Hey! Ho! Let’s Go: Ramones and the Birth of Punk

Saturday, July 2nd, 2016 by andrewreinhard
entry-cropped

2016 art by Yoshitomo Nara.

The Ramones released their eponymous album on April 23, 1976, on Sire Records, and on July 4 of that same year played their first non-US show at the Roundhouse in London, igniting the Punk fuse under British bands such as the Damned and the Clash, some of whose members were in the crowd that night. It was a Punk Independence Day in the UK ushered in by four burnouts from Forest Hills, Queens.

To celebrate Punk’s 40th birthday, the Queens Museum is hosting a Ramones retrospective exhibition, which will close on July 31, re-opening at the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles on September 16. What sets this exhibition apart from others of its kind is the fact that it ties Punk to place, namely Forest Hills, and contains ephemera about (or belonging to) the band members and their friends and families before the Ramones formed. The concept of Punk-and-place is not new to this blog, and you can read more about that here.

The exhibition places the band inside the context of the fledgling Punk scene in New York City with posters and handbills from CBGB and Max’s Kansas City, and photos of Blondie, Wayne County, Iggy Pop, and others. There are handwritten setlists and lyrics, art made by the band members and their fans, fan letters, original album art, original concert merch, backstage passes. Artifacts of the band include gear and clothing, as well as elements of when the Ramones were “becoming”, including an original demo tape and press kit. Visitors tour three galleries arranged chronologically, encountering Joey’s “Gabba Gabba Hey” sign and memorabilia from the film Freaks and later from Rock and Roll High School.

We see the Ramones invent themselves and their sound, creating not just a Punk phenomenon, but a pop culture one as well, becoming part of the American vernacular as they played over 2,500 shows. Not only do we see the transformation, we hear it as well, as Ramones tunes invite guests in to learn about the origins and growth of a legendary band. Through the Ramones’ artifacts and an attempt to place the band in first a local context, then in the context of the Punk scene, and then on their own terms as a global juggernaut, the exhibition attempts to explain a legend through the sum of its interconnected parts. We don’t quite get a feel for the men themselves through what has been preserved. What we do get, however, is a look at the band-as-virus, spreading Punk wherever it touched down. It’s the creation and circulation of a blueprint. Or perhaps a ‘zine.

The final gallery is entered through a glass door installed in a vain attempt to dampen the sound of a Ramones concert film played on continuous loop. In the back of the room, placed almost as an afterthought, is a case containing the Ramones’ lifetime achievement Grammy and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame statues. This almost hidden placement is clever, though, reminding us that the band was not about achievement; it never was, instead focusing on communication through music to as many people as possible. Such is Punk rock.

When I visited, about eight other people were seated in chairs, listening to the concert footage and smiling. And it marked the first time that I’ve ever seen EVERY SINGLE PERSON smiling in a museum exhibit, without exception. The exhibit walked the nostalgic line to be sure, but did its best to address the Ramones and Punk generally on their own terms, a creative force.

Below is a gallery of images I shot while touring the exhibit. Click on an image to learn more about it, and to enlarge it.

-Andrew Reinhard, Punk Archaeology

Archaeological Activism

Sunday, November 15th, 2015 by andrewreinhard
(Image: Birmingham Mail)

(Image: Birmingham Mail)

There is a lot to be angry about in archaeology. I lumped a handful of things to be mad at into a Punk Archaeology tune, “Darkaeology” (nsfw), but the list is sadly nowhere near exhaustive:

  • Funding (and lack thereof)
  • Jobs (and lack thereof)
  • Safety (lack of)
  • Publication (paywalls and author-paid Open Access)
  • Media coverage (the wrong/lazy kind)
  • Looters/nighthawks
  • Shady dealers
  • Sexism
  • ISIS/ISIL (and other groups)
  • Rupert Murdoch

Part of Punk is protest (remember all the anti-Reagan/Thatcher tunes in the ’80s?), and with the relaunch of Punk Archaeology, we as archaeologists need to think globally and act locally in order to affect change within (and outside of) our discipline, be it in helping to stop the illegal/illicit trade in antiquities, or in educating the public (down to the neighborhood, grassroots level) on what it is we do (and how they can participate), on stopping sexism. There’s plenty more. Punk Archaeology is public archaeology. Together we have a voice to demand change.

Protest in archaeology is not new. Take for example the call to save the Institute of Archaeology and Antiquity (IAA) at the University of Birmingham (UK) in 2012 (pictured above). In 2014, archaeologists, historians, and others rallied to the klaxon to stop the National Geographic Channel’s Nazi War Diggers program, which while initially successful, has now resurfaced via Clearstory in 2015 as Battlefield Recovery. Archaeologists have also been at the fore in protecting cultural heritage in conflict zones, most recently in Syria. Every Dig Sexism catalogues everyday sexism in the archaeology and heritage sectors via Twitter and a blog.

Punk Archaeology (and Punk archaeologists) should have an activism component, a Bat Signal, a rally point, a midnight bark. We can protest. We can support. We can educate. We can protect. If there is something in archaeology that you are passionate about, please write it up and email it here to Punk Archaeology for posting. We can try to take it viral, or at least put people in touch with one another to take action both online and on the ground.

-Andrew Reinhard, Punk Archaeology

Skateboard Archaeology

Thursday, November 12th, 2015 by andrewreinhard
My daughter with her $12 skateboard-artifact

My daughter with her $12 skateboard-artifact

In a recent Punk Archaeology post, I described my experience at Trenton, New Jersey’s Punk Rock Flea Market. As we were looking at various Punk wares, I spied a well-loved skateboard hanging on a pegboard. The price was truly Punk: $12.00. I looked at my daughter, 12 years old, black Chucks, beanie, hair in her face. “You wanna skateboard?” Her eyes lit up. I paid $12 cash, handed the new ride to her, and she carried it for the rest of the morning without complaint.

Bottom of the skateboard-artifact.

