contact with Mr. Wynshaw, but we were rebuffed at every pass, until eventually he released his hounds on us.” Varieties of passive-aggressive whippings. What evil asshole would refuse to meet with investigators, we ask ourselves. An evil, guilty asshole, that’s who, who was working in tandem with proven mobsters. It was a dirty business, the music business, for the dirtier half of the 70s. And when I say dirtier, I mean dirtier.
I mean--no, that’s not what I mean. What the fuck am I even talking about here? What does any of this mob political shit have to do with David Bowie and Iggy Pop and Lou Reed? What’s money got to do with it, right? I’m supposed to be going on about art! So what I mean is, there was a streak through the 70s, through half of the 70s anyway, that was clean and twirling and silken, a side recorded on the U-Matic tapes of Soul Food and in the film Saturday Night Forever, right? The fun side? And on that side you’ve got young men and young women falling in love at posh clubs, you’ve got light-hearted laments about girlfriends being too beautiful or beaus being too skilled at dancing. It’s the rosy-colored side, the rose color-gelled satellite picture of life. Life for extroverts, maybe. And that streak runs all the way through the 70s, but only on one side of the 70s. For the other side, well it’s the dirtier one. It includes the scumbag punks living in abandoned churches, killing roaches with switchblades. It includes the country farmer dudes with their fingers dusted hauling hay and seed and fertilizer and shit. And it also includes people like Iggy Pop and Lou Reed, worse than all of ‘em, and dirtier and freakier too. These are the kinds of people that go into a bathroom, and you can’t hardly keep from shuddering trying to fathom what barbaric rites they’re performing in there, but you’re pretty certain that whatever it is that they’re doing it probably involves bodily fluids, and then they come out of the bathroom and introduce themselves with a big smile and they shake your hand and guess what? It’s dry. Yet it was these people who were making the music that most captivates me. Needless to say I’m a fairly fastidious guy. And since this piece is already a filthy wreck, thanks in no small part to the dirt that I’m dealing with, I’m just gonna have to fuckin’ start over.
The year was 1979. Elvis had died. Everyone had died. Iggy Pop was getting better, though, coming out of a rehab stint, getting better by the day. And Lou--the guy is always the afterthought, isn’t he? He’s the Ratso Rizzo to Iggy Pop’s Joe Buck. He wasn’t doing so great. If Nick Kent’s piece on him is an indication, he was a rabid bigot whose addictions had caused him brain damage. Nick Kent goes to interview him, and Lou responds with sounds of dribbling, spitting bubbles with his saliva for 40 minutes.
The thing about that Nick Kent piece--if you’ll just give me this one digression, here at the outset--is that I don’t really remember when it was purported to have been written, or when it was purported to have been published, or what. It was collected in this collection called The Dark Stuff, and I’ll tell you that book has been my white whale lo these many weeks. I knew I wanted to consult it for material; you know, if you add quotes to a piece, it makes it longer and it’s easier to write it, too. I remembered the gist of the piece and I thought to myself, “Yes, that is some material I should get my hands on. I need a copy of that book nearby for when I write this piece.” (Because he’s got some articles in there on other people as well, other ugly 70s people, dirty people.) I felt that we shared an affinity, Nick Kent and me, even if it was only a vague feeling, for that side of the 70s. The dark side. It lured me into thinking I needed the book, so I bought the book on Amazon trying to get it here in time for me to use it, to write with it by my dark side and all. And I waited. And I just waited. And I just waited some more. And after about a month, the month it’s been since I bought that book, well I’m giving up waiting. It never came; it’s not coming. Not to say I’m not disappointed. Before I started dribbling like this I didn’t have the faintest notion how I was going to write this piece without Nick Kent. Now I don’t have his rich quotes as a resource; I don’t have his candid observations to liven things up a little bit. I’m not even sure how I can structure this piece, since I’m missing the model I had been hoping for. And to top it all off, that book cost me a little more than $4.00!
