Poetry… With Teeth.
CBGB #1-2 (of 4)
US: Aug 2010
For Pancho, we woke up one day and something big was gone
Twentieth century philosopher Theodor Adorno, one of the founders of the Frankfurt School, would challenge the sacred shibboleths of profession, accumulated over centuries. In his hands we would come to understand that what appeared as the intellectual liberation of the Enlightenment, was actually grounded in a set of binaried prejudices. He was cultured, educated, articulate and entirely fearless. During the darkest days of the Second World War (he had already fled to neutral Switzerland, by this time), he would drive into Frankfurt… let me say that again, drive into Nazi Germany to continue teaching in the hope that the ideavirus of Nazism would not become a generational story. When he calls for there to be “no poetry after Auschwitz”, his is the voice of moral authenticity we yearn towards. He was cultured, educated, articulate and completely wrong. If there should be no poetry after Auschwitz, then poetry itself is somehow insufficient.
It would happen a generation after. It would crawl from the wreckage of human civilization. It would stalk the earth like a junkyard dog with a grudge, and a mean streak. Punk would be an assault. Aurally, but also culturally. This was a different kind of “poetry”, and a different kind of “after”. This was a poetry with teeth, the kind that could hunt down and kill the kind of racist conformism that Nazism so elegantly came to represent. And punk was the kind of poetry that was after Auschwitz, only because it was chasing down the ideavirus of pure human evil. Hunting it and killing it in the minds of those who had already brushed up against Fascism.
Could you choose a better medium than comics to express this?
Punk would always be about the raw and the uncut. “A rolling earthquake of a laugh, a buried shout, then hoary words stripped of all claptrap and set down in the city streets,” as Greil Marcus would write, recalling the definitive punk album, the Sex Pistols’ Anarchy in the UK, at the opening of his own book, Lipstick Traces. Punk was the simple assaulting the artifice. Comics makes more sense as medium, its simplicity and opportunity for audience participation makes for the perfect cultural mirror.
So, when, in “NYC Punk Carol”, artist Marc Ellerby chooses to not draw features on famous punk icons who played CBGB in the ‘70s, when instead he chooses to write tags with names like Debbie Harry, Joey Ramone and Richard Hell on empty, featureless heads, it reads as cheap and easy and punk. Precisely the raw energy of punk. When writer Ana Matronic fails to name the bands that readers instantly recognize, and then themselves name, it feels like Joe Strummer of the Clash defiantly shouting from a stage for audience participation. “I want you all to tell me what exactly you’re doing here,” he’d scream. It feels exactly like the band’s famous more famous exhortation, “Death or glory, become just another story”, from the London Calling album.
Even the format of the traditional comicbook is exploited to drive home the point, to allow the energy to bubble to the surface. The simple format of lead-story and back-up becomes a skilled tool in Series Editor Ian Brill’s hands. The comicbook form can be used, is used to deft effect. This is saying something about culture, something profound.
How do you wash away an ideavirus? How do you wipe away the black and the horrifying mark of Nazism? How do you cure a culture of the pilgrimage-impulse to venues of mass human evil, venues that today seem indistinguishable from heart-of-darkness theme parks? Perhaps you don’t. Perhaps all you ever needed was a Dee Dee Ramone, who, in the childhood years before he took on the Bassist’s Persona, would scrounge the war-torn countryside of postwar Germany. His father stationed there, the soon-to-be Dee Dee, would dig up medals and sell them off to soldiers. The same creative-commercial impulse would decades later allow the bassist to throw Nazi-fetish lyrics into Ramones songs.
And that would be the death Nazism. Dee Dee Ramone turning it into a punchline.
If there’s a direct line running from Patton’s strategy at the Battle of the Bulge, at understanding the necessity for pushing back the evil through the hole it come out from, to Dee Dee Ramone sinking his teeth into the culture of evil, crippling it by turning its ideology into popculture joke, then it’s a line that can be found in Ian Brill’s CBGB.
Tomorrow you’ll go down to your favorite comicbook store for Wednesday comics. Or you’ll find yourself in a B&N, after the limited series has been collected into a single volume. Or it will happen in time. Closer to the weekend or nearer the end of the month. You’ll stand on the precipice. On the self in front of you, you’ll see Boom!‘s CBGB but you wouldn’t have reached out for it yet. Not yet. You’d begin to experience something you’ve not yet felt before… circuits in the bottom of your mind will fire up and you’ll begin to realize that you are on the cusp of something greater than yourself.
Buy the book. You’ll read it and enjoy it, but you won’t be ready for the cultural wave. Not yet. Not for the idea of CBGB, not for the idea of Richard Hell or Greil Marcus or George Patton or Dee Dee Ramone. But buy the book and read the stories and you’ll grow into. By the book and slowly, you’ll begin to understand what No More Not Yet feels like.
We all know how critical it is to keep independent voices alive and strong on the Internet. Your donation will help PopMatters stay viable through these changing and challenging times.
"PopMatters (est. 1999) is a respected source for smart long-form reading on a wide range of topics in culture. PopMatters serves as…READ the article