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Punk Rock
The Staying Power of Subversion

Punk Rock
The progression of each genre of music from one era to the next contains within it elements of its predecessors. Soul music mirrors the call and response of gospel music; funk records reflect the spontaneity and creativity of jazz; the blues and country music retain the storytelling inherent in folk music. Punk rock, a genre that originated in the United Kingdom, the United States, and Australia in the mid 1970s, sought to distance itself from the relative sentimentality that characterized early 1970s rock and roll. Bands like the Ramones (New York), The Clash (London), and The Saints (Brisbane) employed more cacophonous sounds, politically and socially charged lyrics, and a sense of style and thought that would spawn a culture of its own.

As acts like Billy Joel led the rock and roll sound, bands of young musicians created a distinct style of music. Their brand of subversive rock and roll was to be subversive adhered to a do-it-yourself (DIY) ethic. In the early 1970s, musicians created pub rock scenes in the United Kingdom and Australia, preferring to perform in small venues and sign with independent labels. CBGB, a New York City music club that opened in 1973 with the intention of bringing country, bluegrass, and blues to the stage, soon became a historic venue for famed punk rock bands.

Stylistically, punk rock distanced itself from its immediate predecessor through tattoos, long hair, and more androgynous styles of clothing. With their abrasive look and lyrics that opposed traditional societal, political, and sexual norms, punk rock made its impact upon the world.
Forty years removed from its genesis, punk rock remains the music for underdogs. Musicians still seek to express themselves in nonconformist ways. Subgenres of punk rock sprawled around the three nations that founded it, and eventually, across the globe. Grunge music, an alternative style of rock and roll popularized by Nirvana; riot grrl, a product of the Third Wave Feminist Movement in which female punk rockers use the same outlet to amplify the voices of long silenced women and queer folk; and hardcore, a brand embraced by musicians who’ve battled issues that include homelessness and drug addiction, added scope and depth the the punk rock scene. 

While much of the literature that inspired song titles and band names (the Dead Kennedy’s “California Uber Alles” refers to George Orwell’s classic dystopian novel 1984) predate the spawn of punk rock, a number of writers helped to propel the movement. William S. Burroughs, a beat writer and contemporary of Jack Kerouac, advanced an avant garde style in his works, and science fiction enthusiast Philip K. Dick similarly inspired leftist musicians with works including The Variable Man and Second Variety, both of which are available as audiobooks.  The idea of subversive ideologies can overhaul  outdated styles (exemplified by the beats’ writing, and by the style of the majority of punk rock musicians) or a completely nouveau wave (Philip K. Dick’s existential questioning of our own being) parallel the birth of a new and sustainable sound of punk rock music. 

By Logan Williams



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