Saturday, November 28, 2009

Proto-Punk: The Dirty Roots

1. The first wave : Protopunk

The early traces of the sound and look of punk rock came into play on the border of the 1960s and 1970s. The sound was bled from bits of early garage rock and experimental noise: The Stooges and The Velvet Underground, respectively, are notable influences/pioneers of punk rock. What set their sound apart from their guitar strumming contemporaries was an utter disregard for the rules of music -- many songs were disgruntled in their messages and in their delivery. Traditional melodies were
tossed in favor of noise. Instruments became weapons of sound-wave mutilation. Lyrics trashed politics and glorified getting fucked up.

The Velvets were an extension of the '60s psychedelia that came to bridge the gap into the madness of the punk explosion in the '70s. Style-wise, they were the epitome of New York Cool. Mods, as you could call them, The Velvet Underground's look was ultra-
hip and black, black, black (the official color of rock and roll). Not only was their crew decked in leather, dark shades and bed head, they had the most avant-garde artist of the times, Andy Warhol, managing their act. Lou Reed led the the band musically as they pushed artistic boundaries, especially their live performances which became explosive and unpredictable. Reed's monotone, sardonic singing voice left listeners chilled, and intrigued.

To quote,
"While the American west coast was undergoing the Summer of Love, andflower power, the typically east coast Velvets concerned themselves with darker subject matter: transvestites, heroin addiction, and sadomasochism. Also setting them apart from their contemporaries was their use of feedback and amplifier noise in a musical context, exemplified by the seventeen minute track “Sister Ray” from theirWhite Light/White Heat album." And so the tree grows from dirty roots.

Coming straight outta the nitty gritty Michigan exhaust pipe was Iggy Pop and the Stooges, a late '60s hard rock outfit that was the yin to the Velvet Underground's yang.

What I mean is, while Reed and Warhol were fucking
around with weird new sounds in New York, Iggy and his crew were thrashing around onstage screaming about being your dog, sent to search and destroy. The band is somehow known for playing to hostile audiences, prompting Iggy to perform outrageous acts of contortion and engaging violent banter and self-mutilation (above).

The Stooges are also known as pioneers of incorporating the vacuum cleaner, a household item, into their performances as an instrument. Iggy was known to smear hamburger meat upon his naked flesh and flash his genitals onstage. He also might have invented stage diving.

Their look evoked memories of glam rock, with the tight silver pants and impishly painted faces. However, their look lacked the fun
flamboyancy of the gender benders and instead packed a visceral punch to the gut -- as human blood and cow meat would.

With the Stooges, the clothes on their bodies meant little compared to the statements they made in their live performances and on their records. Iggy's sinewy, bare chest became their trademark.

The sound that inspired punk and still holds its own, here's the Velvet Underground with "Venus in Furs," a moody, groovy jam.

In this video of Iggy and The Stooges performing
"Sweet Sixteen," I see
Iggy as Mick Jagger if Mick
had been dropped on his head. This
performance is
definitely representative of the womb that birthed
modern punk rock.

P.S. Check out "Here Comes the Sun" by the Velvet Underground
and "The Passenger" by Iggy
Pop and the Stooges for additional

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