Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Back off Boogaloo

So I'm reading this book PostWar, right? It's provocative and well-written and seems smart, so I'm having a good time. Then alla sudden, we get to the seventies and the author, Tony Judt, mentions punk rock and I have to stop, put the book down and seriously question whether this guy knows his onions. His take on punk could have been xeroxed from Time magazine, ca. 1977: for him, the music was a sneering, stupid pose struck by people who couldn't play their instruments. Oh boy.

So not only is he wrong, but he hasn't done his homework.

In fact, the only other European musical event of the seventies that Judt deems noteworthy is the schmaltzy, ultra-commercial Eurovision song contest and TV show. Together, punk and Eurovision proves his overriding "idea" that seventies culture was not the least bit innovative, and all about looking backward.


Brothers and Sisters, stand up and testify if you think the seventies gets a raw deal! Honk if you like Mott the Hoople and Krautrock!!

Okay, I came of age in the 19 and 70's. And alright, yes, I still listen to a great deal of music from that decade. Still. It really bugs me that an otherwise knowledgeable fellow jumps on this particular bandwagon. The seventies have been unjustly maligned for too long, people! Punk wasn't just the Sex Pistols (the only band that Judt mentions by name), it was also Wire and the Undertones and Nina Hagen, fer gawd's sake, all of whom were innovative and forward-looking in their own genuine ways. And never mind punk (and new wave), what the fuck about two other British/European bands who were almost genres unto themselves--Roxy Music and Kraftwerk?

This was the Euro music that I heard in the seventies and none of it was backward in any sense of the word. Instead, taken as a whole--even including schlock like Georgio Moroder and Italian disco (which actually bloomed a bit later)--my music told me that all bets were off. Everything was allowed and nothing was forbidden.

This anarchic and lovely storm of ideas roiled and boiled right up until 1982 or so, when some of it fed into the birth of electro, techno and hip hop. And so on.

Dag! That vein in my forehead is throbbing again.

I'm tired of people recycling the same old cliches about punk (and disco, for that matter.) Complain about Avril Lavigne now if you want--that's cynical. But if you were alive in the seventies and you missed out on all the crazy musical shit that was exploding in Europe and the rest of the world, you were just sleeping.

It's never too late to edumicate youself, Tony Judt. Get thee to the Internet!


Ed Ward said...

Judt's problem -- and Postwar's, by extension -- is that, like most academics, he ignored pop culture as a serious subject, and, thus, doesn't get it. It's the only yawning gap in the whole book, and, since it covers everything else so admirably, I wish he'd just not written about it or written just enough to contextualize other stuff, and moved on.

Book's still great. I'd happily educate him, too; I bet he's a great person to just talk informally with.

pat said...

That's gracious, and I also realize he's otherwise concerned with bigger fish. Like the building and tearing down of the Berlin Wall. Still. Yeah...maybe he shoulda notta said nothing. And how could anyone not get Nina Hagen?

Ed Ward said...

Easily! One of my least-favorite German stars. Not as content-less as Blixa Bargeld, maybe, but close. And her flitting from genre to genre -- last one I saw was swing big-band chantoozie -- is idiotic.

One of my worst memories of Berlin was a long cab-ride with a cigar-smoking Ossie driver blasting Nina on the stereo. There were enough of us that I had to sit up front with him. Aiee!

Noel said...

You're preaching to the choir, old friend...I make my living now playing 70's music!