Cuban Underground Rap - Eleni Dimou Christian Punk and Populist Traditionalism - Ibrahim Abraham Straight Edge and Social Change - Francis Stewart Symbols and Clothing in East German Punk - Kate Gerrard Punks and Skinheads - Hedvika Novotná & Martin Heřmanský Biography - Joni Mitchell - By: Ruth Charnock Book & Author - Denise Sullivan - By: Elke Weesjes
FOCUS The United Academics Journal of Social Sciences is interdisciplinary, peer reviewed and interactive. We provide immediate Open Access to its content on the principle that making research freely available to the public supports a greater global exchange of knowledge. In doing so, this journal underlines its publisher’s ethos, which is to ‘Connect Science & Society’. United Academics is an independent platform where academics can connect, share, publish and discuss academic research. Furthermore it facilitates online publications while respecting the author’s copyrights. We will publish themed issues bimonthly, each consisting of a collection of articles, work-in-progress pieces and book reviews showcasing the broadest range of new (interdisciplinary) research in Social Sciences from both established academics as well as students. While many academic journals are online and a growing number are available in openly accessible venues, the internet has not been utilized to its full extent. Therefore we have created a journal which truly does tap the power of the web for interactivity. To begin with research papers and other contributions published in this journal, contain interactive media such as videos maps and charts in order to make research more accessible and engaging. Secondly, in order to extent the peer review system, which is currently still limited with only a few colleagues reviewing papers, we invite the United Academics community to submit commentaries. By opening up the commenting and feedback process we will foster better critique of work. We want to encourage researchers to interact with the research, provide feedback and collaborate with authors.
CREDITS Editor-in-Chief: Elke Weesjes Executive Editor: Mark Fonseca Rendeiro Design : Michelle Halcomb Editorial Board : Mark Fonseca Rendeiro, Anouk Vleugels, Ruth Charnock, Danielle Wiersema Daphne Wiersema Questions and Suggestions: Send an e-mail to: email@example.com Advertisement : Send an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org Address : Oudezijds Voorburgwal 274 1021 GL Amsterdam
Music, Power and Resistance - The Case of Cuban Underground Rap By: Eleni Dimou 07
Christian Punk & Populist Traditionalism By: Ibrahim Abraham
We Sing for Change - Straight Edge Punk & Social Change By: Francis Stewart
From London to the GDR - Symbols and Clothing in East German Punk By: Kate Gerrard 55
An Ambivalent Union: Subcultural Style and Ideology in the Relationship of Punks and Skinheads in the Former Czechoslovakia and Present-day Czech Republic. By: Hedvika Novotná & Martin Heřmanský 73
Joni Mitchell Music & Feminism By: Ruth Charnock
BOOK & AUTHOR
Keep on Pushing - Denise Sullivan By: Elke Weesjes
EDITORIAL Rhythms of Rebellion
ast week, on the 29th of May, the 71 year old Bob Dylan was awarded a Presidential Medal of Freedom. Dylan, whose career of more than fifty years stretches from his early acoustic folksongs in the sixties to his recent electric rock albums, has produced 34 studio albums and 58 singles. At the event, President Obama said of him, “there is not a bigger giant in the history of American music.”He continued to praise Dylan’s voice for its “weight” and “unique gravelly power” that redefined “not just what music sounded like but the message it carried and how it made people feel.” The medal, established in 1963 by President Kennedy, recognizes those individuals who have made “an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavours”. For people who recognize Dylan as the “icon of the 1960s counterculture” or the “historical figure of the anti-war movement” this award makes perfect sense. But to anyone who has read Dylan’s Chronicles, possibly the same isn’t true. In these memoirs he notes “the world was absurd ... I had very little in common with and knew even less about a generation that I was supposed to be the
voice of. “The fact that Dylan was actually a very reluctant spokesperson for the civil rights movement might come as a surprise to some but he never concealed his complicated relationship with the protest generation. By 1964, he stated his case clearly when he told the New Yorker: “Me, I don’t want to write for people anymore. You know – be a spokesman.” At the time of this interview he had distanced himself from his explicit protest songs like ‘’Blowin’ in the Wind” and “The Times They Are aChangin’” - both anthems for the civil rights and anti-war movements. A 1968 interview should have clarified matters for those still in doubt about Dylan’s position within these movements. During the summer of
this year, when the anti-war movement was getting ready for the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, Dylan surprised the interviewer when he defended a friend who supported the war: “People have their views. Anyway, how do you know that I am not, as you say, for the war?” In the last 48 years he wrote only two other protest songs, 1971’s “George Jackson” and 1975’s “Hurricane.” Yet Dylan will always
be associated with righteous causes and with the protest movement. Dylan doesn’t stand alone, many other artists are forever associated with social causes that they have not explicitly allied themselves with. Which makes you wonder: maybe it isn’t always about the message protest songs implicitly or explicitly carry, so much as the way certain songs make people feel. And even when there is an overt social or political meaning to a song - to quote the British folk singer Billy Bragg - “Only the audience can change the world - not the performers.” This is why our current issue themed “Rhythms of Rebellion” focuses on the experiences of the audience and the question in what ways music can become a vehicle for social change. Most of the contributors attended the inaugural conference “Interdisciplinary Network for the Study of Subcultures, Popular Music and Social Change” in September 2011 at London Metropolitan University. Over 120 people representing 20 countries from across the world attended this exciting interdiscipli
ONLY THE AUDIENCE CAN CHANGE THE WORLD - NOT THE PERFORMERS (BILLY BRAGG)
nary event. Based on the work presented at this event, our contributors have written articles about a variety of topics related to the study of subculture, popular music and social change. A colourful selection of outstanding research is published in this issue, discussing topics from Cuban underground rap and Christian punk rock to Joni Mitchell and skinheads in Eastern Europe.
The Case of Cuban Underground Rap By: Eleni Dimou
evere austerity measures struck Cuba after the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990â€™s. This fact, combined with the tightening of the United Statesâ€™ embargo, led to significant economic reforms by the Cuban government.1 Moreover, the economic and structural changes that occurred on the island during that period negatively affected all aspects of social life.2 As a result there has been a growing disillusionment among young Cubans towards the stateâ€™s inability to fulfill its promises to eradicate discrimination and inequality, provide a good quality of life for all citizens and fulfill the dream of a truly independent and sovereign Cuba (Cuba Libre Free Cuba).3 This disillusionment is often expressed in Cuban underground rap, which appeared on the island during a specific historical juncture. This article aims to demonstrate how some of the paradoxes occur within Cuban culture and power relations, just as Cuban underground rap is highly revolutionary in its ideals, it is also censored and criminalized by Cuban authorities. Specifically, this paper presents ethnographic data gained from research on contemporary Cuban underground rap groups. By examining a subculture within a socialist state, this article aims to provide a fresh empirical basis from which to expand existing theoretical understanding concerning power and resistance.
Special Period ‘Imagine your reaction if you had to substitute sugar water for food every third day for one year, and as a result you lose your eyesight because of vitamin deficiency (which happened to fifty thousand Cubans temporarily), and lost twenty to twenty-five pounds (the average for Cubans in 19931994). Imagine oil imports dropping 70 percent over a four-year period (1989-1993), to the point that you could not drive your car and buses would run infrequently because of gasoline shortages. Picture yourself undergoing an operation at a formerly reliable hospital, where doctors and nurses are now absent because of transportation problems, and there is hardly any anesthetics, medicine, or bandages. In 1990, few Cubans imagined they would ever live this kind of life, even when Cuban President Fidel Castro announced that the country was entering a “Special Period in a Time of Peace”.4 As it becomes explicit in the passage above, the rapid economic changes that occurred in Cuba after the collapse of the
Soviet Union, affected all aspects of social life.5 The severe austerity conditions that followed, led Fidel to declare that Cuba was entering into a ‘Special Period in a time of peace’.6 Specifically, the ‘special period’ was characterized by job insecurity, scarcity and rationing of food, lack of medicine and basic domestic supplies, power-cuts, problems with the transportation system, the rise of racism and the marginalization of urban Afro-Cubans among others7. One of the most crucial economic reforms that the government implemented in the early ‘2000s’ was the introduction of a double currency (Cuban pesos and convertible pesos- CUC) in order to adjust to the hard currency global economy8. Currently 23 Cuban pesos equal approximately one CUC (1,10 U.S.$). The average Cuban salary, which is paid in Cuban pesos ranges from 15- 20 CUC per month and does not cover even basic needs. It has been argued that this reform had severe implications for Cuban social equality and gave rise to class divisions.9 As De la Fuente10 argues, since this economic reform, Cuba tends
to be divided along the lines of those who have access to CUC and those who do not. Moreover, the economic reforms and the austerity conditions led to the proliferation of what is called ‘double morality’.11 Mainly, this term is used to describe: ‘the problematics of taking contradictory public and private stances, namely espousing revolutionary values while discretely subverting those values in the name of economic survival’.12 The spread of ‘double morality’ led many Cuban citizens to live outside the boundaries of the law.13 This fact is reflected in everyday Cuban phrases like ‘inventar’ (to invent money), ‘resolver’ (resort to illegal means in order to make ends meet) and ‘todo esta prohibido, pero todo vale’ (everything is prohibited but everything goes).14 Moreover, it has been argued15 that (despite the official discourse of the state of defending socialism to ‘death’) Cuba is slowly embracing a capitalist or a sociocapitalist economic system. On the one hand, the Cuban government has implemented the double currency while on the
other hand, in an attempt to seek foreign investment, it opened its doors to tourism and joint ventures with foreign tourist companies.16 As a result, tourism since the ‘1990s’ has been one of the principal sources of hard currency for the Cuban economy.17 The promotion of tourism has arguably rendered average Cubans to ‘second class citizens’18: tourists can enjoy all the beauties of Cuba whereas the majority of Cubans, due to their economic conditions and State’s control measures- cannot.19 Another consequence of the redevelopment of tourism and the implementation of the double currency is the re-emergence of jineterismo (mainly prostitution) as well as sex-tourism.20 Last but not least, increased levels of corruption and the spread of consumer values and materialism have also been included as effects of this socioeconomic crisis.21 In other words, it could be argued that life in Cuba has changed more within the last two decades than in the previous thirty years of the post-revolutionary experience.22
Cuban Underground Rap It was under these conditions that rap emerged in Cuba. The majority of the rappers were born in the early and mid 1980’s and experienced the consequences of the ‘special period’ in amost explicit way. It should be stressed that the research focuses on the rap scene of Havana as it has manifested itself from 2008 until the present. It is, however, important to demonstrate a brief history of this music genre in Cuba in order to understand the complex relationship between the specific subculture and the state’s institutions. The culture of Cuban hip-hop emerged in the early 1990’s in Alamar, a suburb on the outskirts of Havana where young AfroCubans used to listen to Miami radio stations that frequently broadcasted US rap songs.23 Moreover, due to the intervention of some intermediaries- namely political exiles from the US (among them also the aunt of 2pac Sacur), rappers were taught to stay ‘old school’ and to maintain a conscious and revolutionary message, compatible with Cuban ideology and everyday
