Punk broke in the summer of 1976 and spread like a heatwave as the Ramones made their eponymous debut and invaded England with their tough, no-frills rock. Long incubating in the post-hippie era, punk was named for the sonic deviance of bands like the Sex Pistols — who debuted Anarchy in the U.K. that same year — the Buzzcocks, Patti Smith, Television, the Clash, and countless others armed with noise-bearing instruments.
More an attitude than a sound, punk began as a youthful distillation of anti-establishment politics, street grit, and even a dose of French surrealism (Richard Hell famously claims to have stolen his enfant terrible act from Arthur Rimbaud). It spawned various sub-genres, many still heard today, and contributed DIY (do it yourself) to the cultural lexicon, championing hyper-localism when it was still as alien as mohawks and fashionably ripped clothes. Today we celebrate 40 years of punk with audio artifacts of the shock heard around the world.
1. Interview with Penelope Spheeris (Bullseye)
Jesse Thorn interviews director Penelope Spheeris about Decline of Western Civilization, her 1979 documentary on the LA punk scene featuring candid interviews with teen punkers and live performances by the Germs, X, Black Flag, and others. The documentary captures the youthful exuberance of the scene as well as the nihilism and addiction problems that befell many.
2. Just Girls: The Hidden World of Patti Smith and Judy Linn (Kitchen Sisters)
The Kitchen Sisters share audio snapshots of punk icon Patti Smith, intimate and quotidian, as recorded by her friend Judy Linn in the ’70s. The vignettes capture the interior life and voice of the quirky and dreamy youth Patti writes about in her seminal biography Just Kids.
KALW gives a tour of the Maximum Rocknroll house, ground zero of West Coast punk, headquarters of the fanzine, and home to the world’s largest archive of punk records. As punk arose in reaction to the excesses of ’70s rock and hippie idealism, fanzines were used to get the word out about underground shows and albums. In 1982, Jello Biafra of the Dead Kennedys and Maximum Rocknroll founder Tim Yohannan released a compilation of Northern California and Nevada punk rock; the album’s liner notes would be published as the first issue of MRR, which has stayed true to its austere form — black-and-white newsprint — well into the digital age.
4. The Stranger (Snap Judgement)
Musician Damien Jurado tells about his adolescent retreat into the cabalistic world of punk zines and records, and the shabby janitor who got him hooked (no spoilers, but Damien’s punk pusher would go on to revolutionize the genre).
5. Rocket To Russia (Sound Opinions)
Jim DeRogatis and Greg Kot talk to drummer Tommy Ramone, who lays down the origin story of punk and details from recording the Ramones’ first three records, including Rocket to Russia. Jim and Greg dissect the 1977 classic record and its punchy, two-minute anthems including “Sheena is a Punk Rocker” — the epitome of the genre, according to the rock doctors.
Sleater Kinney guitarist Carrie Brownstein discusses her coming up through the Olympia punk and riot grrrl scenes, feminism, and her new memoir Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl.