Reprinted from yesterday's late editions.
Punk rock has apparently arrived. No one is quite sure what that means, but recent events serve to bring that fact home.
Punk rock, in the form of the Sex Pistols' lead singer Johnny Rotten, is the cover story of the current Rolling Stone. Sire, formerly the major label for punk and new-wave bands, has been assimilated into the Warner Brothers Records conglomerate, which has just released four representative albums by Richars Hell and the Voidolds, the Dead Boys, the Saints and Taking Head.
Iggy Pop, one of the seminal figures in the movement's history, was a guest on Tuesday night's "Tomorrow" show along with producer Kim Fowley and music critic Robert Hillburn of the Los Angeles Times.
Also Tuesday night, the Ramones returned to Washington for a one-night stand at the Bayon. This last event may quickly undo whatever progress has been achieved, for punk rock works better as a concept than it does as an experience.
There are several things to be said for punk rock, and none of them should be interpreted as complimentary. It is first of all a state of mind on the part of its believers who seem to thrive on the genre's lack of mass acceptance.
This dual need for alienation and identification can be painful. In England, where punk is viewed within more deliberate political and social parameters, its audiences thrive on participatory exhibitionism, with pierced cheeks, nostrils and lips supporting various denominations of chains.
There was little pierced flesh in the audience at the Bayon Tuesday night. New York's Ramones are America's best-known punk band, with a few attempted hiots under their belt. Their fans are believers to the core. Those fans are not numerous.
The principal asset of the Ramones is their harmlessness. There are no musical threats presented, probably none is intended. Their power-chord attack is the result of minimal musicianship.
The Ramones' success has so far been limited to New York City and England. The English success finds them riding the crest of a vital, if somewhat unsettling and violent, new wave there. On the other hand, New York has always been the center for American art-rock bands and since the Ramones are a prime example of pure rock posturing, they can feel at home there.
In Washington, it's a different story. About half the crowd Tuesday night was at the Bayou out of curiosity, and a number left after it became apparent that a Ramones set consists of monochord songs cast from almost identical molds and played at both breakneck pace and unbearable volume.
It is music for the empty spaces of the mind.