realities.24 Also, with the help of some Cuban intermediaries that had connections to state institutions and were genuinely interested in rap, there had been significant efforts in ‘legitimizing’ the specific culture.25 These efforts were made in order to avoid previously bad experiences of
In order to be able to perform in Cuba you need to have an official authorization by an institution that recognizes you as an artist socially critical music with foreign origins, like nueva trova and rock.26 As a result of these efforts, the first hip-hop festival occurred in Alamar in 1994 with the support of Brothers Saiz Association.27 It should be noted that in Cuba everything is run
through state institutions.28 Hence in order to be able to perform in Cuba you need to have an official authorization by an institution that recognizes you as an artist. If you do not obtain the official paper and support of an institution as an artist, live performances become more difficult to be conducted. Arguably, The Brothers Saiz Association is one of the most tolerant institutions in Cuba in terms of underground art. As the rappers have argued it has provided a home to all artists who are not accepted in any other institution. Moreover, in 1999 Harry Belafonte, an African-American civil rights activist, spent 11 hours with Fidel Castro discussing rap, with Fidel showing intense interest in hip hop and its function around the world.29 The meeting led Fidel to show great interest in rap at that time. He organized meetings with rappers and he advocated for Cuban rap to become an example for all Latin America and even the U.S., as means of disseminating revolutionary consciousness and continue the struggle against oppression and exploitation.30 In other words,
he saw rap as a tool for Cuba’s internationalist project that had widely faded away since their military interventions in Africa. By 2002, these favorable factors led to the creation of the Cuban Rap Agency that sought to promote rap in Cuba, by attaining space in the media and recording contracts.31 These factors also led to the blossoming of rap up to 2004, when the rap festival in Alamar stopped taking place.32 Arguably this paints a really harmoneous picture of the relationship between state institutions and rap. However this relationship is not that harmonious in practice and everyday reality. As Soandry,33 one of the oldest rappers explains: ‘[..] At the beginning I saw people that were singing being handcuffed on the scene; or in the middle of a song the police would walk up the scene, they would handcuff you and drag you down, handcuffed; things that they do not do now of course. Cuba has changed a lot. There were lots of international pressures also [...] but before hip hop was really difficult to perform. People think that hip hop is difficult to realize now [...] before
performing hip hop was much more difficult! Only to say in the 1990s that Cuba has problems and nothing more, directly meant that you should look for rescue afterwards’. Thus, one would reasonably ask, if rap had the support of even Fidel himself, how is it possible for the rappers to be suppressed, marginalized and frequently censored? Relationship between state institutions and rap What should be stressed at this point is that it is not possible to generalize Cuba’s cultural policies, as there is no coherent official policy towards cultural gatherings34. Nonetheless, it could be argued that the policy is based on Fidel’s talk in 1961 “words to the intellectuals”, where he set the limits of artistic expression by saying “within the revolution, everything; against the revolution- nothing”.35 He did not set, however, specific boundaries of what lies ‘within’ or ‘is against the revolution’36. Hence, without specific recommendations enforcement became arbitrary.37 More specifically, since the consolidation of the Revolution it was seen that
protest songs were perceived not to be needed within its realms.38 Moreover, as Moore and Baker39 argue, there is little to no communication between institutions. Also, those that make the decisions concerning issues of censorship are usually low and mid-level bureaucrats.40 Thus, it falls to individual interpretation of what cultural expression lies within or against the revolution.41 Hence it could be argued that processes of censorship and labeling depend on individual interpretations by state administrators of what revolutionary, communist and/or counterrevolutionary actually mean. Contesting the meaning of the notions of revolutionary, communist and counterrevolutionary are demonstrated explicitly in Hubertico’s words: ‘Those that say that the rappers are counterrevolutionaries they do not know the meaning of the word revolution. Because in Cuba, being a revolutionary means to be a Communist. So revolutionary in Cuba means the guy that is in favor of the system as it is. What happened in Cuba at the beginning was a revolution. A positive and
necessary change for that time but now in Cuba we don’t live anything of that revolu tion’.42 In addition, the labeling of rappers as counterrevolutionaries has, as a consequence, led to the censorship of their
music. However the process of censorship is far from clear cut.43 Rather it depends on international and personalized politics and also on constant ‘low-level’ negotiations between rappers and state officials44. Moreover, the processes of criminalization depends on their impact within Cuban culture, where there is a fear and distrust towards rap. Since, on the one hand, rap is a subculture that originates from the United States and on the other, it manifests as protest and critique towards the regime. Papa Humbertico45 explains: ‘the people behind the “burro” (bureaucratic) continue to view it as a foreign form of music... And the directors of the media still think that it’s a foreign type of music, so they stay “blind” and shut off their ears when it comes to rap”. In a similar vein Silvito El Libre46 noted: ‘But why in the television they do not broadcast what we are doing? What is the fear? What is the fear in Cuba for what we are doing? For the Cuban, to open his eyes and see what is really happening’? In order to understand this fear and distrust
towards rap, another factor should be considered that has seemingly been neglected in literature on this specific subculture. Cuba’s domestic cultural policy cannot be differentiated from its foreign policy and what has been termed a ‘siege mentality’.47 This is mainly the feeling of constant fear of being attacked by the U.S. combined with feelings of distrust between Cubans, in case someone is serving the interests of counterintelligence.48 Hence, as rappers form an open criticism towards the government, many state administrators in leisure venues, refuse to organize rap concerts for fear of personal repercussions such as job loss or being perceived as counterrevolutionaries. This condition of distrust and fear towards rap is further exaggerated by the manipulation of the Cuban rappers by the Miami media that generally depicts them as dissidents that want to overthrow the regime. Consequently, when it comes to everyday reality and especially in the work place, the majority of state administrators, in bureaucratic positions, media and lei-
sure venues (besides the factors of conservatism, distrust towards a U.S. cultural products and a distaste for rap), are afraid of the repercussions that come with promoting a protest genre with highly revolutionary discourse.49 Therefore, it could be argued that power is manifested through common sense words and affects, in multiple layers of Cuban civil society. Relation of rappers to the Cuban ideology In contrast to what many might think, Cuba’s dominant ideology is not marxist-leninist but rather, what is called ‘cubanía’, (which translates to a belief in Cubanness); the “particular Cuban manifestation of a radical and then revolutionary, nationalism”.50 According to Kapcia51, cubanía is a searching for “lost” history in an endeavor to rescue Cuban identity. Arguably cubanía is centered on Jose Marti’s52 vision of Cuba Libre (free Cuba).53 Subsequently, the 1959 revolution has been depicted as predominantly ‘Martiano’, advocating for independence, liberty, egalitarianism, so-
cial welfare, social justice, social and racial equality, struggle, activism, morality, dignity, sovereignty and rendered the revolution as a constant process of renewal, purification and change.54 The rappers draw explicitly on cubanía by identifying in their songs with historical figures that fought for the independence of Cuba, such as Jose Marti, Antonio Maceo, Camilo Cienfuegos, the mambises55 and Che Guevara. Moreover they see the revolution not as a static process but rather as a continuous project that needs to be fought for constantly. Hence their lyrics deal with issues of love, trust, dignity, exercise of critical thought, activism, unity, spiritual and emotional well-being and mainly advocate for individuals to take hold of their lives and change their everyday realities for the better. They criticize the government for being unable to fulfill the dream of Cuba Libre and keep its promises to eradicate race and gender discrimination, social inequalities, corruption and highly conservative and pervasive bureacratic system. Furthermore their lyrics explicitly draw on
issues such as the rise of prostitution, as well as intellectual, emotional and material poverty, the loss of values of solidarity, fraternity, unity and love. Which have, in turn, been substituted with individualism, consumer values, the lack of freedom and the rendering of Cubans as second class
citizens in comparison to tourists. Hence, they strongly criticize the government for the capitalist directions that the country is taking. Thus the protest of the rappers should not be seen as dissidence but rather as a cultural expression, illustrating the gap between official discourse and every-
day reality in Cuba.56 By identifying with historical revolutionary figures as well as appropriating Fidel’s own words they place themselves ‘inside the revolution’ and not against it.57 Thus, it could be argued that Cuban rap is not counter-hegemonic or counterrevolutionary. On the contrary, the current generation of Cuban rappers (the second generation) that appeared after 2004, are ‘hyper-revolutionaries’58 in their discourse and values. As I demonstrated earlier, the rappers are forced to constantly engage in a ‘low level struggle’ with state officials and venue administrators in order to gain space. However, for the most radical, the security apperatus of the state is a constant pressure. Hence, there have been kidnappings, spying, arrests and emotional and psychological blackmail taking place not only towards the rappers but also to their close family and friends. Power and Resistance In terms of the state’s power, it could be argued that a form of social exclu-
sion is aimed at rappers, as they are officially and culturally included but structurally and practically excluded. Sawyer’s and Baker’s59 term ‘inclusionary discrimination’ is the most appropriate way to describe state policies towards rap: ‘the combination of support and restriction, of discursive enthusiasm and practical obstacles, of funding and expanding an international festival and largely excluding hip hop from the domestic media’.60 I would add to these aspects: an official discourse of support but high restrictions at the practical level and in the everyday lives of the rappers, and also the gap between officially supporting the revolutionary nonmaterialistic rap culture, but in practice funding and promoting the money driven dance music culture of reggaeton.61 It could also be argued that while rappers share the same discourse with the government they constitute a ‘threat’ to the regime. By explicitly showing the gap between official discourse and everyday reality, they challenge the legitimacy of the government. In that way, they pose a
‘threat’ to the goals of unity, conformity and uniformity of people to the system.62 Moreover, it was demonstrated that rap is not a counter-culture as it embraces and advocates for Cuban ideology to be realized in practice. The resistive nature of Cuban underground rap could actually be seen as revolutionary cultural activism. That means that their conscious discourse stays loyal to cubanía and their criticism and actions are always in positive and constructive terms to make Cuba a better place to live for Cubans. At the same time, they challenge how meanings, beliefs, symbols, emotions and values are constructed and disseminated by the government. Their resistance does not only reside in the cultural (micro-political) realm but extends to the macro-political through mobilization and action. Hence it could be argued that structural issues, ideology, conscious practices and discourses combined with emotions, affects, dreams and individual choices are equally important in our interpretation of the resistive nature of Cuban rap.
