Columns

MRR #439 • December 2019

What’s Left?

The guy who helped the most in the campaign was like one of the big anarchists in San Diego.
Bob Beyerle, interview, MRR #102

 

“Hello, I’m with the Bob Beyerle for Mayor Campaign,” I say to the over sixty-year-old Latino man standing hesitantly in the front door of his house. “I’d like to talk to you about the horrible job Chula Vista’s City Council is doing. Not only are they subsidizing the construction of a bayfront yacht club, a luxury fourteen hundred room hotel, fourteen hundred condominiums and twenty-eight hundred exclusive housing units in a bayside tourist mecca, they’re rapidly expanding the city east of Interstate 805 with gated, guarded upscale housing developments like Eastlake, Rancho del Rey and Otay Ranch. Meanwhile, the city west of 805 is deteriorating. Eastlake is using a million gallons of water for a scenic lake that you’re not even allowed to use unless you live in this exclusive community while the rest of us are forced to live with between 20% and 50% water cutbacks. The City Council is catering to the wealthy when what we need is more funding for public services and new affordable housing developments with parks, schools, and emergency services. Bob Beyerle is for controlled growth and the environment, promoting local business and curtailing big business, and encouraging citizen involvement. Please vote Bob Beyerle for mayor on election day.”

I’m average height but the man barely reaches my shoulder. His more diminutive wife hovers behind him, clearly concerned. Both are suspicious as I hand them some campaign literature. Bob and I are precinct walking for his mayoral campaign in a sweltering May afternoon in 1991. I’m wearing a bright orange “Pedro Loves You” t-shirt while Bob Beyerle (aka Bob Barley of Vinyl Communications fame), wearing a sports coat and dress shirt, is talking local politics a few houses down the block. As the front man for the punk band Neighborhood Watch whose signature song is “We Fuck Sheep,” Bob goes on to do press interviews, candidate forums and house parties.

Bob’s campaign also puts on a fundraiser at La Bella Pizza Garden featuring Jello Biafra. My personal first impressions of Biafra are operatic; diva, prima donna, bürgerlich. Better to call his 1979 San Francisco mayoral campaign a publicity stunt, with its prank platform demanding that businessmen wear clown suits within city limits and paying the unemployed to panhandle in wealthy neighborhoods. Biafra gripes that some of his proposals—to ban cars citywide, legalize squatting in vacant tax-delinquent buildings, and force cops to run for election in the neighborhoods they patrol—were serious. But then, Jello is always the consummate showman who never walked a precinct in his life. Biafra’s politics are a joke because he’s a dilettante whereas Beyerle’s politics are punk because he’s the real deal. Both lost their respective mayoral campaigns but placed in the middle of their crowded fields.

I’ve been called a class traitor, a scab, a rat, a collaborator, an undercover cop by many of my comrades on the left of the Left—left anarchism and communism specifically—once they learn that I vote and engage in electoral politics. Electoral politics is a politics for fools they contend as they spout the usual slogans: “Don’t vote! It only encourages them!”, “If voting changed things, it would be illegal!”, “Vote for nobody!” and “Freedom isn’t on the ballot!” Funny thing is, I’ve always voted, even when I was a stone revolutionary anarchist. I never thought it was an issue as voting takes all of ten minutes, and a single ten minute act once or twice a year doesn’t legitimize the entire bourgeois corporate state apparatus. To assert otherwise is either mysticism or moralism. As for electoral politics, I considered it neither the only valid be-all-end-all nor the ultimate bamboozling evil. Rather, it’s harm reduction for mitigating the worst and making piecemeal of the best in politics. I’ve always lived by the sentiment “I vote, and I riot.”

When the voting age was lowered to 18 in 1971, I ran for Ventura School Board on a Summerhill/Free School platform alongside a democratic socialist City Council slate, both organized by a member of the New American Movement. None of us won any elected positions in the 1972 city elections, but our leftwing programs and political campaigns did eventually push the City of Ventura to build a municipal bus system. And just two years before, in 1970, I traveled to the student ghetto of Isla Vista next to UCSB for three riots in which a Bank of America branch was burned to the ground. I’ve had a personal politics that endorses and attempts to combine parliamentary and revolutionary components, a political strategy built on integrating multiple tactics.

