Before You Were Punk

I'm not exactly sure when I first heard punk rock, but three moments in high school stick out for me. I remember my good friend Tim talking about how Minor Threat's entire discography could be put onto one CD. As someone who was into bands that had discographies that could fit onto five or six CDs, this was very different and it made me very curious. Tim dubbed me a cassette copy and I distinctly remember putting it into my car's stereo after marching band practice one day. Mere seconds into "Filler," I was hearing something so primal and incredibly fast that I couldn't compare it to anything else. While I thought it was cool, my life wasn't changed or anything. I felt like Minor Threat was a fun, angry band that played fast tunes. It's not like I was unimpressed either.

Sometime later after listening to this Henry Rollins spoken word CD over and over, I finally got to hear what all he was talking about on the first disc. I picked up Black Flag's compilation of unreleased material, Everything Went Black, and felt like I was listening to something from a totally different world. Moreover, a world that came from some dark, torn-up, roach-infested studio back in '79. On its first track, "Gimmie Gimmie Gimmie," the drums and vocals sounded so spare, but once the guitars kicked in, it felt like garagey rock & roll kept as simple as possible. This was pretty awesome, but once again, not a life-changing thing.

Months later, my friend Drennan picked up a copy of Black Flag's Damaged in some record store out of town. Since we didn't really know what mailorder was back in those days, we did our best to find stuff with whatever our local record stores had. Since we never saw Damaged at a store in town, this was a major find and as I would soon find out, a really inspiring find.

Since my car had only a cassette tape player in it, I couldn't play CDs, or so I thought. One night, I was driving Drennan home and he happened to have a portable CD player (along with a cassette tape adapter) and his copy of Damaged. Only having time to play "Rise Above" and "Spray Paint," that was enough for me to realize that punk had way more life in than most rock music I heard back then.

Though melodic punk rock (namely, face to face and Bad Religion) would be the stuff that really changed me in the years ahead, slowly being introduced to punk rock was great. My first two years of college were spent listening to a lot of pop-punk, but then I started gravitating towards post-hardcore and other bands that were dubbed emo. Yet as I've found with talking to a number of band members, punk rock was the key that opened a lot of doors elsewhere in the underground realm of music.

I don't listen to fast punk rock that often these days. It's not completely out of my weekly rotation; I've recently realized how great Kid Dynamite's Shorter, Faster, Louder is and how Dead Kennedys' Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables is still a landmark album. Once again I'm behind the curve here, but a number of records, regardless of style, take many listens over many years to really sink in with me. It's not like it's intentional - I just have so much that I want to listen to, so not every single one gets full and proper attention when I first get it.

Whenever I hear about people focusing on how many copies a record sold in a week or a business quarter, I have to laugh. Yeah, that's nuts-and-bolts business, but the true, priceless value of music (regardless of how it's seen in any climate) is endless. I'm glad people like Ian MacKaye and Greg Ginn weren't banking on how well Dischord and SST did in a small period of time back in the '80s. I know they aren't these days and I doubt they ever will.


Anonymous said…
my "firsts":
op ivy
dinosaur jr
minor threat
dead kennedys

but check it the same time, i was also listening to:
c&c music factory
black box (remember "everybody everybody"?)
and any mtv to go music mix

...happy to announce that punk rock won me over.
Get In The Van is on my top 10 must reads of all time. the cd is great as well.