I had a conversation yesterday with a coworker about music that ended up going into some places I didn’t like. We have these faux clashes from time to time, they’re always–always–done with great good humor and the self-awareness that we’re just, you know, funnin’. But this time I actually found myself getting a bit worked up.
It was about music. He took exception to my categorical dismissal of punk as essentially garbage. Fair enough. Superlatives are always wrong. Do I hate punk? Hate is a strong word. I loathe it. I find its self-justifications back in the day one with all anti-intellectual movements. The amount of punk I’ve listened to, while small, has yet to offer anything that might suggest there’s any actual ability on display. The whole point of it back then was to loudly and hideously repudiate progressive rock and the associated slickly produced pop that borrowed many of the aesthetic trappings of prog even while it very decidedly was not prog. Along comes little Johnny Rotten to make a counter-statement and reduce the caliber of rock back to some basement level from-the-gut roar that’s supposed to be what rock is all about in the first place, but hell, even in its infancy rock’n’roll could boast better musicians on their worst day than what styles itself as punk on its best.
That is my opinion. I’m an Old Fart, so deal with it. I listen to music for the delightful things it does among my synapses and my synapses are 62 years old and impatient with three chords, a bridge, and a lot of disingenuous screeching. I long since moved over to jazz because I want good playing, nuance, sophistication, and tonal qualities that surprise in a delightful way.
Had punk come out of the adolescent desires of a bunch of wankers who couldn’t play well but still wanted to be ROCK STARS, I probably wouldn’t feel quite to strongly about it. But it didn’t. (Maybe some of them came out of this, but they were swept under the tent of…) It came with a manifesto and set about trying to wreck a cultural aesthetic that was pushing toward some kind of transcendence.
Pompous? You bet. And a lot of progressive rock was over-the-top, arpeggios and glissandos for the sake of showing off. Partly, this was a consequence of the way such industries work, always demanding the next new thing that sounds pretty much just like the last thing that sold a gillion records and sold out stadiums for umpteen months. The money machine driving variety for its own sake and to hell with any kind of genuine artistic sense. Hell, I would have cut loose with something completely Other under those pressures.
But while that is understandable, what I object to is the abandonment of skill and attention to the actual musicality that came with punk. I dislike punk because, basically, it sounds terrible.
Now, my friend started offering examples of “good” punk and it was interesting. Because the examples offered were of bands that had a sense of that musicality and, aside from poor vocals, had moved away from the primal hammering of early punk toward something more…nuanced? They…progressed. They got tired, I suppose, of just channeling dissatisfaction and rage and realize that their instruments could actually be used to make…you know…music.
I loathe country and western as well, but I would never say that those artists have no ability or talent. They can play! It seems a shame that so often they use their considerable ability to pretend that they can’t, but I respect them as musicians, I just don’t care for their product.
I suppose I am unfair about it, but I can’t help it. I really despise punk rock. Not for the impulses that drove it but for the categorical rejection of musicality aimed at bringing down genuine musicality. I get rage. But we did that in the Sixties and it sounded good!
Except for some of the singing. I have to admit, the whole aesthetic of the singer-songwriter who’s gonna do his or her stuff whether they can carry a tune or not never impressed me. It seemed for a while we were getting over that nonsense, but here comes punk bringing it all back with a vengeance. “I don’t wanna practice! I don’t wanna take voice lessons! I don’t wanna have to be good! I just wanna be a STAR!” Or, so they claimed, anti-stars. Which still required an audience, and the larger the better, which means a following, which means popularity of some sort, which makes you, if you get enough of it, let’s see…a Star.
I just wanted to get some of that off my chest. Thank you for your indulgence.