Which is not the same thing as diversity of tactics.

I devote most of my time to politics outside of the electoral/parliamentary realm, which I define broadly. That can range from writing to rioting, although at my age I don’t do much of the latter. As for the much narrower electoral/parliamentary arena, I prefer to engage in local over national politics, and with issues and propositions over personalities and candidates. And I try to make connections—be they principled or personal, through practice or theory—between the various aspects of my politics.

Diversity of tactics by contrast acknowledges the validity of different tactics but refuses to make linkages let alone work out common ground between them. Perhaps the most famous example of diversity of tactics involves the St. Paul’s Principles:

1. Our solidarity will be based on respect for a diversity of tactics and the plans of other groups.
2.
The actions and tactics used will be organized to maintain a separation of time or space.
3.
Any debates or criticisms will stay internal to the movement, avoiding any public or media denunciations of fellow activists and events.
4.
We oppose any state repression of dissent, including surveillance, infiltration, disruption and violence. We agree not to assist law enforcement actions against activists and others. 

Adopted prior to the 2008 Republican National Convention, the agreement allowed different groups with different protest tactics (conventional street protest, guerrilla theater, civil disobedience, black bloc, etc) to act side-by-side without denouncing each other as counterrevolutionary reformists or ultraleft adventurists. But it also didn’t allow the individuals or groups in question to get together to potentially synthesize their diverse tactics into a common strategy. An atomized diversity of tactics became the strategy, and an ineffectual one at that. The 2008 RNC was not shut down, and the movement opposed to the 2008 RNC grew no more unified, stronger or effective. It was a live and let live strategy that was simultaneously a political devolution. At best, diversity of tactics is a stopgap, never a solution.

I was thrilled to learn about Italian Autonomy in 1984. My politics were evolving from left anarchism to left communism as I studied more Marx. I devoured Autonomedia’s volume Autonomia and enshrined Sylvere Lotringer’s formulation of “Autonomy at the base”:

In biology, an autonomous organism is an element that functions in­dependently of other parts. Political autonomy is the desire to allow differences to deepen at the base without trying to synthesize them from above, to stress similar attitudes without imposing a “general line,” to allow parts to co-exist side by side, in their singularity.

Little did I know at the time that most Marxists, including many Autonomists, considered that the “desire to allow differences to deepen at the base without trying to synthesize them from above” was not Autonomy’s singular strength but its profound weakness. It’s like realizing you’re a profound asshole, but then deciding to call that your singular virtue.

I’ve since realized that “to stress similar attitudes without imposing a ‘general line’” rarely results in bridging ideological divides, moving forward politically, or successfully working together to accomplish things. Used to be, a political party or a trade union or some similarly organized (hierarchical, centralized) association could be depended on to step in and finagle the unity and commonality people desired. But since the goal is to come up with alternate ways of organizing ourselves—presumably non-hierarchical, decentralized, and anti-authoritarian—it’d be nice to come up with a new way to overcome our differences to achieve tactical, strategic and theoretical unity to defeat our enemies and attain our goal of a liberated society. However, having once spent two days virtually nonstop trying and failing to achieve consensus in an organization over whether to codify a two-thirds versus three-quarters alternative voting structure once consensus breaks down, I don’t have high hopes in this regard.

I don’t have solutions to the problems posed here. This means I feel another series coming on, perhaps with discussions of democracy or frontism or populism. This whole subject is really quite broad.

 

SOURCES:
(1) Personal recollections
(2) “He Didn’t Kiss Babies, and He Didn’t Kiss Asses,” interview with Bob Beyerle, Maximum RocknRoll #102, November 1991
(3) Sells Like Teen Spirit: Music, Youth Culture and Social Crisis by Ryan Moore
(4) Autonomia: Post-Political Politics ed. by Lotringer & Marazzi, Semiotext(e)

Teaching Resistance — Chicago Special Edition

Teaching Resistance: Radicals, Revolutionaries, and Cultural Subversives in the Classroom” is available NOW from PM Press.


