Still Going Strong 

Punk turns 25 and a new release takes its pulse.

It was rock's Reformation. That's what critic Eric Weisbard claims about punk in the May issue of Spin, a well-done special issue on "25 Years of Punk" that has gained poignancy after the death last weekend of cover subject Joey Ramone. The issue was produced along with a documentary -- All Access: 25 Years of Punk -- which will debut this week on VH1, Thursday, April 19th, at 9 p.m.

Who'd have thought back when the Ramones were chanting about "beating on the brat" and Johnny Rotten was proclaiming "no future" that punk would one day be respectable enough to have its history recounted in a glossy national magazine and be celebrated by a television network once the adult contemporary answer to MTV? But this post-alternative pop climate -- where decidedly non-punk genres like metal and teen pop and jam-rock are ascendant -- is an ideal time to gauge the continuing vitality of a form (a philosophy? a spirit?) that, in Weisbard's words, changed rock-and-roll from a fact to a question.

Weisbard's first-rate essay makes some compelling claims for the music. Weisbard writes about the importance of preserving the parallel music-biz network that punk fostered -- that loose affiliation of record stores, indie labels, alternative media outlets, clubs, and (college and public) radio stations that cultivated most of the best rock music of the last decade, and I couldn't agree more. But the most interesting claim Weisbard makes is this: "For rockers, punk touches every decision a musician now makes, because to play contemporary rock without punk feeling has become as musically bankrupt as for a jazz musician to play without blues feeling. Punk is the bedrock you leap up from."

This is a rather contentious statement, and while I believe there are plenty of exceptions, I still think there's a lot of truth here. In fact, that statement hints at the deeper element of punk's impact that Weisbard doesn't even mention, perhaps because he's such an alt-bred critic that he takes it for granted and assumes Spin's readership does as well. But it's worth noting nonetheless: Most people who came of musical age prior to the late '70s don't really get this and, as hard as it is to fathom, a lot of people who came of musical age later don't either, but the contemporary revolutions of punk and hip hop in the late '70s were every bit as important as the rock-and-roll and soul music revolutions of the mid-'50s. Just as most of the vital pop music of the '60s and '70s was born out of what Elvis Presley and Chuck Berry and Ray Charles did in the '50s, most of the vital pop of the last 20 years was informed by punk and hip hop. Older forms endure, of course: Just as great jazz and blues and country records continued to be made after the birth of rock and soul, great "classic" rock records have continued to be made after punk and hip hop. But make no mistake. It is punk and hip hop that have most clearly defined who we are for the last two decades.

And, on the punk side of the equation, no record right now testifies to that enduring impact as much as the eponymous debut album from Lars Frederiksen and the Bastards. Alternating radical anthems with first-person tales of growing up punk in the late '70s and '80s, Lars Frederiksen and the Bastards might as well be subtitled "25 Years of Punk."

Frederiksen is a guitarist/singer for Rancid, and since this "side project" was produced by Rancid frontman Tim Armstrong and all the originals were co-written by Frederiksen and Armstrong, it might as well be a new Rancid record. Taken as such, it's better than the band's last offering, the too-hard-edged 2000 Rancid.

Weisbard writes that punk is now "a way of life for some, a caricature to most others, and a surprisingly enduring pop force regardless." He may as well be writing about Rancid specifically rather than punk generally. With the band's stereotypical Mohawks-and-tattoos look and retro Clash-like sound, Rancid aren't a particularly hip taste, but they've managed to develop into a surprisingly enduring pop force regardless, turning themselves into one of the best rock-and-roll bands of the last half-decade.

If Rancid's criminally neglected 1998 opus, Life Won't Wait, was, as one critic colleague insisted, the most ambitious punk record since the Minutemen's Double Nickels on the Dime, then this shorter, sharper shock of a record might be the most warmly nostalgic punk record since Double Nickels on the Dime. With a more limber, spacious, and accessible sound than the last Rancid record, the best songs on Lars Frederiksen and the Bastards bring out Rancid's alway-present Springsteenian sense of rock-and-roll grandeur. With coming-of-age tales like "Six Foot Five," "Campbell, CA," and especially the ferocious take on Billy Bragg's "To Have and Have Not," the band has produced songs almost as moving as classics like the Clash's "Stay Free," the Minutemen's "History Lesson, Pt. II," and um Springsteen's "No Surrender"? As Frederiksen takes a look back at his own 25 years-plus of punk, he makes it sound like a life well-lived.

You can e-mail Chris Herrington at herrington@memphisflyer.com.


music notes

by CHRIS HERRINGTON

McCarthy Screening/New Film Series

Local exploitation film auteur John Michael McCarthy will be making an in-store appearance at Black Lodge Video on Saturday, April 21st. The store will be screening two of his works -- the recent Superstarlet A.D. and another of the filmmaker's choosing -- and McCarthy will be discussing his work. McCarthy's appearance will coincide with the store's unveiling of a special section devoted to local filmmakers. The event is scheduled for 9 p.m.

In related news, Black Lodge has also struck an agreement with downtown rock club Last Place on Earth to host cult film screenings on Wednesday nights. The first screening is tentatively scheduled for April 25th and according to Black Lodge co-owner Matthew Martin will likely feature a double bill of the animated classic Fritz the Cat and recent art-house hit Requiem for a Dream. Admission to screenings will be free.

Earth Day Lineup

The 14th annual Overton Park Earth Day celebration happens this weekend, with 16 bands and assorted speakers and activities spread out over Saturday, April 21st, and Sunday, April 22nd. Saturday's schedule runs from noon to 10:30 p.m. and Sunday's runs from 2 to 10 p.m. The band schedule is as follows. Saturday: Son of Soil, Blue Jazz, Jazz Midgets, Yard Sale, Seven $ Sox, the Gabe and Amy Show, Native Son, Instant Corndog, and the Joint Chiefs. Sunday: Phil and T., Healing Drum, CYC, Accidental Mersh, Speakeasy, FreeWorld, and Yamagata. Admission is free. For more information call 726-1473.

The King Is Back

B.B. King makes a rare appearance at his eponymous club on Beale Street this week. The Beale Street Blues Boy will play four shows, performing sets at 7:30 and 10:30 p.m., respectively, on Monday, April 23rd, and Tuesday, April 24th. General-admission tickets are $35 with a $100 price tag for reserved seating and dinner.

New Releases

Significant new records expected to hit the racks this week:

Elvis Costello -- The Very Best of (Rhino)

Creeper Lagoon -- Take Back the Universe (DreamWorks)

Emmylou Harris -- Anthology: The Warner/Reprise Years (Rhino)

Gram Parsons -- Sacred Hearts and Fallen Angels: The Gram Parsons Anthology (Rhino)

Tom Russell -- Borderland (HMG)

Unwound -- Leaves Turn Inside You (Kill Rock Stars)

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