Bottom of the skateboard-artifact.

I had bought an artifact without any stated provenance at an open-air market from a dealer I didn’t know. Part of the impulse buy was to fulfill a need I had when I was a kid: I never had a skateboard. My parents (as many parents do) would buy me stuff, but typically off-brands in weird colors. Skateboarding was out of the question, and I never learned to ride. But I’m going to start. And my kid is already learning, finding her balance as soon as we got it home.

I also bought the skateboard because it looked well-loved. The bottom of the deck showed a lot of wear at the head and toe, and some in the middle. And my inner archaeologist took over. I couldn’t wait to get this thing home, not so I could ride it (or watch my kid ride it), but so I could examine it with my archaeological eye. What could I learn about the skateboard, or what archaeologists call the object’s biography?

Top of the skateboard-artifact.

Top of the skateboard-artifact.

I considered the signs of wear at the bottom, figuring the deck had seen a lot of street action (because of the abrasions down to the plywood). The trucks and wheels, all of the hardware was original, which probably meant this was a first board owned by a kid who probably didn’t have a lot of money to upgrade it (or upgraded to a new board entirely after outgrowing what was kitted out as a starter skateboard).

Kryptonics logo stencil atop the board's deck.

Kryptonics logo stencil atop the board’s deck.

The top of the deck still had the original grip, worn all around the edges, and still sported the original stencil: a “K” in a circle surrounded by four half-arrows pointing clockwise.

Kryptonics wheels, painted, and native to this board.

Kryptonics wheels, painted, and native to this board.

The wheels featured the same smiling skull iconography and color as the graphics on the bottom of the deck, with the word “Kryptonics” in all-cap, red Gothic lettering. “Kryptonics” was also labeled across the bushing, with the nut, bolt, and washer rusted.

Kryptonics components under the deck.

Kryptonics components under the deck.

As I stated earlier, I’m not a skater, so I didn’t know exactly what I had bought. Armed with a brand, a logo, and iconography, I went to the Internet to have a look. As it happens, Kryptonics is a storied brand founded in 1965, quickly becoming the industry standard for polyurethane wheels and sponsor of world-class skateboarders including Stacy Peralta and Tony Alva. The company still makes polyurethane products and wheels, and it also produces pre-made skateboards, becoming the house brand for Wal Mart, which retail new for around $50. Scrolling through images of these newer Kryptonics boards, the one I purchased did not show up, making me think the board was at least a little older as the wear from usage indicated.

Ralph's Famous Italian Ices sticker for the Lyndhurst, NJ location.

Ralph’s Famous Italian Ices sticker for the Lyndhurst, NJ location.

The most interesting thing about the skateboard, though, was the worn sticker for Ralph’s Famous Italian Ices. The sticker had been applied after the skateboard was originally purchased, and could help zero in on the location not of production, but of use. Staten Island-based Ralph’s currently has 78 stores in the New York/New Jersey/Long Island areas. The snippet of the “Hwy” address on the sticker on the skateboard pointed to the Lyndhurst location, which is now permanently closed. I was unable to learn when the Lyndhurst franchise was shuttered, but that would at least give us a terminus ante quem, or maximum latest date that the sticker could have been acquired, thus dating the skateboard.

What was an impulse buy from a nostalgic and indulgent father became a learning experience in the history and manufacture of a well-loved item from a young person’s past, communicating a bit of corporate history not only of Kryptonics, but also of Ralph’s Famous Italian Ices. Sometime in the not-too-distant past, a kid (or sibling or parent) went to a northern New Jersey Wal Mart, bought this skateboard, added some local personality to it, and the rode it until either outgrowing it or tiring of it, at which point it was released into the wilds of (probably) garage sales until finally ending up in a Punk Rock Flea Market, and is now a new mode of locomotion for another kid just discovering what it is to have four wheels and some freedom.

-Andrew Reinhard

Trenton’s “Punk Rock Flea Market”

Monday, November 9th, 2015 by Archaeogaming
The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle (1980)

The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle (1980)

I’m a “classically trained” archaeologist with an interest in Punk history, and when I learned last week that something called the “Punk Rock Flea Market” was happening less than ten miles from my door, my imagination ran wild thinking of the Punk artifacts to be found. This advertisement threw gas on the fire:

Signage for the Punk Rock Flea Market, Nov. 8, 2015, Trenton, NJ.

Signage for the Punk Rock Flea Market, Nov. 8, 2015, Trenton, NJ.

DIY clip-art? Check. Icon on fire? Check. Records by the Damned, the Ramones, and NOFX present? Check. Music, art, and clothing? Check. “Punk Rock” Santa? Hmmmmm….

Part of Punk Archaeology is understanding the material culture of Punk. I figured the Punk Rock Flea Market would have this in spades, and that I’d be rummaging through boxes of vintage clothes, collections of tapes and records, old patches and stickers, photos, ‘zines, memorabilia, ephemera, a veritable Turkish bazaar of Punk. I wasn’t necessarily looking to buy anything, but I was curious what would be on display, how it would be presented, who would be selling, and who (if anyone) would come.

Trenton is the capital of New Jersey and is really kind of the state’s mini-Detroit, a center of manufacture (hence the slogan, “Trenton Makes; the World Takes” on a bridge into town), dotted with urban blight, and a place that is in many parts dangerous and impoverished, but surrounded by affluent suburbs and towns such as Princeton a stone’s throw away. The mix of urban desperation and suburban boredom help make Trenton a New Jersey Punk nexus with its famous club, City Gardens. New Jersey is a small state, bookended by major metro areas of Philadelphia and New York City, and for the kids who couldn’t make it into town, the New Brunswick basement scene was world-class. What Punk relics from New Jersey’s Golden Age of Punk awaited me and my 12-year-old daughter? We had to wait to find out.

We all did what we were told at the Punk Rock Flea Market.

We all did what we were told at the Punk Rock Flea Market.

