October 2011
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THESES ON PUNK ROCK BY JOHN MAUS1

after Pisaro2 after Badiou3

  1. The only workable name for the musical4 truth procedure that begins with Elvis Presley, and continues through the Beatles, the Sex Pistols, et al.5, is “punk rock.”
  2. Punk rock, like every truth, is (a) singular6, (b) open to all7, (c) without being8, (d) proceeded upon9 by subtraction10, (e) giving of the impossibility of totality11, and (f) disordering of the Police12.
  3. Punk rock, like every truth, is the void13 of a particular, immanent, situation. This situation is presently Global Capitalism14.
  4. Punk rock, like every truth, is anarchist15 in this sense: it gives itself as a disordering of the Police.
  5. Emphasizing the difference16 between moments of a truth procedure, rather than the singularity they proceed upon, which is their truth, is a type of Policing.
  6. Punk rock has often been flamboyant, however, not the smallest shred of musical truth has ever been wrested by17 hopping around in a band uniform with epaulets.
  7. Proceeding upon punk rock by subtraction means over-concentrating (a) this situation’s particulars18, (b) the materiality of these particulars19, and (c) under-concentrating (subtracting) the differences amongst these particulars by the singularity so proceeded upon20.
  8. While finally irreducible to any particular, punk rock has something to do with youth21. (Although, it has nothing to do with childishness)22.
  9. Representation by the Police usually speaks to a moment’s untruth. This means: to the extent that a work is, e.g., played on the radio, discussed in magazines, sold in stores, etc., it is probably not punk rock23.
  10. Like the subject of any musical truth, the subject of punk rock is fascistically anti-fascist, not as the “tolerant” who would hypocritically hide their intolerance, i.e., their intolerance of intolerance. The punk rocker, through their moment, absolutely embraces the absolute denial of any absolute as creativity, and so defeats the nihilist, the ironist, and/or the cynic, who do not embrace this, but rather concile themselves to the dominance of evil in the world.
  11. There is no scale for the ranking of a work; its self-identity mocks the dimension of “more or less”24.


NOTES

1 (Hereafter TPR).

2 Michael Pisaro’s “Eleven Theses on the State of New Music, (after Alain Badiou),” 2004, 2006, (hereafter PNM).

3 Alain Badiou’s “15 Theses on Contemporary Art,” 2003, (hereafter BCA).

4 Punk rock, insofar as it is considered here, is a musical truth, i.e., a truth of the singular way of listening we call “music.” As such, it is, e.g., neither a truth of politics, or science; nor is it a truth of poetry, or some other art.

5 Subjects to this musical truth include: Madonna, Bob Dylan, Cabaret Voltaire, The Rolling Stones, Nirvana, Johnny Cash, Tangerine Dream, James Brown, The Pink Floyd, The Supremes, Amon Düül II, Bob Marley, Burzum, Mahmud Ahmed, The Bee Gees, Technotronic, Grateful Dead, Duran Duran, The Beach Boys, Hall and Oates, Bon Jovi, Panda Bear, Govinda, Harry Merry, The Human League, Black Flag, Merle Haggard, Ariel Pink, Metallica, R. Stevie Moore, etc. It includes moments, not only from record albums, but also from television programs and commercials, video games, unrecorded performances, jingles, “the head,” etc.

6 i.e., a singularity, absolutely singular from every other musical truth, including: the musical truth of Cage and the New York School; the musical truth of Akan and Ga; the musical truth of Schoenberg and the Second Viennese School; the musical truth of Jazz; the musical truth of Haydn and Neo-Classicism; the musical truth of Hindustani; the musical truth of Bach and the Baroque; etc.

7 “Open to all” does not mean welcoming, it means universal in address. A situated experience of punk rock is always traumatic, in the sense psychoanalysis gives this word (cf., BCA: 2, 11; PNM: 4).

8 “Without being” is not non-being, but rather that which is inappropriable by the totality of being/non-being. This is something like hatred without object. That is, an impossibility, a promise withheld; neither hatred of everything (for thus everything would be an object), nor hatred of nothing (for punk rock is itself a kind of nothing), but rather hatred of the excrescent consistency of objects (cf., BCA: 1, 3, 5, 10, 13; PNM: 1).

9 …neither by fusion (combining one musical truth with another, e.g., the truth of punk rock with the truth of Cage and The New York School; the truth of jazz with the truth of punk rock, etc.); nor by “false repetition,” in the sense that Deleuze gives this phrase, (repeating what was proceeded upon by a previous work), but rather only by…

10 (cf., BCA: 1, 5, 8).