TEACHING RESISTANCE – CHICAGO SPECIAL EDITION

Late this October, in the longtime public schools vs. charter schools battleground of Chicago public schools, the teachers’ union held a mass strike. As with so many similar movements igniting across the country, this fight was for a more-realistic living wage for teachers AND the many often-underpaid paraprofessionals and resource teachers, as well as better services for their students – especially special education students, those who are served by those underpaid paraprofessionals/resource teachers, and who are often the ones excluded from charter schools while being severely under-resourced at public schools. As tensions around the strike reached a peak, Mike Friedberg, Chicago teacher and singer for KOMPROMAT and AMORAL (and several-time TR contributor) sent in a message from the front lines on October 30: 

“Let’s be real clear.

This is getting ugly.

Just yesterday, the multibillion development firm Sterling Bay called the police to arrest nine CTU members peacefully engaging in civil disobedience. (Pictured below.)

Earlier that day on North Ave, a silver BMW drove through our march. Thankfully no one was hurt.

Students are marching and protesting on their own volition. (Pictured below.) Yet we are portrayed as using kids as political props.

Teachers and SEIU members were spit on by Board Of Trade employees.

Papers accusing us of being “greedy” and “mob bosses” have been thrown at picket lines.

Not to mention the pure hatred being written on social media, especially from the “education reform” crowd, who claim to be for social justice, yet being financed by DeVos and other billionaires who want to privatize and profit off of public education.

Let’s be real clear.

We have lost two weeks of pay. CPS is threatening to take away our insurance. Many of us have children, mortgages, car payments, and student loans.

We are exhausted. We picket for four hours starting at 6:30 AM, in addition to whatever protest we have scheduled in the afternoon. Many of our members have gotten sick.

Let’s be real clear.

The City Of Chicago has mismanaged finances for decades, and black and brown kids have had to pay the price. Chicago is subsidizing a multibillion dollar playground for the rich (Lincoln Yards), while black and brown kids get the short end of the stick. On my very first class for my very first day of teaching I did not have enough desks. 32 desks while 37 kids walked in the room. Five kids sat on the windowsill, but they didn’t protest. They were used to it.

Chicago Public Schools also needs to acknowledge their handling of finances. There has been approval for contracts that we have not supported: Aramark, Sodexo, SUPES, and Aspen, a confusing program that pays off big corporations (Pearson) when we could have used Google Classroom which would not have cost the district a cent, in addition to being much easier to use.

Let’s be real clear.

We are fighting for resources for our students. Adjusted for cost of living, Chicago ranks 22nd in the country for teacher pay. Yes, I would love a raise, but I’d much rather have nurses, librarians, social workers, more preparation time to support students, equitable resources for special education students, basic resources for English Language Learners, and class sizes without 37 kids. Yet the “education reformers” and suburbanites portray us as “greedy”, “irresponsible”, and “not caring about the kids”.

We are exhausted, frustrated, and miss our students. We have no illusions; the longer the strike goes on, the more the mayor can leverage public opinion against us. Just last night, CPS sent out robocalls, implying that the CTU could have ended the strike last night, when we had not even received counteroffers in many of our proposals. They claim we should continue working without a contract, when many of our proposals had not even received counteroffers until the strike began.

And let’s be real clear.

We know the world is watching and will not back down until our students get the resources and schools they deserve.”

I never cease to be surprised at the persistent existence of a punk subset who gravitate towards a fucked-up conservative political outlook, and one of the most consistent manifestations of that is condescension towards teachers’ unions and the profession in general. Naturally, this often also comes paired with a dismissive attitude about the many millions of students who have been classified as “high needs” due to racial and economic disparities in the United States. 

“Anyone can teach”, growls the reactionary, “…and you get benefits and summers off so quit whining about your [sub-living] wage. Also, why should my [theoretical] kid/brother/cousin/whatever have to get dragged down in a classroom with all the BAD kids and the ones who can’t read?” A couple of simple answers:

  1. Qualified teachers train for years and work their damn asses off for their students, and they deserve a living wage, benefits and wages – just as all workers do, and we will sure as hell fight in solidarity with other workers as well. It’s not a race to the bottom.
  2. High-needs and multi-lingual students are some of the people working the very hardest at school while facing some of the greatest challenges – more-privileged students could stand to learn from their example and perspectives. The most-impacted students need substantial time in the general education classroom, with all the individualized help they need; schools that do not implement radical inclusion measures will invariably help further marginalize and fail these students, compounding the substantial struggles they already face. 