Our Punk hajj found us at the back of a huge line, as if we were waiting for general admission entry to a club show. The line featured people of all ages, many of whom came dressed for the occasion, reaching back into their closets for studded leather or at least a ripped pair of jeans and dusty Doc Martens. It was a kind of Punk cosplay in a way, but there were a few people here and there who looked like they had been in the middle of it all and emerged intact, remaining quite serious to Punk’s social and political messages.

Part of the line waiting to get in to the Punk Rock Flea Market, Roebling Wire Works, Trenton, NJ.

Part of the line waiting to get in to the Punk Rock Flea Market, Roebling Wire Works, Trenton, NJ.

We walked the full perimeter of the Roebling Wire Works, an abandoned factory now rented out for concerts, film screenings, photo- and video-shoots, and events such as this one. We got a peek inside as we based the back door with a view into the cavernous, basilica-like space within, already full of people, Punk on the loudspeakers. The rawness of Punk and the link to an abandoned factory in a rough town appealed. They go well together.

The line for entry ($4) to the Punk Rock Flea Market wrapped all the way around the Roebling Wire Works.

The line for entry ($4) to the Punk Rock Flea Market wrapped all the way around the Roebling Wire Works.

As the line wound around the building, we were handed flyers and postcards. I expected to see some political activism, campaigning, social justice issues, and more, but there was none of this side of Punk. Punk is activism in many forms, just as Punk Archaeology has an activist wing, but this activism was completely absent both outside and within the venue. I was hoping my daughter would see people registering others to vote, or promoting vegetarian/vegan living, but all we got were cards promoting shows and the April 2016 edition of the Punk Rock Flea market. Standing outside, you would never know what Punk was about, but those who knew (or at least were curious) came. The parking lot was full.

The exterior of the Punk Rock Flea Market's venue showed promise.

The exterior of the Punk Rock Flea Market’s venue showed promise.

Broken windows offered us glimpses inside of Punk memorabilia and DIY crafts. As we rounded the final corner to enter, we were met with a riff on Shepard Fairey’s “Obey” art. Social media was here and in full effect. That’s how I found out about it. I remembered seeing (and still do see in New York) stickers and promotional handbills advertising bands and shows. Those paper and vinyl reminders are quite likely things of the past now. Social media is free, and it’s everywhere, but it leaves no trace.

Shepard Fairey art co-opted for advertising the Punk Rock Flea Market.

Shepard Fairey art co-opted for advertising the Punk Rock Flea Market.

It cost me $8.00 to get the two of us in. We had to spend money in order to spend more money, but I understand that the funds go to pay for the rental of the building and the payment of event staff. Once inside, I was amazed at how crowded it was, but also how bright.

Inside the old Roebling Wire Works, Trenton, NJ, for the Punk Rock Flea Market.

Inside the old Roebling Wire Works, Trenton, NJ, for the Punk Rock Flea Market.

Over 200 vendors lined the factory floor, and the preliminary offerings of Punk stuff left me cold and feeling like I’d been had. The DIY crafts included things that smelled nice: candles, incense, aromatherapy oils. I found myself wondering in what context aromatherapy was Punk, but it was here, so by association, it was Punk. I thought back to the Markets of Trajan in Rome where modern tourists consider the architecture only, but can hardly imagine all of the activity and commerce within. Here in the abandoned factory, we had invented a space out of time, something temporary but undoubtedly commercial. We observed but also participated.The flea market was a commercial event, and I began to realize that this wasn’t a place like Plaka in Athens where I could dip my hands into history. Most of the stalls had new, handmade things, but things that co-opted Punk logos and language to move a product.

Coffins! Get your hand-painted Punk rock coffins at the Punk Rock Flea Market!

Coffins! Get your hand-painted Punk rock coffins at the Punk Rock Flea Market!

The case-in-point were the endless knick-knacks featuring band names and iconic Punk images (how many ways can you use a Danzig skull?). Hand-painted mini-coffins were for sale in at least two stalls. There were needlepoint crafts with the cartoon head of Milo from the Descendents. Sex Pistols oven mitts? You got ’em! I imagined these bands, most of whose members are still alive, and what they would think of all this, how their earnestness and energy transformed from an emotion into something to put on a shelf. Punk in general appeared to be outwardly anti-commercial, but promoters/managers such as Malcolm McLaren realized early on that everything is about money. It’s the great rock ‘n’ roll swindle. And here in Trenton is the Punk Rock Flea Market to prove it.

The Punk Rock Flea Market Christmas tree.

The Punk Rock Flea Market Christmas tree.

In the center of it all stood a tired, fake Christmas tree, underneath which was plenty of free swag and flyers to take.

“Punk Rock” Santa

The “holiday edition” of the PRFM also featured a “Punk Rock” Santa who wore a studded leather belt, and a red coat sewn with Punk patches. I half-expected to see a hungover, smoking guy in a hat telling children to piss off, or at least singing the Kinks’ “Father Christmas” song, but none of that was happening. There were the superficial trappings of Punk, but nothing deeper. We could see at least part of the Punk uniform, but worn strictly for show, iconography communicating on its own, separate from the person wearing it.

Jaw-dropping 1980s perler bead art of 1970s and 1980s pop culture at the Punk Rock Flea Market.

Jaw-dropping 1980s perler bead art of 1970s and 1980s pop culture at the Punk Rock Flea Market.

But what about the artifacts? Where were the Punk relics? We first had to wade through crowds surrounding DIY vendors featuring 1980’s memorabilia. As the 1970s and 1980s (and to some extent the early 1990s) were the decades for Punk and later hardcore, all of the trappings of that age made an appearance, triggering nostalgia. The amount of stuff to buy was staggering, but also unnecessary in a way. This was full-on commercialism and carried no message deeper than “weren’t the ’80s fun?”. I expected to see at least some anti-Reagan paraphernalia, and things condemning Margaret Thatcher, shirts or stickers sporting anti-fascist slogans, and in-your-face confrontational language. I saw none of it. There was no protest or anger. This perhaps is one of the problems with attending a show like this with the experience of having lived through the Punk era (even as a kid). We kept walking.

