Rock music and its musicians, in the '70s, have languished in a sea of commercial success and public acceptance. As a multi-billion-dollar industry rock has become firmly ensconced in the American corporate niche. The wealthy rock stars are, now, respected and beloved citizens -- they appear on TV talk shows; they meet at the Grammys to slap each other on the back; they give benefit concerts for UNICEF. Rock isn't rebelling against the modern world anymore, it's been absorbed by it.
The punks are different. A year after their apparent demise, their music is still visible, like a monstrous pimple on the glossy, air-brushed countenance of rock 'n roll. While the record companies continue to churn out slick, saleable products, which consistently reach new heights of garish mediocrity, the punks are countering with new lows in taste and musicianship. At times, it seems that the only choice for rock fans is between the bland and the bad.
There is a silver lining to this.
After the hype foundered, after the chains and torn clothes failed to catch on, after the media types gave up and went back to disco, the real punks survived, grovelling in small clubs and dingy studios. The musicians are still sloppy; their playing is as rough and unrefined as over. But the screeching clashing music they produce isn't merely the raving of lunatics -- it's the sound of rock music revolting against itself.
This revolt -- apart from a strictly musical evaluation -- has galvanized the world of rock. Opinions, for and against, are extreme. The opposing camps are securely polarized. The strident militancy, the anger and the physical and musical grossness of the punks have created a tension that is bringing new energy and life to the flabby rock beast.
The effects have been felt at every level of rock. Groups like the Rolling Stones and the Who produced their strongest records in years during 1978, partly as a reaction to the punk threat. The New Wave (punk's egghead offspring) is generating new listeners and record sales. And, in the provinces, determined bands of punks are establishing their own followings, whose fanatacism (if not numbers) rivals that of the teen rebels of the '50s and the mods of the '60s.
A rousing example of this is ":30 Over D.C." (Limp 1001) a locally produced record that features 16 (count 'em) of Washington's punk rock groups. While the record does not include the two best-known groups. (Urban Verbs, Razz) it does capture the "feel" and the diversity of the musicians and provides a comprehensive picture of their music.
From the amateurish cover (with its comic-book rendering of a fighter attack on the Washington Monument) to the red vinyl of the record itself, ":30" is pure punk. The liner notes alone are worth the price. They list, in excruciating detail, every possible credit, while also railing against "that dinosaur, Heavy Metal" and "John Revolta clones."
The names of the groups and the musicians also display a simularly calculated poor taste. Chumps. Judies Fixation. Mock Turtle. Tina Peel. Bill Bored. Joe Spazz. Deb O'Nair. While the wit is sophomoric (if not downright dumb) there is a sense of rebelliousness comparable to that of a Bronx cheer. The record is a harsh elixir for the predictable prettiness of many of the superstars.
The recorded sound is just as harsh. The cuts have a "homemade" quality, with indecipherable vocals and unbalanced instruments wailing away like specters from a '50s studio master. The roughness of the music is effectively represented by this approach -- the brashness of the pnuks is equaled only by the brassiness of the sound.
The musicians fall into three basic categories. Groups like the Slickee Boys, Chumps and the Penetrators feature power chords simular to the early '60s "British Invaders" while Tina Peel and the Rudements are more like the rockers of the '50s. with twangy guitars, growling bass lines and, with Tina, a tinkling piano. Mock Turtle is more modern, with electronics and complex structures that mimic the work of one of punk's progenitors, Brian Eno.
Despite their specific differences, the groups seem to have a common attitude regarding rock 'n roll. They are attempting to regain the power and simplicity that rock lost when it became a big business. Since they cannot afford the costs of expensive studios and symphony orchestras, they are forced to grab at the guts of the music without the luxury of indulging in any "artistic" pretensions.
What punk adds in energy and power, however, it often subtracts in substance and musical thought. Because of this, ":30 Over D.C." is an uneven record. While many of the groups use the basic punk devices for creative purposes, others merely see its grossness as an excuse for poor musicianship. Nonetheless, the record is a forceful statement by the local punk establishment and is raggedly effective documentation of its music and character.