Why Detroit Is More Punk Than L.A. And New York Put Together!

Detroit: Birthplace of Punk Rock - Iggy and the Stooges, The MC5, The Grande Ballroom 1967 - 1974

Detroit, Michigan – Who is more punk – Los Angeles, or New York?  Does it really matter? I am referring to a ridiculous feud that is going on with the L.A. Weekly and the Village Voice about who is more – “Punk”. Or I should say – “Who Was More Punk” because that whole thing has been put to bed around sometime in 1977. Sure we got alternative bands now with punk-ish like influences but it’s not the same thing as the original punk movement.

The rants get pretty funny with mentions of Jim Morrison from the Doors, (not a punk… but a drunk) who died at the age of 27, to the defense of Lou Reed. We love Lou here at Hot Metro Finds and our articles reflect that but this whole fight thing gets pretty juicy. It also get funny too when I read stuff on my newsfeed how the Village Voice nominated Eddie Van Halen one of the top ten douchiest guitarist of all time. We clearly have a bunch of ill mannered school kids running amok in our Ameican news rooms.

We all suffer for it. Dearly.

Both of these scenes had their moments in the sun. The UK was left out of the equation and that would be, “HOLIDAYS IN THE SUN” courtesy of the Sex Pistols. Actually the term, “PUNK” came from the UK pop culture revolt in 1976 and was the culmination of unemployment, a garbage strike and other social ills. PR impresario Malcom McLaren was behind the publicity machine that the UK press dubbed, “Punk”. So now it had a name and it now had a face. Journalists at the time swear the movement died the second The Clash signed up with CBS records. As for the Sex Pistols, well they went down in flames in a horrible swirl of drugs, murder and suicide. It’s an interesting tale.

 

 

 

The Punk scene is made up of many tales, many cities and clusters of people who each contributed a certain style, look and sound. The major cities that contributed to this revolt are London, New York, Los Angeles, and Detroit. I suppose you could throw in San Francisco and Seattle in there but for now let’s try to keep it somewhat simple.

DETROIT:  WHO CARES ABOUT DETROIT !!??

Now before all this there was another scene that erupted in Detroit. Yes, THAT Detroit. The Detroit you all read about and glamorize as being up coming and hip. Detroit, had a uprising anti-star named Iggy Pop and he had a little band named The Stooges. He was born to poor working class Irish parents in Muskgeon. So what you say…. Well, I’m from Muskegon, I was born there and you’re right. There’s not a whole lot of glitz there and it certainly isn’t very punk. There’s nothing really to rail up anger against unless your talking about the excessively long winters by Lake Michigan.

Iggy Pop ended up moving to Ann Arbor, Michigan which is further south from his native Muskegon. Things are more progressive there. The University of Michigan has always attracted a very young influential audience. The college kids that go there are away from their parents for the first time. People really let loose and are able to reinvent themselves.

Ann Arbor is one heck of a place. It would also be a beacon for Andy Warhol, Lou Reed and even Jim Morrison and the Doors who played there in 1967. Iggy was there for that performance and it had a powerful influence over him. After seeing Morrison perform it was then that he decided to play in a band. Ann Arbor is a town that a lot of artists feel acclimated to. A lot of talented, obscure, creative and artistic acts roll through there and have done so for decades. The U of M campus is good for one thing and that is being a collective melting pot of youth from all over the country. It’s the best thing we got next to Chicago. In some ways it’s our own New York. In fact at one time the Ann Arbor News had a newspaper that was double the size of the New York Times  Sunday edition which I always thought was a bit excessive.

I could bore you with other stuff too like about how Iggy went to Pioneer High School and was either kicked out or he quit – this depends on who you ask.  Others say he was living in Ypsilanti which is no picnic either. I lived in that place too when I went to Eastern Michigan University. Somewhere around that time it gets a little grey because Iggy formed a band and started playing Detroit. It was around the time of the riots.

Detroit: Birthplace of Punk Rock - Iggy and the Stooges, The MC5, The Grande Ballroom 1967 - 1974

You get into the bars like Cliff Bells, which is an old speakeasy in Detroit or in the working class bars and you will see the locals. They will tell you stories about the Grande Ballroom and stories of Iggy and the Stooges and the MC5. The music around this time was not considered punk but was considered rock and roll.