If it has a skull on it, it's Punk fashion. Yours for $40 at the Punk Rock Flea Market.

If it has a skull on it, it’s Punk fashion. Yours for $40 at the Punk Rock Flea Market.

I had hoped to get my daughter some Punk clothes, or at least clothes that she could work with as she creates her own personal fashion identity: Punk was fashion after all; there was a uniform and shared iconography. The few clothes we found were vintage in a way, but little in the way of jackets or accessories or old band shirts. Pins and patches could be found, but these were alongside high-end Punk-inspired clothing and handbags. Skulls were popular. One might assume that skull = Punk. We continued on.

Exploited at the Punk Rock Flea Market.

Exploited at the Punk Rock Flea Market.

We saw exactly one mohawk haircut in affect. The fashion at the Flea Market ranged from Wal Mart weekend to more elaborate Goth and emo, with plenty of black jeans and jackets, heavy eyeliner, blue hair (on young people), back t-shirts. People behaved, and they shopped. Quietly.

Atari games, VHS tapes, a new generation Intellivision, a Walkman, and more from the 1980s at the Punk Rock Flea Market.

Atari games, VHS tapes, a new generation Intellivision, a Walkman, and more from the 1980s at the Punk Rock Flea Market.

In the back-half of the Roebling Wire Works, we did begin to find ephemera and collectibles, authentic toys and media from the 1980s specifically. One vendor featured classic video games and hardware along with VHS and audio tapes and devices on which to play them (my daughter correctly identified a Walkman). All of these were presented without any real context, although they were presented together as a collective assemblage of artifacts from a 10-year span of American history. Ours was (and continues to be) a media-driven culture with entertainment featured in a program of planned obsolescence.

1980s ephemera, Punk Rock Flea Market

1980s ephemera, Punk Rock Flea Market

One particular display caught my eye, with toys from my later adolescence. And then I saw it:

Reproduction idol from Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Reproduction idol from Raiders of the Lost Ark.

A coin-bank in the shape of the idol from Raiders of the Last Ark. I had to have it. Although not Punk, it would be perfect for my desk. Nostalgia captured me, but not strong enough to liberate $80 from my wallet. History has a price, even if it is recent and made of plastic.

Shuffling through the Roebling Wire Works at the Punk Rock Flea Market.

Shuffling through the Roebling Wire Works at the Punk Rock Flea Market.

We continued to shuffle, and it reminded me of the schoolchildren in “Another Brick in the Wall: Part 2” from Pink Floyd’s The Wall film, hordes of people filing up and back in lock-step, eyes vacant because of the sameness and abundance of everything to buy.

Table of non-Punk curiosities from several pre-Punk eras.

Table of non-Punk curiosities from several pre-Punk eras.

Two vendors featured antiques from the 19th and early 20th centuries, but this pre-Punk material was largely ignored. I was curious as to why it was here, an anachronism to Punk history, an intrusion or contamination of sorts into the level in which I was interested.

Co-opted logos and Punk art turned into . . . lamps.

Co-opted logos and Punk art turned into . . . lamps.

We continued to slog, continually battered by Punk repackaged into household goods such as lamps in the shapes of people, but covered in old Punk messages. Punk hardware used to be just a lighter and maybe a wallet chain, but now you can outfit your home in Punk-inspired furnishings. My archaeological objectivity had reached its bitter end.

More by-god vinyl at the Punk Rock Flea Market. Bowie was everywhere....

More by-god vinyl at the Punk Rock Flea Market. Bowie was everywhere….

There was hope, however, in the few record stands we found. Each of the three specialized in vinyl, and they had brought their very best from the ’70s and ’80s, with Punk, New Wave, hardcore, and some heavy metal. The record-sized crates and boxes had a shared familiarity, as well as the smell of paper, plastic, and vinyl that cannot be mistaken for anything else in the world. Here was Punk (or a major part of it) presented as collectible artifact. All of these stands also had collections of CDs from new, underground Punk bands, as well as cassettes and demos from bands unknown and also famous (e.g., Bikini Kill). I had hoped to be able to dive into bins of hand-labeled cassettes and mixtapes, but there were none to be had.

Black Flag was everywhere at the Punk Rock Flea Market. As was Billy Idol.

Black Flag was everywhere at the Punk Rock Flea Market. As was Billy Idol.

Some of the music vendors had promotional records, test-pressings, 7″ singles, and more, and everything was priced for a collector’s market. Punk has a price, and the rarer something is, the more expensive it becomes. These Punk recordings are commercially no different than ancient pottery or rare coins. Different media, but the same concept.

Punk rock (and other) records at the Punk Rock Flea Market.

Punk rock (and other) records at the Punk Rock Flea Market.

Some record vendors were bigger than others, but the pricing was similar, and the selection was homogenized. They knew their market and what would appeal.

Panic State Records, a New Brunswick, NJ vinyl-only Punk/hardcore record label, was out in force at the Punk Rock Flea Market.

Panic State Records, a New Brunswick, NJ vinyl-only Punk/hardcore record label, was out in force at the Punk Rock Flea Market.

One of the most interesting places (to me at least) in this Zen Arcade was the booth for Panic State Records of New Brunswick, New Jersey. This vinyl-only label continues to produce new Punk and hardcore records for local, state, and regional bands, with proceeds going to various charities.

My daughter with her $12 skateboard

My daughter with her $12 skateboard

We ultimately did buy something. At one of the Punk stands featuring skateboarding memorabilia, I grabbed my daughter a skateboard (deck, wheels, and trucks) for $12. She was delighted with the artifact that had certainly been enjoyed by its previous owner. Artifacts have their own biographies and histories of use, and she is about to add another chapter with this board. Look for a future blog post on this skateboard-as-artifact coming soon.

