David Bruce: 250 Music Anecdotes — Punk

Punk

• When punk came to Los Angeles, the bands needed a place to play. Because punk was so different — and sometimes violent — finding a place to play could be difficult. A man named Brendan Mullen got drunk and stumbled down some steps and found a place that resembled an underground cavern. For a while, punk bands played shows at the newly named Masque. But due to problems with things such as bringing the space up to city code, that did not last long. Another place they found to play in was a pseudo-Polynesian restaurant/bar owned by Madame Wong in Chinatown. A few shows were held there, but a show with the Bags turned into a disaster, with punk fans turning over tables and chairs. Madame Wong decided to keep on having punk shows there, but without punk bands such as the Bags that had female musicians. Apparently, she reasoned that the female musicians drive punk fans wild, causing them to be destructive. Fortunately, any band that was banned by Madame Wong was able to go to the Hong Kong Cafe and play. The bands that had been banned were able to enjoy revenge. Someone left a tape for Madame Wong, and when she played it on her sound system, a voice screamed that all real punks should go to the Hong Kong Cafe and hear some “real music.” The punks left. Another case of revenge occurred in San Francisco when someone kept a punk group called the Nuns from opening for Blondie, featuring Debbie Harry. The Nuns gave a free show at the same time Blondie was performing, reducing the number of fans at the Blondie concert. By the way, although hardcore punk bands can be frightening, often the punk musicians are dedicated to their music. Joe Dirt, the drummer for the F**k-Ups (a band that did not use asterisks in its name), wanted the group to put out a record, but the band had no contract with a record company and it had no money. Mr. Dirt got a job as a subject in a two-months’-long medical experiment and used the money he earned to fund the record.

• In the late 1970s, the punk group Crass had a good response to people who would say, “That lot think the world owes them a living.” In this day of big bank bailouts, big automobile company bailouts, and big business using its big money to move American jobs overseas, Crass’ response to the DTOUAL question — Do They Owe Us A Living? — is very relevant: “OF COURSE THEY F**KING DO.” Punk critic Steven Wells is very aware that music by Crass is basically unlistenable, but he respects their ideas and realizes that Crass was very influential. One thing that Crass did was to produce Do It Yourself records that included their own booklets that were filled with information about smashing the system that was trying to bring you down. A cartoon once showed a punk buying a Crass record, throwing the record away, then eagerly reading the booklet that came with the record. (Mr. Wells quotes a critic who described Crass’ music as reminiscent of “two lathes buggering each other on an elevator in an aircraft hangar.”)

• C.J. Ramone (Christopher Joseph Ward) took over on bass after Dee Dee Ramone (Douglas Colvin) left the Ramones. As a youth, he started out playing the drums, but he says that he ran into a problem: “When I was young, I played drums, but they must have been too noisy because I came home one day and they were gone.” Another Ramones drummer was Marky Ramone (Marc Bell), who says, “I’ve always drummed in their style — steady and hard-hitting — but it was difficult working myself up to the speed. There are three speeds in the Ramones: fast, pretty fast, and very fast.” The Ramones’ first album — which was self-titled — is regarded as one of the greatest and most influential rock albums ever, but some critics — of course — did not like it. Stephen Ford referred to their speed when he wrote in the Detroit News, “They don’t waste their time — they waste yours.”

• Punk rockers and their predecessors have done many strange things. Iggy and the Stooges once put water in a blender, turned it on, put a microphone over it, and broadcast the sound for 15 minutes before beginning their normal set. Sid Vicious of the Sex Pistols looked the part of a punk rocker and had the image, but he could not play his bass guitar well — not even well enough to play punk music, which was famously amateurish. Steve Jones usually played the bass parts that appeared on recordings. During live shows, the Sex Pistols sometimes did not even turn on the amp for Mr. Vicious’ bass.

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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