College professor Dr. Brian Cogan defines punk as "a movement or
series of cultural movements involving music, ideology, fashion,
oppositional politics, and a DIY (do-it-yourself) and anti-mainstream
sensibility that is generally agreed to have been solidified in
the early 1970s in New York City and in London…Although many considered
it to have ended in a specific time period, it continued in different
forms, such as postpunk and hardcore." Among the topics he explores
in this well-researched, wide-ranging reference work are Punk Rock
Personalities, Zines and Magazines, Punk Genres, Punk Books, Punk
Films and Television, Punk Record Labels, Punk Clubs and Locations,
Punk Culture, and Punk Bands and Songs.
Cogan succinctly, though perceptively, examines such important groups
as the Sex Pistols, the Ramones, the Clash, the Buzzcocks, Television,
Richard Hell and the Voidoids, Black Flag, X, Sonic Youth, and the
Damned. Fronted by the "charismatic" Johnny Rotten, the Sex Pistols
"pioneered a sound, look, and aesthetic that was enormously influential
on both the British and U.S. punk rock scenes…Their first and only
proper record, 'Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols,'
is one of the most imitated and well known of punk [albums] and
features some of the most famous songs in punk history: 'God Save
the Queen,' 'Anarchy in the UK,' and 'Pretty Vacant.' The group
was equally well known for its provocative lyrics and the controversy,
chaos, and confusion caused by the band wherever it went."
Cogan also analyzes many leading punk rockers, including Dee Dee
Ramone, John Doe, Sid Vicious, Joe Strummer, Darby Crash, Lydia
Lunch, Jello Biafra, Henry Rollins, Patti Smith, and Johnny Thunders.
Dee Dee Ramone, born Douglas Glenn Colvin, played bass and wrote
many "of the Ramones' most influential songs," which "referenced
his [struggles] with substance abuse and mental illness." He "will
be remembered as a pioneer of punk whose songs were essential to
the [band's] success and also, sadly, as a poster boy for the rock
star as dissolute artist struggling with a drug problem." Tragically,
Dee Dee died of a heroin overdose in 2002, not long "after the Ramones
were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame."
Furthermore, Dr. Cogan evaluates the significance of such forerunners
of punk (or "protopunks," as he labels them) as the MC5, the Modern
Lovers, the Dictators, the Velvet Underground, the Seeds, the Monks,
and Iggy Pop. Born James Osterberg, Pop "along with his 1960s band
the Stooges is considered by most to be the godfather of punk rock.
He is well known for such iconic songs as 'Search and Destroy,'
'Now I Wanna Be Your Dog,' 'Loose,' and 'Lust for Life.' Since his
start as a drummer in the mid-1960s," Professor Cogan observes,
"Iggy Pop has remained a true original, influencing generations
of punks and countless front men who usually emulate his earlier
excessive behavior (rolling in glass and peanut butter, fighting
with the audience) as opposed to his creativity and electric dynamism."
During the 1980s, of course, many punks berated Ronald Reagan. A
number of bands, including Intensified Chaos and Suicidal Tendencies,
excoriated him in their songs. Moreover, Cogan avers, an "anarchistic
punk band took the title Reagan Youth…and in the mid-1980s a notorious
campaign of civil disobedience by punks in the Washington, D.C.,
scene opposed Reagan's foreign and domestic policies through open
protest…creative graffiti, and posters that decried various members
of the Reagan administration."
Fans of Texas punk rock will be happy to discover that Dr. Cogan
also discusses several bands from the Lone Star State, including
the Dicks, MDC, and the Big Boys, all from Austin, and San Antonio's
Butthole Surfers. (Intriguingly, Gibby Haynes, front man for the
latter group, was the son of Mr. Peppermint, the beloved children's
television show host from Dallas!) Cogan asserts that the Butthole
Surfers "toured relentlessly more as a circus sideshow than as a
band, sometimes blinding the audience with strobe lights, showing
films of medical experiments in the background, or throwing thousands
of photocopies of roaches into the audience during gigs. The band
eventually signed to a major label, and although they had a surprise
hit with the relatively tame song 'Pepper,' they were eventually
dropped by a record label that had difficulty promoting a band that
many radio stations refused to play based solely on [their] name."
Professor Cogan contends that MDC "was among the most militant of
the hardcore bands of the 1980s." Known for their "uncompromising
and fierce" music, "MDC was unrelenting in its full-on attack on
capitalism, homophobia, police brutality, [and] racism."
Entertaining, informative, and insightful, this terrific volume
belongs in the collection of every punk rock enthusiast. "God save
the Queen/she ain't no human being/There is no future/In England's
Note: Readers interested in learning more about the lively Texas
punk scene should consult photographer Pat Blashill's superb TEXAS
IS THE REASON: THE MAVERICKS OF LONE STAR PUNK (2020). PITCHFORK
magazine declares that the book is "teeming with subversive bands,
cheap beer, and slam dancing…Blashill also captures the music scene's
intimacy and camaraderie." And the NEW YORK TIMES states that Blashill
"captures the energy and anarchy of Austin's burgeoning scene between
1979 and 1987."
Review by Dr.
Kirk Bane, Central Texas Historical Association