11 Contrary to what many maintain, we are not one, we are multiple. Punk rock, like every truth, gives finitude, first, in the work as an infinite convergence, the inability to achieve total immanence in the work, and second, in the work’s singularity. Here, firstly, the work is the impossibility of total immanence, that is, total immanence by total communication; it therefore has at its core the trembling edges of finitude, it thus opens and gives an always other than me. Secondly, the work is the interruption of every general and every particular, in constellation with similar interruptions (cf., J-L Nancy’s “Community of Literature”).

12 Punk rock never gathers together, but rather tears apart. This is why the entirety of punk rock is summarized by Body Count’s lyric “cop killer” (cf., BCA: 9, 10, 13, 14, 15).

13 (cf., TPR: 2c)

14 This does not mean that the truth of punk rock arises only in this situation, but rather that this temporary situation is where the eternal truth of punk rock presently finds itself. The situation of Global Capitalism, as we know, is the ultimate and supreme triumph of universal equivalence.

15 (cf., TPR: 2f)

16 e.g., style, genre, affect, subjective inclination-towards, subjective impression-of, cultural significance, conditions of production, economic significance, formal details, etc.

17 …wearing makeup, packaging a record album, the mise-en-scène of a music video …

18 e.g., commodity form, universal equivalence, advertising, identities, catharsis, standardization, “difference,” melodrama, currency, the imperative to enjoy, surface, unthinking clamor and bombardment, spectacle, effortlessness, entertainment, etc.

19 i.e., their materiality, e.g., the means of production, material removed from exchange, etc.

20 The “over” and the “under” at question here are both infinite, in the sense Levinas gives this term, i.e., infinitely inappropriable, infinitely beyond the totality they exceed (cf., TPR: 5).

21 “Youth,” as understood in this situation—a demographic; a market, aprx. 13-30 years old.

22 The subject of punk rock never “sings” like a baby. Punk rock is not a mobile for dazzling babies to sleep.

23 There are rare instances where the Police (played on National Public Radio, discussed on Pitchfork, sold at Starbucks, etc.) close round a truth so as to put it to work, this is proliferation of representation as a means of foreclosing singularity, Foucault’s “reversal of the political axis of individuation.” We see this, e.g., with young Elvis, with Beatlemania, with the endless articles and interviews about Nirvana, etc. More often, however, proliferation is merely an end in itself, closing round only itself as pure excrescence (the untruth most often played on National Public Radio, discussed on Pitchfork, sold at Starbucks, etc.). As a general rule, we might say the extent to which a work lends itself to being appropriated by such things, is the extent to which it is not punk rock. It is unlikely, for example, that the Police will ever play, discuss, or sell GG Allin, except maybe ironically, or in some other way that forecloses the truth to which he is a subject. The baby music mentioned above, however, provides a nice bumper between stock reports and current events, friendly background music while shopping, etc.

24 (cf., Adorno “Aesthetic Theory” p.188)



So you'd like to...

Be an Anti-Gen Xer (Part 1 of 2)

A guide by David Gasten (Denver CO USA)

Products sampled from this guide:
Generation X (or Gen X for short) is the accepted name for a large group of individuals who are currently in their 30’s and 40’s, live in Western countries (usually in an urban or suburban environment), and tend to act in a similar manner because they watch and listen to the same stuff. They were at one time the kids that worshiped Nirvana and wrote bad poetry when Kurt K*Blam did the mortal deed. They were the ones who took Ernie puppets with them to Green Day concerts. They loved to be miserable and act smugly oblivious to everything, they loved to make ironic and snide comments, write in all lower case letters, and hate capitalism because their university professors said it was bad.

But this group has a problem: they are now adults with real responsibilities. They now have good jobs, spouses/live-ins, kids, homes, stocks, credit cards, new cars, and all the trappings of a reasonable middle-class lifestyle, a far cry from the early deaths and oblivious utopia they thought they would live in as eternal nineties adolescents. But that does not stop them from having ambitions of being hipper, more intelligent, important, individual, and refined than they are in reality.

A cursory look at Amazon’s top sellers list in music will reveal Gen Xers as Amazon's top demographic. Somehow by listening to U2, Radiohead, Nirvana, Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, Tom Waits, and Jack Johnson, Gen Xers feel that their music listening habits are hipper, more intelligent, important, individual, and refined than they really are, which fits in very well with their overall ambitions as described above. They feel that by listening to these music choices, they are being very “alternative” and against the grain just like they thought they were in the nineties, but, then as now, what they feel like they are and what they really are are two different things.

