In his classic Subculture: The meaning of style (London: Methuen, 1979) Dick Hebdige addressed the first wave of 1970s punk rock aesthetics in Britain, discussing the contours of a movement that was somewhere between a pop fad and a larger political crisis. By violating a set of social codes in their distinctive ways, said Hebdige, punks had the effect of “presenting themselves…as villainous clowns…treated at different times as threats to public order (or) as harmless buffoons.”
Other contemporaneous observers expressed their perceptions in somewhat similar language. In one of her early dispatches on punk, the British rock journalist Caroline Coon described Captain Sensible of The Damned as having “a front as benevolently mad as a village idiot’s” and the Sex Pistols’ Johnny Rotten as “a disgraced Angel Gabriel”. Elsewhere, Tom Carson suggested that we view The Ramones in light of “the attractiveness of the comic loser” who is “the closest thing we have to the idea of the holy fool.”
These ideas are certainly undeveloped, but they are not haphazard. They indicate brief, intuitive flashes by the authors that their subjects of concern bear a resemblance to what one could call the sacred clown—an umbrella term for a cast of cultural archetypes marked by marginalia, shame, and destitution, paradoxically expressing sanctification and profanity, stupidity and sagacity, and menace and mirth.
This according to “Reading early punk as secularized sacred clowning” by Lane Van Ham (Journal of popular culture XLII/2 [April 2009] pp. 318–338).
Above and below, Captain Sensible in action.
Working with a top collector and specialist in the field, RILM has created a new document type abbreviated JZ, standing for Journal Zine—zine being the recognized short version of fanzine, which refers to the self-published fan magazines that proliferated in the 1980s, 1990s, and early 2000s (when the Internet made them largely obsolete).
Much like the thriving music-journal culture that developed in 19th-century Europe, these low-circulation publications were produced and consumed by key players in the music cultures they took as their subject; today they serve as primary sources that provide valuable insights into the subcultures that shaped the sound of the late 20th century (in the case of punk rock, it was the New York-based zine Punk that provided the name for the nascent musical movement).
We are in the first stage of entering JZ records that give bibliographic information and detailed summaries of key zines in popular music history. A growing number of universities have begun acquiring collections of these important documents.
Above, Joey Ramone, drawn by John Holstrom for Punk #3 (April 1976; click to enlarge). Below, the Ramones at Max’s Kansas City the same year.
Zehn kleine Jägermeister by the punk band Die Toten Hosen, which led the German charts in 1996, is a children’s counting song musically and textually referring to the British-derived Zehn kleine Negerlein and the U.S. Ten little Indians, in which the original set of ten members disappears one at a time through mishaps that are either their own fault or purely accidental.
The ten glasses of Jägermeister, a popular German liqueur, disappear in the obvious and banal fashion; ultimately, the song evokes a meeting between death and the picture of an infantile typical German whose behavior is driven purely by greed, and seems to sound the possibility that the German people could vanish altogether.
This according to “Doitsu no hittokyoku o yomu: Zehn kleine Jägermeister no baai” by Okamura Saburō (Goken fōramu VII [October 1997] pp. 1–23). Below, Die Toten Hosen brings it.
In 2012 Intellect launched Punk & post-punk (ISSN 2044-1983; EISSN 2044-3706), a journal for academics, artists, journalists, and the wider cultural industries.
Placing punk and its progeny at the heart of interdisciplinary investigation, it is the first forum of its kind to explore this rich and influential topic in both historical and critical theoretical terms. The journal is edited by Philip Kiszely and Alex Ogg.
Related article: Patti Smith and Rimbaud
Patti Smith’s direct assimilation of Arthur Rimbaud’s work into hers presents a case of cultural cross-fertilization in which the poetry of a foreign high-cultural figure enters into and influences a popular and countercultural discourse, illustrating how a nonacademic reading of a canonical text can help to produce a musical style that disseminates a message of social deviance.
Smith has foregrounded her debt to Rimbaud in several ways, explicitly referring to him as her major poetic influence and participating in a hermeneutic activity as she transformed his texts into her own. The poet has served as Smith’s most credible archetype of subversive behavior, and his work has provided the richest source for the development of her innovative aesthetic practices.
This according to “Rimbaud and Patti Smith: Style as social deviance” by Carrie Jaurès Noland (Critical inquiry XXI/3 [Spring 1995] pp. 581–610). Below, Smith performs Rock n roll nigger, one of the songs analyzed by Noland, in 2011; listen for Rimbaud’s name around 3:20.
Related article: Punk & post-punk