So back to the point, Lou may or may not have been a little down and out. In 1978 he’d released Street Hassle, which was billed as a masterpiece despite or maybe due to its being the darkest album of the times but then it came out and somehow it didn’t sell. There’s the money thing again. You see people were a lot dumber and had a lot less money and a lot less access to music back in those dark ages; they had to pick and choose. Street Hassle got kind of left out in the blue cold, out on the darkest street, having to fend for itself against the fucking Saturday Night Fever soundtrack. See they didn’t have the Internet back then, so they didn’t always make the right choices. So after Street Hassle, the masterpiece that snuffed it, Lou released The Bells. He attributes the name to something like a hallucination, where he says he saw a group of ghosts up in the belfry of St. James’ Church and they were singing about bells too. He heard their voices sing a paean to the bells, of the bells:
Keeping time, time, time,
In a sort of Runic rhyme,
To the throbbing of the bells--
Of the bells, bells, bells--
To the sobbing of the bells;
Keeping time, time, time,
As he knells, what the hell,
In a happy Runic rhyme,
To the rolling of the bells--
Of the bells, the bowels, the bowls--
To the tolling of the bells,
Of the bells, bells, bells, bells--
Bells, bells, bells, fucking bells--
To the moaning and the groaning of the fucking asshole bells.
And he must’ve thought, “There’s that long quote I was looking for!” (He and I are alike in that way, at least.) Which compelled him to title his album that way.
The Bells contains a song about as repetitive as the Poe poem above. It’s called “Disco Mystic.” In it, Lou repeats the phrase “disco mystic” over and over again over a badass guitar riff and a fish-bowl-sounding bassline or keyboard effect or I dunno what it is. Maybe there are some horns, too? The point here is, here’s a song out in 1979 that made fun of disco in a way that was past punk. Now we’re talking about something. Because what I really want to talk about here, what I want to be writing about, trying to keep it clean and light, Nick Kent not being here notwithstanding, is how a song by a dirty down and out punk about disco, gently ribbing disco while also kind of capitulating to it, rubbing it, maybe, could come to characterize the 70s: a lovable let-down, ironic, cool, who cares.
It was also the years that the top-selling beer in the United States, in these United States, founded in liberty, conceived for domestic tranquility, providing the common malaise, was Schlitz! Think of what dire straits the country must have been in to have suffered through so much Schlitz! I read somewhere online that that was Jeffrey Dahmer’s beer, man, in there getting ice cold next to the decapitated heads! What does all that matter, though, again? The point here is to just be writing about something. I’m really writing about a lot of things; I’m writing about the 70s! What do I think of when I think of the 70s? Yeah, maybe that’s a more apropos inquiry to open this piece with. Sure, The Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum is an institution, and it purveys a good stockpile of facts and histories, documents, proofs; when you get to towards the end of it there’s a big rotunda-type space with stories upon stories, all displayed behind glass so it’s like this big wall of information and it’s pretty impressive. But would Iggy Pop have gone there? Hmmm? Would Lou? Have gone there, I mean, if they were me? So let me tell you, cuz I’ve got my own authority in authorship after all, that when I think of the 70s, it’s: the 70s, Sucking in the Seventies, 1776, Nashville, American Stars ‘n’ Bars, There’s No Place Like America Today, disco, KISS, Kool & the Gang, muted interiors, drugs, those long lines at the gas pump, energy, women’s lib, Ellen Willis, Joan Didion, Malibu and its many celebrity residents, moogs, That 70s Show, televangelism, processed food, seems like lots of processed cheese, a lot of mayonnaise, a general conglomeration of or from the American dairy industry, Elvis, John Wayne, Mother Maybelle Carter, Nancy Spungen and Sid Vicious, darkness, new religions, The Aquarian Conspiracy, Star Wars, Southern pride for some reason, simplicity--or was it simpleness, the Dark Ages, the crisis of confidence, malaise forever, Israel, gardening and camping and having a lot of neat hobbies, Kent State, good musicians dying off, The Godfather, and, the biggest cultural event of the whole damn decade, Jonathan Livingston Seagull, a children’s book turned movie turned album about a bird. Just so you get a good sense. It was a longing decade.
There was a longing for something better. A longing for the 60s, maybe. A nostalgia, man. What's that they say about nostalgia? It's the first sign of the apocalypse or something? Nostalgia…. Here’s some stuff about nostalgia from Bruce Schulman’s The Seventies: “The era seems to have accomplished nothing worth remembering, and nothing remains except the stuff of harmless nostalgia--nostalgia nourished by the remoteness and apparent insignificance of those years” (xii). Nothing remains? There’s yer good quote. Of course, Schulman is gonna go on to say like no, that’s totally not right. The Seventies were very formative years, he argues. And he concludes his book by saying, “The long, gaudy, depressing Seventies reinvented America. We live in their shadows” (257). Real illuminating, isn’t it?
