drifting on down ol’ Route 66

I’ve just landed in Albuquerque for the 31st Annual Southwest/Texas Popular & American Culture Associations Meeting. The first thing I did was learn how to spell Albuquerque. The second thing was wander around Route 66, the old “Main street of America” for a few hours. It runs right through town. You can get a double cheeseburger at McDonald’s for $1. Wendy’s has combos for $2.99. If it turns out there’s a Carl’s Jr. somewhere too, I may never leave.

I’m presenting a paper on one of the “punk panels” at the conference, where I attempt to explore the connections between the overall punk scene in America and the “grunge” scene in the Pacific Northwest. The panels are going to be chalk full of people that actually know stuff about punk, and so I thought it would be worth it to go through an embarrassing hour or so – where they realize I know nothing about the subject – in exchange for me soaking up all their ideas for the next several days. I may even come home with a mohawk. 

So over the next little while I will be posting interesting/thought provoking/profound/and maybe even funny information from the conference on this amazing blog. Please let me know what y’all think.

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3 Comments on “drifting on down ol’ Route 66”

  1. Lisa Anderson Says:

    In the words of Ella Williams Rylan: “Bite off more than you can chew, then chew it.” I think this applies both to your discovery of cheap fast-food deals, and your decision to present at this conference. You’re going to learn so much and having to present your ideas will help you get all your ducks in a row. Bonne chance Rylan, you’re going to kick-ass, or at least get some *cough* constructive feedback.

  2. Amit Kumar Says:

    So yesterday I tried to explain to a friend (who while no music whiz wasn’t completely clueless either) how the American grunge scene in the Pacific North West was connected to the overall American punk movement… for the most part he was in disbelief. I think you got you’re work cut out to make this link into a widely known fact.


  3. So, it turns out there were so many darn intellectual things going on at the conference, I didn’t have much time to send updates while things were still happening. Merci for the bonne chance Lisa! The paper went fairly well.

    Actually, Amit, despite the disbelief of your friend, it seems pretty easy to connect the American grunge scene to the overall American punk movement, mainly because, well, it was part of the American punk movement. Here is the main thrust of what I was trying to get across in my conference paper:

    First of all, “punk” isn’t a sound. It’s an attitude. The bands playing together at CBGBs in New York, like Television, the Ramones, and Blondie didn’t share a sonic like-mindedness, but they shared the view that something had to change – something had to be done about what mainstream music had become. So they took control. In CBGBs they found a venue that they could perform in, and took things from there. Punk was where the energy to create and innovate laid. Not everyone agreed on the direction punk should go, but those involved in CBGBs had planted the seeds that would sprout across America (and yes, seeds were being planted in places like foggy London town, but that’s a whole other story).

    In the late 1970s in America, people all over the country were feeling the same sort of disaffection with mainstream culture that caused the drive of creativity and innovation in New York. When acts like Patti Smith started to be plugged in music magazines with national reach, the punk image and attitude was thereby getting across the country. Of course, it was harder to hear the actual music, because it wasn’t being played on the radio. They had to wait for the actual bands to come and perform. These were, if you can imagine such a time, not the days of wikipedia and youtube.

    Anyways, scenes with this punk “attitude” sprung up all across America. Guided by the do-it-youself ethic, a term that has become almost synonymous with punk, people in places like L.A., San Francisco, Boston, and yes, the Pacific Northwest, started an alternative to the mainstream by creating their own venues, zines, record labels, and music.

    And the bands from these scenes TOURED. This post is getting a tad long so I’ll try to start cutting to the chase. Bands like Black Flag and Husker Du toured through the Pacific Northwest relentlessly. When they played, members of the bands that would form the grunge scene were either in the audience of these shows, or else in the bands opening up. Punks like Mark Arm started to write fanzines and form bands. His band Mr. Epp and the Calculations wrote songs like “Mohawk Man,” satirizing people within the Seattle punk community that were becoming increasingly violent (like Jello Biafra did with the Dead Kennedy’s song “Nazi Punks Fuck Off”). What’s more punk than that?

    In fact, Mark Arm and his Mudhoney band mate Steve Turner are rarely referred to in literature without the label of “punk.” Turner didn’t touch an instrument until he was playing in a band. He would also leave bands if he thought they were trying to become too commercial at the expense of their principles. Arm and Turner’s band Mudhoney, while being considered the quintessential grunge band, was completely and utterly PUNK. Anyone that has every listened to them, seen them perform live, or listened to their lyrics can attest to that.

    Bands like Nirvana further exemplify this connection to the American punk movement and the punk attitude. Heck, their drummer was poached from a punk band called Scream from Washington D.C. Novoselic was heavily influenced by Flipper, a punk band from San Francisco. In songs like “Smells like Teen Spirit,” Cobain was following the musical lineage of the Pixies, in songs like “Tourette’s,” he was creating melody out of sonic chaos, just as Husker Du did in songs like their cover of “Eight Miles High.”

    The reason why “grunge” is remembered as separate is due to the marketing practices of the record label Sub Pop, and because of the mainstream media using grunge as an umbrella term to describe any music and corollary culture coming from the Pacific Northwest. The reasons behind grunge’s “ascendency” to the cultural mainstream came from luck, timing, and innovation. They were building off of a foundation started in places like New York City and extended throughout America. Many of the early bands in San Francisco for example, never even had the ability or the means to record an album, but by the late 1980s, underground institutions were in place to the point where a band could record an album, be interviewed in fanzines with a national readership, get promotional backing from their label, and tour the country with at least enough support from the local scene to get through to the next town. At that point, the major labels were bound to start paying attention. And Geffen signed Sonic Youth with the intention that Moore and company could recruit acts to their label that might let them tap into the underground scene. Sonic Youth, of course, got Nirvana signed to Geffen.

    There were links between punk and grunge sonically, in the approach to creating and performing music, and their general outlook of mainstream culture (and the world to a certain extent, but that’s, again, another story). Punk is more of an attitude of non-conformity to the mainstream than a precise sound. The bands involved in the PNW shared this attitude, and they considered themselves punk.

    Well, that’s quite a caffeine induced rant, and will hopefully induce more debate rather than convince people that I’m right. I welcome any insights and criticisms and questions…that is, if anybody read this far.


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