Llama Skull Raffle: DIY Signage

Llama Skull Raffle: DIY Signage

The only stall inside with a hint of a cause was a taxidermist specializing in animal skulls with the DIY sign stating that raffle tickets for a llama skull were only $1, and that all of the money would go to greyhound rescue. Now that the Punk Rock Flea Market is over, I wonder what has happened to the sign. It was created and displayed for the event, but is now likely destroyed or discarded as trash, a temporary message for animal welfare. Thinking about this more, perhaps most of Punk was ephemeral, more zeitgeist than material culture, especially with everyday things from individual people who were participants (active or passive) and consumers of what Punk was to them in their towns for that time. Where did those personal collections go, little things like ticket stubs, or hand-altered clothes decorated all over with permanent marker? These things were not here in Trenton.

The best swag to be had from the Punk Rock Flea Market was its own self-aware signage and stickers.

The best swag to be had from the Punk Rock Flea Market was its own self-aware signage and stickers.

One of the clearest messages about the Punk Rock Flea Market was that it is aware of itself. The hype was real, and did an excellent job in getting people out of their homes/cars to come and shop. The graphic design was classic Punk. I picked up a hand-printed and numbered handbill for last spring’s event, along with a postcard and a couple of stickers. I also bought a black hoodie sweatshirt with a logo on the front approaching Ed Roth quality of design. The coolness being comunicated by these objects is that there is such a thing as the Punk Rock Flea Market. It’s an idea, a concept, a pitch, and creates an emotion through design that evokes nostalgia and curiosity. Punk was always clear with its message and with knowing just how to promote itself (and to whom to promote it to), how to target emotions and push buttons to motivate people to action. In this respect, the Punk Rock Flea Market was a huge success. But once inside, that promised magic faded with the exception of the music, which continues to promote a certain set of ideals. Loudly.

Inside the Roebling Wire Works for the Punk Rock Flea Market, Trenton, NJ

Inside the Roebling Wire Works for the Punk Rock Flea Market, Trenton, NJ

-Andrew Reinhard

Zeppelin Archaeology

Monday, December 3rd, 2012 by Kostis Kourelis

A couple of years ago, we began the Punk Archaeology project which will culminate in a day-long conference, performance and all-around happening in Fargo this February (see here). The revival of this collaborative (it would be punk sacrilege to call it “community”) helps me return to one of the issues raised in the project, namely the relationship between punk and house form. I had pondered on this before, see The House of the Rising SunThe Clashsquatting, Iggy Pop’s trailer home in Ypsilanti,. As Barack Obama honors Led Zeppelin in the 2012 Kennedy Center awards today, I am thinking about the contrast between two domestic utopias, between punk’s post-industrial arcadia of urban ruins and rock’s pre-industrial utopia of the idyllic countryside. During the 1970s, two antithetical bands, The Clash and Led Zeppelin congregated in radically different dwellings. Both were extreme expressions of belonging and both were off the grid — neither had electricity nor water. Joe Strummer began his musical career in 1974 by forming The 101ers, who took their name from 101 Walterton Road, London, where the band squatted. The row house was part of a bombed out World War II neighborhood that the government eventually demolished in 1975. The band then squatted at 36 N Luke Rd in a West Indian neighborhood, which explains punk’s Skaconnections. Through The Clash and other bands like them, punk was conceived inside the domestic ruins of 19th-century cities.

At the same time, Led Zeppelin retreated to the British countryside, inhabiting an 18th-century cottage in Wales. Bron-Yr-Aur, made famous by an instrumental track by the same name, belonged to Robert Plant’s family, who took used it as a vacation house in the 1950s. Although rooted in the American blues, Led Zeppelin taps into a medieval sense of organicity that is deeply seated in the foundations of the British psyche. This is clearly evident in the band’s fin-de-sieclelogotype. While Plant and Jimmy Page were writing Zeppelin III at Bron-Yr-Aur, Raymond Williams was historicizing the British myth of the country in a landmark of Marxist historiography, The Country and The City (1973). Williams argued that the British began idealizing the countryside at the very moment that they were destroying it (the enclosure movement, aristocrats turning to capitalist landlords, etc.) Unbeknownst to Williams, Plant and Page were in the process of transforming the myth of rural England into a powerful acoustic aura to be replicated in ordinary homes through high-fidelity record players. The Bron-Yr-Aur house (photo below) represents the specific architectural origins of this transformation. Zeppelin’s genius (which is why they are honored by the White House) is to invisibly translate these very stone walls into an aural structure that bears no resemblance to its vernacular origin. 

Punk Rock, Materiality, and Time

Monday, May 2nd, 2011 by Bill Caraher

I spent part of the weekend doing three things: learning how to make pasta with my new pasta maker, listening to low-fi punk, and reading Kathleen Davis’s Periodization and Sovereignty (Penn 2008). I am not sure that I learned much applicable to this blog from making pasta (although it was delicious last night at dinner), but low-fi punk, a short Twitter exchange, and Davis’s book did bring together some ideas that I had been meaning for some time to post to our semi-dormant Punk Archaeology blog.

The low-fi sound that has become popular thanks in large part to bands like the White Stripes, the Black Keys, and other purveyors of so-called Punk Blues positions itself as an antidote to the austere, “over-produced” stylings of contemporary pop music.  (Recently, I’ve been hanging out with the album “GB City” by Bass Drum of Death, but I also listened to Soledad Brothers self titles solo album and their more polished 2006 offering The Hardest Rock. My original idea for a post was to compare the low-fi, thoroughly average sound of “GB City” to the produced sound of Arcade Fire’s “Suburbs”, but that seemed too easy). The sound harkens back to garage rock and rough live albums produced in make shift recording studies on 4 and 8 track recording machines.  Low-fi recordings replaced the spaceless character of the recording study with the gritty and flawed presence of the garage, the basement, or the warehouse. Echoing and distorted vocal tracks compete for space against raw guitars and abusive drums. The best low-fi captures something of a hastily-arranged live recording without actually being anywhere in particular. Low-fi comes from anyone’s basement, garage, or abandoned strip mall.  It embodies marginal (maybe even abandoned) spaces (it’s not surprising that Detroit has become a Mecca of low-fi sound) and pushes out music that speaks to haste, temporary accommodations, and immediacy without specificity.