Agnieszka, who currently works as a Pre-K Sped and Resource Teacher, is Chicagoland-area radical punk who can be described as a living embodiment of how not “just anyone” can do the hard work of teaching. She wrote a crucial breakdown on the intersectional importance and challenges of Special Education and English Learner programs for struggling multilingual students, and the powerful role both programs play in the ongoing debate and conversation on public schools:

As a bilingual educator in Special Education, I often have to battle both ableism and English language superiority in the schools and communities I work in. I have attended many professional conferences on English Language Learners and asked questions about students with IEPs and have gotten no answers or support [IEPs are Individualized Education Plans, generally created by school psychologists and counselors in close collaboration with the students being helped and their families – ed.]. Alternatively when I speak with “experts” in the field of Special Education, few have insights on ELs [English Learners – ed.] and their families. At one school in California, I had a Bilingual Educator come up to me and explicitly tell me “your special ed students are taking resources away from my students who are English learners!” This statement confused me because 100% of all my students with IEPs were also English Learners. This educator had it wrong, and many do not understand the complexities of being an English Learner with a disability in the world of Special Education. 

I have I have worked in 3 school districts in my career thus far in both California and Illinois and in all 3 districts my caseload of students with IEPs were majority if not all English Learners. In San Jose, my students all came from Vietnamese or Latinx families, some exposed to both English and their native language at home and to some, the only exposure to English was in the classroom. For all of these students I made sure to translate all necessary documents, have translators at IEP meetings (when the district supplied them!) and had culturally appropriate books and materials so students can see themselves in the curriculum.

I currently work in a district just outside of Chicago, where I live. In our district we serve a large Polish population. According to this report by Illinois board of education, 18.5 percent of ELs, or 38,481 students, were identified with a disability. The top 3 languages spoken by EL students in Illinois are Spanish at 76%, Arabic at 4% and Polish at 3%.  I was born in Poland an am fluent in the language, so I am lucky enough to be the translator at a majority of the IEP meetings I attend and write accommodations for. As an early childhood educator, I am often the first contact parents have with school districts or the confusing institution which is Special Education. Meetings, documents, forms and eligibilities can be confusing enough as it is for educators and parents who speak English. Imagine the difficulty and confusion for families who speak languages other than English, especially if there is no translated documents or translator at the meetings. 

I am grateful and thankful to have 2 classroom aides who are fluent in Spanish. Together, we ensure our students hear all of their native languages in the classroom, embedded in the curriculum, Circle Time, Stories and in conversations with have with them throughout their day. Families are happy to see children’s books in their native languages in my classroom, I always  make sure to have bilingual books (Polish/English, Spanish/English and Vietnamese/English) accessible to all students. We also sing a “Hello” song during Circle Time in all 4 languages mentioned above. It is endearing when parents tell me that their 3-year-old Polish boy is saying “Hola” and “xin chào” at home and in the community. 

My favorite part of Special Education is the teamwork between Sped Teachers, Occupational Therapists (OT), Speech Therapist (SLP) and other related service providers such as Deaf/Hard of Hearing Specialists, Vision Specialists, Physical Therapists and Social Workers. I have the privilege to communicate and collaborate daily with providers who are equally passionate and enthusiastic about the work as myself. In my Pre-K Self-Contained classroom, I have at least 2 professionals Pushing in daily. Support service providers participate in Circle Time, Centers, Outdoor Gross Motor, Sensory Time and all other portions of the half-day program I teach in. It is imparative for me to take time to speak to all providers about bilingual supports, sending letters or information to families in their home languages, and finding songs and activities which are culturally appropriate for all of my students. I once had an OT who learned to sing and play on guitar songs in Urdu, Spanish, Tagalog and Arabic for my diverse Pre-K class in California! 