Conclusion With this article I sought to demonstrate some of the complexities surrounding the issues of subcultures, power and resistance in Cuba. By illustrating the complex relationship between the rappers and state institutions, my main aim was to show that issues such as fear and distrust, individual choice, everyday struggles, structural factors and ideology are equally important in our interpretation of subcultures in Cuba. Hence a bridging of the micro (everyday realities and affects) and macro (structural issues and ideology) is suggested, not only in the case of Cuba but also in a more general global scope, in order to come to a better understanding on the relation between subcultures, power and resistance. Endnotes 1 Pérez Sarduy P & Stubbs J (2000), Afro-Cuban voices: on race and identity in contemporary Cuba, Florida: University Press of Florida 2. ibid 3 Fernandez D J (2000) Cuba and the politics of passion, Austin: University of Texas Press, Kapcia A (2000) Cuba: the island of dreams, Oxford: Berg 4 Brenner P, Jiménez M R, Kirk J M & Leogrande W M (2008) A contemporary Cuba reader: reinventing the revolution, Plymouth: Rowman &Littlefield Publish-
ers, Inc. , pp 1 5 Pérez Sarduy P & Jane Stubbs J (2000) 6 Brenner P, Jiménez M R, Kirk J M & Leogrande W M (2008) pp 1 7 Fernandez D J (2000) 8 This reform had started in the ‘1990s’ with the legalization of the use of United States’ dollars. In 2004 the Cuban government replaced the US dollar with the convertible pesos. Kapcia A (2008), Cuba in revolution: A history since the fifties, London: Reaktion Books Ltd 9 Jimenez M R (2008) ‘the political economy of leisure’, in Brenner P, Jiménez MR, Kirk J M & LeoGrande W M (eds) A contemporary Cuba reader: reinventing the revolution, Plymouth: Rowman &Littlefield Publishers, Inc, pp 146-155 10 De La Fuente A (2001) A nation for all: race, inequality, and politics in twentieth- century Cuba, Chapel Hill & London: The University of North Carolina Press 11 Wirtz, K (2004) ‘santeria in Cuban national consciousness: a religious case of the doble moral’, The Journal of Latin American Anthropology, 9(2), pp 409– 438 12 Ibid, p 414 13 Henken, T (2008) ‘vale todo: in Cuba’s paladares, everything is prohibited but everything goes’, in Brenner P, Jiménez MR, Kirk J M & LeoGrande W M (eds) A contemporary Cuba reader: reinventing the revolution, Plymouth: Rowman &Littlefield Publishers, Inc, pp 168-178 14 ibid 15 Fernandez D J (2000), Baker G (2011), Buena Vista in the club: rap, reggaeton, and revolution in Cuba, Durham and London: Duke University Press, 16 Kapcia A (2008), Sharpley R & Knight M (2009) ‘ tourism and the state in Cuba: from the past to the future’, International Journal of Tourism Research, Vol. 11, pp 241-254 17 ibid
18 Fernandez N (1999) ‘women, race and tourism in cuba’ ,in Kamala Kempadoo (ed), Sun, sex, and gold: tourism and sex work in the Caribbean, Oxford: Rowman & Littlefield publishers Inc, pp 81-92 (84) 19 Jimenez M R (2008) 20 ibid 21 Fernandez D J (2000) 22 Kirk J & Padura Fuentes L (2001) Culture and Cuban resolution: conversations in Havana, Gainesville: University Press Florida 23 Fernandes, S. (2006) Cuba represent! Cuban arts, state power, and the making of new revolutionary cultures, Durham and London: Duke University Press24Baker G (2011) 25 Ibid. 26 Baker G (2011). For further information on nueva trova and rock see Moore R D (2006) Music & revolution: cultural change in socialist Cuba, London: University of California Press 27 Baker G (2011) 28 Moore R D (2006) 29 Baker G (2011) 30 ibid 31 ibid 32 ibid 33 Soandry interview, 13/8/2010 34 Moore R D (2006) 35 Castro F (1961) ‘palabras a los intelectuales (words to the intellectuals)’, online source available at Ministerio de Cultura de la Republica Cubana www. min.cult.cu/historia/palabras.doc, pp 10 (accessed on 10/2/2011) 36 Chomsky A, Carr B & Smorkaloff P M (2003) The Cuba reader: history, culture, politics, Durham and London: Duke University Press 37 ibid 38 Moore R D (2006) 39 Moore R D (2006), Baker G (2011) 40 Moore R D (2006)
41ibid 42 Papa Humbertico interview 22/8/2010 43 Moore R D (2006) 44 Baker G (2011) 45Papa Humbertico interview 22/8/2010 46 Silvito el Libre interview 21/8/2010 47 Kapcia A (2000) p 102 48 ibid 49 Baker G (2011) 50 Kapcia A (2008) pp 89 51 Kapcia A (2000) 52 Jose Marti has been one of the most important intellectual figures of Cuba’s History. He lost his life in battle fighting for Cuba’s independence against Spain. Kapcia A (2000) 53 Valdes N P (1975) ‘ideological roots of the Cuban revolutionary movement’, Occasional Papers No.15, Glasgow: Institute of Latin American Studies, University of Glasgo,w pp 207-228 54 Kapcia A (2000) 55 The mambises were black and mixed race slaves, who fought in the wars of independence against Spain. 56 Fernandez D J (2000) 57 Baker G (2011) 58 Ibid pp 51 59 Baker G (2011), Sawyer M (2006) Racial politics in post-revolutionary Cuba, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 60 Baker G (2011) pp 97 61 Reggaeton is the most popular music genre currently in Cuba. Its stress on hedonism, drunkenness, vulgarity, ‘senseless’ discourse, sexuality and consumerism arguably poses a threat to the established morality and culture of Cuban society. 62 Moore R D (2006)
ELINI DIMOU has a BA in Sociology from the Panteion University of Athens. After obtaining a MA in Criminology from the University of Kent she continued her studies at this university and is currently doing a PhD in the same field. Her thesis focuses on the subcultures of Cuban rap and reggaeton and their relations to power, resistance, affect, everyday-life experiences and ideology. The objective of the thesis is to decolonize cultural criminology and to bridge subcultural to post-subcultural theory.
Populist Traditionalism By: Ibrahim A
hen we think of rebellious forms of music and culture, Christian rock rarely comes to mind. It is difficult to imagine a genre of popular music more derided for its timidity and banality, real or imagined. The idea of Christian punk may therefore seem like an outright contradiction; Christianity is more often associated with the censorship of radical cultural forms than inspiring innovative self-expression. As unlikely as it may seem, Christian punk has in fact become a thriving sub-genre that straddles the alternative Christian music market and the diverse, secular punk subculture. It has built a visible presence across the punk spectrum from underground hardcore acts performing in living rooms and church halls, to polished and professional pop-punk and ‘emo’ outfits achieving mainstream commercial success. Complexity of Christian Punk What is perhaps most intriguing about Christian punk is the fact that it has not developed due to the decoupling of punk’s sonic and stylistic aesthetics from its self-
professed oppositional ideology, as one may be tempted to assume through a certain reading of ‘post-subculture’ theory that suggests labels like punk are primarily the products of elective and interchangeable consumer strategies.1 Rather, Christian punk articulates a strong identification with punk’s ideological framework – passion, outspokenness, creative independence, and the belief that popular music is an effective forum for exploring new ways of being-in-the-world that run counter to mainstream practices.2 The difference is that Christian punk invokes these values as not just authentic punk principles, but also the principles of authentic contemporary Christianity. To add to the complexity, the particular types of Christianity visible within punk are Evangelicalism and Pentecostalism. Unlike the more liberal forms of Christianity one might assume would have an easier time negotiating secular punk’s peccadilloes, these related forms of Christian belief and practice place a premium on proselytizing, distrust secular reasoning, hold generally conservative views about
other passionate and unpopular beliefs that circulate within local and global punk networks including various forms of anarchism, feminism, veganism, and a sprinkling of other religions including Krishna Consciousness and Islam.3 Indeed, once Christians in the punk scene convince their non-religious and anti-religious peers that they are not an alien force seeking to control the scene, but an organic deOh, Sleeper, Rocketown, Nashville, USA 15 December 2010 velopment from within it, they are gender and sexuality, and resist the idea usually accepted. This is not to say that religious belief should be compart- that Christianity is warmly embraced within mentalized and privatized. punk; it is routinely contested, mocked, or The commitment to the ideological simply ignored, but this too is part of punk’s framework of punk which privileges cre- dynamism. So while it’s more common for ative autonomy means that Christians Christians to find affinity with punk than in the punk scene are not out to impose for atheist or apatheist punks to find affinEvangelical behavioural codes – even if ity with Christianity, examples of Christians these have to be negotiated if they’re bor- being actively excluded from local punk rowing a church hall to host a punk show. scenes are rare. Rather, they argue that if punk is living up to its promises, individuals’ Christian be- Populist Traditionalism liefs should be accepted alongside the While the strategies that Christians have
employed to make their beliefs comprehensible within the secular punk subculture deserve an article of their own, I will focus here on the particular form of rebelliousness that Christian punk articulates. I will be characterizing this broad socio-political position as ‘populist traditionalism’, employing a term developed by the American sociologist and theologian Tex Sample in his analysis of working class American popular culture, especially country music.4 I will be showing how in some regards Christian punk’s populist traditionalism continues secular punk’s normative radicalism, but how its vision of a good life is ultimately grounded in a particular understanding of
Christian scripture and ethics which creates certain incompatibilities with secular values. To do this, I will be drawing on interviews I conducted in 2010 with forty-six musicians and fans involved with Christian punk in the UK, USA and Australia.5 I will also draw on examples of lyrics from Christian punk songs which I take to be broadly representative of common dispositions within the Christian punk subculture, as well as illustrating its lyrical sensibilities. It is worth keeping in mind, however, that when these lyrics are encountered within songs they are often unintelligible, which is, in fact, one reason why Christian punk is generally accepted within secular punk
circles. To begin to understand Christian punk’s articulation of populist traditionalism, it helps to briefly consider its origins. Like the secular punk that emerged in New York, London and elsewhere in the mid1970s, Christian punk emerged in opposition to what it believed was a dominant culture of popular music that was out of touch with the lives of young people. A prime target for secular and Christian punk was the remnant of the hippie counterculture that had long lost any claim to radicalism and had settled down into a cultural mainstream in which ‘young people everywhere look[ed] like young people everywhere.’6 The Evangelical Christian fraction of the hippie counterculture was known as the Jesus Movement, a loose collection of churches, communes, and cults which viewed ‘straight’ society with as much hostility as its non-Christian countercultural peers, but differed in its prescribed remedy for the dead-end culture of the western world. Rejecting the drugs, free love and eclectic alternative religious practices that
enlightened the hippie milieu, the moral vision of the Jesus Movement was apocalyptic; society had become so mired in moral decay, only the end of the world offered a way out.7 Although the anticipated apocalypse did not occur, two important, interrelated cultural legacies emerged from the Jesus Movement; the embrace of popular media and culture by conservative Evangelicals and Pentecostals, and the development of ‘Contemporary Christian Music’ (CCM). Through CCM, Evangelical Christianity began adapting every imaginable genre of contemporary popular music and style of youth culture, maintaining their aesthetic frameworks while inserting Christian content. A pioneer in this cultural turn was the Calvary Chapel church in Costa Mesa, California, which preached apocalyptic Pentecostalism while embracing hippies, surfers, and other subcultures, including new wave punk in the 1980s in the form of two of the earliest Christian punk bands, Altar Boys and Undercover, whose sound, style and attitude was distinctly different to the
folk-rock that dominated CCM.8 Inferior and inauthentic music It should be said that the vast majority of CCM artists and performers were, and are, sincere and talented individuals. However, because of the restrictions CCM imposes upon the lyrics and behavior of its musicians and fans, combined with the low priority placed on musical innovation compared to moral clarity, CCM has developed a reputation as inferior and inauthentic music. Joel from the Sydney metalcore band The City HE Loved told me that growing up, ‘I kind of hated Christian music … I found it always to be five years after the trend and stale.’ The accusation of inauthenticity and staleness has been something that Christian punk, in its various incarnations, has been able to successfully negotiate more often than not since it re-emerged in the 1990s within local, secular punk scenes. The most influential developments were an explosion of Christian ska punk in California, and the ‘spirit-filled hardcore’ movement that coincided with various Pente-
The accusation of inauthenticity and staleness has been something that Christian punk, in its various incarnations, has been able to successfully negotiate costal revivals in North America such as the ‘Toronto Blessing’ and the ‘Brownsville Revival’. The spirit-filled hardcore movement consisted of a handful of heavy metal-influenced hardcore bands fermenting in local secular scenes in different parts of the USA, meeting up at the annual Christian alternative music festival Cornerstone, organized by a carry-over from the Jesus
Movement, the Jesus People USA urban church commune. As Chad, formerly of the bands Strongarm and Further Seems Forever told me, ‘it was literally like an awakening for the music scene. After that, all the bands were really on fire … they were giving records to their friends who weren’t Christians but were in the hardcore scene.’ This is a paradigmatic example of Christian punk. Bands usually develop in scenes wherein Christians are a minority, they stay in close contact with other Christian bands but rarely depart entirely from secular scenes into the exclusivity of CCM; while they do not seek to control local scenes, there is a driving concern to communicate Christian beliefs and share biblically-ground critiques of contemporary life. Christian punk’s biblically-grounded critiques generally adhere to Tex Sample’s notion of populist traditionalism which is characterized by the weary rejection of liberalism – understood in the classical and European sense – in its contemporary social articulations of individualism and con-