With the advent of digital music, low-fi has projected the materiality of its sound by producing vinyl LPs or even cassette tapes.  The sonic texture of the 8-track recorder in the basement or garage comes packaged in neatly anachronistic forms that insists upon a material presence even more physical than the music itself.  A friend of mine (on Twitter ironically enough!) suggested a track from an Oblivian’s album recently. When I asked whether she could share the track with me, she told me that she only had it on vinyl! So the grounding of low-fi music in a time and place moves from the practice of recording and to its materiality as a recorded product. Digital music, which can exist simultaneously in an infinite number of places resists any effort to impose physicality (and with music moving to “the cloud” in the very near future the location of music recordings will become all the more ambiguous).

The link between the physical sound of the low-fi recording and its circulation in physical media positions low-fi (and punk) to resist (in an ironic way, to be sure) the ephemeral character of so much “cultural” production today. From blogs and ebooks to musings in the indistinct space of social media, the viral distribution of music and video, and claims of a reimagined-ascetic minimalism, the space or even material nature of cultural production is collapsing in on itself.  In the future (bee-boop-boop-boop-beep), the diagnostic rims of Late Roman fine ware vessels will be stray bits of sound, text, or video clinging to the deteriorating disks of disused servers or discarded along with iPods and Kindles in modern middens.  Unlike the vinyl LP or even the (comparatively) primitive cassette tape, there is little on the iPod or Kindle that links it physically to the music or text stored on the device. Moreover, the use of these devices  do not cause the music or text to deteriorate.

So, I sat around this weekend, grading papers, making pasta, reading Kathleen Davis’ book, and listening to the space of low-fi sound spooling off a hard drive and running through my stereo. I could listen to it as much as I wanted and wherever I wanted.

Rock in Athens 85′

Tuesday, January 11th, 2011 by Kostis Kourelis

On July 26-27, 1985, the ancient stadium of Athens hosted an interesting happening organized by the newly formed General Secretariat of Youth (Γενική Γραμματεία Νέας Γενιάς) and the French Ministry of Culture. Rock in Athens 85′ was a two day New Wave rock festival, which was quite cutting edge for its time. Although major bands like the Rolling Stones had performed in the ancient stadium before (Apr. 17 1967), Rock in Athens was the first rock festival to ever take place in Greece. A New Wave festival at Kalimarmaro in 1985? How radical is that? But it makes little sense considering the lack of a following for New Wave in Greece at this time. A Heavy Metal festival would make sense, rising naturally from Greece’s Hard Rock tradition. I can’t be certain about my observations, since I wasn’t present, but as a committed follower of New Wave, I was struck by the shortage of punks in the summers that I would visit Greece. My cousins, who followed music closely, would confirm these observations. I was a New Wave Greek-American looking for a scene in Greece. Sure, there was the punk band Panx Romana from 1977, singing “You Greeks! you are worms, and the Acropolis doesn’t belong to you/Έλληνα είσαι σκουλίκι και η Ακρόπολη δε σου ανοίκει.” And there were also anarchists squatting in Athens (less institutionalized and violent as they are today). And there was the store REMEMBER 77, on Adrianou 77 in Plaka (founded 1978), where I bought my first Creepers in 1991.

What makes Rock in Athens 85′ peculiar is its sponsors. The festival was conceived by the Greek and French Ministries of Culture. It was a state event televised on national TV and hence totally different from festivals like Woodstock, Live Aid, Coachella, or the extremely successful Rockwave in Athens. Melina Merkouri, then Minister of Culture, was present. Priceless footage shows the grand Merkouri meeting the wild Nina Hagen (and her clean-cut mother) backstage. The General Secretariat of Youth was formed in 1982, soon after Georgios Papandreou’s Socialist government won elections and tried to liberalize cultural policy that had been dominated by the conservative right and its family-tradition-religion priorities. Quoting the current website, the Secretariat’s task was (and still is) “shaping, monitoring and coordinating the government policy for youth and its connection with society and social entities. In this way, Greece was harmonised with the european and international practice of high-level, self-sustained and integral government services aiming to public youth policies.” We must also remember that, only two weeks earlier in the summer of 1985, Live Aid took place in London and Philadelphia. But this was a private venture, organized for famine relief in Ethiopia by Bob Geldof. Live Aid was the first concert to be televised in a global scale through satellite. As the interview with Boy George reveals, Culture Club did have a fan base already in Greece. But it seems that there was not enough of a fan base for each of the bands to appear individually. The festival garnered each group’s small fan base into a guaranteed (and cheap) event. We must also consider that Rockin’ Athens 85′ was not exclusively targeted to Greeks. Hoards of vacationing European and American youth attended. After all, Greeks flee Athens for the countryside in July and August.

Whatever the motivations of the concert may have been, it seems to have taken a great risk. As a result it did begin shaping cultural attitudes at least in so far as New Wave’s popularity boomed. Nevertheless, the conflict between audience and performers, the awkwardness of the ancient stadium, the July heat are all evident in the videos. The performers included Culture Club, Depeche Mode, Stranglers, Nina Hagen, the Cure, Talk Talk, Telephone and a surprise guest star, the Clash (or at least the remnants of the Clash–Mick Jones and Nicky Headon had already left, and the Clash disbanded in 1986). According to eye-witness accounts, fights broke out between the police and fans outside the stadium. Italian tourists were somehow involved.