Iggy’s 1979 album is called New Values. Have I mentioned that already? It’s creepy. I love it like I love The Bells--I guess because it’s got that cracking-up-laughing-at-yourself-cracking-up-laughing kind of quality to it. Iggy is as gone as he could be, even though I guess he was sober. He was just a guy. Just a guy who’s honest as he is lonely. Having spent a lot of time alone, he’s gone so into his own honestly positive and self-reconciled vibes that it’s creepy. Like Lust for Life, there seems to be a terrifying joke swimming just under New Values’s glossy pop sheen. Iggy’s insistence that he’s “healthy as a horse,” and the reminder to himself that “If I use a gun / I’m sure to go to prison”--the opening lines of the title song--are delivered with that creepy wink whose nefarious intent you can’t be sure of, only surely it’s nefarious. It sounds dark, and maybe the intent is to see how dark the joke can get, how bled-into-the-truth it can be before it finally disappears. Are you going crazy, or are you just joking? How close, in other words, can whatever tragedy come to comedy’s surface before it’s not a joke anymore? The New Values seem to be offered somewhat sardonically, in other words. It’s as though the staff at Sick Sad World guest edited a big book of prayers.
A better way is to try to imagine that these artists, these two guys Lou and Iggy, are just two guys, just two normal guys in the 70s finally in 1979. Think of them as like the two normal guys that you see in whatever 1970s equivalent of Two and a Half Men, except in this particular analogy their show might be better titled Two Half-Men. Think of those half-men and now sink down deep and imagine that they are both getting ready to release a new album, and those albums are Bells and New Values. Now what comes to mind?
Something about Lou Reed’s and Iggy Pop’s 1979 records resolves something about the darkly shining Seventies. Ta-da! So there ya go, quote that for your reviews and your conversations and your tweets. It’s Lou and Iggy encouraging me to encourage you to do it. Go forth and quote it! It’s the meaning. It’s the takeaway. So take it away. Get the hell out of here! I don’t care if you do read or if you don’t because I don’t even mean it. Because Street Hassle was 1978. And The Idiot was 1977. It’s just years. Years don’t mean anything!
I remember that song by 7 Seconds called “Young ‘til I Die.” That was a punk song. It came out in 1984. The late 70s stuff from Iggy and from Lou was something past punk. It was already post-punk--which, sure, I guess had already gotten started as early as 1976 with Chrome, 1977 with Suicide, 1978 with others, other bands in other years, who cares. Don’t compare. It’s boring. But Iggy and Lou were the prolepsis for post-punk, putting out albums that tested punk’s ends before it had even begun. Is that what I’m trying to say?
Now by the time you get here, to this end of the piece, nobody knows what the fuck. I endeavored to say all these things about capitalism and money’s role in the music industry and the 1970s as a time of economic degeneracy, everything is shitty and weak and everybody just kind of idled on. The shadows, though. Big shadows it casts. Almost like the 70s are haunting us. And then I was gonna tease that out a little more, try to connect it to some of the themes in the albums there, contrast those with Saturday Night Fever and all. And that’s not to mention David Bowie’s roles, which I was gonna talk about, too--I was probably gonna have a lot of insightful things to say about that. I’m sure I could articulate some cool stuff about “Nightclubbing,” for example, and what it must have been like to compete with Saturday Night Fever in art and in life, Iggy going out to Berlin nightclubs with his cleaner better buddy Bowie and learning to dance the nuclear bomb. I probably would have noted how pitch dark that song is, how it sounds like the most cynical molerat of a man praising pop culture in a fit of crazed optimism and so summing up the Seventies. And then I probably would have tied everything together really beautifully with some universalizing platitude. I’ve got a stockpile of those: “Isn’t that the dream all of us have, to be just like our heroes?” “What this really does is tell us something about who we are.” “Listening to the thing is what makes it worthwhile.” “This is it.” “Fuck it.” “What we get with the late-70s albums is the story of a void decade and how to get past it.”
