Punk. Rock. Stroke. Repeat.

First, good luck to the apoplectics who are using this week to write a poultry-based musical/learn how to use a digital camera manually/research wood chips. [If you don’t know a lot about wood chips, click through to the link in Monday’s comments. It’s interesting stuff.] Please return to your projects after you finish with this….

I’ve been tweeting about earworms recently. I tend to find that the random songs stuck in my head on any given morning tend to be from my childhood.

Sometimes, they’re more deliberately evocative of a time and place. This is a cracker:

It reminds me of early Simple Minds. Incredibly (but not to me), this has come to be seen as A Good Thing. A recent reissue of the best of the former Johnny and the Self-Abusers’ early work was compared in a Pitchfork review to the sainted Radiohead.

But, clearly, a post focusing on punk has to start with the crazy old Brits who populated the deathless Radio 4 show, I’m Sorry, I Haven’t A Clue. For most of its life, ISIHAC was hosted by the wonderfully hip (in the original sense) Humphrey Lyttelton, who at 80, guested on the last track of the aforementioned Radiohead’s Amnesiac.

Keep up, hipster bingo players!

For my American readers, I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue, “the self-styled alternative to panel shows,” is like Wait, Wait… Don’t Tell Me. Except funny. For my Scottish readers, Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me is like The News Quiz. But shit. Perhaps the crowning glory of ISIHAC is the game Mornington Crescent. If “hash” was a game we played at Boy Scouts that had no rules, except, “get the ball to the other end of the hall”, this was the Radio 4 version for geriatric British comedians, but with fewer — and more — rules.

Readers may be aware of local variations of Mornington Crescent, such as Morningside Crescent (played during the Edinburgh Fringe Festival). Per the wiki link above, an attempt was also made to expand the territory to Manhattan (via Heathrow and JFK), but there was some disagreement as to whether or not the subway was suited to the game.

While it’s hard to beat a game invented to vex an unpopular producer, that is intentionally incomprehensible, also fun is One Song To The Tune Of Another.

Apropos of nothing, this week’s earworm has been “Punk Rock Stroke”, to the tune of “Part Time Punks” by the Television Personalities. Appropriately enough, the original is a work of shambling, shambolic genius. If you’re a fan of pop music, and you only ever click through one apoplectic.me link, make it that one. Regular readers will be aware that a “punk rock” stroke is a extreme cerebral hemorrhage (say, at a 300/200mmHg blood pressure), as opposed to a “cardie and slippers”, or clot-based, stroke. And no-one should feel slighted: in my book, cardigans’ and Radio 4’s Jeremy Hardy is one of the biggest punk rock muthas out there. Really. And punk is a pretty good metaphor for a stroke. The story of The Pistols breaking up is the story of Johnny Rotten, suffering from flu and coughing up blood, kneeling on the stage and chanting “This is no fun. No fun. This is no fun — at all. No fun.” Then the band died. I’m just sayin’.

As it’s co-opted for the millionth time, punk has been much to the forefront this week. Beth’s favorite morning show, Good Day New York, did a feature on the new exhibition at the Met on Monday.

[Actually, make that video the one thing you check out.]

The Met’s costume gala was on Monday night. I’m kinda time traveling right now. If it’s Tuesday evening, I’m writing this paragraph, and Beth is talking me through how everyone did at the gala. [Our roving reporters’ summary: Madge killed it; Kim K. looked “like a literal couch,” although, a couch designed by Robert Smith; and Lena Dunham was “disappointing”.]

Gabbana Gabba Hey!

Needless to say, everyone had an important point to add to Linder Sterling’s thoughtful punk era work on feminism.

Aside: No one had an important point to add to Linder Sterling’s thoughtful punk era work on the cultural expectations of women and the treatment of the female body as a commodity. Well done, everybody.

If you’re reading this on Thursday morning, New York time, I’m at the exhibit right now. Unless it’s really dull (or more likely, annoying), in which case I’ve moved on to Photography and The American Civil War, which, as evidenced by this Guardian slide show, looks ace. And, really, how punk rock can Anna Wintour be, anyway?

