Part one below need not be read first. There I basically say Brant Bjork is a top-drawer rocker of note, and hey, look at this righteous screed he wrote:
The inner line within myself dividing my reality and my idealism is very fine. As I assume it must be for others who would consider themselves “bleeding hearts, under-dogs, dreamers, or romantics”. I know deep down, none of these things ultimately define me but I’d be lying if I said that I don’t feel all of these characteristics inside myself at any given moment. Growing up in a capitalistic society is an intoxicating thing. Money. It’s a harsh reality. It wouldnt be so bad if our culture wasn’t so obsessed with it. Obviously I chose to follow my heart into the arts. Yes, I too obsess over money from time to time. but my priority has always been to maintain my path in art ...specifically music.I second all that, heartily. I think Brant's a few years younger than me. I started young, first gig in late '81 at 15 years old with the Dark - so part of my root is also that between-the-eras time, when punk was assumed to be dead and the hardcore resurgence hadn't picked up steam yet. Point being, that was a time when so few independent records were released that I tended to buy just about anything that came out - which led me to waxings by oddballs like Factrix, Chrome, the Residents, Non, etc. The Drome, one of thee great record stores of the late 70s to early 80s, used to sell 3 packs of 45s at a sale price, and the mystery record in the middle that couldn't be seen in the store often turned out to be something very cool. That's how I wound up with a copy of Orchid Spangiafora's "Dime Operation" EP - Byron Coley's cut-up tape recordings. And in Cleveland itself there was always weird shit happening, hell, Johnny and the Dicks were a "band" that didn't play music, who released an album with no record inside (basically a 12"x12" cardboard flat with some glue, glitter and a photo pasted on it). One friend of mine actually bought one, but was so puzzled that his curiosity drove him to peel it apart, hoping somehow there'd be a record inside that 2-ply cardboard. I remember in '84 or so noticing that somehow a good number of people in the hardcore scene owned SPK's album "Leichenschrei" - and that strikes me today as being an illuminating and unique aspect of our mindset. You could do fucked up things, punk rock orthodoxy didn't have much pull with most of that first generation of NE Ohio hardcore bands, many of whom were better known for their low-rent hedonism than any political stance. Audiences at the biggest shows were another matter, but then you had lots of kids getting their first live exposure and all that goes with that. And the previous generation had given as such great bands to look up to - Pagans, Pere Ubu, Electric Eels, many many others, you know the list if you're here. Hell, probably the best band during that first hardcore era was not part of the scene at all, but from the old class of '77 (and earlier), the Easter Monkeys, and we all knew they were the fucking greatest.
Art, to me, is spiritual and should remain so. There is nothing wrong with “making a buck”... but I simply feel it should not be at the expense of your spirituality, or...your art. There are so many paths to take that are entirely built for the pursuit of money, why some choose the arts as a way to “make money” is something I really don’t understand. When I was growing up, I was naturally attracted to “punk rock”...not just for the music but for the “effort”. It was a movement...at least I saw it as one. I saw Punk Rock as a place for the few who didn’t want to “walk the line”. It wasn't motivated by money. It was a natural attraction for me and my personality. Most of my closest friends at that time were into “it”. Punk Rock is my root and it’s the school that I came up in. It has a lot to do with how and why I play music today. I say this, not out of pride, certainly Punk Rock today is not something I am really interested in, but I am not in denial of my roots. Why specific people choose to dwell in the mainstream artistically is not something I can really answer.
For me...I simply don’t like controlling people and I don’t like people controlling me.
and as for “Punk Rock Guilt”. I honestly don’t even know what it is supposed to mean. To feel guilt for growing up on one of the only meaningful forms of rock music and art in the 80’s...seemed so lame that I had to use the term as a record title.
In Cleveland, everyone understood on a near-molecular level that a band didn't have to be popular, even in underground terms, or conform to their era, let alone be acknowledged to exist by anyone beyond a 10-mile radius of the Terminal Tower in order to be important. If you didn't have a tape of Rocket from the Tombs' WMMS broadcast, you probably knew someone who did and it made your year to get a dub of it. Sure there was a party scene (hello, 1385) but when it came to music, most of us were dead serious, but also had zero expectation that anyone besides ourselves would really give a shit. Those who were just on the take or aiming for stardom were ruthlessly mocked when not entirely ignored (most of the time). I'd include Trent Reznor's old band Exotic Birds in that category, what knobs those guys were.
