THE WHYS AND HOWS OF NEW YORK PUNK
Punk is a thing that comes from the spontaneous combustion of youth, pure energy, and a sense of honest naivete that usually only comes briefly in your life — and the bands that had made New York (in) famous in the second half of the 70's had, by and large, little (if any) of that. In general, New York's music wasn't music for kids, a voice of young power and aggression, it was music for trendies and thinkers. For most of the mid-to-late 7Q"s, real Punk was a thing that belonged to Britain and distant parts of America (who remembers the Weirdos, the Dils, Legionairre's Disease, Avengers, D.O.A., Viletones, Bags, etc., all kicking their collective asses off from 1977 on?). Truly NO NEW YORK.
But what you hear on this cassette documents the change that came about that shook the ossified and D.O.R.ified New York scene to its very foundations. By late 1981, New York had developed one of the best (though admittedly not the most appreciated or the most commercially lucrative) REAL Punk scene in the whole country — and hopefully, this tape can finally prove that to those who weren't here to see it and still won't believe it.
The NY Punk boom of '81 had its seeds in a true NY underground that developed in the late '70's as a reaction to the critically approved and trendy approved underground that then (as now) dominated the clubs and the media.
By the late '70's, in the midst of New York's whole hipper-than-thou trip, a few bands in and around the city had begun playing straight-ahead music by and for kids (or kids at heart). The Misfits, Stimulators, Blessed, Whorelords, Speedies (never a punk band but always a band that stood for kids), the Mad and Bad Brains all had firm roots in the '70's, and did the tough job of laying the groundwork for the boom that was to follow in later years.
The club scene was virtually closed to punk, and there was only so much "freedom" in the rare and ill-placed weeknights Max's, CBGB's, or TR3 gig (despite what other sources might say, the attitude of those clubs to punk was ferfrom enlightened prior to the '81 boom). By 1980, bands like Even Worse, the Offals, Nekrqn 99, and False Prophets, young, snotty teens with more of a direct line to the current hardcore/punk crop, were fighting (and in many cases failing) to keep the notion of punk alive in a town that wasn't too interested- This first generation were the children of the Stimulators, the Bad Brains, (imported from Washington D.C. via Ethiopia) and the early American and British Punk crew (I remember seeing heavy punk slamming for the first time at Stiff Little Fingers October '80 American debut at Trax), and soon, another factor would provide more impetus for the forthcoming boom: that was the West Coast Hardcore explosion.
Bands like the Dead Kennedys, Circle Jerks, and Black Flag had been honing a new, radical punk sound that exaggerated punk's two obvious elements, noise and speed; for whatever reason, they appealed to and influenced the east coast punks in a way that the early British outfits never had. In the winter/spring of early '81, the crucial three of these bands blitzed New York; at the same time and quite independently, a whole new crop of U.K. bands like the Exploited, Discharge, and Anti Pasti surfaced with a sound based on a similar principle of thrash and distortion — and once again, this time more kids were listening and inspired to create their own hardcore. By the summer, hardcore had begun to happen in New York City and bands like Heart Attack, Kraut, the new Even Worse, Nihilistics, the Undead, and Reagan Youth were
finding increased audiences and (slightly) more interested club bookers. Other survivors like the Bad Brains and the Misfits found themselves becoming somewhat powerful commodities and almost equal in status to the west coasters.
The late summer and fall of 1981 was an unbelievably exciting time, no bullshit, and you probably can't have any idea of what it was like unless you were there and sweating. Punk and new music once again belonged to the streets, not the art schools and the hipsters. The growth of Noise the Show, constant gigs, more exciting hands from L.A, and Britain, and the discovery of an unbelievably potent scene in Washington, D.C., all combined to create more excitement and more inspiration for the New York scene.
So this CD is a document of a great time and some truly great and lasting music. The Mad are the insane heroes of the late '70's, still remembered by many for the bizarre and grotesque live performances, here showing they had plenty more to offer; the Bad Brains are similar, remarkable veterans (well documented elsewhere), a punk rock rastafari miracle that survived and prospered. Even Worse, too, survivor of the lean days, great believers in traditional punk/pop fun and energy (and with the trinity manifestation of the Bad Brains now also playing as Zion Train and Musketeers they become the oldest surviving band still on the scene); the False Prophets, from later in the same period, mad jesters or heavy philosophers or just hardcore s answer to Mott the Hoople with Peter Gabriel theatrics? The Undead and the Fiends, again more traditional punk bands not afraid of melodies, slower songs, or blatant pop appeal, both with roots in 70's punk legends — the Fiends descendants of the wild Whorelords, and the Undead relatives to the mighty Misfits. The Nihilistics and Heart Attack — hard and furious true hardcore bands, an essential part of that hot summer of '81, Heart Attack with their spring-wound tightness and force, and the Nihilistics, chose doomy and passionately sincere primitives, one-third Fall, one-third Discharge, one-third Crass. Kraut? Producer of two of the best 45's of 1981, and my pick for the hope of '82, roaring, irresistible punk, smart, aware, and fucking great. Who does that leave? Beastie Boys, brief stars somewhere in the fall, nutty, fun and a bit bizarre, unfortunately dissolving (like the A.W.O.L. Reagan Youth) before they could reach their full promise; and Adrenalin O.D., young, fun, and with unbelievably good songs, definitely New York's answer to the Circle Jerks.
So now it's time for the critics and the media to jump on the Hardcore/Punk bandwagon, and I hope this exposure helps. The bands deserve it, and people should know that there is a great, real New York Punk, there is life after glorified disco and pretentious 'new music', no wave and new funk, and here it is, right on this CD.
You see, Punk never died — but the punk within some people died, and here's the blessed alternative in the land of the vibrant and living. There is an honest tradition of NY Punk Rock, the legacy of challenge and energy that comes from the Velvets to the Dolls to the Heartbreakers to Richard Hell to the Dictators to the Ramones, and these eleven bands of noise and power are their legitimate progeny. Whatever NY Punk/Hardcore was, it was honest — to a point - full of more variety than any other scene in the country (eleven bands on this tape and not one of them sounds alike and all of them have something different — and worthwhile — to offer). That's truly unique. And it fucking kicked, kicked down the doors and the discos and the trendies and it was real in a way that will never, never tarnish.
by TIMSOMMER, 1982