sumerism. The populist traditionalism of the sort that Sample and others associate with North American Protestantism and popular culture from below includes a populist commitment to egalitarianism in regards to economic injustices, at the same time as articulating a rather different attitude in certain social and cultural spheres such as sexuality. The positive emphasis is on strengthening families and communities as the regulators of social life under the canopy of orthodox Evangelical belief. Connected to this is a distrust of the state as a rival source of moral authority, whether in the guise of conservative authoritarianism or the progressive welfare state.9 But unlike liberalism, populist traditionalism rejects ideologies that celebrate the autonomy of the individual and the market as a source of moral guidance and social regulation; much like the welfare state, this would place people outside the regulatory framework of faith, family, and community. In his analysis of singer-songwriter Merle Haggard, Sample describes populist traditionalism as an ideology that ‘does defend
being free, but this is in a context of living right as a way of life.’10 A different kind of resistance Populist traditionalism in Christian punk manifests as resistance to what it views as the dominant values of liberal secular society. But the idea of ‘resistance’ is a problematic one in the study of youth and popular culture, being associated with the studies of British youth subcultures in the 1970s by the University of Birmingham’s Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies. The ‘Birmingham School’ drew on the Gramscian and Althusserian Marxism in vogue at the time, to argue that phenomena like punk were examples of working class youth attempting to find cultural solutions to their socio-economic displacement; properly decoded, subcultural style evinced political resistance to class inequality.11 Although it remains an enticing theory, this approach attracted a great deal of criticism, especially from ‘post-subculture’ theory I mentioned earlier. These later theories, although challenged in turn by subculture scholars who
find class inequality and radical politics still pertinent, depict youth subcultures and popular culture as far less concerned with articulating ‘resistance’ to hegemonic social values, either consciously or unconsciously. Youth subcultures, in fact, embody the normative values and practices of late capitalism, privileging personal pleasure over oppositional politics, and performing identity through mass consumerism. Christian punk does not fit either of these models, however. It rejects the hedonism, consumerism, and lack of moral seriousness that characterize subcultures in these more recent theorizations, but nor is Christian punk an articulation of class antagonism as in the Birmingham School’s theory. Rather, Christian punk’s abiding socio-political concern is the consequence of traditional religious values being replaced by individualism and what are seen to be its most obvious contemporary manifestations- hedonistic consumerism. ‘Feeling free’, scream the commercially successful metalcore band Underoath on the track ‘Young and Aspiring’, ‘it’s our modern dis-
ease.’ In this vein, many Christian punk songs follow the narrative of Ecclesiastes, a book of the Hebrew Bible in which the narrator samples the pleasures of the world and finds them unsatisfying. The song ‘The Pig’ by hardcore band Showbread depicts the world as a spiritually empty place: ‘My well is dry and still I try to fill it up I seek and seek and seek / Nothing lasts except the empty swallowing my soul.’ As in secular punk, mainstream popular music and culture is singled out for particular criticism. The song ‘The Great Opiate’ by Christian straight edge band xDEATHSTARx is significant in referring not to religion, but to mainstream media; ‘The souls of the living / Mass communicate drugged … Turn to this media like a moth to the flame.’ As well as harking back to fundamentalist criticisms of popular music and culture as an insidious evil,12 this criticism reflects Theodor Adorno’s marxist criticisms of popular culture as a pacifying force.13 Straight Edge Within Christian punk we can see a partial
continuity with the normative radical sensibilities of secular punk, with mutual hostilities directed towards the culture of contemporary capitalism. But Christian punk ultimately anchors its version of the good life in the ethics and beliefs of Evangelicalism which places it in contradiction with punk’s secular humanism which echoes Charles Taylor’s description of the ideologies of modern reason; ‘contemplating the world and human life without illusion’ with the sole desire of ‘human flourishing.’14 In the interviews, participants placed a strong
emphasis on distinguishing the grounding of secular punk in ‘the self’ compared to Christian punk, which grounds itself in religious faith. Dan, formerly of the bands Blaster the Rocket Man and Voice of the Mysterons, summarized the punk world view as ‘often secular in a cold universe sort of way – it’s completely up to us and there’s no one else.’ In contrast, Dave, formerly of the band Dragged Out, said ‘Christian punks, on the other hand, believe that change must come through personal relationship with Christ.’ It is at this point that Christian punk most obviously resembles the sensibilities of the Jesus Movement; it shares its secular peers’ sense of cultural alienation but has a different sense of what has gone wrong and what can be done to make things right. Articulating its resistance to contemporary culture as a form of religiously-grounded populist traditionalism, Christian punk reframes normative punk practices and positions by replacing secular motivations with religious ones. Davey, formerly of the band We Are Revival, is one of a sizable
minority of Christians involved in the punk scene who identify with the ‘straight edge’ movement that rejects drugs, alcohol and promiscuous sex.15 He said, ‘I don’t want to be a part of a culture that works 9 to 5 and wastes away their weekends. I want to be a part of a culture that lives every day with a clear head and is living every day to the absolute fullest for Jesus Christ.’ Straight edge therefore becomes a vehicle to resist normative youth culture and strengthen religious commitment. While the socio-political attitudes articulated in Christian punk lyrics are often quite explicit about rejecting the values of liberal secularism, as I have shown above, everyday resistance is more subtle, manifesting in refusals that range from the performance of multiple abstinences amongst Christian straight edgers like Davey, to forms of speech that evince a serious spirituality; one participant speaking of ‘rocking the heck out,’ for example. In keeping with the norms of populist traditionalism in an Evangelical guise, in both lyrics and interviews, individual belief and maintaining
one’s faith is a more common concern than any particular political issues.
in Christian punk songs is the Evangelical narrative of religious conversion – being
‘Amazing Grace’ (Punk version) The personal is intensely political for Christian punk; being a committed Christian is itself seen as the strongest act of resistance against the hegemonic values of contemporary society. Jon, from the London band Firefalldown said, ‘secularism is pretty dominant nowadays in the west. It’s almost like the tables have turned; if you’re a born-again Christian, you’re quite radical and rebellious in the current culture.’ Accordingly, rather than political invectives, the most common theme Firefalldown, Greenbelt Festival Cheltenham UK 28 August 2010
born again. ‘I was dead, then alive / she was like wine turned to water and turned back to wine,’ sing the post-hardcore band mewithoutYou on the song ‘Paper Hanger’. Thematic variations on the famous hymn ‘Amazing Grace’ are also common in Christian punk . On several occasions I watched bands performing a punked-up version of that very hymn at the end of their live set – perhaps because it is one of the few Christians songs that even the most religiously apathetic could recognize. For Christian punk, personal ethics appear as a more significant political horizon than social structures. This is very different from the class-based subcultures posited by the Birmingham School, and the uninvolved liberal individualism described by post-subculture theories, but it is normative for Evangelical and Pentecostal Christianity. David Gushee’s work on religion and politics argues that both the Evangelical left and the more common Evangelical right both ground their politics in what they believe being a follower of Jesus obliges them to do.16 Accordingly, when formal
political debates are breached by Christian punk, a key concern is articulating a position within Christian discourse rather than conventional secular political policy or ideology. Eagle, for example, performs strongly political punk poems such as ‘God Hates the Policies of the BNP’,17 and identifies as an anarchist, but his anarchism is religious: Jesus gave us two commandments: to love God and love our neighbor as our self. For me, if everyone loved their neighbor as them self, we wouldn’t need strong governments; we’d have a freer world. I think on the first commandment, love God with all your heart, body, and mind, through the Enlightenment and the progression of that, secular humanism, we’ve tried to bury God, but what it actually did is create a need for people to find direction from somewhere else. There [are] lots of people in the world who are willing to become gods – Hitler and Stalin. Anarchism This is an excellent example of anarchism articulated as a form of faith-based popu-
list traditionalism; there is a strong suspicion of modern political institutions and instead a desire for a religiously-regulated egalitarianism. The final example of Christian punk’s religiously-grounded populist traditionalism comes from the defunct melodic hardcore band We Are Revival, from the British midlands. Their song ‘Grey Towers’ contrasts a modern, secular, and progressive paradigm of change and betterment – Britain’s post-WWII social democracy and its iconic brutalist architecture – with an explicitly Evangelical vision of religious renewal: Grey towers, reaching for the sky Arms of concrete paralysed Grey towers, desperate for the light That the shadows trailing would take to flight The son explodes Like a fistful of nuclear bombs And turns these buildings inside out These new beginnings Can promise so much But there’s only this one to fill your heart with light
We Are Revival’s guitar player and co-vocalist, Steven, explained the song’s meaning and motivation: All you see when you walk in [to Coventry] is these foreboding grey tower blocks. Really ugly buildings, essentially; but it occurred to me that these buildings, in a way, they were a fresh beginning for the city after it was bombed in the war. You know, they were just throwing up these buildings. And as the chorus of the song says, the city needs a different kind of explosion to give it a fresh start … talking about life with Jesus. Which is why it kinda has that sense of, you know, I wanted it to sound like buildings collapsing, to be replaced by something new and truly glorious. In this song, we see the way Evangelical Christian belief ultimately trumps materialism in Christian punk, rejecting the final authority of secular reason and politics. Conclusion To conclude, I have argued that Christian punk shares a commitment to the founda-
Christian punk’s principles are identified as a religiously-grounded version of “populist traditionalism”, a notion that does not sit comfortably within conventional political categories tional values of secular punk – outspokenness, creative independence, and using popular music to explore different ways of being-in-the-world. This shared commitment allows for the acceptance of Christianity within the secular punk subculture. I have shown how Christian punk demonstrates opposition to what is constructed as the normative culture of consumer capi-
talism, but that like the Christian fraction of the hippie counterculture it emerged from, and in reaction to, because Christian punk is ultimately grounded in religious belief, its moral and political framework contradicts secular thinking as well as conventional theories of subcultures. Christian punk’s principles are identified as a religiouslygrounded version of ‘populist traditionalism’, a notion that does not sit comfortably within conventional political categories. In this sense, the idea of populist traditionalism shares some of the basic characteristics of Christian punk which is itself a notion that resists conventional wisdom about both contemporary religion, and contemporary youth cultures and popular music. Endnotes: 1 David Muggleton & Rupert Weinzierl (eds), The Post-Subcultures Reader, Oxford: Berg, 2003; Andy Bennett & Keith Kahn–Harris (eds) After Subculture, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004. 2 Stacy Thompson, Punk Productions, Albany: SUNY Press, 2004. 3 Ibrahim Abraham, ‘Punk Pulpit: Religion, Punk Rock and Counter (Sub)cultures’ in Council of the Societies for the Study of Religion Bulletin vol. 37, no. 1, 2008. 4 Tex Sample, White Soul, Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1996; Tex Sample, Blue Collar Resistance and the
Politics of Jesus, Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2006. 5 The project was approved by the University of Bristol as ‘Study 1054: A Sociology of Christian Punk’. All participants were given the option of pseudonyms, and as in many studies of popular music, all declined, although several prefer to be identified by their punk noms de guerre. 6 Phil Strongman, Pretty Vacant: A History of Punk. London: Orion, 2007, p. 17. 7 Preston Shires, Hippies of the Religious Right, Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2006; J. Milton Yinger, Countercultures, New York: Free Press, 1982, pp. 225-252. 8 Mark Allen Powell, Encyclopedia of Contemporary Christian Music, Hendrickson, MA: Peabody, 2002, pp. 34-35, 973-975; Christopher Goffard, ’Father, Son, and Holy Rift’, Los Angeles Times, 2 September 2006. 9This corresponds with established social scientific wisdom that shows an inverse relationship between the strength of the welfare state and the strength of religious commitment; remove religious institutions’ traditional role as providers of welfare and healthcare and their influence and appeal declines. 10 Sample, White Soul, p. 125. 11 Stuart Hall & Tony Jefferson (eds), Resistance Through Rituals, London: Hutchinson, 1976; Dick Hebdige, Subculture: The Meaning of Style, London: Methuen, 1979. 12 Eileen Luhr, Witnessing Suburbia: Conservatives and Christian Youth Culture, Berkeley: University of California Press, 2009, pp. 30-67. 13 Theodor Adorno, The Culture Industry, London: Routledge, 1991. 14 Charles Taylor, A Secular Age, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007, p. 9. 15 Ross Haenfler, Straight Edge, New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2006. 16 David Gushee, The Future of Faith in American Politics, Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2008. 17 The far-right British National Party.
IBRAHIM ABRAHAM is in the final stages of his PhD in sociology at the University of Bristol. He has degrees in sociology, law, and religion studies from Monash University in Melbourne. He has published chapters in books including Recognition in Politics: Theory, Policy, and Practice (2007), Sacred Tropes: Tanakh, New Testament, and Qur’an as Literature and Culture (2009), and The Foundations of Islamic Banking (2011). His work focuses on the relationships between religion and seemingly secular social spheres such as sex, finance, and rock ’n’ roll.
