My idea of fun: punk exceptionalism

Joesph Cristo

Typically, people discuss punk rock in two ways: as a genre of music or as some sort of social movement. The reality is that it’s probably somewhere in between. Punk rock is more or less about attitude. Think the arrogance of the rock star persona and the complete denunciation of anything and everything “mainstream”. Differentiating what is and is not punk rock is hard, so I’m going to help. Not by rigidly defining what is “punk”, but by doing the opposite: opening up the boundaries to include things you never thought might be considered punk. Here are a few important albums.

Nina Simone in Concert-Nina Simone

Either we don’t talk about Nina Simone as frequently as we used to, or she is inherently misunderstood by modern music-listeners. Like most misunderstood artists, her well-established and hard-fought political beliefs are either diminished or completely glossed over. On this record, she discusses civil rights for the first time with a long diatribe venerating Malcolm X and advocating separatism. Her radical ideology has been completely diluted today. A good example is the new biopic (a fad that always makes artists bland and uninteresting) which deals very little with issues of race and instead deals with her artistry. The two should be inextricable. Apparently not.

Bringing It All Back Home-Bob Dylan

Young, angry white males love Bob Dylan. He’s a hero to the disgruntled middle class youth of the Midwestern persuasion. Bob Dylan is inarguably one of the most consequential artists of the 20th century, and he set the template for the punk rock persona: pompous, self-aggrandizing arrogance to the umpteenth degree, a complete unwillingness to bend to anyone’s will (for good or bad).This record is an important turning point for Dylan in that his rise to fame perpetuated much of his behavior. It mixes high brow lyrical vomit and a white version of blues that removes rhythm and embraces speed. Bob Dylan WAS attitude (now he’s Barry Manilow).

Uprising-Bob Marley

If you know your 1970s punk rock history then you know that reggae was the only accepted genre of the hyper-exclusive, hyper-macho first wave of punk. Bands like The Sex Pistols and The Police began as punk bands but were primarily inspired by Jamaican reggae. Probably another example of white men adopting black culture to serve their own dividends, I’ve walked past frat houses and heard them playing “One Love” more than a dozen times. As a culture, we’ve whitewashed Bob Marley. Gone is the raging anti-establishment rhetoric, the complete devotion to the divine and the belief in failure and redemption. What we are left with is a caricature: peace, love and weed. It’s just not true. Marley would be rolling in his grave if he knew he was complicit in the travesty that is the music taste of Frat Row.