My hope is for districts to hire more bilingual educators who serve the communities they teach in. If students see themseleves in their teachers, this builds self esteem and pride. Additionally, Special Education teachers should attend PD and read up on English Language Learners and how to best support them. Advocate for translators at IEP meetings and for all necessary documents to be translated as well. Some states require this or have these forms ready in languages spoken in their states, but most do not. Collaboration is also key, make sure to collaborate with any EL or Bilingual Educators in your school. Carve out time to meet with them or chat over google docs, embedd students’ home languages into the lessons for all students not just those who are English Learners. I gaurantee that students will be eager to learn other languages and information about cultures other than their own. Agnieszka, M.Ed…You can find her on IG @slavik_trasz or by email a.karoluk@gmail.com

 

POSTSCRIPT – on the first of November, the Chicago teachers’ strike ended after 11 days. This follow up from Mike Friedberg says it all:

“I’m so excited to get back to teaching. We didn’t win everything we wanted, but we got some amazing gains, especially for our special education students. And I’m happy with all our victories. Now the next steps are making sure we enforce our new contract. This will be a lot of work, and CTU will need to be a united front.

I’m grateful for our amazing students and parents for their support, our bargaining team, my coworkers, and every CTU and SEIU member who took it to the streets.

I love teaching; this is what I do. And I’m grateful for our strong union who will never stop fighting for students, parents, and teachers.

Get up, get down, Chicago is a union town.”

We can fight, and we can win.

The Teaching Resistance column is designed to provide a platform for radical, punk-affiliated, subversive teachers/educators to share their ideas and draw attention to important issues around education; particularly compulsory- and community-based education. If you are a teacher (anywhere in the world) for students of primary or secondary school ages (K-12), Community Colleges, or alternative learning arrangements such as collectivist free schools, and you want to submit an idea for a column, please write an email to teachingresistance@gmail.com.  –John No, Teaching Resistance editor  

 

Shaking out 1979…

Shakedown 1979, cool kids never have the time…”

That’s from a SMASHING PUMPKINS song and I guaran-damn-tee it’ll be the last time you’ll ever see me quote Billy “Uncle Fester” Corgan, that self-described “free-market libertarian capitalist.” I’d imagine he’s got some well-worn Ayn Rand novels on his bookshelf, perhaps with sticky pages, but I won’t go there. Oops… 

Speaking of well-worn, I have a copy of “Punk Diary 1970-1979” by George Gimarc that I use regularly to mark various musical anniversaries. Next year, I’ll have to switch over to the “Post Punk Diary,” which covers 1980 through 1982, also bell-weather years. But I’m getting ahead of myself. That’s for another column. 

1979 was an important year for significant releases, among them THE CLASH’s “London Calling,” THE JAM’s “Setting Sons,” PUBLIC IMAGE LTD’s “Metal Box, THE DAMNED’s “Machine Gun Etiquette,” BUZZCOCKS’ “A Different Kind of Tension.” KILLING JOKE’s “Turn To Red” 10” EP, GANG OF FOUR’s “Entertainment,”  THE CURE’s “Three Imaginary Boys THE SOUND’s “Physical World” EP, THE RUTS’ “The Crack,” THE SLITS’ “Cut.”

I’m just going to focus on UK bands for this installment. That’s not to slight what was happening on this side of the Atlantic Ocean or anywhere else. BLACK FLAG’ “Nervous Breakdown 7”, GERMS “(GI)” LP and DEAD KENNEDYS’ “California Uber Alles,” 7”, to name just a few, were all striking shots across the bow. 

All the records mentioned above were game-changers and still get regular spins here. I never hewed to the belief that punk died after 1976 or 1977. Most people reading this would agree with that assessment. It just reinvented itself and expanded into different realms. There’d eventually be a back-to-basics reaction with hardcore, UK-82, d-beat, etc. Even if it wasn’t a straightforward ramalama, head-banging, three-chord assault, the attitude was there.

