PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.

Punk Is Dead Is Very Alive

Killing modernity every night requires philosophy and experience.

Punk is Dead: Modernity Killed Every Night
Richard Cabut, Andrew Gallix


27 Oct 2017


How much do you know about punk? If you're making a mental checklist of bands right now, you don't really know anything. Music is one form of art, sure, but punk is a movement of thought that transcends the particularities of form. Note the usage of present tense verbiage there: punk may be dead, but it is quite present, whether dead or alive. Still, we can indulge your list of bands—did you get any further than the Sex Pistols, the Clash and the Ramones? You've also heard of the Banshees? Good.

If you want to learn a tremendous quantity of information about punk that has been obscured by a lack of reputable first-hand accounts, look no further than Punk Is Dead: Modernity Killed Every Night. It's a collection of weird histories and poetic fragments of recollection strung together by two editors: Richard Cabut, who was 17 in the summer of 1977, and Andrew Gallix, who is best known as chief of 3:AM Magazine. The focal point of the book is London in late 1976, during the 15-minutes where pretty much everybody agrees that "punk" was a genuinely existing thing.

Yet what it was then is hard to say, and that's the amazing value of reading all the slightly overlapping, lived experiences of it presented in this collection. Many of the essays are culled from late '70s publications; there are a few retrospectives from the '80s, and then several very recent interviews. It's well summed up by this bit from Simon Reynolds, one of the more famous thinkers on the subject and most recently author of Shock and Awe:

"Punk haunts rock critical thinking as teasing proof that a unity of alienation existed once, can therefore exist again … There never was a consensus over its scope or aims or defining actions. Punk was really the opening of a discourse who subject was: WHAT'S PUNK? (i.e. what's music for, what power can art have?). Punk is best defined as 'disturbance'—a clamour and congestion of claims and stances" (263).

He then proceeds to chart several of these territories: punk as estrangement from normal life, as political responsibility, as style war, as incompetence, as outrage, as pub rock. The disparate pieces collected in Punk Is Dead ultimately prove to be a gorgeously nuanced quilting job. Every contribution is thick with description, shot through with substantive critical thinking, and assured by self-awareness in the earnest yet unserious extreme. It will generate quite a to-do list for any reader, whether one's area of interest in confined to music, or invested in other things like poetry, film, and fashion. Take this fine distinction made by Nicholas Rhombes: "There are films about punk. And there are movies that are punk not in their content, but in the conditions of their creation. And there are movies that are both about punk and perform punk aesthetics in the mode of their production" (219).

The result is that punk—discussed in the book as well as very cleverly performed by it—is perhaps best interpreted as a specific mode of critical impulse. It's not a mode of critique that appeals to everyone for two reasons: 1. because it's often mean and 2. because it's a series of collapsible paradoxes that self-defeat. Penny Rimbaud, who somehow survives to be now in his mid-'70s, can still dispense with any reticence based on the former complaint: "Although it might not seem a good enough justification to say that it was punk to behave [badly] like that, I can see now, in our desperate attempts to redefine ourselves, that it probably is: we were attempting to create a new future by trashing the past and, until that job was done, maybe there was no other way forward for us" (172).

As to the second objection, well, that's postmodernism for you. Cabut and Gallix do an expert job of stacking up the laughter to hedge against any ugly, sneaking suspicion that punk goes nowhere. C'mon, punk is everywhere! No aspect of modern popular culture has proved immune to the proliferation of punk's ideas. These essays make boredom and irony and all the inanities of our modern existence seem very livable, even fun and intriguing. Also, inescapable—haha! Look at the Human Condition, summarized here by Tony Drayton, founder of legendary punk fanzines Ripped & Torn and Kill Your Pet Puppy: "Cynical enthusiasm meant reveling in the scene while harbouring the belief that it was bound to go wrong. It wasn't a sense of cool. Cool isn't cool because if you're cool then you don't show you're cool—that means you'd be acting cool, which is uncool!" (202).

Punk Is Dead must be consumed slowly. It's spunky, thinky, and original. It disdains skinheads. It celebrates the contributions of queers and women. Judy Nylon wrote the foreword. Do you know who she is? How about Dorothy Max Prior? Pamela Rooke (also known as Jordan, or also Amyl Nitrite)? This book shows there's ever so much more to punk life than Malcolm McLaren, though every single one of these contributors can spend as much time waxing poetic about 430 King's Road as about Situationism. Oh, just look it up already.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.