ARTICLETHREE TWO ARTICLE
“We Sing For Change”
Straight Edge Punk & Social Change By: Francis Stewart
With hope in our hearts and bricks in our hands, we sing for change.
ith genuine feeling and as loud as possible almost 1,000 people sang this together in Glasgowâ€™s Garage in 2006. Strangers leaning on one another, arms wrapped around shoulders and fists raised high singing in a united voice. Underneath this impromptu display of solidarity lies the key to understanding the power and potency of hardcore punk both as a musical genre and as a subculture. This song, Bricks, is not one of Rise Againstâ€™s singles from their latest album, it has not been played on MTV or radio stations and it was not listed in music magazines as a hit song, yet it is the song that elicited the greatest response that evening. The reason for this response? These lyrics outline both the purpose and concern of hardcore punk: change,social change of one sort or another. Social change that is largely wrought and / or articulated through musical expression. Understanding this statement requires insight into punk as a
musical genre and as a social movement. The research presented within this paper is based on field work which took place in San Francisco and the Bay Area in 2009, throughout the UK in 2010, and in Chicago in 2011. It also draws on the experiences and insights of the researcher, a long time adherent to a subculture within the punk scene known as Straight Edge. The interviewees, informants and participants for this study ranged in age from 25 to 58. In
With hope in our hearts and bricks in our hands, we sing for change total 83 interviews2 and extended conversations3 were carried out: 29 in San Francisco and the Bay Area, seven in Chicago, and 47 in the UK (specifically, in Glasgow, Durham, Newcastle, Dundee, Edinburgh, Belfast, Liverpool, Leeds and Manchester). What is punk? Punk is essentially an umbrella term for a
music-based oppositional subculture characterised by expressions of estrangement, frustration and disenchantment, as a form of resistance that has evoked a sense of identity, authenticity and community for its followers and adherents. Within the subculture of punk there exists a myriad of
musical approaches such as classic or â€™77 punk, Oi, anarcho-punk, garage-punk, psychobilly, pop-punk, hardcore and straight edge. Each musical styling has its own sound, style of playing, aesthetic presentation and dance moves, yet they commonly unite under the banner of punk on issues
such as politics, activism, animal rights, social issues or human rights. Punk as a social movement is very much characterised by the qualities of its emergent era. In the United Kingdom punk burst into public consciousness at the end of the 1970s, although it had existed prior to that in the USA, particularly in the Bowery district of New York City. Early punk performances in the US by bands such as The Ramones and The Talking Heads were raw, unpolished, crude, politically charged and often filled with bickering which would occasionally become violent. The United Kingdom of the mid to late 1970s was a time, much like today, of recession and hardship.. During the 1970s this tough situation was exacerbated by an international oil crisis, numerous workers strikes for improved pay and conditions, rolling blackouts (fuel supplies are cut off resulting in no electricity for lights etc) and the government mandated three day work week. As a consequence, young people were among the hardest hit both in terms of un-
employment , future prospects and home life. Combined with a rapidly increasing divorce rate amongst their parents and the first generation raised as ‘latch-key kids4’ who spent more time with the television than they did their parents5, this was a generation who had to radically redefine their notion of family. Unsurprisingly, many youth were angry and willing to loudly express it, they were out of work and had a lot of free time to indulge their rebellious natures and to present what they saw as the main causes of the problems they faced. Billy, a 50 year old undergraduate student of philosophy and politics, from Blantyre near Glasgow, describes the UK as he experienced in his teenage years of the late 1970s; At that time, at 17, I think there was a lot of angst and a lot of anger you know, because things were dismal and you look back now and yeah, they were dismal. You’d a right to protest, you’d a right to say, I’m no taking this shit, I want something better, you know. And it really, eh, punk evolved because of that.6
Thus within punk music we find a refusal to conform to the norms of performance deportment, a fierce do it yourself (DIY) attitude and approach, a sense that anyone can do it regardless of gender, age, instrument quality or ability. There is also a pervading a camaraderie or ‘brothers in arms’ mentality, seeing the punk community being your family and a refusal to be coopted, particularly by major music labels.7 Overall, and as a general comment, the qualities most sought within all aspects of punk are that of authenticity, integrity and non-conformity. What is of significance about punk is not the aesthetic or the loud music per se, but rather that ‘the music today has now become a doorway to additional learning not simply an endpoint in and of itself.’8 However, this is not to idealise punk or to portray it as a misunderstood passive, intellectual movement. Punk has undergone its difficulties, factions and attacks from within. During the 1980s some punks felt that the music had become ‘watered down’ and too media friendly and controlled, which
led to the developed hardcore punk to get back to the true meaning of punk. However this itself became a rigid form and constrictive approach in which ‘bands found themselves under the ruthless scrutiny of their peers and realized too late that they were trapped in a scene.’9 Perhaps the most long running and significant problem punk has had to face from within is the frequent overindulgence with both alcohol and drugs. At times this sadly led to an early death, probably the most well known was that of Sid Vicious (John Beverley) in 1979 at the age of 21. Others who followed the same tragic path include Malcolm Owen (The Ruts), Darby Crash (The Germs), El Duce (The Mentors) and Will Shatter (Flipper) among many others. Autobiographies such as those by Eater singer Andy Blade reveal the easy access to drugs and alcohol that existed within punk circles, particularly for anyone close to or involved with bands.10 This was in no way limited to band members, some audience members were also engaged in similar
pursuits and behaviors. Alcohol consumption amongst audience members was particularly pervasive and indeed the cause of numerous conflicts between punks and authority figures.11 The normative behavior and attitudes displayed by those punks came to be known by the phrase ‘drunk punks’. During the early 1980s a variety of reactions arose to the ‘drunk punk’, although separate, they were still related and interdependent. In the UK anarcho punk, amongst others, arose within punk circles as an attempt to bring serious political and social issues to the fore. This was led by bands such as Crass, Poison Girls, Flux of Pink Indians, and Conflict. These bands utilized sonics, lyrics, aesthetics / appearance (for example Crass wore all black on stage), visual backdrops and projected images on stage, while in their own lives as they existed in co-
ops (communes) and squats. In the USA the most sustained reaction to the ‘drunk punk’ began as a small collection of songs and spawned a worldwide movement known as Straight Edge. The reminder of this paper will focus on straight edge and the social changes found within it. Straight Edge Tito, a 47 year old drummer and photographer living in the Bay Area of San Francisco summarizes the impetus behind the different approaches to punk that led to the creation of straight edge;
UK punk was largely based on anger at monarchy rule and what that not only entails, but also represents and it was very politically charged. The US on the other hand did not have monarchy rule to rebel against, and the Vietnam War had already been protested at by the hippies, so American punks turned to their own lives, environment and what they perceived as governmental brain-washing and a cultural insular perspective.12 Straight edge began in 1981 as a song by then teenage lyricist Ian MacKaye from the hardcore band Minor Threat. Although this was not the first time that MacKaye had addressed similar issues, these lyrics were the most direct.13 The 50 second song ‘Straight Edge’ claims that MacKaye does not need to drink, take drugs or engage in casual sex because they are simply “a crutch” and he has “the straight edge”.14 The song was only intended as his own personal life statement as well as an indictment of the drug and alcohol fueled behavior of the punks he was surrounded by, not a rallying cry or a call to
arms. Upon hearing the lyrics, many young punks recognized their own lifestyle philosophy or the lifestyle they wanted to adopt and began to self-identify as straight edge. This spread to bands using it as an identifying moniker, and the spread continued through extensive touring and the practice of making and swapping tapes for friends or buying music through fanzines. Eventually it became known within the hardcore punk scene world-wide and has since developed into a community within a community. It now has adherents in the estimated tens of thousands throughout the world, although it is impossible to get precise numbers due to the flexibility and anonymity of self-identification, self-regulation and the deliberate lack of a leader around whom all adherents rally around15 Adherents follow three guidelines: abstinence from alcohol, drugs (including tobacco) and casual sex. These rules are self-enforced or self-regulated, with those who choose to follow them describing themselves as ‘claiming edge’. This is a commitment that is undertaken once
and for life, and to break it is irrevocable, although it will seldom result in ostracism from the community unless the ex-straight edger persistently ridicules or violently attacks those who remain edge. This quote from Karl, a 28 year old straight edge adherent and tattoo artist from Durham, demonstrates the depth of feeling with regards to claiming edge; Yeah basically, ya know, it’s not fashion, you’ve either gotta make the commitment or you’re not true.16 There is room for personalizing one’s straight edge lifestyle. Some adherents will interpret no casual sex as complete abstinence from sex before marriage, while others will simply restrict sex to committed relationships regardless of marital status. Some will interpret no drugs as including caffeine while others will not. An increasing number of adherents will voluntarily include additional abstinence to their straight edge identity, the most common is adopting a vegetarian or vegan diet. The above paragraph reveals some ways in which social issues are so important to
the straight edge individuals that they alter their lifestyle choices to ensure compatibility between value and action. The significant aspect is that these are not purely individual rebellions but rather, as Haenfler notes, ‘symbolic of a larger, collective, oppositional consciousness.’17 The connection between a collective consciousness and social change in relation to straight edge should not be understated as those collective meanings are key to understanding the identity of the group.18 Social change and collective identity in straight edge ‘We are the voice of revolution, we are the force of evolution. And we gather our strength from an underground movement, and it’s all fueled by hardcore music.’19 In addition to the dismay felt at the destruction caused by drugs and alcohol, many who were either involved with the creation and formation of straight edge or were later attracted to it were also frustrated at age restrictions which kept underage fans from shows. This was due to shows
taking place in bars where the drinking age is strictly enforced. Inspired by west coast practices, the wearing of a large X on the hands to prevent the acquisition of alcohol, became standard practice as a means of identifying those who are underage and not allowed to buy alcohol. This became the symbol of straight edge, as members
wore it both as a sign that they choose not to drink (if they were of legal age) and as a symbol of solidarity, that punk, hardcore and straight edge is for all regardless of age. The importance of gaining access to live music performances is paramount as that is the setting in which the community
thrives, the values are promoted and social change is formulated. As one straight edge band member from Berkeley explained during his bands performance; There will be no change or improvement unless it happens here, with us at the grass roots level. We are the future of this country. We are our own community.20 In addition to band members, audience members would also sometimes make speeches on certain issues, as being on stage alongside the band provided a good opportunity to interact with the community. For example, when religion began to enter into hardcore through Krishnacore in the 1990s, huge discussions arose at shows with a wide variety of opinions regarding faith. It forced impressionable youth and older adults to formulate ideas and opinions based on reason, and to listen to the ideas and beliefs of others. In essence, it helped, “individuals develop their own position on issues relating to religion, philosophy, and one’s place in the world.”21 In places such as Northern Ireland, where huge social division and vio-
lence existed on the grounds of religion (amongst other serious issues) this forcing of a space in which religion could be discussed openly was revolutionary. It actually led to punk shows being one of a very small number of arenas in which Catholics and Protestants could intermingle and interact. One Northern Irish interviewee, Caroline a 33 year old mother of two and a straight edge adherent explained the social impact as; You couldn’t escape religion here, it was bloody everywhere, in all aspects of culture. But then punk arrived and smacked the hate out of us and stuck two fingers up to it. You could go to a show and there would be Catholics, Protestants, and everything in between and no-one cared. No one was a taig or a Hun or a Jaffa.22 It just wasn’t an issue in there, we were just punks. I quickly learnt that there could be an alternative to religious bigotry …I guess it was like a filter for religious bullshit … I suppose in a way, cause we stepped over the religion thing we did create a form of social change. We showed that there was
another way, seems a waste that no-one else saw it!23 Although an important aspect of any live performance for a subcultural affiliate, the live hardcore and straight edge shows were significant for much more than the social experience of finding people who look and think in a manner similar to oneself. In addition to the safety and emotional acceptance, the political dimension of these shows ensures that they become an integral influence on adherents. That is, they are presented with opportunities to act with the goal of changing society into their perceived notion of good. Through the music the individual is able to gain a sense of themselves as a part of something much larger, while standing outside of oneself through interactions also integrates the self into the larger whole. S.G., a 30 year old woman who works with teenagers in after school programs and has been straight edge since her teens, explains; I still love Minor Threat and am so thankful that Ian wrote that song. I remember hearing Earth Crisis for the first time and
thinking how perfect a fit their music was for me - their lyrics are so positive and the music so hard, it ironic. I remember feeling
such a release when listening to them … I remember seeing Path of Resistance in 1997 and feeling the same thing.24 Similarly Anna, a 31 year old bookshop worker, artist and straight edge adherent notes; I love that part, like the music has grabbed you and is shaking you with the urgency of what it has to say, that’s what music should be, that’s what art should be and that’s what punk does best.25 To effect social change such as that desired by many straight edge adherents is inherently tied to the music they create and partake in. This is not just because of the lyrical content or the additional discourse that surrounds it, but because of the music itself, that is the effect of music on our emotions and the communal nature of music.26 The communal dimension of music has a different impact on our emotions that when we listen to it in isolation. In fact it would not be a stretch to argue that music is inherently social rather than individual. Bicknell argues that ‘(t)he recognition of music as a human (rather than a natural or supernatural) product goes hand-in-hand with its
fundamentally social character.’27 DeNora aptly demonstrates how considering and utilizing music as social enables a social ordering to take place, particularly amongst those who could be potentially disparate.28 Essentially this is because music in a social or communal setting evokes strong feelings of companionship, camaraderie, solidarity and the ability to understand one’s self within a larger whole. The type of music being played is also significant, to utilize Thomas Turino’s terms; to become a part of the larger whole and be swept up in the desire for change towards a common good requires music that is participatory.29 That is, music in which the audience member is not merely a passive receiver but is fundamental in the creation of the whole performance. In straight edge terms, the audience has to react through call backs, sing-a-longs, dancing, stage diving and singing into the mike. Their energy is equally a part of the performance as that of the band on stage. In this way music may serve as a ‘referent for the formulation of such diverse matters as how to move,
how to imagine one’s self-identity, how to browse, how to mould one’s appearance and how to think, feel and act’30 and finally how to enact social change. Conclusion Within the context of straight edge, and indeed hardcore and punk in general, there exists a significant number of people who are struggling to comprehend and transcend reality, to find their place in the world, as well as their community.. They are seeking social change on both a micro and a macro level and music is the means by which they achieve this, as Nate, a 32 year old author and straight edge adherent, demonstrates; Straight edge is definitely part of my identity, sXe (Straight Edge) shaped my views of the world. I was hanging out with a lot of people who were racist, sexist, homophobic idiots. It really started to bleed over into my life without me even knowing it. My family moved to (name removed for the purposes of anonymonity) I got into straight edge there and all the politics that came with it.