THE CLASH’s “London Calling” is a good example of that. Some people feel that’s where the band “sold out,” getting away from their true punk roots and, while there are a few miscues (sorry, “Train In Vain” is still a twee composition), it’s a potent assimilation of different musical strains—along with jarring punk, there are forays into American rock‘n’roll, jazz, reggae, and pop, cobbling these elements into their own vision. Keyboardist Mickey Gallagher, on loan from IAN DURY & THE BLOCKHEADS, became a de-facto fifth member, adding shadings and nuance. His organ on “Clampdown” adds a warmth that enhances the tone of the song. “Death Or Glory” is perfection and has one of my favorite lyrics—“but I believe in this and it’s been tested by research… he who fucks nuns will later join the church.” It’s a coming of age song, balancing youthful ideals with life’s realities. That’s a universal theme. And accompanied by a knockout melody.

THE JAM was also always a band in evolution. They started as, essentially, Mod revivalists, knocking out two albums in 1977, well before the actual Mod revival itself came around in 1979—as did the Two/Tone movement (two more pivotal events, emerging from the first punk era). By then, though the band had already moved on. 1978’s “All Mod Cons” represented a jump in songwriting and had THE JAM finding their own voice. Caustic, sometimes bitter observations set to irresistible, energetic well-honed rock. 1979’s “Setting Sons” has a loose concept on some songs about three childhood friends who drifted apart and also offers poignant ruminations on warfare, alienation and lives in turmoil, the latter happening on the searing, edgy clatter of “Private Hell.” They use a string quartet (shades of “Eleanor Rigby”) for “Smithers-Jones,” about a man going into work one day, expecting a promotion or raise and, instead, getting the boot. They show their roots with a cover of THE KINKS’ “David Watts” and MARTHA & THE VANDELLAS’ “Heatwave.” Well-crafted, intelligent rock still seething with anger but expressed in different ways.

PIL’s first album, in 1978, was a true fuck-you to the SEX PISTOLS fans and, while not a 100% triumph (some filler, not all killer), the songs managed to be both abrasive and, at times, catchy as hell. “Metal Box,” later packaged as the two-LP “Second Edition,” was an eye-opening effort. I didn’t quite “get it” completely at the time but really regret not seeing them in 1980 in Boston (although I went to an in-store at a record store and they autographed the inner sleeve of my “Public Image” single). The original pressing was three 12”s tucked into a metal canister and very difficult to remove. Information was scant—no personnel or lyrics, just a sheet of paper listing the songs—but it was a stylistic leap forward. They went into dubbier realms, spearheaded by Jah Wobble’s loping bass lines and also created mind-numbing, jarring sonic tapestries. “Poptones” is nearly eight minutes long. It’s dark as fuck, about an abduction and rape, set to a repetitive guitar signature and walloping drums, both played by Keith Levene. Other songs are downright funky, weaving through otherworldly effects, synth washes (used to great effect on “Careering”) and Middle Eastern timbres. The mix on the original triple 12” set is shit-hot but, as you can imagine, rather pricy these days. 

THE DAMNED and BUZZCOCKS were two more members of the “old guard” who released third albums in 1979 that moved beyond their roots while diluting nothing. THE DAMNED had split for a while and when they reconvened, Captain Sensible had switched from bass to guitar — the former was taken up by Algy Ward, late of THE SAINTS and future linchpin of NWOBHM band TANK. “Machine Gun Etiquette” is their finest moment, starting with the high-powered punk of “Love Song” and the scorching title track and the energy level rarely flags on bashers like “Noise Noise Noise,” “Liar” and a smokin’ cover the MC5’s “Looking At You.” But they also delve into irresistible pop, as with the gloomy but still raucous “I Just Can’t Be Happy Today” and “Plan 9 Channel 7,” introducing keyboards into the equation. The intro to “Smash It Up” is beautiful, pretty far from “New Rose,” before moving into the melodious crash ‘n’ wallop.  

BUZZCOCKS wrote catchy-as-fuck earworms for singles (although the b-sides would take different turns) and branched out a bit more on their albums. There’s plenty of head-banging punk on the first side of “A Different Kind Of Tension”—“Paradise,” “You Know You Can’t Help It,” “Mad Mad Judy,” “Raison D’etre”–along with the aching pop/punk of “You Say You Don’t Love Me.” Side two takes a conceptual and musical turn, starting with “I Don’t Know What To With My Life” and delving into a rumination on life’s painful twists and turns. It’s still tuneful but also goes slightly against the grain. That comes out on the brooding “Money,” with the refrain “Life is a zoo…” leading directly into the numbing mantra of “Hollow Inside.” That’s followed by the pounding title track, matching phrases with their opposites. If you’ve ever heard BABES IN TOYLAND’s “Bruise Violet,” they totally lifted the main riff. Finally, the driving “I Believe” stretches out to over 7 minutes with nearly half of it taken over with the plaintive repetition of “there is no love in this world anymore,” before fading off into the static of “Radio Nine,” with snippets of older songs coming in. Although the end of the band was in sight (only three singles would follow), they still had a vibrancy. This has become my go-to ‘COCKS album in recent years.