But Detroit rock and roll in the late 70’s was anything but nice and fuzzy. It was more street, more grunge, loud, and real. There were no happy endings in any of the songs. The MC5, which stands for the Motor City Five, starts out their album with, “Kick Out The Jams Mother F*cker !!!” and it set the tone for where this movement was going. At the same time of Wayne Kramer and the MC5 the British bands were coming  to Detroit to play at the Grande Ballroom. Some of the bands that came turned out to be classic rock giants like Led Zeppelin and The Who. This has to sound like science fiction to some of you because the Grande Ballroom was actually a pretty small place but this really happened. The other interesting thing about the Grande was that it was not right downtown. You couldn’t just park your car downtown and then walk over to it like Saint Andrews Hall.  You had to drive out a bit to get there.

My uncle had a compilation of Detroit rock in the 70s that featured the MC5 and Iggy and the Stooges and I remember it was a cheap production. It came in this flimsy white cardboard and it had black and white pictures on it and nobody on the album looked happy. These were live shots from some gigs in and around Detroit and I couldn’t have been any more than 8 at the time. I knew something serious was going on over in Detroit and the energy felt negative.

That is the chapter you should look into. There was an energy given by the kids and the record promoters could see it. This wasn’t pretty rock and roll and it wasn’t very marketable. Iggy couldn’t be more outrageous. During the live shows he would roll around on broken glass, vomit on stage and even cut himself. He was the prototype of something sinister that other bands would continue to copy such as GG Allin and the Murder Junkies and Sid Vicious of the Sex Pistols.

Iggy and the Stooges were around from 1967 to 1974 when I guess it wasn’t that much fun anymore to shock. Maybe Iggy got sick of Ann Arbor. I know I did. The next logical move would be to go to New York City . He released three blueprint albums filled with anger, and terrifying rage and they would become the go to tracks for other bands to cover. The notable tracks here are, “I Wanna Be Your Dog”, (covered by Sid Vicious in his last days) and, “Search and Destroy”. That whole bit…. The search and destroy thing is a bit silly on part of Henry Rollins from Black Flag. Rollins actually has this tattooed on his back. The other notable tracks were, “No Fun”,(covered by the Sex Pistols)and “I Feel Alright”, (covered by The Damned).

 

“Raw Power” is a hard album to listen to. The majority of the album is very noisy and there is a lot of guitar feedback. It’s important to note that this Iggy’s albums were not commercially successful. Iggy Pop, for whatever reason, was also the one of the first rockers to introduce heavy drugs into the scene namely heroin. Iggy would later run off to New York City and hang out Max’s Kansas City and meet up with David Bowie. That place was a hub of druggies, hardcore rock and roll people and the Warhol crew who also had drug problems of their own.

Meanwhile the MC5 was creating an explosion all their own with local fans and the media.  They too only produced three albums but they were known just as much for their hard partying as they were for their music. There was also plenty of drug use.  The band celebrated profanity and that was enough to get their albums taken off the record shelves at Hudson’s department stores.  The band had a growing following and were known for having one of the most in your face introductions in the early rock Detroit punk records. That startling profane intro on, “Kick Out The Jams” only endeared them to future punk bands including Spaceman 3, The Damned, and KLF. The band was also covered by such notable acts as The Blue Oyster Cult, Pearl Jam, The Presidents of the United States of America, Monster Magnet and Jeff Buckley.

The idea here is that nothing could be too outrageous. That attitude was quickly snatched up by a lot of New York bands that were striving for meaning. Richard Hell from the Voidoids, Blondie, The Talking Heads, Suicide, Television, The New York Dolls and the Ramones sprouted up. Kiss got together in the early 70’s too and had their own growing fan base. Things were starting to happen even as early influencers such as The Velvet Underground had completely become undone making way for newer sounds. The drugs were something that unfortunately stayed and permeated throughout the rock and roll world.

The scene splinters off around this time to the UK. The California punk scene was taking off too but I gotta be honest and tell you that I have no idea how that all came together. I sometimes wonder if the kids there got wind of the UK movement and the New York influence and decided to give anger a shot. Or maybe it goes deeper than that. Bands like Alice Bag,The Germs, The Weirdos, Flipper, FEAR,  X, The Circle Jerks, and Black Flag were pretty much introduced to me through the film, “Decline of Western Civilization” and I never heard of any of them before that movie came out in 1980.

