Punk Rock Is A Death Cult -or- See ‘em While You Can
Posted on July 23, 2014
July 23, 2014
by John Gentile
I’m going to admit to something that no sane, card-carrying Punk Rocker™ ever would. That’s how much I love you.
I once decided to see Rush instead of the Stooges.
I know, I know, it’s an unfathomably dumb decision. Given the choice between the Stooges—perhaps the greatest band ever, one that smashes down like a wrecking ball, one led by a guy in Iggy Pop who rolls around onstage in glass and peanut butter, one that wrote “TV Eye”—and a progressive rock trio of Ayn Rand-backing Canadians, even an inanimate object—a banana peel, for example—would say, “Gotta see the Stooges, brah.”
But before you jump down my throat, let me explain the lesson of my choice. I feel bad enough about the whole thing anyway; you see, I actually really like Rush. Rush rocks, man. Have you heard “Bastille Day?” It’s basically the nerdier “Immigrant Song.” 2112 is a masterpiece, I don’t care what you say. So, when my uncle (who is young enough to really be more like an older cousin) called me up to ask, “Want to go see Rush?” I realized that I had to pick between the Stooges and Rush. At the time I didn’t really know too much about the Stooges and really liked Rush, so I said to myself, “I’ll see the Stooges next time.”
As for Rush, well, they rocked, man. But, the Stooges? As I was told later, they annihilated. They tore through the The Stooges and Fun House! They were a freight train on methamphetamine powered by nuclear energy driven by a conductor with a death wish! Ron Asheton played his guitar like a banshee! Scott Asheton smashed down on his drums like a caveman! Iggy had no shirt! Bam! Bam! Bam! They were the Stooges, man! “Oh, well,” I thought to myself. “I’ll see ‘em next time.”
You know what happened? On Jan. 6, 2009, Ron Asheton died, meaning that I would never, ever get to see the “original” Stooges. I had the chance to see perhaps, the most important musical act to ever exist, ever, and instead decided to see Rush, who at the time were touring every year. The champions had slipped right through my fingers.
Now, I know what you’re saying. “Geez dude, a guy died and you’re upset that you’ll never get to see his band play? I think a man dying is a little more severe than missing out on a rock show.” I would reply to that a) it’s the Stooges, not just a rock show; and b) bear with me, the two concepts actually link together.
I’ve been guilty of saying, “I’ll see ‘em next time” as much as anyone else. Do you know why Mike Watt routinely plays to half-filled halls? Do you know why Steve Jones plays to 150 people when he should be playing to 1500? Do you know why Yellowman has trouble breaking even? It’s not because they’re not good live. In fact, all of those musicians and their bands, and many, many more veterans are absolutely killing it right now. Just killing it.
The reason those bands aren’t doing better financially or recognition-wise is because there are a lot of people—including me—that say “I’ll see ‘em next time.” If you do that, it doesn’t mean you’re a bad, selfish or lazy person. In fact, we are lucky enough to live in an era where there is a surplus of hot new bands. You just can’t see them all.
So what’s the result, then? Usually, bands like the ones I mentioned break up without ever really getting the success they deserved, or worse, a member dies. And then what happens? The same old story gets written. So-and-so was an incredible band that made lots of musical breakthroughs but they never really got their due. Let’s appreciate the band post-mortem with reissues and fuzzy articles about how they were oh-so great. It’s a nice little read, but really, it sucks for the most important person involved—the artist. What good is praise and cash if it’s too little, too late?
What was once an opportunity to praise a great musician when he or she was living is passed over in lieu of saluting the idealized version of him or her in death. The reason for that probably could be explained via the old adage, “You never miss the water ‘til the well runs dry.” For whatever reason, we tend to forget that people’s lives are very, very finite. What seems will be around forever simply won’t. Who would have guessed that the Ramones, the world’s most iconic punk band, would all die as middle-aged men (Joey, at 49; Dee Dee, at 50; Johnny, at 55; Tommy, a young senior citizen at 65)? Everyone loves Joey and Dee Dee and Johnny and Tommy, but what good is a litany of tributes to them now?
By contrast, look how beautiful the opposite is. Thank God for Keith Morris. After decades of just barely hanging on with the Circle Jerks, he’s back with OFF! and they’re packing rooms all over the world. He’s getting press. People love him. How wonderful is it to give a sort of thanks, an appreciation, to a founder of punk rock while he is still around to appreciate it? How great is it to see Keith Morris, a man pushing 60, onstage in front of kids, showing them how it’s done? He’s earned his kudos and finally, after nearly 40, count ‘em, 40 years, he’s getting them.
But it’s not a one-way street. Just as we the fans can really let these living legends know how important and wonderful they are, we also get something out of paying our respects. We get to see them play live. Just because a guy is older doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t go see them. Some of the older dudes are in their prime—Keith Morris is destroying it. But, it’s not just him. George Clinton is still ruling. So is KRS-One. So is Jello Biafra, and Blag Dahlia and Tesco Vee and Buzz Osborne and Bernie Worrell, Michael Rose, Steve Ignorant, Hawkwind, the Damned, UK Subs, Peter Murphy, Public Enemy, etc etc etc. Take your pick.
Take the time and effort to really try and go see the legends while you can. It’s not charity because each of those acts (and many, many veteran acts) are still putting on some of the best live shows around, and you’ll be the one that is much richer for going. Let our favorite artists, our heroes, know they are appreciated while they’re still around. One hey-thanks-for-playing-you-were-awesome is better than 10,000 retrospectives. Just ask Dave Brockie.