I first properly got to know about (primarily British) punk at an impressionable age through a fab documentary on Channel 4, packed with live music snippets from The Sex Pistols to The Buzzocks to Joy Division to Iggy Pop. 20-odd years later, that still informs my musical worldview. Last year, pre-Event, we went to see Wire at the Music Hall of Williamsburg. We missed using our tickets for PiL because of the stroke. The Buzzcocks represent a high water mark of popular music. The cover of London Calling serves the same purpose for album art.

The King died in 1977. Coincidence?

So, now that punk is headlining at The Met…

The Opera or Museum?
Either!

… and Paul Morley‘s been theorizing about what it all means for over 35 years, how can I apply its lessons to my new circumstances? How do I become the Stroke Bloke to Ian Curtis’s Epilepsy Fella? Except less, y’know, dead?

Well, it’s easier said than done. New York magazine noted last week, as part of this whole punk circle jerk, that “punk” is what Frank Kagan calls a “Superword” — “a term whose main purpose is for people to fight over what it should mean, using it as a ‘flag in a bloody game of Capture the Flag.'” And I’ll admit there is a certain pleasure in reading in New York that Converse Chuck Taylors were “punk’s shoe of choice,” then imagining a pair of Dr. Martens Airware soles stamping on the author’s writing hand forever.

And, although that’s a waste of filth and fury, the clue to why punk still has a grip on people, an appeal, when the Pistols heyday was so long ago, is in that idea of punk as a superword. It’s not that punk was a particular thing that requires The True Believers to act as gatekeepers. It’s more that a whole bunch of people had life-changing experiences when they heard something exciting and new and physical, at The 100 Club, or the Manchester Free Trade Hall, or CBGB’s, or in their bedrooms. And that, coupled with the DIY ethic, had the kids going off to do their own thing.

And, while this might be the sort of remark to get one’s head kicked in at the club, maybe the best thing about punk is that it provided a blank canvas for those excitable people after which Do As Thou Wilt Was The Whole Of The Law . Shoegazing was, arguably, the antithesis of punk, but one of the punkier things I remember from my teenage years (I was a nice Edinburgh boy) was playing My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless on the new CD player, and having Paw Broon ask, “Is that thing broken already?” Plus, they invented The Chord. And, arguably, you don’t get much more punk than actually bringing down your label with the best album ever, man, pursuant to a storm of recording expenses and a haze of drugs. Allegedly. Punk could be feminist, political, arty, funny, romantic or literate. For example, while punk is still painted as a boys’ club, without it, we wouldn’t have had the excitement of Riot Grrrl, Bikini Kill, Huggy Bear, or later, Le Tigre.

Punk could even be strokey. You can always rely on the wisdom of that short-haired left-handed tattooed vegetarian that Beth likes so much:

“Pain… is not my enemy. It is my call to greatness.”

A bloke sitting across the table from me in my occupational therapy session the other day — a little older, admittedly — was using his condition, whatever it was, as his reason to be a right cantankerous old git. I’m going to use my 100 Club, my CBGBs, my big red reset button, for something else.

Maybe I’ll become a hippy.

“I really don’t know who I am. I don’t know when to stop. So if I see a great, big, threatening button which should never ever ever be pressed, then I just want to do this.”
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9 thoughts on “Punk. Rock. Stroke. Repeat.

      1. I was a bit further back but I’m totally with you on the modern l lovers. Could make a great case for fun house also. But the first music where I feel the roots of what would become punk in the 70s has to be at 2:35 of http://vimeo.com/m/32736702

  1. What does this have to do with a Stroke? BTW: You looked very punk-hipster when I saw you earlier today on the street, post Met experience. If someone is a punk-hipster does that make them a “pipster?”

  2. Great post!
    Am here in NY and off to the Met. I have been warned that it’s absolutely clueless and all in all an insult to punk but let’s see…

    On the origins of punk and the post-punk pop v politics debate by way I highly recommend the Tracey Thorn book which I just finished. Deserves all the plaudits.

    On other things : totally agree on Jeremy Hardy. You could add Charlie Brooker too of course ( I recommend the Ten 0 Clock Show podcasts).

    Wait Wait was the least funny programme I ever heard so am with you on that one too…

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