Rebellion takes many forms, and the results vary wildly. For example, much of punk’s messy ethos, and its rebellious legacy, seem in hindsight to be meaningless – shambling, loud, fast, and out of control.
At its worst, that’s all “punk” was, a screeching distraction. But at its best it inspired kids to take up a savage lens and look through it at the world around them. For instance, the songs of The Dead Kennedys and X helped expose the bloated inner workings and sometimes demonic colonial influences of the U.S. during Reagan. Those songs still have power.
In hindsight, though, many, (and maybe even most,) rebellions that seemed potent at the time they occurred now seem relatively tame. There are some you can look back at and think to yourself, “I would have supported that.” Of course, there are causes worth fighting for — civil rights during the middle of the 20th century, women’s rights right now — and there are countless rebels to admire — but some rebellions are simply mystifying because of their pointlessness.
In The Wild One, a leathery biker gang movie from 1953 that was based on actual incidents, Marlon Brando plays Johnny, incendiary leader of the Black Rebels Motorcycle Club. The club rides into a quiet community and with their abrasive attitudes and their loud, menacing engines, they disrupt the flow of life. Why do they do it? Because they can.
With jazz music playing in the background, a town girl asks Brando, “What are you rebelling against, Johnny?” Without hesitation, he famously responds, “Whaddaya got?” In ten seconds, a film snippet effectively dissects, inspects, and reports on 70+ years of American generation gaps: “It doesn’t much matter what I feel, as long as I get to feel Something.” That was pretty “punk.”
Viewed now, The Wild One seems toothless and kind of corny, but the story and the film caused real people to be terrified of agitators coming in and mucking up the rhythms of their small town lives.
Here’s a recent puzzler of a rebellion: This American Life featured a story after the 2017 presidential inauguration about young social media and Internet trolls. (Trolls are disrupters, [kind of like Brando’s motorcycle gang,] who post extraneous, off-topic, and usually inflammatory messages in an online community, mainly intending to provoke readers into an emotional response or of otherwise scuttling normal on-topic discussion.) Because they kept people distracted and off-balance, trolls were hugely influential in in creating the surprising result of the 2016 presidential election. The troll’s rebellion had teeth, but their “cause” was baffling – to stir up reactions by promoting ideas they didn’t even agree with.
Why do it? “Because we can.” It is not about getting a specific response, it is about provoking any response. It is about feeling Something. It doesn’t much matter what. “Waddaya got?” They thought it was funny. It wasn’t. It isn’t. Kind of like this cynical old joke:
Q: Why are you pounding your head against a wall?
A: Because it feels so good when I stop.
The climate is right for incendiaries — things are moving fast. Some of the results of current disruptions are surely meant to distract and confuse people. Many of the results may eventually come to seem benign or even be forgotten. Surely though, a great deal of real and lasting harm is being wrought. It will feel so good when it stops.
Welcome distractions, cont’d: Listening to Wax Idols, Priests, and No Joy.
The lasting power of punk is evident in several recent and upcoming releases. This is an artistic rebellion you can get behind: making beauty from chaos. Washington D.C. band Priests are currently doing just that – not satisfied to simply build graceful songs from the rubble of musical bedlam, they are also taking the next step by making their sound essential. This music has consequences – the band wants you to (for the love of god!) feel something.
They access an impressive array of tricks from their predecessors, shaking it up, and then delivering an original sound that evokes great punk. You will hear lots of musical influences from late-70s through the mid-80s from Sonic Youth to The B-52’s – there is even boogie-woogie piano and saxophone thrown in the mix. Bow down and kneel before the awesome power of Priests.
Nothing Feels Natural by Priests from Nothing Feels Natural (2017 Sister Polygon Records).
J.J. by Priests from Nothing Feels Natural (2017 Sister Polygon Records).
One of my favorite bands has a new release set for next w
eek. Loud and lovely, the Canadian outfit No Joy will release Creep on 24 February 2017, and here is a link to the first tune:
Califone by No Joy from Creep (2017 Grey Market).
No Joy have few peers when it comes to making beauty from chaos. Here is their latest EP from a few months ago. You will be glad you clicked:
Drool Sucker by No Joy (Mexican Summer 2016).
Hether Fortune is a time machine. She leads the Bay Area group Wax Idols, and while sounding exciting and new she also channels 70s/80s rock heroines Chrissie Hynde, Debbie Harry, and Siouxsie Sioux. Check out the urgent, beautiful echoes of Tones on Tail, Banshees, and The Cure in this great tune:
Deborah by Wax Idols from American Tragic (2016 Collect Records /cassette reissue due 17 Mar 2017 Etruscan Gold Records).
Conflagrations leap out of every poor furnace. What is this world coming to?
I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts by X from More Fun in the New World (1983 Elektra).
Confront the facts we hate. Try not to get distracted. Increase loveliness.
10 Feb 2017