Altered 12/14/02

I dig this (the above) node / have been in possession of what you might call an interest in this (these sorts of) question(s) ever since I began to familiarize myself with both concerned musics, which wasn't, probably, long ago, but seems like it was. Here, accordingly, are some of my own observations, the (specific) topics of which I will choose as they enter my mind. All of the caveats cited, by kareneliot, above, necessarily apply to the following observations as well, as will, perhaps, become obvious shortly.

Is punk rock the blues?
I start with this topic both because it's an interesting question and because the answer is taken, above, for granted. It seems, to me, to boil down to the question of whether art movements (in this case, punk rock and the blues) have definitive "beginnings" and "endings," or if they can be said to live on thorugh their influence on later movements (as, in this discussion, the influence of the blues on punk rock). The answer to this is, like most things, a matter of opinion; if one believes art movements begin and end in a definitive way, one must then concede that both punk rock and the blues are deader than the cinema. If however they can be said to live on through their enduring influence, or some other such phenomenon, it's possible to make a fairly decent case for the continuing existence of both punk rock and the blues. I shall elaborate.

In the case of the former argument mentioned above, an acceptable (or at least logical) course of action would be to choose a particular time in history (say, for the blues, 1929-1932, the "golden age of recording," or, for punk rock, 1975-1978, the reign of the Sex Pistols) during which major (generally founding) exponent(s) of a given art form were particularly influential, and argue that only during the specified period did that art form exist. Alleged purveyors of said art form straying outside the specified time frame (which could be grouped with a location, such as London or the south) would then be dismissed as purveyors, actually, of something completely different (the Ramones were not punk; Muddy Waters did not play the blues). This viewpoint has obvious problems, but it also has its strengths in comparison with its counter-argument, which see below; in any case it's this sort of logic that leads to statements like "punk is dead" or--if anyone ever had the audacity to say such a thing--"the blues is dead."

Under the logic of the other argument, the aesthetic of an art movement (or whatever) can be invoked later, and in different places, than originally. It is because of the existence of this view that the words "punk" and "blues" are used at all in describing music made nowadays, even though most folks who do this are misinformed as to what the original aesthetic was (even if punk exists, Blink-182 ain't it; etc.).

Neither argument is more valid, but I tend to side with the former, which seems to make more sense in the overall scheme of things (in reference, that is, to other art movements--many folks today would probably acknowledge, for example, the death of things like abstract expressionism, surrealism, and what have you). As the saying goes, "Opinions are like assholes; everybody's got one."

As to the original question (I'd forgotten it for a minute), it depends, it depends, it depends. Most folks won't contest the theory that the blues begat rock 'n roll, which in turn went through various stages, one of which was punk rock. If you think rock 'n roll is, due to blues's influence on it, itself blues, you must concede that the same is true for punk rock. Otherwise, forget about it. (I hope you can see how this connects with what I talked about above; if not, I'm sorry; I, at least, can.)

Is punk rock rock 'n roll?
Obviously this is akin to the question posed above. Dispensing with some of the nonsense employed in answering aforementioned question, I'll assert that the answer differs depending on whether punk is understood to be an essentially American or an essentially British phenomenon. In the former case, punk can be seen as a natural extension of rock 'n roll, the spirit of which had been reincarnated before, having made the transition from Elvis and co. in the late '50s to the '60s British Invasion. "American punk," that is, was extremely similar to rock 'n roll in its previous incarnations. (The Ramones are, I think, a particularly good example of this, what with their emphasis on teenage rebellion, the spirit of which spawned, depending on who you talk to, rock 'n roll in the first place.)

British punk was something of a different beast. Its most significant proponents, the Sex Pistols, tended to hate everything by which they were preceded, at least if it happened to be particularly popular, as did their peers. Interestingly, though, they liked and were influenced by American punk (of pre-punk or whatever)--Steve Jones idolized Johnny Thunders, Johnny Rotten identified "Road Runner" as (one of?) the only songs he actually liked, and etc. Whether this is due to fundamental similarities between the two (which would be handy, allowing us to dispense with the categories of "American" and "British" punk) can be questioned. I'd say the Sex Pistols' (really only Johnny Rotten's, I reckon) antipathy for the Beatles and such had much to do with their extreme popular appeal, much of which appeal was to the sorts of people punk set out to offend--whereas American punk appealed to a more limited audience of less vapid folks. At least, that's what I think the conception might have been; whether this is true is a question that someone could probably ask.