KILLING JOKE’S first 10” doesn’t have the sheets of metallic guitar that became the focal point for the “Wardance” single and first full-length. Insetad, “Turn To Red” and has a reggae/dub feel ala PIL while “Are You Receiving” is a chugging, straight-ahead rocker.

It’s not hyperbole to say that GANG OF FOUR’s “Entertainment” album is one of the most groundbreaking and influential albums of all time, echoing in the sound of any band using choppy guitar lines and funk-laden bass. Along with the semi-cryptic, leftist lyrics, there are sharply-played, hook-filled songs that burrow into your brain. The final three songs could be the best closing sequence on any album, from the churning “At Home He’s A Tourist” to the somber “5.45,” about watching the daily carnage on the tube (“the corpse is a new personality”) to relentless groove of “Anthrax,” with co-vocals by Jon King and Andy Gill, where they’re reciting different words, but joining in for specific phrases. The feedback fade-in from Gill on the latter is one of my all-time favorite “guitar solos.” 

I always thought of the early CURE records as post-punk, as well, although there wasn’t the (rock crit cliché trigger warning) angularity of GANG OF FOUR. Their debut album “Three Imaginary Boys” had a tension and sparseness, along with the occasional punk jolt, as with “It’s Not You.”  And that’s one blood-curdling scream at the end of “Subway Song.” No keyboards and without the gothic textures. This is pretty stripped-down sounding. 

Not enough people know about THE SOUND. Guitarist/vocalist/mastermind Adrian Borland’s first band, THE OUTSIDERS, had a punky attack and, with a slight reconfiguration in personnel, the Outsiders evolved into The Sound. Their first EP “Physical World” isn’t far removed from the Outsiders. “Cold Beat” is a full-force punk blast with a mesmerizing guitar lead. “Unwritten Law” hinted at what would come, though—slowing the tempo and adding a subdued melody line to go along with Borland’s emotional utterances. This approach would be fully realized on their debut full-length, 1980’s “Jeopardy,” which is an unheralded masterpiece. 

THE RUTS’ “The Crack” is another example of maintaining a punk structure but adding onto it—mainly through the dynamic bass/drums rhythm and jabbing, sometimes reggae-inflected guitars. The arranging is complex and intricate but still all-out rocking, starting with the clarion call of “Babylon’s Burning.” Malcolm Owen’s husky, raspy vocals give the songs an edge. They go full-on reggae for “Jah War” (which is kind of a misfire, to be honest), while “Dope For Guns” is a good merger of POLICE-ish skank and punk.  FUGAZI certainly learned a few lessons from these guys (and have admitted as much). 

THE SLITS fully embraced reggae on their “Cut” album, adding an abrasive punk/post-punk twist. From their primitive origins and a few personnel shifts along the way, The Slits had become a tight musical unit by the time they released this album in 1979. In-your-face lyrical sentiments, delivered with authority by Ari Up (who, incidentally, was John Lydon’s step-daughter). There’s also an air of sweetness, especially on “Typical Girls,” punctuated with earworm piano trills and chorus. “Typical Girls” was also released as a single and included a killer reggaefied cover of MARVIN GAYE’s “I Heard It Through The Grapevine.” 

This is hardly an exhaustive list—sure, it’s a bit obvious–and it’s just scratching the surface. But I never assume everyone’s heard all of these bands or, if they have, haven’t delved into the deeper cuts. The idea is to explain why these are important releases And it’s never a bad thing to get to the root source. 

 

Al Quint, PO Box 43, Peabody, MA 01960, subvox82@gmail.com, subvox.blogspot.com, sonicoverload.net