Sunday, July 10, 2005

Punk = Attitude

I've heard from a few sources that I'm in (for a few seconds) the new Don Letts documentary entitled "Punk = Attitude", which apparently was shown on cable TV over the weekend. I don't have cable and I barely watch TV so I missed it, but I thought I'd repost a blog entry I wrote last August, right after the interview was conducted.


A couple of weeks ago, I was interviewed by Don Letts for a movie he's doing on punk rock and he asked me about the difference between punk now versus punk back in the seventies. I responded that the attitude still remains alive in certain new bands, even if the sound is not what someone would describe as "punk". For example, a band like The Gossip is much more punk to me than a band like Sum 41, even though the latter band plays what is generally considered to be "the punk sound". The Gossip is extremely talented, but beyond that they have the attitude that they're gonna do what they like because they damn well feel like it! Their sound will change as they gain experience and they become more proficient but hopefully they will not change their sound or style to fit what a record company is looking for.

That's a big difference between bands nowadays and bands when I was playing with The Bags. Back then, before the internet, the major record companies really did control distribution. They didn't like punk rock because it was anti-establishment and it was too different from what had come before, so they didn't think they could sell it to the masses. Alot of the LA bands were laboring under the mistaken impression that if we just worked hard and polished our sound enough that we would be signed to a record label. Well, that just wasn't going to happen for bands like The Bags, Weirdos and Screamers.

In looking back at some old live footage of The Bags, I realized that at a certain point, I became so focused on my vocal performance that I lost much of my energy onstage. See, I used to sing off key quite a bit (no!) during performances because I was so busy going crazy. Once we started trying to polish our sound, I had to tone it down alot to keep my singing on key. It was the beginning of the end. It would have been better if I had gone on barking out the words onstage because, in retrospect, there was no way that we were going to get signed anyway. Once we started trying to be "label worthy," we lost the energy that made the Bags and punk rock unique.

People accuse Hardcore of killing off the original LA punk scene but I wonder if that scene hadn't already served its purpose and run its course. Bands that came after us, like Black Flag and Minor Threat, absorbed the lessons at which we'd failed. They took the D.I.Y. ethic a step further. They knew they were never going to be signed, they had no interest in being signed and so they refused to compromise on any level.

Which brings me to my conclusion. Kids nowadays don't have to tame their shit down because they're wiser than we were. They learned from my generation's mistakes. They know that they don't need a major label to make their music heard and they know that a record company will try to control them if they get signed, anyway.

That's the true legacy of punk, not the mohawks and studded belts, nor the Warped Tour nor any of the mega-successful bands. It's the hard-earned knowledge that you can stay true to your vision, you can do it yourself, without compromise and without a major label behind you.

arf arf,


Jenny Lens said...

The "Punk: Attitude" US DVD will include a 20 minute segment focused entirely on LA people and events.

I contributed 42 of the 67 photos, ensuring our fab Alice, Pleasant, Screamers, Weirdos, [with a shot of Mary Rat, Hellin Killer and myself], along with many LA early punk movers and shakers were shown in all their glory. Some of my photos are of the Ramones and Dictators from NY but in LA, as well as England's Sham 69 singer Jimmy Pursey sitting on top of my car.

Other photographers contributed hard core images. I'm also interviewed, along with 8 men (John Doe, John Denney, Nickey Beat, Mike Watt, Brendan Mullen, Bob Mothersbaugh, Bob Biggs, and Peter Case).

The director of the new 20 minute segment, Dick Rude, wanted Alice's original interview footage, but it's common practice to NOT share assets. You wouldn't believe the difficulty and just plain luck in being able to even GIVE my photos to this production. Now that's punk attitude! Never give up!

IFC, the Independent Film Channel, produced and aired the documentary. It will be repeated in September, probably to coincide with the DVD release. Capital Entertainment, in Burbank, produced the new segment.

It only happened because we all worked for free (my photos alone are valued between $8,500 - $11,000 in licensing fees, which is what they would have paid a photo agency). And this is why I am always broke, but dammit, how else am I gonna share my early punk photos?? So buy the DVD and enjoy the extra segment!

Alice, don't be so hard on yourself. You were rad for a long time. Would you have wanted that crazy life on the road? I am not sexist, but it's a tough life for women who care about people as much as you do.

Instead you have a beautiful daughter, incredibly wonderful husband, many friends and a teaching legacy that touched many lives. You lived your life as you were destined to live it. You wouldn't want to be another Stevie Nicks, who regrets never having children or a stable relationship.

You have accomplished more in your life than many, with many years of fun, music, art, family, friends ahead of you. Don't regret what you did!

You inspired so many of us. And think about your voice: how long do you think you could have survived all that emotional ranting and screaming? You still have such a lovely voice, so rejoice in that! We do!

much love from one of your first punk pals, jenny.

Karl said...

For those of you who missed it, and who get IFC, "Punk Attitude" will be rebroadcast, along with the Sex Pistols documentary "The Filth and the Fury" this Thursday night (July 14), at 6:30 PM Pacific time.

Tommy Himself said...

I've been watching a screener DVD of the Punk Attitude doc for weeks now -- I love it. Letts did a spectacular job. It's not perfect, but it's probably the best punk-related doc to date.

I feel like the problem with much of what is called "punk" these days is the assbackwards approach. Bands like the BlinkSumSimple 182Plans reek of insincerity to me, because they've sought the major label, major sell system from the start. It all runs counter to the music-first, DIY ethos of the music we all love.

Alice -- I just discovered your site(s) a few days ago. Love them. Thank you for being here, writing this.

And, wow, Jenny Lens! Hi. I love your work.

Anonymous said...

I totally agree with Tommy. Today's "punk" bands don't even try to do anything DIY. They are as manufactured as the Monkees. I agree with Alice in that I identify some bands who the mainstream media might not identify as "punk" punk, and those who are supposedly punk, i.e. 182, sum, charlotte, etc.. as not at all. For the record, I think Negativland, John Zorn and John Oswald are infinitely more "punk" than Green Day. Alice, I, like others who regularly read your forum will be recording the doc on the trusty VHS, so I am sure me or someone else will send you a copy for your archives.

Anonymous said...

Punk as an attitude and lifestyle seems to have survived because as Alice says, it was anti-establishment from the start. Once it starts trying to be radio-friendly, it loses something. Alice, you wrote about the Fuck Yeah fest, which took place in Echo Park a couple of weeks ago. That was a good example of musicians and artists doing their own thing outside of the mainstream, without corporate sponsors like Warped Tour, etc. The punk spirit is still out there and it's great that you are supporting the new generation in what they're doing, even if it is not considered punk rock by the so-called purists.

Anonymous said...

Sorta off the subject... but how about interviewing Janet Housden for your "Women in LA Punk" interviews? She's pretty old school if you ask me, and better yet, she's STILL out there doing it!

Anonymous said...

I saw the film on IFC and I thougth it was fantastic. Mainly because I couldn't have found out about a lot of that music any other way because it just seems to hidden from everyone. It's so weird just hearing about those times b/c I know theres no way I could really understand unless I was there, but its so inspiring. I really look up to you because there are not many girls in mainstream culture now who are a positive role model for 17 year old like me to look up to. I know this is kinda weird to write in your journal, but I just want to thiank you for all the great things you have done and for helping people like me see that punk isn't just for guys and that I can really go out there and make a difference. It was awesome seeing you in the film b/c it mean a lot more than just reading an interview out of a book. :)