If that hadn’t happened, I don’t know who I’d be today, I certainly wouldn’t be as open minded. 31 It is because of the power of music which influences human emotion and its communal nature that an aggressive form of music such as hardcore punk can enable or legitimately be offered as a means to achieving real social change. It truly is a rhythm of rebellion that has played on through generations. Endnotes 1 ‘Bricks’ by Rise Against, from the album The Sufferer and The Witness, 2006, Geffen Records. 2 Each participant was explicitly asked to take part in an interview and gave their consent. Typically, the interview took place immediately following consent and lasted between one and two hours. On 9 occasions a pre-arranged date and venue was chosen, with the participant knowing they were arriving for an in-depth interview which would last over four hours. Two interviews in the UK were conducted over a number of meetings with the participant, each totaling over 9 hours of interview material. 5 individuals in total were interviewed via email, due to issues such as band tours and inaccessibility of location within the time scale. All interviewees were given a choice as to how they wanted to be named within the research: they could use their first name, their initials, or a pseudonym of my choice (which I based on names within my family). Pseudonyms are indicated through the use of single quotation marks. All interviews were recorded and transcribed, then shown to the interviewee for final consensus before being utilised in written form for research.
3Typically, and not unusually within the subculture, I would be approached, due to the clothes I was wearing or my tattoos. A conversation would ensue and as it developed I would explain my research. In a number of instances the individual or group would then want to contribute their ideas as a natural part of the conversation, but they did not want to give a formal interview. In these instances, the conversations were not digitally recorded, but I did ask and receive permission to make notes on them, and had each of the participants sign the notes to acknowledge that they had seen them and gave permission for me to use them for research purposes. On average these conversations would last between 20 minutes and an hour. (In Berkeley it was not uncommon for the conversation to continue when I next encountered the same people, either on the street or at shows.) All written and signed notes have been retained by the researcher. 4 A derogatory term used to describe the children and teenagers who arrived home from school with no parents present. The children had their own key to the house and had to amuse and supervise themselves, and their siblings, until their parent(s) returned from work. They could be left unsupervised in this manner for three or four hours. Some interviewees, in describing their childhood would discuss this with the researcher as a major influence on their lives. One interviewee, Ian, stated that he only saw his mother in the morning for breakfast and as she left for work. He only knew she had returned from work when he heard the television being switched off after the 10 o’clock news, having gone to bed or at least to his room earlier. 5 T Beaudoin; Virtual Faith; Jossey-Bass: San Francisco, 1998, p5 6 Billy, in interview with researcher 04.03.10 in Stirling, UK 7 This is not the case for all punk bands, some have choosen to sign with major labels such as Green Day, AFI and Against Me. Their reasons for doing so are varied from greater exposure to fans, greater resources to create and better renuemuneration for their efforts, but all have faced sustained accusations of being ‘sell outs’
by punk fans and the community in general. 8 C O’Hara; The Philosophy of Punk; AK Press: San Francisco, 1999, p10 9 I Glasper; Trapped In A Scene; Cherry Red Books: London, 2009, p9 10 A Blade; The Secret Life of a Teenage Punk Rocker; Cherry Red Books: London, 2005. See also B Mullen; Lexicon Devil; Feral House: Los Angeles, 2002. T Underwood; So This Is Readin? Life on the road with The Unseen; Hopeless Records: Van Nuys, Ca 2006. 11 O’Hara 1999 p10 I Glasper: The Day The Country Died Cherry Red Books: London, 2006. H Rollins; Get In The Van; 2.13.61: Los Angeles, 1994 12 Tito, in interview with researcher, 31.10.09 Bay Area, ca 13 See for example, his songs from his previous band The Teen Idles, songs such as ‘I drink Milk’ 14 ‘Straight Edge’, Minor Threat, Complete Discography, Washington DC: Dischord Records, 1981. 15 R Haenfler; Straight Edge; Rutgers University Press: New Brunswick; 2006 p43 – 46. R Wood; Straight Edge; Syracuse University Press: Syracuse New York; 2006 p72 – 73 16 Karl, in interview with researcher, 07.05.10, Durham, UK 17Haenfler 2006 p190 18 It would be misleading to represent straight edge as a unified community whose adherents always function within the constraints imposed upon them by the community or scene. Refusal to accept the imposition of the community can be evidenced in the deplorable actions of the US straight edge hardline gangs who enforce their beliefs through violence that has resulted in bombings and even murder, as reported in local Newspapers such as The Denver Post in 2006 and in the documentary by National Geographic in 2009 entitled ‘Straight Edge Army’. However as my research is currently moving in the direction of these gangs and the nature of violence, and so as yet do not have enough material to represent term fairly or in enough depth so they have not been examined or scrutinised within this article, but their existence required acknowledging
within the wider picture. 19 Start Living Wisdom in Chains, 2009 from the album Everything You Know, I Scream Records 20 16.10.09 Berkeley, ca 21 B Peterson; Burning Fight: The Nineties Hardcore Revolution; Revelation Records Publishing: Huntington Beach, 2009 p122 22 The term taig is a derogatory term for a Catholic, while the terms Hun and Jaffa were the Protestant counterparts. They are considered sectarian phrases but are in everyday usage still. Taig comes from the Gaelic word for the average man which is Tadhg. The term Hun derives from the term applied to Germans soldiers during the Second World War and has connotations of barbaric inhuman treatment of others. Jaffa is literally the name of an orange and is used in reference to the Orange order, a protestant fraternal organisation who are strongly unionist. 23 Caroline, in interview with researcher 12.07.10 Belfast 24 S.G. email interview with researcher 30.04.10 25 Anna in interview with researcher 12.11.09 Santa Cruz 26 There is a vast body of excellent work and research being conducted on the connections between music and emotion, however the scope of it is beyond the focus of this article and so is not dealt with in detail but it is significant to understanding the role of music in creating social and personal change. 27 J Bicknell Why Music Moves Us Palgrave MacMillian: London 2009 p90 28 T DeNora Music in Everyday Life Cambridge University Press: Cambridge 2000 p109 29 T Turino Music as Social Life Chicago University Press: Chicago 2008 30 DeNora 2000 p141 31 Nate in email interview with researcher 05.04.10
FRANCIS STEWART completed her doctorate in religious studies during the summer of 2011 and graduated in nov 2011. Her thesis was an examination of straight edge punk as a surrogate for religion, it was an ethnographic study with field work taking place throughout the UK and in San Franciscoâ€™s Bay Area and Chicago. Currently she is applying for jobs within academia and keeping herself out of trouble by attending as many punk gigs as I can find and working on various fanzines.