If you aspire to be an anti-Gen Xer, then it is your goal to set yourself apart and therefore show the Gen Xers in your life how uniform they really look in their bedhead hairdos, "Vote for Pedro" shirts, low-rider jeans, and Crocs. It is your mission to have your Gen X colleagues scratching their heads or not knowing what to do with themselves (or you) when you are doing nothing more than showing them what clones they really are.

A lot of the material I will show you here will also help you be an anti-indie rocker. If you are tired of indie rockers that try to make you feel stupid because you don’t know who this or that musical idol they worship is, then this how-to guide will also give you some ammunition and maybe some comfort in knowing that a lot of their idols are not so great or special after all. It will also help you see that in listening to The Velvet Underground, Nick Drake, and Can, that the snobby indie-rock crowd are following the herd far more than they realize.

Here are some practical ways of thinking that are very anti-Gen X and can show a Gen Xer near you how to REALLY think outside the box.



The Velvet Underground are Old Hat

Oh, I can feel the atmosphere getting tense already—we’re off to a good start! Caucasian rock music has essentially followed two parallel (and oftentimes overlapping) ways of doing things since the initial musical renaissance that was the late 1960’s. One is the “straight ahead” direction, which psych and prog, heavy metal, roots rock, blues rock, and ground zero pop/rock all run in. Then there is an “alternative” direction started by the Velvet Underground, which includes some of the seventies glam/glitter rock, seventies punk rock, early new wave, hardcore punk, eighties college rock, alternative, and now indie rock and emo (in that exact chronological order). A Gen Xer is likely to put a stronger stress on the “alternative” thread started by the Velvet Underground. He/she will think that it was a glorious populist movement akin to the "Battleship Potemkin" and has probably written a pretentious university research paper about its importance. And of course a large portion of their collection will still reflect this, with groups like The Ramones, Intropol, U2, REM, and Radiohead dominating their collection.

The indie rocker in your neighborhood will be even more adamant about his love for VU. If he has a band, he will very likely wear his Velvet Underground influence on his sleeve and probably even performs sloppy covers of “Femme Fatale” or “Sister Ray”.

Time to face the facts. The Velvet Underground have been around for OVER 40 YEARS NOW. Yes, they are a good group, but let’s face it, every idea that they have offered us on the four Lou Reed-period albums (all of which are available on the Peel Slowly & See box set) has been completely mined and exploited, with the possible exception of John Cale’s viola. There is nothing any more revolutionary or special or new about idolizing the Velvet Underground than there is in idolizing the Beatles; in fact it’s pretty much the same thing only on a slightly smaller scale. Do you expect a Beatles clone or Elvis impersonator to change the world by copying their idol? Of course not! Then why should we expect any different from a band that copies the VU?

If you want to be different, find things that others wouldn’t think to have as influences and listen to those instead. There’s plenty of ideas in this anti-Gen X list alone to get you going. Or here’s another idea: draw some influence from Doug Yule and the oft-maligned "Squeeze" (1973) album. That sole post-Lou Reed record is a lot more fun than you may realize, not to mention that Doug Yule has a pretty uncanny resemblance to Lou Reed in a lot of ways. Check it out.



The MC5 and the New York Dolls are proto HEAVY METAL moreso than proto punk

Supposedly the BIG THREE of proto-punk bands are the MC5, The Stooges, and the New York Dolls. In my mind the only one of those groups who really deserves the “proto-punk” moniker is The Stooges. It's tough to ignore that “I Got a Right” is as 1977 as it comes, and that was recorded in 1972. But the MC5? I recommend you listen to Blue Cheer’s Vincebus Eruptum and the MC5’s Kick Out the Jams back to back some time and tell me how two heavy, muscular late-1960’s bands that sound that similar are supposed to be “heavy metal” and “punk” respectively.

The MC5's "Kick Out the Jams" roars like a Rat Fink muscle car and is unabashedly heavy and ballsy to the core; listen to the heavy mid-tempo roar of "Borderline", "Ramblin' Rose", and "Come Together" to see what I mean. Punk rock gets its very name from the word "punk" which is essentially the post-pubescent version of a "brat", or alternately, "[S]omeone who took it up the..." (and that's a direct quote from William Burroughs in Please Kill Me, on page 260 of the edition listed here). "Punk" suggests a tough-acting outside with a, well, not-so-tough core and an optional victim complex. Punk is the music of skinny ninety pound teenage boys that want to be tough but aren't there yet, whereas heavy metal is (and has been) the music of tough, mean, muscular men that can walk out of a fight as the uncontested winner, with hair and makeup intact. Punk rock is music that's fast moreso than heavy, whereas heavy metal is heavy (hence the name) and often fast too. "Kick Out the Jams" certainly shares the politics of later punk, but it has an inside-out confidence, heaviness, muscularity, and solidness that is far more reminiscent of heavy metal than punk rock. You could argue that Back in the Usa has that fast-moreso-than-heavy sound due to the production mistake of pushing the treble up on the mix, but that's not what "Kick Out the Jams" sounds like and that's not what the MC5's live shows sound like--in other words, that was an exception and not the rule.


