Coming of Age

1976–1985: Punk to Pomo, Basquiat to Breakdancing

I would reply to these interrogators by referring to the way in which the Turks used to dispose of undesirable sultans. They would kill the poor fellow by slowly crushing his testicles between silken pillows. This is, more or less, my view of prospective ownership by the Washington Post Company. In New Guinea, on the other hand, they would take the unwanted chieftain out to the mountainside, stretch him out, and smash his testicles flat with a rock. This is roughly what could happen with the man Murdoch.

Suffice it to say that neither rock nor silken pillows (sexist images, I know) seems tremendously alluring. But that's life—or rather, capitalism.


The Great Hollywood Con: Machismo

By Molly Haskell

September 18, 1978

We've been hearing a lot about the "new man"—he cries, he weeps, he admits to vulnerability and isn't ashamed of his feelings. No longer obliged to tough it out in the style of a Hemingway hero, he plunges his arms into the muddy dishwaters of women's concerns, so to speak—but without surrendering the qualities of strength and fortitude for which his sex is noted. He sounds like an ideal consort, a Ken cloned from the rib of the feminist Barbie Doll, but with sex appeal. I have yet to observe this fellow in the flesh, but he has been sighted in movies and if Hollywood has discovered him, can real life be far behind?

In a recent issue of the Times Arts & Leisure Section, a Harvard sociologist hailed three movie heroes as prototypes of the new ideal: Kris Kristofferson in Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, Alan Bates in An Unmarried Woman, Jon Voight in Coming Home. . . .

A shrewd blend of new packaging and reassuringly old-fashioned values, these fellows know that nothing turns a woman off faster than a male feminist. Like all converts, they're embarrassing with the breast-beating, blubbering mea culpas, the eagerness to make reparation, not to mention the constant spotlight-stealing one-upsmanship gambit in the "We've got more to gain than you do" line. The male convert is a bore. Worse, he's icky. A turn-off.

The new movie hero is smart enough to appear supportive (we'll get to that in a minute) without abasing himself on the altar of feminism. No stage door Johnnies, they all have status as independent, successful males—Bates, the widely exhibited painter; Voight, the paraplegic veteran turned war protester; Kristofferson, the rich owner of a cattle ranch; and Beatty, the affluent athlete [in Heaven Can Wait].

A point made in the Times article was that in each case the heroine leaves an emotional miser of a husband for a more responsive man, as if that were the only thing that mattered. What the writer neglected to mention is that the gain is by no means only spiritual. Each woman takes one or two giant steps forward, socially, economically, or aesthetically.


image
Bottle service: Dancing at Xenon (June 1978)
photo: Fred W. McDarrah

The White Noise Supremacists

By Lester Bangs

April 30, 1979

"I don't discriminate," I used to laugh, "I'm prejudiced against everybody!" I thought it made for a nicely charismatic mix of Lenny Bruce freespleen and W.C. Fields misanthropy, conveniently ignoring Lenny's delirious, nigh-psychopathic inability to resolve the contradictions between his idealism and his infantile, scatological exhibitionism, as well as the fact that W.C. Fields's racism was as real and vile as—or more real and vile than—anybody else's. But when I got to New York in 1976 I discovered that some kind of bridge had been crossed by a lot of the people I thought were my peers in this emergent Cretins' Lib generation.

This was stuff even I had to recognize as utterly repellent. I first noticed it the first time I threw a party. The staff of Punk magazine came, as well as members of several of the hottest CBGB's bands, and when I did what we always used to do at parties in Detroit—put on soul records so everybody could dance—I began to hear this: "What're you playing all that nigger disco shit for, Lester?"

"That's not nigger disco shit," I snarled, "that's Otis Redding, you assholes!" But they didn't want to hear about it, and now I wonder if in any way I hadn't dug my own grave, or at least helped contribute to their ugliness and the new schism between us. The music editor of this paper has theorized that one of the most important things about New Wave is how much of it is almost purely white music, and what a massive departure that represents from the almost universally blues-derived rock of the past. I don't necessarily agree with that, it ignores the reggae influence running through music as diverse as that of the Clash, Pere Ubu, Public Image Ltd., and the Police, not to mention the Chuck Berry licks at the core of Steve Jones's attack. But there is at least a grain of truth there—the Contortions' James Brown/Albert Ayler spasms aside, most of the SoHo bands are as white as John Cage, and there's an evolution of sound, rhythm, and stance running from the Velvets through the Stooges to the Ramones and their children that takes us farther and farther from the black-stud postures of Mick Jagger that Lou Reed and Iggy partake in but that Joey Ramone certainly doesn't. I respect Joey for that, for having the courage to be himself, especially at the sacrifice of a whole passel of macho defenses. Joey is a white American kid from Forest Hills, and as such his cultural inputs have been white, from "The Jetsons" through Alice Cooper. But none of this cancels out the fact that most of the greatest, deepest music America has produced has been, when not entirely black, the product of miscegenation.


The Dialectic of Disco

Gay Music Goes Straight
By Andrew Kopkind
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