Friday, 17 June 2011

Whoso fly up in th' sky Faster than any boy could ever describe Whos got that love so deep And everything alive

The origins of “Alternative Music” and the rise of Punk  Part I

“Jet Boy”, New York Dolls (1973)  

Often cited as a major influence on the punk, (as I stated in my previous blog) and later new wave movement in the U.K., the New York Dolls are not all that well know in the mainstream of music. As I embark on one of my longest blogs ever, bear with me as this build-up is important in understanding the influence and impact this strange band had. 

As I said, there were a lot of things going on in the U.K. to stem the backlash of Punk and then new wave against the establishment. The American influence was there, but I am not convinced it was the ‘cause’ per se of Punk. What was happening was that you had a complacent record industry cranking out mega-bands; you had Vietnam War vets returning to a poor economy, often disliked by the hippies who now also lacked a cause. The U.S. government was having its own problems, wallowing in the corruption of Watergate, broke from the long war, and floundering in the face of an economy falling apart.

The U.K. faced the same or worse economic conditions, with high unemployment and growing anti-government and anti-monarchy sentiment. London itself had fallen into disrepair and desperation was in the air. What would the future of a young person be? What could they do?

The cross-pollination of British and American musicians resulted in a growing musical rebellion. The influences combined to ultimately culminate in Punk.

If you think about what was going on in 1973, with all the other change in the world, music was at a critical cross-roads:

·         Huge inflation: lead by gasoline prices through OPEC limiting the supply of oil; impacting the entire world.
·         Chrysler and other car manufactures close a number of plants, economic times are tough.
·         The U.S. fully withdraws from Vietnam.
·         RIA bombs explode in the economically challenged U.K.
·         Watergate hearings begin in the U.S.
·         Arab-Israeli conflict begins
·         Genetic Engineering and Optical fibre are invented.
·         T.V.: M*A*S*H, The Waltons, The Partridge Family, and Sanford and Son
·         Movies “The Last Tango in Paris”, “Deliverance”, “The Exorcist” and “Jesus Christ Superstar”
·         Music: Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, the Eagles, Elton John, The Rolling Stones, all going strong.

In the sixties there was a lot of experimentation with music and there were a lot of ‘garage bands’ that could see success. The major labels would entertain the ‘little guy”. As we get into the seventies, the record companies were starting to play it safer and safer with the main-stream commercially successful bands. Why mess with the success of Pink Floyd, the Stones or Zep? They were selling like hot-cakes.

There were a pocket of bands in the sixties that were counter-culture. They were not main-stream, but they were highly influential. Two in particular that stand out in my mind are Lou Reed (and the Velvet Underground), and Iggy Pop. Also David Bowie was very influential. Some people call this the roots of “Alternative Music”. It is also much considered to have spawned a darker, counter-culture music that embodies the disobedience of “stick it to the man”1, which seems to have been forgotten a little by the mainstream at this point. To keep fresh, rock needed some new rebels.

Admittedly without much musical talent, Iggy Pop (and the Stooges) was outrageous and unpredictable on and off stage. His impromptu clothing often tattered or ripped or non-existence was a very conscience, aggressive expression. His ‘protopunk’ or whatever you want to call it had an influence on punk rock and hard rock to be sure. Unable to control his drug addiction Iggy eventually was admitted to a mental institution, solidifying the persona of the outrageous outcast he tried so hard to cultivate.

The one strange visitor to the metal institution he had was one and only David Bowie. He took Iggy under his wing and after he was released made recordings alongside him. “Station to Station” was collaboration with Iggy Pop. Eventually Bowie helped Iggy write his most successful song “Lust for Life”.
If it looks like punk and smells like punk, is it punk? Iggy Pop was a clear influence – a radical without a cause.  

The New York Dolls cite Iggy Pop and the Stooges as a major influence on them. They in turn were influencing Britain as they played this and other performances in England. We will talk more about the Dolls.

Stay tuned for:
The origins of “Alternative Music” and the rise of Punk Part II

1 “Stick it to the Man” is the central premise taught in the “School of Rock” by Jack Black in the movie. “The Man” had long been a slang reference to an authority figure, big business, or the government that was an oppressive force that should be resisted either passively or aggressively.  The idea was that the rebellious spirit of rock was about ‘sticking it to the man” at every turn, as the only way to make real social change.

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