N O D N O L to
Symbols and clothing in East German punk By: Kate Gerrard
he transnational phenomenon of punk appeared in the German Democratic Republic (GDR) in the late 1970s. From around 1978 the music, images and fashion of punk (particularly that of the UK) found their way into the GDR through Western radio, television and printed media, like much of western pop culture before it. However, unlike the western pop and youth cultures that preceded punk, such as rock and roll and beat music, punk gained neither any degree of state legitimacy nor widespread popularity within a GDR society tuned to Western radio, the reception of which the SED (Sozialistische Einheitspartei Deutschlands - Socialist Union Party of East Germany) recognized it was powerless to stop by the 1970s. Throughout its existence in the GDR, punk was criminalized by the state, with young punks –sometimes as young as fourteen - finding themselves imprisoned, conscripted to the NVA (Nationale Volksarmee - National People’s Army) or exiled in the West. The scene thus remained small and self-contained; the Stasi estimated in 1981 that there were around 1,000 punks, with 10,000 ‘punk sympathizers.’1 This paper focuses on the initial wave of East German punk, from its inception from around 1978, until 1983, the year of a Stasi operation to destroy the scene, which removed many punks of that generation, but failed to stall punk completely. Despite its criminalization, manifested through state pressure and Stasi infiltration, punk endured, becoming a highly visible aspect ‘of the GDRs streetscape’2 throughout the 1980s, and continuing to cause a ‘living affront to the cosmetic, bland facade of public culture’3 until it outlived the state itself. To the authorities punk presented a challenge to the entire socialist project, the foundation of which lay in the formation of ‘socialist personalities’, which sought to instill ideology in young people to enable them to take the socialist endeavour into the future, ensuring its long-term success and sustainability. Not only did punk present a challenge to authority and the very idea of socialism itself but, as in Britain, wider society responded to punk’s provocation. Punks’ direc-
tionless rebellion was not only a reaction to political structures at a macro level but also against school, parents, work, indigenous bands who produced music within the stateâ€™s guidelines (so-called Staat-rockers)
The Berlin Wall
and youth organizations, many of whom participated in the structures of the socialist state and thereby contributed to the goals of socialism, albeit to differing extents and levels of commitment and enthusiasm, as
historians such as Mary Fulbrook have argued. However, it would be wrong to conclude that there were no levels of integration by punks at all – there are accounts of punks at youth clubs or taking part in sporting teams – but particularly in the early period punks were often subjected to violent attacks and social alienation. This was in part due to their own willful negation, which saw them isolate themselves not just from the authorities and those they interacted with daily, but also other subcultures. This was particularly apparent in the mid-1980s when, under the protection of the churches, punks struggled – or rather, refused - to co-exist with other oppressed subcultures such as hippies, blues freaks, and the burgeoning reform movement. Further, the pressure put on punks by the authorities by no means engendered a sense of solidarity amongst punks themselves; the scene was marked by stratification, and violence between punks occurred based on where you were from, what you were wearing and how authentic you appeared. Although the scene remained under-
ground – gigs and gatherings were held in private spaces, until they found shelter through the protection of the church in the early to mid 1980s – punk clothing and its associated symbols immediately, unmistakably and irrevocably conferred an attitude that was against authority, promoting anarchy, individualism, chaos, disorder and freedom of expression. It thereby stood counter to the SED’s collectivist paternalism and its desire for young people to embody the ‘socialist personality.’ Further, it was contrary to the state’s understanding of artistic and creative endeavor as fulfilling an ideological function, adhering to the doctrine of ‘socialist realism’ - that art should reflect the workers’ struggle - and understanding of music as a way to transmit an ‘optimistic experience of life.’4 This doctrine viewed ‘artistic subjectivity and fantasy, experiments in form, and a pessimistic view of history... as destructive and bourgeois.’5 Punk, with its loud, aggressive, discordant and confrontational music and an aesthetic based on provocative symbols, text and do-it-yourself self-expression,
was contrary to this artistic ideal in almost every conceivable way. No clearer was this exhibited than in modes of punk dress; torn clothing, straight legged jeans, leather jackets, short dyed hair, safety pins, military boots, daubed slogans, band names and symbols, which immediately denoted disengagement from the collectivist ideal, and, to paraphrase punk progenitors Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood’s 1974 t-shirt, clearly showed which side of the bed you were lying on. Becoming punk What punk clothing signified was not merely listening to decadent Western music, which had been the basis for the SED’s objections to Western youth culture since the GDR’s inception, but young people coming into the open and ‘living it.’ The style of punk, its torn clothing, offensive and provocative symbols and slogans such as ‘go and fuck you’ painted on clothing6 conferred not just the enjoyment of a certain type of music, but an adherence to a lifestyle that was not just contrary to the ideology of the
SED state but willfully disengaged from its aims and structure at all levels. For some young people, punk connected with their sense of alienation, anger and disillusionment with the SED regime. As punks in the UK railed against a perception of having ‘no future’, punks in the GDR railed against what they perceived as ‘too much future,’ to use Henryk Gericke’s term.7 The prescribed nature of life in the GDR and lack of individual choice in education, career direction and even leisure time left young people such as Gericke horrified at the prospect of a ‘fixed and foreclosed CV’, determined in advance and almost in absentia.8 The restrictions of socialism were not merely political or geographical: they permeated every aspect of young people’s lives. Consequently, some of those that felt they were themselves creative, curious, imaginative or merely hyperactive, were unwilling to even tacitly accept or participate in the way of life within the GDR. The punk look can be difficult to define due to its combination of creativity and sartorial freedom, with subcultural unifor-
mity. Punk fashion in the GDR was more experimental in its early years, an approximate equivalent of early UK punks’ plundering of ‘the vaults of British youth sub-cultural style’9 exemplified by its ‘chaos of quiffs and leather jackets, brothel creepers and winkle pickers, plimsolls and paka macs, moddy crops and skinhead strides, drainpipes and vivid sock bum freezers and bovver boots – all kept ‘in place’... by the spectacular adhesives: the safety pins and plastic clothes pegs, the bondage straps and bits of string.’10 GDR punk later became ‘more uniform, with military trousers, paratrooper boots from the West [and] leather jackets,’ 11 reflecting in part the violence inherent in the East German scene, but also the propensity of subcultures to develop stricter rules and practices over time. Punk clothing
was also subject to rapid change at an individual level, as East Berlin Punk Pankow says ‘[t]o stand still equalled death. Punks turned into New Romantics or skinheads overnight.’12 A 1980 photograph outside Pankower Youth Club shows the punk trends of straight-legged trousers, short cropped hair, leather jackets, badges, and the ubiquitous anarchy symbol.13 Other shots of individual punks demonstrate a less uniform version of clothing, for example a 1981 Helga Paris photo shows East Berlin punk “Colonel”
in a checked suit and brothel creepers.14 Other punks wear mesh tops, leopard skin tights, studded wristbands, padlocks and chains round their necks, and earrings.15 Hair, as Daniel Kaiser describes ‘had to be short and upright!,’16 and was sometimes fashioned into a mowhawk or dyed. A significant amount of time was spent perfecting the punk look, as Liepzig punk Bernd Stracke says; ‘[w]e worked so hard to look punk that we were almost trendy. We made a big effort over our outfits.’17 The importance of clothing can also be seen in the practice of ‘plucking’ where punks deemed inauthentic, known as ‘plastics’, were robbed of their clothing by those who considered themselves to be authentic, usually punks from East Berlin. This was a particular problem for visiting ‘provincial’ punks such as Stracke from Leipzig, who says ‘when you went to the Plänterwald [a favorite hangout of East German punks], you came home in your undershirt.’18 As in the UK, East German punk was a reaction in part against ‘against a society of lack, equally under-equipped with ma-
terial goods as well as fundamental freedom.’19 This lack of material goods was apparent in the state provision of clothing in the GDR. Although a central tenet of the socialist system was to meet the ‘basic needs’ of the population in line with Marxist-Leninist doctrine20 - and indeed it was for this reason that the SED saw no place for punk in the GDR, with its roots in imperialistic Western culture suffering mass unemployment21 of which there was technically none in East Germany - the SED consistently struggled to meet the consumer, clothing and fashion needs and wants of the population.22 Thus GDR citizens made up for government shortfalls with a combination of a ‘make-do and mend’ culture, clothes sent over from relatives in the west, and, where they could afford to do so, purchased clothes from state-run high-end shops such as Exsquisit, Delicat, or Intershops.23 The rejection, indeed destruction, of SED provided fashion and the creation of individual style was also an implicit rejection of the SED and what it could provide.
Punks rebelled against ‘boring and unacceptable so-called “youth fashion”’ and forged an alternative way of dressing.24 Furthermore, the do-ityourself ethos of punk lent itself to a population used to supplementing available clothing, and made up for the unavailability of ‘punk’ items in clothing shops. One East German punk says ‘since we could not go to a punk boutique, we used quite a lot of handicrafts and even developed our own ideas.’25 Punks sourced clothing from parents’ wardrobes, clothing packages sent over from western relatives or swapped clothes with each other.26 Just as it was necessary for the wider popula-
tion to produce their own clothing to make up for shortages, punks had to find ways of creating outfits. As a result ‘[a]t the beginning, as in other countries too, [punk] was very experimental.’27 For many, punk was a way in which to express discontentment with life in the GDR and for some it was the visual aspect of punk that provided the impetus. The sneering, snotty and provocative look and attitude of punk from the UK, connected with young people who were frustrated, angry and bored. On seeing Johnny Rotten on the cover of the West German youth magazine Bravo, Michael ‘Pankow’ Boehlke ‘ripped
up his jeans right then and there,’ Rotten’s look and demeanor resonating with Boehlke’s anger with his parents, school and the state.28 For others the experience was less immediate and extreme, but no less profound. Henyrk Gericke describes the impact of seeing a picture of King’s Road punks in Die Trommel, the newspaper of the GDR Pioneer Organisation Ernst Thälmann, in an article intended to dissuade young people from the ways of punk: ‘[t]his photo has triggered pretty much everything that happened to me later on. It did put me off somehow, but in a way this irresistibly attracted me to it.29 For Gericke punk seemed like the ‘the landing of aliens’ bringing color to the anaemic East, coupled with energetic music that blew ‘away the rock ballads of accepted East German music.’30 The influence of British punk is very apparent in the East German punk scene. British punk found its way over the Berlin Wall via radio, particularly John Peel’s weekly program on the British Forces
Broadcasting Service, and stations such as Radio in the American Sector and Radio Luxembourg,31 in addition to coverage in magazines and newspapers in both East and West Germany, as seen above. Although US bands were popular amongst punks, in their mode of dress many ‘wanted to look like Johnny Rotten, or the Clash or the Damned.’32 This influence is obvious in the straight legged jeans, leather jackets, badges and chains worn by GDR punks, but also in names of bands such as the UK Subs and Sex Pistols which appear painted on clothing.33 The direct influence is also apparent in photos such as that of Weimar’s Madmen, where one of their members wears a t-shirt with the phrase ‘Ich hasse Pink Floyd’, a direct reference to Johnny Rotten’s self-created ‘I hate Pink Floyd’ t-shirt.34 As well as rebelling against acceptable modes of dress and to a lesser extent, sartorial provision, punk clothing was an integral part of constructing a new identity.35 As commentators on British punk such as David Muggleton have argued, punk should
not merely be seen as a rebellion against macro-historical circumstances but also as an impetus to experimentation with and the expression of identity. 36 Becoming punk was not merely adopting an ‘off-the-peg’ image, particularly for East German punks who had to create the punk look from what they could find and make themselves. As a punk in the UK, Frank Cartledge has described his own assimilation of punk fash-
By dressing and behaving outside of the prescribed norms of the GDR, young people accessed a sense of release [...] from their perception of ‘too much future’
ion as a ‘fractured and chaotic assembly of an identity’ that involved experimentation with clothing and hairstyle over a period of time.37 This can also be applied in the case of East German punks, who saw in punk not only a vehicle for the expression of directionless political discontentment but also a form in which to forge their own sense of identity according to their own terms. As Pankow puts it, how ‘you composed yourself started with your style38 and the destruction-creativity dynamic of punk lent itself to the de- and reconstruction of identity, embodied in what you called yourself, what you wore and how you behaved. This can be seen in the tearing up of clothing and pinning it back together, and the number of punks who changed their names: Mario Schulz became Colonel, Michael Boehlke became Pankow (and both are still known by those names today), and other punks adopted alternative names such as Major, Fatzo and N. By dressing and behaving outside of the prescribed norms of the GDR, young people accessed a sense of release – tem-