If anyone wants to watch the televised festival (ERT2), you can find it almost in its entirety (minus the Clash performance) on Youtube. Extremely interesting are the backstage interviews below. To see the Melina-Nina encounter, go to Part 3. In the spirit of Punk Archaeology, Youtube allows me to investigate an event that took place in the ancient Panathenaic stadium that was reconstructed for the first Olympics of 1896. The footage is source material for an ephemeral moment. The videos not only transport us to a different era of Greek cultural policy, but they offer evidence for an almost surreal confrontation between a primarily Anglo-American youth movement and a resisting Mediterranean. Just watch the accumulation of sweat on Boy George’s face as the night progresses. Although I haven’t studied the videos in great length, they also reveal tensions in a cultural dialogue. Note for example homosexual tensions between Boy George and the audience. I hope that the readers of this posting interested in the history of the Greek 1980s will offer closer reading and insights.

Interviews Part I

Interviews Part II

Interviews Part III

For those that want to watch the concert in its entirety, the following links will direct you to individual band performances:

July 26:
Telephone 1, 2, 3, 4, 5
Culture Club 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11

July 27:
The Stranglers 11, 12, 13, 14, 15
Talk Talk 15, 16, 17, 18
The Cure 18, 19, 20, 21

Sprawl

Monday, August 16th, 2010 by Bill Caraher

On Kostis’ urging, I have been listening to the new Arcade Fire album, the Suburbs. The album itself is a meditation of urban planning and its social impact, but I’ll leave this larger issue to Kostis.  What I want to focus on in particular is the notion of sprawl that comes through in the last couple of songs in the album.  As critics have noted, the idea of sprawl (as in, but not exclusively, urban sprawl) derives some of its meaning in punk circles from William Gibson’s fictitious topography of the post-apocalyptic east coast.  Gibson described an massive east coast settlement stretching from Boston to Atlanta partially housed in a series of dilapidated geodesic domes.  This forms a suitably bleak environment for his high-tech dystopian novels.  Arcade Fire’s understanding of the sprawl clearly has roots in their critique of urbanism in its many 20th and 21st century guises.  The sprawl consists of a bleak assortment of architectural (“dead shopping malls”, bright lights), social,(dead end jobs, threatening police), and perhaps environmental images (the black river).  All these images resonate with Gibson’s dystopian and apocalyptic vision of the near future world.

The kind of dystopian social critiques of the future are almost always rooted in a kind of utopian view of the past (and has obvious links with genres like the jeremiad).  In fact, they rely on a recognizable past remaining hidden in plain sight to make it clear to the reader that their own present has become just another layer of detritus.  Gibson – like Sonic Youth and to some extent Arcade Fire – liken the Sprawl to the failings of capitalism to produce a sustainable, responsible prosperity. The chorus from the Sonic Youth anthem chants: “Come on down to the store, you can buy some more and more and more.”  The verses paint the same kind of dystopia as Arcade Fire’s with cheap clothing, depressing shotgun houses, and rusted machines along a river. 

Scenes of polluted nature, urbanism, and faded modernity, is pretty standard fair for both science fiction and music, and the same ideas inform our archaeological imagination as well.  As I’ve mentioned earlier, romantic views of the natural landscape appeal to me even though I know that these views are as profoundly unhistorical as utopians imaginings of a primordial, edenic nature.  Human activities have had a fundamental influence on almost every aspect of the Eastern Mediterranean places where I work.  As an archaeologist, I already understand that there is no escaping from the sprawl and our own present is, in fact, a past dystopian future.

Like the works of Gibson and the music of Sonic Youth and Arcade Fire the crass consumerism of late capitalism is held up to be at least tacitly responsible for decline.  The focus falls (predictably and particularly) on the relationship between individuals (and their behavior) and objects.  In fact, the physical character of objects take on an archaeological character as they become vehicles for both present identities and history.  This is archaeological thought: while punk’s characters take in the sprawling ruins of shopping malls and rusted machines that stretch outward from centers of human settlement, archaeologists lovingly document the tell-tale haloes of ceramic material encircle ancient sites.  In fact, many scholars argue that the practice of spreading manure created these ceramic haloes. Within the settlement, residents discarded bits of broken pottery on piles of household (both human and animal)waste.  The practice of studying the remains of human activity in the countryside by documenting these worn fragments of discarded goods reminds us of a profoundly dystopian image: communities literally consuming their own waste.

So, as both archaeology and our punk friends scrutinize materiality as an indicators of culture.  They invite us to contemplate the remains of the past as both a cautionary tale for the ephemeral nature of the material accomplishments that we hold dear, while at the same time validate our ability to understand the past (and the present) through bits of meaning embedded in those same good and practices.  The failures of culture manifest themselves in the discarded objects, buildings, and goods scattered about, and these same practices construct a body of material that we can study and reproduce the past. 

The presence of nature amidst these man-made ruins and the parallel between the ruins of capitalism (dead shopping malls) and natural features (rise like mountains beyond mountains) reminds us that all of our surroundings are cultural, and, at that point, dystopian landscapes become familiar.  We not only live in the sprawl, but we have always lived in the sprawl.

More Punk and Nostalgia

Monday, August 2nd, 2010 by Bill Caraher

Kostis Kourelis brought to my attention a recent New York Times article on an exhibit of Victorian era stereoscopic photographs called “A Village Lost and Found”.  What made this exhibit interesting to punk archaeology fans, was that former Queen guitarist Brian May curated the exhibit and co-wrote the accompanying book.  The New York Times review of the exhibition both feigns surprise that a rock ‘n’ roller like May would be interested in such quaint, esoteric artifacts as hand-colored stereoscopic images and, at the same time, acknowledged the deep nostalgic vein in British society (and its music).  In doing so, the NYT’s author makes reference to one of my favorite albums which lurks around the margins of punk rock, The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society.

