Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Punks on TV, Devil in the tape deck.

Punk in the media with the Devil pulling the strings.
*note-all pink texts are links to must see videos. Enjoy!

By 1982-83 punk was steadily finding itself in the media spotlight. Network popular television shows like Chips and Quincy had respective punk rock episodes to warn their prime time audiences across America of the dangers of punk rockers using “ice picks” to stab one another while watching nihilistic bands like “Pain.”  In short, the media portrayed kids who listened to punk rock as a threat to society; the catalyst that would destroy American values. The eradication of punk could have easily been on Nancy Reagan's to-do list, right below her Just Say No campaign. The witch-hunt was just getting underway.    

During that time, my sister’s then husband discovered the evangelical brand of Jesus (think: speaking in tongues, snake handling) and during his honeymoon phase with the church, he presented me with a book on the evils of rock music. The book was an alphabetical guide to how Satan used bands like AC/DC, Blue Oyster Cult, The Plasmatics, etc. to spread his message to unsuspecting and impressionable teens across America. Apparently, Lucifer delivered his manifestations through band logos and album covers. Thankfully the devil hadn’t paid much attention to The Clash or Sex Pistols by the time the book was published. I do recall my mom mentioning how my brother-in-law pleaded with my parents and tried to persuade them to prohibit me from listing to music tainted by Satan; good thing for me they never sided with what they called the holy-rollers

Cable television finally became available in my neighborhood and it meant more late night TV options for Jimmy and I. We must have watched the film Time Square, (1980 with Robbin Johnson, Trini Alvarado and Tim Curry) a dozen times on HBO. The plot is a tale of two disaffected teenage girls who discover one another and struggle together against parents and the usual gang of authority figures. We lived vicariously through the two independence-seeking protagonists, Nicky and Pamela, who are entrenched in the streets of New York’s underground punk scene. The pair form the band Sleez Sisters and write a song about Pamela’s father: a well-to-do businessman who wants to make a buck gentrifying Times Square. They use his words of describing the inhabitants of the neighborhood: “Spick, Nigger, Faggot, Bum” adding “You’re daughter is one” to disassociate themselves from what they see as a heterosexual white-male dominated world. It didn’t occur to me at the time, but the film had lesbian undertones and additionally, perhaps it was a precursor to the Riot Grrrl movement in the early 90’s. Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains (1982) is also worth mentioning and would fit nicely in the genre of empowered teen females.
Stick pins into you, Sleez Sister voodoo. 
I always like movies where the underdog is empowered. In my mind punks are basically a pool of misfits who found each other. The playing field is inherently equal; it knows no gender, class or race. It is a space where anything is possible because there are no set rules and boundaries. The idea is if you don’t like what is already established, then you create your own. Nicky and Pamela did their own thing; maybe it was important because they were females struggling against a male dominated music industry and society. Jimmy and I saw beyond that. The film was non-apologetic in advocating self-discovery and the pursuit of dreams coupled with knowing that you’re going catch a ton a shit for going against the grain. It was our first informal lesson in coming to terms with the reality that there will always be somebody out there who will try to keep you down.    

The soundtrack alone was worth watching the film. We got turned on to: Gary Numan, XTC, Suzi Quatro, and The Cure. We actually came across the soundtrack at Woolco in the bargain cassette bin in the spring of 1982, months before the department store closed. 

Another film that made its way into late-night Showtime rotation and was a cornucopia for turning Jimmy and I on to new bands was: Urgh! A Music War. The film showcased live performances by some of our favorites groups: Oingo Boingo, Surf Punks, Devo. In contrast, we discovered an entirely new portal and had out minds blown by: Skafish, Steel Pulse (roots reggae with a parody of a Ku Klux Klan member running around the stage) and especially Klaus Nomi: his song was a fusion of disco, opera and punk. We were convinced he was from another planet; his costume, make-up, receding hairline, pointy hairdo, and wide vocal range were dead giveaways. The variety of bands, music styles, and personalities featured in the film were remarkable. It was a testament that music shouldn't be safe, the artists were free of self-imposed or industry boundaries. That attitude lit a fire in me.  Still to this day you just might catch me trying to sing like Klaus while driving down the road. Total Eclipse, it's a total eclipse... 
Big shots argue about what they've got
making the planet so hot, hot as a holocaust.
Blow up, everything's gonna go up
even if you don't show up in your Chemise Lacoste.

Special thanks to Ana Medina and Monica Zarazua for editing

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