Anyone with a half way decent record collection and half working brain knows New York City is the birthplace of punk. And I’m not trying to start beef here; I’m just trying to lay down some truth.
This week our sister paper the L.A. Weekly ran a wrongheaded article, “Why L.A. Is More Punk Than New York,” that somehow managed to exalt Jim Morrison of the Doors while throwing shade at the New York Dolls. We know. We couldn’t believe it either.
Because, it doesn’t matter whether or not punks from California or Ohio were looking for inspiration from the U.K. rather than the right side of their own country; we all know it all derives from the stank of the Lower East Side, the swagger that comes from the Burrough of Queens and all the various fucked-up miscreants that have dwelled there.
The above mentioned stank is still permeating throughout this city in the here and now with no need for cornball mall punk nostalgia or bleach blonde bullshit. There is an anger and desperation to New York that will always be here to fuel the rage no matter how many baby strollers roll down Avenue A. We are a people fighting for peace of mind and personal space in a city that is offers neither. We are constantly irritated and yet strangely content with this concept at the same time. Plus, don’t forget, we have a chip on our shoulder about pretty much everything.
If all that ain’t punk, then just call me Wavy Gravy.
You want further proof that things are punker in NYC than on the sun-soaked California coast of L.A. beyond my vitriolic scree? Here’s 10 of ’em. Read ’em and weep.
The birth place of punk; plain and simple. The dilapidated stage of that sadly defunct club housed everyone from intellectual guitar weavers Television, the brute art damage of Lydia Lunch and the beyond hostile sounds of Agnostic Front. I remember a pal of mine landing on a rusty nail sticking up out from the dance floor when he wasn’t caught stage diving. When’s the last time you heard of that happening on the Warped tour?
See also: 10 Things the CBGB Movie Got Wrong
I won’t deny that American Hardcore came from the suburbs of Southern California via The Germs, Black Flag, The Adolescents and many, many others. But, New York took that sound and vibe and made it what people know today. Ask the average jerk on the street if they’ve heard of Agent Orange or the Circle Jerks and you’ll more than likely get a raised eyebrow and hasty walk off. But if you mention Agnostic Front, Biohazard or Sick of it All, they’ll definitely give a nod of acknowledgement.
3) LOU REED
Lou was a self-made man with no time to flaunt his list of library books like some self-centered, self-proclaimed Rock ‘N’ Roll poets from California (ahem, Jim Morrison). He never tried to be anything other than what he was: a total genius freak.
See also: Lou Reed 1942 – 2013
4) HANDSOME DICK MANITOBA
Don’t get me wrong, I love Lou and all, but when I’m talking personal old school New York punk rock heroes, I’m going with Handsome Dick Manitoba. As vocalist for The Dictators, his motto was “Fuck ‘Em If They Can’t Take A Joke,” a statement that’s the very essence of punk as far as I’m concerned. His wise ass, trash talking stage persona has echoed throughout the years in the city through people like Jimmy G from Murphy’s Law and Paul Bearer of Sheer Terror. And like most people who dwell in this town, he wears many hats to pay the bills. Besides hosting his own radio show on Sirius radio, he still delivers both one-liners and suds at his own bar, Manitboa’s, on the Lower East Side.
5) NO GLAMMING UP!
Say whatever you want about the Ramones putting out some lackluster albums throughout their career or the slippery slope some of the NYHC bands took into metal, but no one in the New York scene ever went as far as some L.A. punk bands did to be a part of the mainstream hair metal scene. Check out the covers of some of those later albums by beach punks TSOL. One word: Yikes.
6) ABC NO RIO
ABC No Rio is more than likely the punkest place on the planet; barring some squats in Europe that run their electricity on piss and rubber bands. The DIY space has been in existence since the early ’80s, but really came into notice in the early ’90s when Hardcore matinees started there due to CBGB’s proprietor Hilly Kristal putting the kibosh on the music at his club at the time. For a good portion of those early shows, the P.A. system only had one microphone; no back-up vocals or dual vocalist bands, please. The space still operates to this day and does Hardcore matinees every Saturday.
7) THE CRO-MAGS
The Cro-Mags are a band that could have only come to fruition on the streets of the Lower East Side. Could John Joseph or Harley Flanagan have written a song like “Show You No Mercy” or “Survival of the Streets” after a full day of surfing and tanning? I think not. The constant upheaval and drama surrounding the band since their inception in the early ’80s only adds to the bands’ menacing vibe. Greg Ginn wants to sue Henry Rollins? That’s cute. When he threatens him with severe bodily harm, let us know. See also: Expose Yourself To Cro-Mags Singer John Joseph’s “Fuckin’ Photographic Memory and Stories Out the Wazoo” on His Walking Tour of the LES
Sure, Southern California invented slam dancing. But New York City threw its own flavor and flare onto all that herky jerky moving around and made it what it’s known as today: moshing. From circle pits to picking up change to the pizza pie maker, the propeller and more, New York is still a place where you don’t have to be in a band or do a fanzine to gain respect; all you have to do is get in the pit and dance hard.
9) THE FEMALES OF THE NEW YORK PUNK SCENE
Trust me, I’m with you, I don’t need to hear another story about Debbie Harry or Patti Smith. I’d rather hear about the women who made the punk and Hardcore scenes of New York pulse through their words and their music. What about Denise Mercedes from the legendary proto-Hardcore Punk band the Stimulators? How about Julie Rose of the Cramps and The Mad? And don’t forget fanzine editors like Wendy Eager of Guillotine and Nancy Breslow of Short News. These are the women that proved this scene was anything but a boys club.
10) IN SCHOOL
The tradition of tough-as-nails females in the NYHC scene continues in the present day with this all female band. Their fervent live shows and seven inch EP Praxis of Hate shows that the desperate vibe that went down in the after hours illegal clubs like A7 and the 2+2 of the early ’80s still pumps through this city.
Tony Rettman is the author of NYHC 1980 – 1990, which is due out on Bazillion Points Publishing in November.