Peter Frampton Asks "Do You Feel Like I Do?" in Rock-Solid Book on Storied Career

British rocker Peter Frampton grew up fast before reaching meteoric heights with Frampton Comes Alive! Now the 70-year-old Grammy-winning artist facing a degenerative muscle condition looks back on his life in his new memoir and this revealing interview.


Bishakh Som's 'Spellbound' Is an Innovative Take on the Graphic Memoir

Bishakh's Som's graphic memoir, Spellbound, serves as a reminder that trans memoirs need not hinge on transition narratives, or at least not on the ones we are used to seeing.


Gamblers' Michael McManus Discusses Religion, Addiction, and the Importance of Writing Open-Ended Songs

Seductively approachable, Gamblers' sunny sound masks the tragedy and despair that populate the band's debut album.


Peter Guralnick's 'Looking to Get Lost' Is an Ode to the Pleasures of Writing About Music

Peter Guralnick's homage to writing about music, 'Looking to Get Lost', shows how good music writing gets the music into the readers' head.


In Praise of the Artifice in George Cukor's 'Sylvia Scarlett'

George Cukor's gender-bending Sylvia Scarlett proposes a heroine who learns nothing from her cross-gendered ordeal.


The Cure: Ranking the Albums From 13 to 1

Just about every Cure album is worth picking up, and even those ranked lowest boast worthwhile moments. Here are their albums, spanning 29 years, presented from worst to best.


The 20 Best Episodes of 'Star Trek: The Original Series'

This is a timeless list of 20 thrilling Star Trek episodes that delight, excite, and entertain, all the while exploring the deepest aspects of the human condition and questioning our place in the universe.


The 20 Best Tom Petty Songs

With today's release of Tom Petty's Wildflowers & All the Rest (Deluxe Edition), we're revisiting Petty's 20 best songs.

Joshua M. Miller

The 11 Greatest Hits From "Greatest Hits" Compilations

It's one of the strangest pop microcosms in history: singles released exclusively from Greatest Hits compilations. We rounded 'em up and ranked 'em to find out what is truly the greatest Greatest Hit of all.


When Punk Got the Funk

As punks were looking for some potential pathways out of the cul-de-sacs of their limited soundscapes, they saw in funk a way to expand the punk palette without sacrificing either their ethos or idea(l)s.


20 Hits of the '80s You Might Not Have Known Are Covers

There were many hit cover versions in the '80s, some of well-known originals, and some that fans may be surprised are covers.


The Reign of Kindo Discuss Why We're Truly "Better Off Together"

The Reign of Kindo's Joseph Secchiaroli delves deep into their latest single and future plans, as well as how COVID-19 has affected not only the band but America as a whole.


Tommy Siegel's Comic 'I Hope This Helps' Pokes at Social Media Addiction

Jukebox the Ghost's Tommy Siegel discusses his "500 Comics in 500 Days" project, which is now a new book, I Hope This Helps.


Kimm Rogers' "Lie" Is an Unapologetically Political Tune (premiere)

San Diego's Kimm Rogers taps into frustration with truth-masking on "Lie". "What I found most frustrating was that no one would utter the word 'lie'."


50 Years Ago B.B. King's 'Indianola Mississippi Seeds' Retooled R&B

B.B. King's passion for bringing the blues to a wider audience is in full flower on the landmark album, Indianola Mississippi Seeds.


Filmmaker Marlon Riggs Knew That Silence = Death

In turning the camera on himself, even in his most vulnerable moments as a sick and dying man, filmmaker and activist Marlon Riggs demonstrated the futility of divorcing the personal from the political. These films are available now on OVID TV.


The Human Animal in Natural Labitat: A Brief Study of the Outcast

The secluded island trope in films such as Cast Away and television shows such as Lost gives culture a chance to examine and explain the human animal in pristine, lab like, habitat conditions. Here is what we discover about Homo sapiens.


Bad Wires Release a Monster of a Debut with 'Politics of Attraction'

Power trio Bad Wires' debut Politics of Attraction is a mix of punk attitude, 1990s New York City noise, and more than a dollop of metal.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.