Whatever there is to say about this, it’s already been said. What are you gonna say about it? What is anybody gonna say about it? Go listen to the records just get the hell out of here and hear ‘em. They’ll tell you what it is I haven’t been able to say, what’s already been said. Just follow along.
Today, in 2016, ironically enough, they are coming out with not one but two Iggy Pop-related things. One’s a book; I saw the fucking galley proofs of the thing at Jack White’s skatepark in Nashville. It’s really gonna be something; gonna make a whole lot of money; gonna be big, gonna be real big. The other one is that movie that you might have seen show up in your Instagram feed. It’s called like Gimme Danger or Gimme Shelter or something and it’s got a lot of old outrageous, at-times irrelevant footage in it. Not a whole lot in there about Lou, or about the late 70s anyway. Probably the most insightful scene in the movie was at the very beginning when you get a shot of an animated warehouse; the camera tracks up, zooms out, and lo and behold it’s the Amazon sweatshop and they produced this movie. To me that scene is kind of saying, “Hey, you remember the darkest dude out there releasing the most masterfully tragicomic records in rock ‘n’ roll history? Remember how dark and ironic the Seventies were? Well now we’re mass-producing that story for streaming.” But I don’t wanna give anything else away. Is there a chase scene in it? Maybe something explodes?
So this is here in this piece to fucking say that it’s over, the story’s out there already, the big wig mob-politics bosses came in from the 70s and got hold of it before I even knew what the fuck it was. They came in like *that*! And they made off with our culture, man. (There’s something vaguely detective-like about punks, like they’re always trying to hear some gossip or solve some case.) So what’s the fucking point anymore, man? I waited too long. The piece is too far away from me now. I’m past it. I’m post- it! Fuck it. It passed beneath me and my consciousness and my articulation of that consciousness and maybe it kind of scrambled my brain so that I couldn’t even think about it, or maybe my brain was scrambled by Them. I started listening to this late Iggy Pop stuff and late Lou Reed stuff and all of a sudden it changed my brain, scrambled it and set it on a breakfast sandwich, man, for Them to eat. Well here, have a bite, man: Have you ever heard that song “The Bells”? It sounds like the sounds the alley where that slicker-wearing killer dude lurks makes. Or have you heard “City Lights”? From The Bells, also. It’s the kind of music you might hear on the carousel of your childhood memories. It’s about dancing your blues away, for chrissake! Or what about that other “City Lights” song by Bill Anderson.
Think of the similarities, man. Is that the saccharine truth and tragedy that’s getting parodied here? Dance your blues away in a world that’s gay and bright? But it’s just a mask for loneliness / behind those city lights. Sounds good, and yet the two songs are worlds of music apart. So much happens in the 20-some years between or maybe behind those “City Lights.” Is Lou’s “City Lights” looking back at Bill Anderson’s (not to mention the equally lonesome Charlie Chaplin’s)? Seeing that he can’t afford his own fucking guitar, that he’s just drinking wine wandering around playing music on the side of the streets and then some lunatic art promoter picks him up and puts him in a barn, and then twenty years later he comes back as a punk junkie in New York City being broke as fuck at Warhol’s Factory. (Say, wasn’t it Warhol who once said “Art is anything you can get away with”? Or did I just see that on TV?) It’s the city. It’s that the spirit is the same, somehow. It’s a pop art and punk spirit, and it’s a pretty universal one, a timeless one. Punk is really coincident with post-modern in more ways than one. Cuz post-modern is just a term that means anti- whatever that was, whatever what was modern was. It fights against the modern. The modern is a big fucking enemy! And then you really cock your eye at it and it starts to reveal itself as a pretty empty category. It gets lost referring to a lack. What is it, after all, that post-modernism developed or progressed from? How could it be post- a thing that it defines itself against? Not long after that revelation you get people speculating that Moby-Dick was the first post-modern novel, which finally makes the term superfluous. Same with punk. Punk doesn’t mean anything, because it’s always alternative to a thing that it claims to loathe. It’s always invoking the popular as a means of understanding itself, right? Well not long after that you start realizing that the punk attitude, as an anti-establishment attitude, has existed in music for decades. “I’m poor.” “The city is a hard place to live in.” “Give me something for the pain, please, now.” Folk. Blues. Country. Punk, like post-modernism, is maybe just the musical logic of late capitalism. Does Jameson have anything to chime in about that? Oh yeah, it’s on fucking page one.