So there wasn't much political correctness in Cleveland, but a code was instilled nonetheless, and that was: be real, do your own thing, but please don't take yourself too seriously or we will cut you down to size, ginsu-knife style. I can't help but violate that last one, but I do so knowing full well the inconsequence of my labors.
On the other hand, it was the hard rock of my boyhood that made punk rock work for me. It clicked for no other reason than it was hard and passionate. I've been truly blessed by relatives and friends who turned me on to cool music from the git-go. Before I even started kindergarten, Blue Cheer's Vincebus Eruptum was one of my favorite albums. Alice Cooper's early records were my grade-school bible, and I couldn't understand why so few of my friends bought albums, and when they did, they were kinda lame. I guess that was the beginning of feeling outside, apart from others. I vividly remember Andy Ferstman (sp? He played in some Florida punk bands and later played a bit on the glam metal circuit) calling me up from FL to play me records by these new bands Black Flag and The Eat. And there was also the radio - CKLW and WIXY in the late 60s and then WMMS' early prog years, establishing audiences for T. Rex, Bowie, Roxy Music and many others long before they could draw anywhere else. Plus the artists could stay in the old Swingo's, a rock and roll hotel/bar that rivaled LA's most debauched haunts. And although it's common wisdom that Cle radio did not support punk, it was M105 where I first heard the Dead Boys, which was then followed by the DJ taking calls on-air for reactions, most of which were along the lines of "this is the worst crap I've ever heard" - I called in too, I didn't get on the radio, but told them it was kick ass. Given the direction the station went (or continued in, rather), their listeners really didn't want anything to do with punk rock, just more Springsteen and Southside Johnny, thank you very much.
My point here is that there was a whole maelstrom of other unique influences on people in Cleveland during those days, some that you wouldn't associate with a smaller, down-on-its-luck city. That combined with extreme isolation and a shit local economy is the rosetta stone to understanding the otherness of much Cleveland music. Lots of outsider art/music came in, but what came back out was hardly broadcasted back into the larger world, and everyone seemed pretty much fine with that, wasn't that how it worked anyway, unless you just got really lucky?
Whether you ever liked punk or hardcore, Brant is right on when he portrays it as "one of the only meaningful forms in music and art in the 80s" - because that scene was to some degree a midwife to all the good rock-based musics of the following 10 years, and the art component is significant as well. But it's also why the current climate is so baffling to me. Indie labels with releases in the top 20? I love it that the money is not going into corporate coffers, and to a label that is probably better about paying royalties, but still... isn't Iron and Wine (or whoever) just the Seals & Crofts of the aughts? The cognitive dissonance is overwhelming. Where did all the guts go? Where is the rock? Our descendants are the new purveyors of the MOR format? Fuck.
I'm not too interested in the false binaries of punk vs. indie, big business vs. small, but I am interested in Fucking Things Up (from either direction) in just the right way. Both chaos and deliberation are honored guests at our table. Both spontaneity and control, but not in opposition so much as the limits of a spectrum.
This all ties in a bit with our concept of "The Donk" - a marvelously versatile term whose root meaning is to do things wrong in just the right way, or to be perplexed and amused and maybe even enlightening at the same time... and lots of other more crass things. But as this post is already way too long, I'll deal with that later.
And to bring it all back home, one last Brant Bjork observation - the wife put on the PRG album last night and in all seriousness stated that the best lyric on the whole album was the first line of the first song ("Lion 1"), namely:
"Yeah"There's a bit more to that line ("...I know my rights"), but it follows a great introduction and build on a simple modal riff (do note the classy hi-hat work in that section - all foot, no stick), so that the way he delivers that word just oozes with feeling, which I hear as, "yeah, I know exactly how hot the last two minutes of rock were, and I'm just getting started... check this shit out..." The song is quite the opening salvo, not so much epic as sprawling, it keeps digging in a little deeper each time you hear it. The refrain of the song is, "I can be who I want to be" - which is the essential punk rock lesson, right? Dig it.