Regarding the New York Dolls, the Dolls played at punk hangout Max's Kansas City, yes. Television and the Sex Pistols loved the Dolls, yes. And the Dolls were definitely a left-field glitter/70’s glam band, yes. But the Dolls’ real influence (musically and visually) is felt more on the glam rock of the eighties via Kiss and Hanoi Rocks. Where do you think Kiss and Jetboy got their names from? Dolls songs. As for the “punk” Dolls, listen to the first two Kiss albums (Kiss and Hotter Than Hell (Mlps)) or Self Destruction by Hanoi Rocks next to the original two Dolls albums (New York Dolls and Too Much Too Soon (Spkg)) and see how similar they sound. Why are Hanoi Rocks and early Kiss "metal" or "hard rock" or "glam" and the Dolls "proto-punk" when they all sound remarkably similar? Think about it. Some of the 80's glam groups like Poison and Motley Crue adopted the look but not the sound (again via Kiss and Hanoi Rocks), some like Faster Pussycat and The Dogs D'Amour dropped the ball musically but kept the look, and others like Guns n’ Roses (Appetite for Destruction (Clean)), Star Star (Love Drag Years), The Zeros (4-3-2-1 Zeros), and The Hangmen (The Hangmen) kept the music intact with the looks (in varying degrees).

In the meantime, if you are interested in finding out where punk really came from, check out The Stooges' Year of Iguana, Peter Hammill’s Nadir's Big Chance (a favorite of Johnny Rotten’s), Queen’s “Modern Times Rock and Roll” (on Queen), Neu’s Neu 75, and La Dusseldorf’s First (Mlps). Also listen to Alice Cooper and any of the classic glitter/glam rock groups from the early 1970's like Slade, The Sweet, Suzi Quatro, and Gary Glitter (Dynamite: Best of Glam Rock is the most comprehensive 70's glam compilation I've seen so far, so that's what I would recommend for an introduction).


Yes, ELP, and Queen kick tail! (And they are less pretentious than you are)

I think it’s incredibly amusing how the music press has tried to demonize progressive rock (aka prog rock) over the years, essentially marking classical influences as a “no go zone” (unless the classical in question is John Cage or Karlheinz Stockhausen, but that’s a different story altogether). It has also created a culture where music listeners are pretentious in their lack of pretension and perceive musical ability and entertainment value as something to be scorned rather than admired. It leaves pyrotechnical groups like Queen and ELP on everybody’s “worst of” lists while everyone has a big circle jerk about how great The Germs or The Dead Boys’ "Young Loud and Sloppy" were.

Whatever. Queen cover so much ground musically that there’s really no comparison; they even make the Beatles look conservative. They really were the “next Beatles”, just not too many people want to admit it. As mentioned previously, check out “Modern Times Rock and Roll” (on Queen) for punk rock in 1973. Wonder where heavy metal in the 1980’s as we know it came from? Check out “Stone Cold Crazy” from Sheer Heart Attack and “Sheer Heart Attack” from News of the World. (Both tracks are available together on Rocks 1.) The entire Innuendo album kicks tail from start to finish. Listen to them rip off The Cars, Elvis Presley, and ELO on The Game (+ Bonus Track). Appreciate them like an album act (as everyone does with Pink Floyd) and you’ll have a lot more fun with them than those mega-selling "Queen Greatest Hits" collections will ever let on.

As for Yes and ELP, you as an anti-Gen Xer understand that music doesn’t have to all be three-minute pop songs (although that is fine too). You also understand that there is a place for the more concentrated listening that Yes and ELP require, which is akin to the soundtrack listening that Gen Xers take part in whether they want to admit it or not. Therefore, you can see the hypocrisy when they call Keith Emerson "pretentious" and Ennio Morricone "a genius", especially because you are aware that Keith Emerson has done some amazing soundtrack work as well.

