NoMeansNo: Wrong (pt. 2)


Dear Matt,

Here is a crude summary of my feelings about punk.

I spent a long time hating punk entirely on principle, having heard none. I hated it for its attitude — for the notion that striving for excellence was somehow beside the point. I hated it for thinking that three chords were enough. I hated it for killing prog, which is ridiculous because it didn’t.

At the same time, I’ve always had a certain amount of respect for any counterculture. There are echoes of the hippies and glam rockers in punk, and there was a political situation that needed to be shouted at. I didn’t like how punk treated the prog rock “dinosaurs” as establishment symbols with no regard for how transgressive and countercultural those bands were in their own way, but the foundation was solid.

Basically, I’ve always admired punk for being angry about Thatcher — but I’ve always been suspicious of it for being angry about Yes.

I realize that all of this extends from an untenable way of thinking. Because, the punk I’m talking about here is not a version of punk that exists in a meaningful way. It’s a sort of textbook-defined, Platonic ideal ur-punk. (Basically, it’s the Sex Pistols.) As always, the real thing is messier and more complex. “Angry about Thatcher” isn’t a useful epithet when you’re talking about, say, a band from Victoria.

You may be interested to know that this is in fact not the first punk album I’ve heard straight through — it’s the second. The first was London Calling, as orthodox a punk selection as is available. And even that experience confronted me with the vast difference between my imagined punk and real punk.

Here was music with a certain amount of discipline. Restraint, even. The lyrics were thoughtful. The arrangements had been fussed over. Even after four sides of it, I didn’t feel like my precious aesthetic values had been disputed.

So, no. I don’t have a legitimate ideological conflict with punk. A personality clash, maybe. Punk likes to read Marx and get angry. I like to read Shakespeare comedies and chuckle to myself. Punk is freewheeling and likes being in rooms full of shouty people. I am fairly buttoned-up and like being in libraries. Punk thinks that breaking rules is a good idea. I was raised to be suspicious of people like that.

I don’t know if Rob and John Wright are people like that or not. I suspect both of them could have earned a decent crust playing jazz — that most regimented of spontaneous art forms — and I have no doubt that they spent countless hours honing their craft. Rob’s bass playing reminds me of Chris Squire and John Wetton, and it wouldn’t surprise me at all to learn that Nomeansno are King Crimson fans.

They also have a song called ‘Big Dick.’

I loved every fucking second of this album.



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