Vol. 1, Issue #4 March 17th - March 30th, 2006

Tiger Beat From Hell
By: Wilhelm Murg

Post-Punk and Exhaustion

“We are the guests who have stayed too long / We are the end of the endless song / We send our hearts into the night soaring to heaven / And will out hearts still beat on / Or will they Break Like The Wind” – Spinal Tap

In the excellent documentary “Punk: Attitude.” which is now available on DVD, the filmmakers dealt with the concept of “post-punk,” the “progressive,” “baroque,” “decadent” music that came out of punk once everyone figured out how to play their instruments. Of course, you can only cover so much in 90 minutes, so a lot of things went unsaid.

Post-punk is one of the most interesting periods of rock’n’roll. It is often overlooked because few people noticed it at the time it was actually going on. The post-punk movement was the psychedelic experience, operatic zenith, and musique concrete of punk rock. Most importantly, it exhausted rock’n’roll to the point that there was nothing left to do afterward but go commercial, which is where we still seem to be stuck.

Of course, at the time, few of us really saw it as post-anything, it just seemed to still be punk...kinda. I think we all knew something was missing, but our cynicism was so high that the shift didn’t register. Maybe it was denial; we missed out on everything else, - free sex without AIDS, the concept that drug would be decriminalized, a sense that we could change the world - but we refused to miss out on punk, so we danced on Sid’s grave…

The period - and it really is a period, NOT a genre – spans roughly from the end of the original wave of punk, which pretty much died with Sid Vicious’ overdose in 1979, and ends when Nirvana hit the number one position in 1991 - then the marketing was changed to “alternative” – and didn’t we all feel a slight shift in the wind again when they found what was left of Cobain?

Of course, as in any “movement,” there are those arguments about trees falling in empty forests. The proper groundwork for the most notorious side of post-punk, industrial, was really laid down in the seventies, simultaneously with punk, by bands that worked pretty much in obscurity until the eighties, like Throbbing Gristle, The Residents, and Rhythm & Noise, and the grand old men, Kraftwerk.

The first time I heard of the concept of post-punk was in an early eighties Rolling Stone review on Joy Division and Public Image Ltd. I’ve always seen the two bands as the opposite ends of the spectrum. PIL was what punk would have sounded like if John Lydon/Johnny Rotten had been suited with a group that had a game plan or dream beyond just becoming rock stars –because, as the Sex Pistols proved, anyone can do THAT! By contrast, Joy Division’s front man, Ian Curtis, who committed suicide just before the band’s scheduled U.S. tour, always seemed like a basket case; like Jim Morrison without the testosterone. The singer’s fifteen minutes seem even shorter in 20/20 hindsight as the Curtis-less version of the band, New Order, eclipsed the cult of their former selves a long time ago. This was about the same time of Rolling Stone magazine’s infamous Doors cover with the elegiac slogan “He’s Hot, He’s Sexy, He’s Dead.” I’m pretty sure that article was the magazine test marketing Curtis as the next dead rock’n’roller, just in case the lizard king thing died down – and it didn’t.

What the two bands did have in common were droning keyboards and sense of loss, attacked with rage and disgust in the case of PIL, and resignation with Joy Division – your basic fight vs. surrender / dominance vs. submission duality – like Ben Jonson vs. Shakespeare, Stones vs. The Beatles, or Coke vs. Pepsi.

In their wake we got Bauhaus and Birthday Party – featuring a young Nick Cave, which was the proper beginning of goth, along with The Misfits, who seemed to be somewhere between hardcore and what would become goth, and The Cramps who brought together the psychobilly/greaser culture, which was also drug into the goth camp.

On the experimental side there was whatever The Residents were bringing through San Francisco for their Ralph Records label, like Renaldo & The Loaf, Tuxedomoon, and Fred Frith, mixed with the John Zorn/Christian Marclay New York Knitting Factory scene, and the Crowley-driven side of industrial, like Diamada Galas, Non, and Z’ev, and even the performance art of Mark Pauline’s pre-Robot Wars “Survival Research Laboratory” and William Burroughs’s readings (look them all up on the web, kids!).

There’s also the underground/goth/BDSM side of techno and dance, propelled by the three Throbbing Gristle spin-off groups; Psychic TV, Coil, and Chris & Cosey, and oddities that defy description, like the Japanese girl group Shonen Knife, the elementary school aged hardcore band Old Skull, the electric rake solos of Eugene Chadbourne, the Satanic-metal drag queen antics of Christian Death, the baffling resurgence of Hasil Adkins’ career, and Gwar, and many, many more.

Post-punk was the dying feedback of a true blank generation that wasn’t so much rebelling as trying to make something out of the tattered pieces of pop music they inherited. After the trippy sounds of psychedelic and the Grande operatic extremes of progressive, not all of us were content with three-minute songs with garbled lyrics by people who really didn’t get the joke – YES! Punk was absolutely necessary! But NO! The concept was not to stay there the rest of our lives.

By the end of the 1980s everyone had knocked themselves out trying to come up with a new music; hundreds succeeded, but at the expense of exhausting the well of ideas. No one will ever make such pointless and grating noise; it WILL be equaled, but pointlessness is not something you qualify – “more pointless” is like saying “very unique”; it’s either “pointless” or “unique,” period. With everyone going to the edges of their imagination only to find commercial frailer, was it any wonder that heroin made a comeback?

Hey! Wasn’t that the downfall of the first wave of “Alternative?”

Does Britney Spears really understand why she wants a tribal tattoo?

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©2006 NONCO Media, L.L.C.