Detroit: Birthplace of Punk Rock - Iggy and the Stooges, The MC5, The Grande Ballroom 1967 - 1974

There is something sinister though lurking around the L.A. scene and its not all fun rock and roll music. I am talking about the Starwood and its notorious manager Eddie Nash. Along with that ugly history comes the awful porno legend John Holmes and the Wonderland Murders.  This was another world that I was not tuned into. This was the dark side of Hollywood and mainstream America really didn’t even know that stuff even existed but comedian John Belushi did. He used to frequent the rougher clubs near the end of his career and this is how he found the punk rock band FEAR. Belushi liked them so much he had them come on the set of Saturday Night Live.

There were other acts playing in those places too that were a little friendlier like The Go Go’s , The Fleshtones, The Cars, The Dead Boys, The Dickies  and many others. There was another movement taking off in the San Francisco area with the Dead Kennedys.

But the UK scene had connections in New York too with some of the earlier bands on the street. McLaren would have ties with The New York Dolls after he managed them briefly. He also saw some of the first Ramones concerts while visiting New York.Sex Pistol manager, Malcom McLaren, raced back to England after his brief stint with the New York Dolls and wanted to create his own group. This kicked off another interesting chapter of punk in 1976.

The Damned was also in the UK and they were creating their own unique sound and it was borrowing a lot from the thrashy Detroit sound. The Clash were creating a politically charged band around this same time and soon London was a powder keg of emerging bands. They would bind their powers together to create something called the, “Anarchy in the UK Tour” and would set off to play college campuses. Because of the excellent PR tactics and media manipulation of the press half of the gigs were cancelled. McLaren and the Sex Pistols would later package up their unique take on music – now dubbed by the media as Punk Rock  -- and tour the United States. The idea was to take this sordid and twisted culture and sell it back to America or as Malcom would call it, “Selling It Back To The Barbarians”.

By the time Punk lost its shock in 1977 things began to change all around. The Sex Pistols disbanded and had fired their lead singer – Johnny Rotten. Bassist Sid Vicious was accused of murdering his girlfriend Nancy Spungen in the seedy Chelsea Hotel in New York City and everything came crashing to an end.

After that the music was moving in all sorts of crazy directions. There was a Goth movement happening after the punk movement and a SKA movement in the UK. To make things more interesting there was also a retro MOD movement coming out of the same locale. The window here was just as short as the UK punk movement. All of this happened in two years.

Other bands were stepping up to the plate after the fizzling out of the Sex Pistols. There was more of a dance and pop version of punk music taking off called New Wave. There was a lot of one hit wonders here and many of those songs helped define the period of the early 80’s. Music was nothing but intriguing by this point. There was so many sounds taking off at the same time and it seemed almost impossible to stay on top of it all.

You can see that the origin of punk and see who influenced how can get quite interesting. It also created a lot of great bands too from one region to another. It’s a fascinating topic when you start to discuss it chronologically. Calling someone a douche doesn’t really get the job done. There is more to it than that.

Does it matter which scene is more punk than the other? I mean you got Iggy Pop in the beginning cutting himself and vomiting all over while making manic sounds high on heroin. You got a blueprint here out of Detroit that all other bands copied. The Sex Pistols were noted as vomiting on stage and in airports according to the media. Sid Vicious was cutting himself up on stage and bleeding all over but he certainly didn’t invent that.

The most important thing about this whole Punk thing is that you have people who have contributed something unique to the cultural landscape. Some of it is good. Some of it is horrible and not worth repeating. But all of it has made an impression. You cannot put a patent on anger or claim ownership to it because then it starts to get ridiculous.

What Punk brought to the public consciousness was freedom of expression, and a way to vent. I want to point out that this wide range of freedom has spilled over into other art forms including film, animation, graphic novels, music videos, art, fashion, clothing, literature, performance art, theater, and even stand up comedy. There is an anarchistic freedom to break apart old art forms and throw out the hard edged rules about conventions.

Detroit: Birthplace of Punk Rock - Iggy and the Stooges, The MC5, The Grande Ballroom 1967 - 1974

What is that Johnny Rotten once said, “When The Old Order Doesn’t Work…. Get Rid Of It?”.  The other thing Rotten said was, “You Have To Detroy In Order To Create”.

To me that is the best part about the whole punk movement. The elimination of old stagnant conventions and making things new and exciting again is what makes punk rock interesting.

Ted Cantu - Hot Metro Finds - SUMMER 2014

 
 

 

 

 
 
 
 

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