The double album, released in 1968, consists of series of tracks celebrating traditional village life in England.  Topics range from the Village green to picture books, trains, farms, and typical village characters (Johnny Thunder and the deviously rocking Wicked Annabella).  The nostalgic element captured, however ironically, in the Kink’s album continues in punk music.  As I have noted before, punk always had an affection for the pop music of the earlier generation, even though punk rockers from the Germs to the Ramones and the Heartbreakers typically sped up the hooks and contorted the lyrics that gave pop music its wide-spread appeal.  One of my personal favorites is the Germ’s cover of Chuck Berry’s “Round and Round”.  At the same time punk rockers like Jonathan Richman (especially in his early Modern Lovers tracks like Old World, which is bracketed later in the first Modern Lovers’ album with the track Modern World) produced music with the same whimsical nostalgia as the Kink’s Village Green:

I see the ’50’s apartment house
It’s bleak in the 1970’s sun
But I still love the ’50’s
And I still love the old world
I wanna keep my place in this old world
Keep my place in the arcane knowledge
And I still love the ’50’s and I still love the old world

As I have argued before the archaeological character of these songs is not in their perfect reproduction of the past, but in the preservation of the past through critique.  For example, the Kink’s celebration of the Village Green evokes the nostalgia for the earlier times that shot through modernizing British society. In fact, as Matthew Johnson has described in his Ideas of Landscape, such nostalgia for  an earlier period influenced how archaeologist have studied the landscape and regarded material and buildings from the modern period.  Romantic notions of the earlier, rural world, celebrated its simplicity, inherent virtues (especially of Britishness and, as we have witnessed recently the “real” America of the small town), and purity, and expected some degree of continuity to be visible in the society and culture of contemporary denizens of the countryside and the small town.

Punk tried to make a mess of these idyllic critiques by taking the staid nostalgia and melding it with what to many appeared to be the most fleeting, contemporary, and critical musical genres. In some ways, this finds a parallel between those of us committed to sophisticated and critical approaches to archaeology of the countryside, but still enamored with the illusory, anti-modern character of the countryside.  I can admit to loving to explore the lonely hilltops in Greece, to document isolated ruins, and to embracing the contrast between the bustle of the village or city and the peaceful “isolation” of rural Greece.  I often will pause and listen just to the wind and revel in the absence of the motorbikes or trucks while at the same time scrutinizing the read-out on a state-of-the-art GPS unit or looking at a map showing an aerial photographs and analyzed via sophisticated computer software.  As much as my analyses call into question the notion that the Greek countryside was isolated, I still use view of olive covered hills in my publications and presentations to evoke the exotic character of an archaeological past.  The contrast between my reliance on modern technology to document the past and the romantic image of the rural Greece produces a productive conflict.  My appreciation of the beauty and isolation of the Greek countryside drew inspiration from traditional romantic views of rural life while, at the same time, my approach to field work and conclusions challenges those very same views.  A Punk Archaeology approach embraces these same ironies drawing heavily on traditional of thought while at the same time challenging them.

For more musings on Punk Archaeology be sure to check out our blog here.

Punk and Spolia

Thursday, July 29th, 2010 by Bill Caraher

Over the last week or so, I’ve been listening again to the Detroit Cobras and thinking about some of our first conversations on Punk Archaeology.  The Cobras specialize in what they have called “revved up soul”.  They make this wonderful noise by covering (mostly) lost classics of the MoTown era over the  driving rhythms of punk and the fuzzy, distorted lo-fi sound of the punk blues movement.  Rachel Nagy’s voice succeeds at being both smooth and abrasive at the same time.  Some critics have called their sound “Garage Soul”.

Their first album, Mink, Rat or Rabbit covered songs by 1950s and early 1960s bands like The Marvelettes, The Shirelles, Irma Thomas, The “5” Royales, and The Shangri-Las.  Later albums continue this tradition.  (They’re first two albums – Mink, Rat or Rabbit and Life, Love and Learning – are, to my ear, their best.  (Notice the absence of the “Oxford comma” in both titles.)

The point of mentioning this somewhat obscure band is to consider the relationship between punk and spolia.  Spolia is a technical archaeological term for the re-use older fragments of architecture in new construction. It is typically associated with Late Antiquity and was initially regarded by critics steeped in the Classical Tradition as indicative of the lose of technical skills and economic impoverished conditions at the end of Antiquity.  Other saw the use of spolia as a conscious decision on the part of Late Antique builders and, at worst, reflective of a taste for a discordant, disorganized, and, ultimately, decadent aesthetic.

Of course hip-hop music withstood similar criticisms as they cut up and sampled R&B classics to form  rhythmic backdrop for their poetry.  Such reuse of earlier material was unoriginal and indicative of a kind of creative bankruptcy among “today’s generation”.  Punk took their lead from pop music which they sped up and made more up-tempo, raucous and chaotic.  The Cobras occupy a third space recently developed by bands like the White Stripes and the Black Keys where punk, R&B, and blues infused with the DIY, lo-fy sound of the garage (which represents a more austere and suburban version of the venerable lo-fy Juke Joint).

The epicenter of this music has been Detroit (or the Rust Belt more broadly) where the punk of the MC Five and the blues Son House and John L. Hooker intersect.  The music here has tremendous symbolic significance, as Detroit has become emblematic of the decline of “traditional America” and images of the ruinous conditions of the factories have become images of the decline of America’s fortunes as a manufacturing power.  The photographs are archaeological in their attention to detail and the need to accommodate history.

The music of the Detroit Cobras provide a counterpoint to the haunting, archaeological photographs of abandoned Detroit.  Fragments of the city’s earlier days come through in their music, but rather than critique the declining fortunes of America’s industrial heartland, the music calls forth the continued vitality of those days in much the same way that spolia maintained a conscious connection with earlier architecture.

The archaeological impulse in of punk rock of the Detroit Cobras reveals a kind of native archaeology of the American city which draws backwards on its unique history to produce critical memory.  Such work is the work of archaeologists both of the past and the present who sought to communicate something meaningful from the fragments of the past that remained visible in their present.  The spolia preserved in the music of the Detroit Cobras presents a musical museum in much the same way that the fragments of the past in produce meaning in the context of a physical museum today or in the context of monumental architecture in Late Antiquity.