And then there’re these 1979 albums that, their post-modernism notwithstanding, really seem to get past that. The Iggy Pop and Lou Reed albums. They get past that and posit that dancing and funky rhythms and being good is punker than punk, post-punk, post-the thing that already means nothing. Hooray! Bells are punk. Values are punk. It’s ironic. It’s cool. It’s all a big joke, get it? I’m trying to keep it congenial here, trying to keep conscious of the failed experiment in articulating cool stuff, trying to keep the gag going that I’m really writing anything more than just “I’m good I like good stuff don’t you wanna hear about me?” or, as Iggy would later sing, “My mama told me / if I was goody / that she would buy me / a rubber dolly.” I’m just trying to get a rubber dolly doing what these fucked up dudes already seem to have done 37 fucking years ago. 37 years. But years don’t mean anything.
I want to note in closing, in 2016, that punk--I’m gonna go off the script for a moment--is a soggy lot of excuses for being lazy and narcissistic. It’s mostly a bunch of dudes getting off on each other’s drunken chances and sodden achievements, doing a lot of dick-measuring with their seven inches and their Colt 45s. The fucking punks! I remember one night at a punk show when this kid with two different eyeglass lenses taped together showed this whole party of gals how to make brass monkey with Sparks and malt liquor. Punk, like everything else, is just for fucking show! Isn’t that what they’re saying in those 1979 albums? That we ought to give ourselves up to what punk is so ostentatiously reacting against? Or that giving up is more punk than punk, more 70s than Jonathan Livingston Seagull? Ought we to go for New Values, self-consciously dumber ones? Sure, after the harrowing Street Hassle of being a punk junkie, why don’t we stop trying so hard, get like the rest of The Idiot kids and indulge our Lust for Life? Why don’t we become disco mystics, learn to dance, jump into the “Endless Sea,” boogie with John Travolta, have an endless Donna Summer ringing people’s Bells? Fuck it, right? And now it’s 2016, 37 years later: look out for the now-a-major-motion-picture punk book on Amazon! Coming this endless summer: ever heard of punk? It can be yours today! Only in theaters and streaming on every computer in the world. When punk was once in some old year at least thoughtful and intentional really now it’s just a scummy lot of excuses to make bad art and be shitty at it and just not give a fuck that it’s shitty and put it out there and say hey this is shitty so fuck you if you don’t like it because look how lucrative this not caring is. It’s a cop out (which is ironically why I’m going to be copping out of this piece like this.) Fuck it.
(Remember that? Remember the dark ages? Did I do it right? So then what if I were to make fun of punk in a more punk way? Would that be more like my heroes? Does that tell you something about who I am? Is that what I’ve gotten with these late-70s albums? One thing they didn’t do, and one thing neither Lou Reed nor Mr. Pop would ever do, is ask questions after a joke. So since I can’t do that and keep cool or claim to be a punk or even a molerat then let me close with a snide succinct statement of my conclusion for all you lovely readers:) Having been punk and then junkies and then to make all these dark dance songs like Lou and Iggy did, it says Fuck it louder and more politically, more personally, more poignantly than anything punk. What do we get with Iggy Pop’s and Lou Reed’s late-70s albums but the tragicomedy of a shadow decade? And I can’t get past it because its attitude beguiles me, and us, and America, fully in proportion to how much of a joke we and Iggy and Lou and Jimmy Carter have thought it was. It’s all been and is still a big, dark put-on.