Your expanded "soundtrack listening" abilities therefore allow you to listen to the surround sound rerecording of ELP’s “Pictures at an Exhibition” (on the Return of the Manticore box) and have it leave you dumbfounded. With Yes, you get a kick out of the hippy anthem “Time and a Word” (from Time and a Word, you get a tear in your eye when listening to “The Circus From Heaven” (on Tormato), and you check to make sure your feet are still on the ground when listening to the “Endless Dream” opus on Talk.

You also explore from there. You’ve heard Twelfth Night’s almost flawless concept album Fact & Fiction and wonder why it isn’t as big as Pink Floyd’s "The Wall". You think The New Trolls’ Concerto Grosso blows the Moody Blues’ "Days of Future Passed" out of the water unmercifully. And of course you listen to Van der Graaf Generator tear it up on the live album Vital and let King Crimson take you on scary journeys with Great Deceiver: Live 1973-74 and Red: 30th Anniversary Editions and wonder how this sinister, brutal music ever got past the Goth rock crowd. In short, you let prog rock take you into other worlds that aren’t nearly as pretentious as are your Gen X colleagues that commiserate on message boards about how Stiv Bators is “the greatest rock vocalist of all time”. (Better than Freddie Mercury or Ronnie James Dio? Sure, sure…)



The Late Eighties and Early Nineties Weren’t So Bad After All

I always get a kick out of hearing Gen Xers talk about how Nirvana and grunge “killed metal”, never mind that there are far more metal bands than alternative bands from that period that are still with us today. I also love how the nineties sought to bring us an “alternative” to pop, rap, dance, and metal, only to give us music that was worse. (Sponge and Bush are better than Bon Jovi and Motley Crue? Come on, now…) The funniest of all is how open-minded the Gen Xers of the nineties supposedly were, when they were just terrified to listen to any nineties band that “nobody has ever heard of”. Meanwhile, the metalheads that came before them devoured every metal album in the Noise, Metal Blade, Megaforce, Combat, and Enigma catalogs, and begged for more. This was uniformly true for all subgenres of heavy metal, from glam to thrash to extreme metal to the straight ahead stuff.

I personally have a lot more fun reading about and digging through heavy metal than punk or alternative. For one thing you don’t have the pages and pages of pretentious braying about the “glorious revolution” and ridiculous debates like you do with punk. You don't have to deal with "Hey, we've got a new CD out!" kinderwhores, one-word titles that are supposed to be SOOO deep but really aren't, or "the "Nyaaaah--We're So Alternative (*Sproooing!*)" recklessness of mid-90's alternative. You don’t have to fool with politics and political correctness as much either. Heavy metal music speaks its mind (read the online magazine "Metal Sludge" to see what I mean), and is way more confident and muscular. And frankly, for every Winger, Bon Jovi, Warrant or Trixter, there’s a Trouble (Trouble), a Lizzy Borden (Visual Lies), a Helloween (I Want Out: Live), or a Riot (Privilege of Power).

If you take a closer look at the supposed dry spell of the late eighties and early nineties, you will find that it was OK to rock, everyone was having a lot more fun, and there is a lot more interesting stuff from that period than you remember, just a lot of it didn’t get played on the radio. 1989 was in particular a good year for records; that year gave us Nothingface by Voivod, the progressive metal masterpiece Master of Disguise (W/Dvd) by Lizzy Borden, WASP's scary-as-hell Headless Children, and one of the greatest guitar albums of all time, Gretchen Goes to Nebraska by King’s X. Oh yeah, and The Ramones did an incredible album that year calledBrain Drain which had some amazing heavy metal tunes on it like “Zero Zero UFO”. (The Ramones a heavy metal band?! The Gen X feathers get ruffled again…)

And that was just in the world of heavy metal. The college rock scene of the period also has plenty to offer, although as I've gone back and listened to more of the college rock from that period, I realize now how musically conservative and PC that stuff really is compared to the straight ahead music of the period (that was most definitely a ghost of things to come). Regardless, Love and Rockets (Express), The Jesus and Mary Chain (Automatic), Band of Susans (Love Agenda), Mojo Mixon and Skid Roper (Bo-Day Shus), and The Dead Milkmen (Beelzebubba) were a lot of fun.



Stay Tuned for Part Two, where we will explore:

—I'm Supposed to be Impressed That You Listen to Can?! I Can Dig a Lot Deeper than That..
—That “One-Hit Wonder” is Your Loss and My Gain
—Nick Drake and Elliot Smith, Pioneers of "Wuss Pop"
—Whatever Happened to Your Sense of Humor?

and finally, the dubious

—Unholy Trinity of Evil: U2 (Satan), Radiohead (The Antichrist), and Coldplay (The False Prophet)

MKRdezign

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