The Stooges and the Doors are opposite sides of the same coin
I refuse to believe that the Stooges and the Doors necessarily represented opposite perspectives on the world (or at least on proper subjects for musical meandering). While it's true that their frontmen hailed from backgrounds which were polar opposites of one another (sunny, dreamy California vs. dark 'n dreary midwest misery), I think it's possible to discern, behind their respective musics, the same driving force--namely, reckless, restless sexuality. The ways in which they expressed this were, granted, opposite, Iggy Pop viciously declaring his desire to be some chick's dog while Morrison wailed on and on about love (whatever that is) and such; their essential desires were, however, no doubt the same, as becomes clear when factors such as Iggy's stage presence and lyrics, as well as the undeniable veracity of the essence of Richard Meltzer's statement that the Doors "were your dick," are taken into account. (Also: listen to "Gimme Danger," for example. If it weren't for the somewhat abrasive guitar work and also paroxysmal shouting that erupts eventually (which elements are of course sort of unavoidable with the Stooges), etc., it might as well have been a Doors song. I mean, Iggy croons, for crissakes! He sings, "Kiss me like the ocean breeze," or some such! And etc.!) (Also: it's somewhat notable Iggy Pop decided to form the Stooges after witnessing a Doors concert, at least according to the All Music Guide. This doesn't of course guarantee musical kinship between the two, but it does affirm Iggy Pop saw in the Doors something worth emulating, even if it wasn't aesthetic in nature; but etc.)

On the Clash
They were not, as is implied above, merely propagandists-for-hire--at least, not to start with. Some critic I once read referred to them as something along the lines of "sick fucks looking for ways to justify their destructive urges." In light of things like their song "The Magnificent Seven," and other such trash (the similarly mediocre "Should I Stay or Should I Go" seems to be making the rounds on a series of tv commercials for some alcoholic beverage or another--quite fittingly, actually), this statement seems unconscionable; in the context of their first, eponymous album, it makes a bit more sense.

The Clash overflows with venom and, generally, destructive energy, as best heard in for example "White Riot," "London's Burning," "Protex Blue," etc., etc. Listening to The Clash one can certainly get a sense of the same sort of "world-historical" power Greil Marcus and his ilk attributed to the Sex Pistols, and late-1970s British punk in general--the power to completely negate society, to invoke medievel heretics, and such. This is perhaps an overly dramatic view, but it's nevertheless undeniable the Clash are generally given--by many--a worse rap than they deserve, due probably to some of their more mediocre later output (Combat Rock is probably the most often cited example of this).

Stardom and the blues
Did the two ever intersect? Clearly, when blues was at its best, society was radically different in terms of these sorts of things; there was no tv, no People magazine, no cult of celebrity; on the other hand, I like to think prominent bluesmen were considered, in some way, heroes among men, which is the closest they could probably ever get to being stars, considering time and such. The only remotely empirical evidence I have for this is something I read in the CD booklet to a reissue of songs by Blind Lemon Jefferson, which I'm too idle and lazy to fetch now but which stated, more or less, that he was extremely popular to the point of attracting folks from miles around, all of whom idolized him and that he was, additionally, quite rich, considering. I'm not doing a very good job of, uh, conveying this, but the impression that I got was that he was the back then version of a rock star. (Listening to the songs, I could see why; but that is another subject.)

For punk rock, electric guitar; for blues, acoustic
The instrumental (ha!) (which is to say vital) role of the guitar in both punk rock and the blues has been noted and is undeniable. I wish to observe, briefly, that the electric guitar in punk rock and the acoustic guitar in the blues produce a similar effect (in a word, shock) and serve (probably) similar purposes. This might not be very significant. Uh, nevertheless, the primary reason for this (the effect that is) is, I wager, distortion.

About distortion (and such): when I use the word I use it mostly in reference to production value. Old blues albums were (and are), for example, for the most part lousy-sounding, due to the relative lack of sophistication of recording techniques then extant. With punk rock this is also sort of true, but this sort of distortion (or whatever you prefer to call it) was, additionally, adopted in the area of musicianship. Guitars were played such as to cause distortion; it's as if the mood induced by poor sound quality in blues recordings were being emulated, though I wouldn't go so far as to say this was deliberate. It is, however, something I apparently once thought about.