All joking aside, in the time since I wrote the above America has elected a fascist slob. I am still, with over half of the voting population, struggling to measure out an appropriate response. As I've come back to edit this piece, punk has come to nominate itself, so to speak, as a kind of emotional cabinet Secretary. I wake up and listen to it. It handles my fragile emotional state dutifully, taking meetings with the foreign diplomats of feeling, fielding all the questions and concerns that I've been reading, putting down threats with expediency. I had been seeking some response to the election that would temper my anger and depression and denial with sanity, with acceptance, and I have seen a lot of posts about having hope. But I'm afraid that holding onto those rational, traditional, and even aesthetically preferable possibilities could lead to a duller and more disastrous complacency--one of the many new fears I have discovered in the last few days. So I’ve turned to nihilistic, brash, derided punk. Yeah, maintaining a calm hopeful sanity has a nice twinkly tone to it, but that tone risks sounding ridiculous when the president is the paragon of grotesque. The problem strikes me as being very pertinent to Iggy Pop’s and Lou Reed’s relationships to punk: how do we register our cynicism and outrage in a way that’s good and new and valuable? I don’t think we have the luxury of responding with as dark a humor as they had; rather, I think the political catastrophe of our time calls for more direct representations. If we're still permitted the freedom of expression in America's near-future, we ought to make plain and loud, somehow--maybe without really thinking about it too much, without really even knowing what we're doing, making bad art out of it--our untempered, indecorous, indomitable feelings. It ought to feel liberating, in a country where real freedom suddenly seems scarce, to let ourselves voice how pissed off and antagonistic the election has made us feel. I don't want to sit any longer with the mourners and light candles like I've been doing, like I did yesterday and the day before and the day before. Today and tomorrow and the next day I want to light a dumpster or a building or a city on fire. Do I know that that would be really bad? That that wouldn’t reflect my values? Yes, I do. I sure do. And I know, too, that that kind of activity certainly won't be permitted in America's already-nightmarish-enough near-future, so I will probably just settle for watching this video again and again and imagining. But I hope, when I finally stop feeling like shit, I can at least express myself about it: burn other, smaller things, break glass, scream, and write fast, pissed off, antagonistic songs to make my Secretary proud. Not being permitted to try and bring about the collapse of the country, I can at least yell about the day the country died, protesting and resisting the election, persisting in resisting, trying to fuck the system, eat the rich, kill whitey, end sexism, smash the state, and stage the big takeover of America. I feel like that might be an appropriate response. Maybe it’s crass but at least it’s crass about the things that are fucking good and just. However crass it might be it at least articulates the Fuck this! that I’m feeling in a way that I think is “appropriate.” However dumb it might be the politics of today are about 60,350,241 times dumber (and counting).
I guess what I’m trying to articulate here, finally, is that I think I kind of get it now. Punk is what happens when you're so pissed off about something and it's so urgent and visceral that you can't give yourself time to even think or learn. Maybe punk is “just for fucking show,” but it’s important to show, because people will see it, people will think about it; what it shows is important, helpful, necessary. It affirms: your anger is valid, your despair is valid, it’s generative, it’s art, make a big show out of it. You're feeling so fucked up that all you'd have to do is yell and scream and play three chords and it would count as a true authentic and insightful expression of the times. Being super-cynical reeks of privilege. It seems to respond too fully to aesthetics, not fully enough to politics. I admire Lou and Iggy for their cynical response to the aesthetics of the Seventies and whatever, but we’ve got a bigger problem now. We will probably deal with it in dumb, rash, unhealthy, destructive ways, decidedly uncool ways, ways that might make our heroes cringe, but ways that are at least faithful to our feelings.
Of course, I also want to leave some of those ways behind. Punk is functional but it’s far from perfect (just like this piece! just like me!). It provides an example to learn from, but this isn’t a prescription. I don’t want to be a racist or a misogynist or an ignorant or a lazy or a scummy punk, just like I don’t want to be a positive or optimistic disco dude. I also don’t want to deride punk for seeming less sophisticated than David Bowie and his buddies; it’s not easy to be that sophisticated. I just want to make something that measures up to our collective crisis, and I don’t want it to be co-opted by greed or politics. I want to make a call for an emotionally genuine aesthetics that responds to big political tragedies and singular personal traumas alike. It’s going to be harder and harder to separate those things anyway. It’s gonna be one sensibility, not unlike Sontag said 50 years ago, and it’s not gonna be tragic and traumatized. We’re all together gonna be smart and punk, creative and pissed off, uncompromising in our art and unflagging in our resistance. And I hope when the champions of the plutocrat-elect and his dinosauric idiocy hear us or see us they are inspired to get free. That is, in light of recent events, my hope: that the people and institutions that have elected this guy are so moved by how we yell our frustration and despair that they want to join us, they start yelling together with us and we all yell together, one sensibility, so fucking loud that the Capitol crumbles, no inauguration, and we can see if what we’ve measured out can model a better, fairer, smarter, together society. It’s got to be better at least than what this election has measured out for us. Fuck this!
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