porarily at least – from their perception of ‘too much future’ within the physical boundaries of East German state. Punks such as Gericke ‘were no longer GDR citizens, [they] behaved as if they were in London and had fled the country though still being present within it,’39 although this sense of escape could not conceivably last long under the watchful eyes of the police and Stasi. For punk and artist Cornelia Schleime, whose artistic ambitions were curtailed by her reluctance to adhere to socialist realism, punk facilitated a way to distance ‘yourself from the present, fight against it and change yourself.’40 This release also came simply through having fun, forging friendships, and generally ‘running wild.’ 41 Despite being later arrested and suffering a breakdown, Planlos drummer Mita Schamal, says of her days as a punk; ‘you left your parents house and finally it was clear... you were going to have some fun.’42 Anarchy in the GDR A consistent feature in punk clothing is the anarchy symbol, standing for ‘not Anarchy,
but chaos.’43 The anarchy symbol is apparent across a range of photography from this period; it is worn on badges, painted on clothing, it appears on walls, a 1980 photo shows a punk with it painted on his cheek.44 In the UK the designs of Westwood and McLaren threw together a confusion and profusion of symbolism to demystify their meaning; for example their 1977 anarchy shirt displayed anarchy symbols, swastikas, pictures of Karl Marx and Mao Zedong alongside nudie playing cards,45 confusing associated meaning by displaying several contradictory symbols at once. As Sex Pistols graphic designer Jamie Reid says ‘[i]n the same week we would be accused, quite seriously, of being National Front, and in the next breath you were made communists and anarchists.’46 Although there are some recorded instances of a profusion of images and slogans by East German punks (Pankow describes wearing a t shirt with an ‘RAF logo, machine gun [and] yellow star armband’ alongside the Rosa Luxembourg slogan ‘when justice becomes injustice resistance becomes a duty’, for which
he was promptly interrogated by police47), the anarchy symbol often appears in singular use, allowing it to retain its meaning of chaos, disorder, individualism and the rejection of authority48 - all of which stood contrary to the aims of the SED state, not merely at a political level, but on a social
level as well. One of the most shocking symbols used by British punks, and US proto-punks such as the New York Dolls, was the swastika and other Nazi insignia. This use of highly provocative symbolism proved shocking to both the British media and that of West Germany, being featured in magazines such as Stern, which showed in its 1977 coverage a punk at Londonâ€™s Roxy Club wearing a Nazi shirt with leather trousers.49 However, in the photos and testimony of East German punks, the swastika hardly features at all. This was in part because use of the fascist symbol was simply too dangerous in a state which had founded itself on the ashes of National
Socialism and saw itself as contrary to its West German neighbor, who it accused of retaining many former Nazis in high level official positions. Indeed, the Berlin Wall was consistently defended by the East German government as an ‘anti-fascist barrier’ and one of their long running objections to western music was that it made young people ‘prone to fascist seduction.’50 Further, unlike UK punks, this generation of East Germans still had familial links to Germany’s Nazi past and had a more complex relationship with their ‘war generation’ who were not characterized by a heroic collective spirit and for surviving on rations, but for fighting on the side of fascism. Uwe, a punk featured in a 1983 Observer article exemplifies this point when talking about his outfit, his trousers having belonged to his grandfather who was in the Nazi SS (Schutzstaffel, Protection Squadron). He says of him ‘they hanged him too, the Nazi shite.’51 Although the SED state consistently and vehemently opposed fascism, far right extremism in the GDR was seen as ‘a less
serious threat’ than the punk scene and thereby afforded greater tolerance by the regime.52 It was not until violence erupted between the two groups at the Berlin Zionkirche in October 1987 that a concerted crackdown on far-right skinheads began.53 Seemingly, the anarchic nature of punk was more threatening to the SED regime, since it was a way of life based on chaotic individualism and anti-authority, and as such not contained within an ideological framework on the political spectrum. Punk’s willful individualism and political non-alignment was perceived by the state to be as much of a threat as its ‘traditional’ far right enemy. This political non-alignment also worked the other way, and there are far less references to socialist figures or symbols than use of the anarchy symbol or references to British bands. One example is the 1982 photo of Weimar’s Madmen, where the guitarist is wearing a Freie Deutsche Jugend (Free German Youth, the East German youth organsiation) shirt, unbuttoned to the waist, teamed with sunglasses and jeans
Punk facilitated the expression of discontentment and anger, under the umbrella of a chaotic and shifting subculture with turn-ups.54 However, generally inversion of socialist symbols of iconography is not a prevalent trend in East German punk â€“ rather their symbols and references denote detachment and disengagement with traditional political structures and ideology. Symbols and clothing in early East German punk were provocative and rebellious by their very nature, and it was for this reason that they appealed to many young people in East Germany who were
bored, angry and frustrated by life in the GDR. Punk facilitated the expression of discontentment and anger, under the umbrella of a chaotic and shifting subculture. It explicitly signified a disengagement and contempt for the state and its socialist aims. Punk was appealing due to the political circumstances in the GDR, felt by individuals on a daily basis, on a very personal level. The subsequent reaction of the state necessarily politicized punk, but the motivation for becoming punk was not necessarily political in a directional or oppositional sense.55 What should be considered in equal weight is punksâ€™ facilitation in the construction of identity, based on individualism, freedom of expression, destroying the old and creating something new. Furthermore, punk clothing signified a refusal to engage in the SEDâ€™s socialist project but also, at a personal level, it allowed young people to express themselves sartorially, artistically and musically, which in itself was rebellious and provocative in the eyes of the state. Through punk young people could access a sense of freedom, escape
and quite simply, fun, even if in reality this would be short-lived under the pressure of state and Stasi repercussions. Endnotes 1 Dennis, M., with the assistance as translator of Brown, P., 2003. The Stasi: Myth and Reality, Harlow: Pearson/Longman, p161. 2 Simpson, P. A. (2000), Germany and Its Discontents: Die Skeptiker’s Punk Corrective. The Journal of Popular Culture, XXXIV: 129–140. doi: 10.1111/j.00223840.2000.3403_129.x 3 Dale, G., 2005. Popular protest in East Germany, 1945-1989, London: Frank Cass, New York: Routledge, p94. 4 Mass, G., and Reszel., H., 1998. ‘Whatever happened to...: The Decline and Renaissance of Rock in the Former GDR’, Popular Music, Vol.17, No. 3 (Oct., 1998), pp267-277, p286. 5 Wallace, Ian (ed). The G.D.R. under Honecker: 19711981, University of Dundee, 1981, p35. 6 Havemeister H. and Galenza, R., 1999. Wir wollen immer artig sein, Punk, New Wave, HipHop, Independent-Szene in der DDR 1980-1990, Berlin: Schwarzkopf & Schwarzkopf, p17 7Gericke, H., 2007. ‘Too Much Future’ in Boehlke, M., and Gericke, H. (eds). Punk in der DDR: Too Much Future, Berlin, Verbrecher Verlag, pp 7 – 31. 8 Ibid, p9 9 Osgerby, B., 1998. Youth in Britain since 1945, Oxford: Blackwell, p106. 10 Hebdige, D., 1979. Subculture: the meaning of style, London: Methuen, p26. 11 Questionnaire response from Henryk Gericke, 17 Feb. 2010. 12 Boehlke, M., 2007. ‘Stunde Null’ in Boehlke, M., and Gericke, H. (eds.). Punk in der DDR: Too Much Future, Berlin, Verbrecher Verlag, p43. 13 Ibid, p220. 14 Boehlke, M., Gericke, H., Seymour, G., von Wild, F.,
2009. In Grenzen Frei: Mode Fotographie Underground DDR 1979 – 89, Bielefeld/Leipzig, Kerber verlag, pp33. 15 See Boehlke and Gericke for a selection of photographs. 16 Mrozek, B., 2007. ‘Irgendwas muß geschehen/Interview mit der Band Planlos’ in Boehlke, M., and Gericke, H. (eds.), 2007. Punk in der DDR: Too Much Future, Berlin, Verbrecher Verlag, p48. 17 Fiebeler, C. (dir), 2008. Ostpunk! Too Much Future. 18 Ibid. 19 ‘Chaos in numbers: examination of a circumstance,’ Too Much Future, SUBstitut last accessed 12 May 2012, http://www.toomuchfuture.de/english/index.php. 20 Stitziel, J., 2005. Fashioning socialism: clothing, politics and consumer culture in East Germany, Oxford: Berg 21 ‘Wer sind die Punks?‘, Die Trommel: Zeitung für Thälmannpioniere und Schüler, 31 Jahrgang 1978, p5. 22 Stitziel, p167. 23 Ibid, p164. 24 My translation. Questionnaire response 17 Feb. 2010. 25 My translation. ‘Interviews: Punk in der DDR’, Ox Fanzines: Punkrock, Hardcore, Rock ‘n’ Roll #72, n.pag., Ox Verlag, last accessed 12 May 2012, http:// www.ox-fanzine.de/web/itv/2500/interviews.212.html. 26 My translation. Questionnaire response. 27 Ibid. 28 Paulick, J., ‘Revisiting East German punk’, Deutsche Welle, last accessed 12 May 2012, http://www.dwworld.de/dw/article/0,,1694126,00.html. 29 My translation. Questionnaire response 17 Feb. 2010. 30 Gericke, ‘Too Much Future’, pp25- 5. 31 My translation. ‘Interviews: Punk in der DDR’ 32 My translation. Questionnaire response 17 Feb. 2010. 33 Gericke, ‘Too Much Future’, p23 34 Savage, J., 2001. England’s Dreaming: The Sex Pistols and Punk Rock, London: Faber, p114. 35 For a more in-depth analysis see Gerrard, K., ‘Punk and the State of Youth in the GDR,’ in The Socialist
Beat in the Soviet Block,due for publication Autumn 2012. 36 Muggleton, D., 2000. Inside subculture: the postmodern meaning of style, Oxford: Berg, p2. 37 Cartledge, F., ‘Distress to impress? Local punk fashion and commodity exchange’ in Sabin, R. (ed.), 1999. Punk rock: so what? The cultural legacy of punk, London: Routledge, p143. 38 Boehlke and Gericke, p35. 39 Gericke, ‘Too Much Future’, pp25- 5. 40 Fiebeler, Ostpunk! 41 Gericke, ‘Too Much Future’, pp25- 5. 42 Fiebeler, Ostpunk! 43 Havemeister and Galenza, p20. 44 Boehlke and Gericke, p29. 45 Gorman, P., 2006. The look: adventures in rock & pop fashion, London: Adelita, p146. 46 Savage, J., 2009. The England’s dreaming tapes, London: Faber, p443. 47 Mrozek, p57. 48 Dale, p95. 49 Almquist, P., 1977. ‘Punk-Rock’, Stern 43/77, n.pag., last accessed 12 May 2012, http://www.highdive.de/ over/stern1.htm. 50 Poiger, U.G., 2000. Jazz, rock, and rebels: cold war politics and American culture in a divided Germany, Berkeley, California: University of California Press, p1. 51 Walker. I., 1983. ‘Children of the Berlin Wall: Punk is thriving behind the Iron Curtain: a remarkable report on the youth of East Germany‘, Observer colour magazine, 28 August 1983, p9. 52 Dennis, p167. 53 Ibid, pp167-70. 54 Boehlke and Gericke, p124. 55 Dale, pp 93-4.
KATE GERRARD researched East German punk for her MA in Modern European History at the University of Sussex. She has since presented conference papers on the subject and has a chapter ‘Punk and the state of youth in the GDR’ in the volume The Socialist Beat in the Soviet Bloc, due to be published autumn 2012 (Lexington Books). She currently works in Communications for an international NGO and is based in Brighton, where she is also one of its many musicians.
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ARTICLE TWO ARTICLE FIVE
An ambivalent union: punks and skinheads
An ambivalent union: subcultural style and ideology in the relationship of punks and skinheads in the former Czechoslovakia and present-day Czech Republic1 By: Hedvika Novotná & Martin Heřmanský Charles University in Prague, Faculty of Humanities
he world of subcultures seems to be a meaning-making setting not just regarding analysis and interpretation of social phenomena associated with the lives of youth in contemporary society, but it is also a kind of initiator of social-political processes. No matter how important the latter aspect is (in the Czech Republic at least in the second half of 20th century), we would like to focus primarily on processes inside these social worlds. We will try to assess the issue of relation between punks and skinheads in its whole scope and analyze which internal and external factors influenced their character and mutual relation in the former Czechoslova-
kia and contemporary Czech Republic. Using an example of relations between punks and skinheads, we will try to show to what extent a subcultural identity is formed by subcultural style and/or subcultural ideology. And also how different accents placed on one or the other creates such configurations that significantly influence the character of the subculture and possibly also its relations to another subculture. We understand a subculture according to the anthropological concept of culture in its widest sense, as a group characterized by a specific set of norms, values, behavioral patterns and lifestyle which distinguish itself from a dominant society. Even though punks and skinheads are usually designated as youth subcultures, in our understanding its more important major characteristic is shared musical style.2 Its ideological message alongside other (sub)cultural features (particularly visual attributes) constitute a basis for the construction of subcultural identity of a particular subculture’s members. According to Norwegian anthropologist T. H. Eriksen: ‘[m]usical discours-
es are fields where identities are shaped, and for this reason, the global flow of popular music can be a fruitful field for studying contemporary cultural dynamics...â€™.3 Based on the constructivist paradigm, we see an identity as multiple, changing, situational and performative.4 Subcultural identity is then a shared belonging to a subculture by
Appolitical skinheads in Brno, after 2000. Source: Archive of band Operace Artaban.
internalizing its subcultural ideology, i.e. a set of specific values, norms and attitudes shared by its members,5 which also serves as a means to relate to the dominant society. Members of a subculture demonstrate their subcultural identity through their subcultural style, consisting of image, demeanor and argot,6 while it is negotiated within subculture by distinctive individuality of individual members of subculture.7 These negotiations within a subculture are based on subcultural capital8, consisting of accumulated knowledge and artifacts associated with subculture. But the accent put on one or the other can differ with differ-
ent subcultures, periods and individuals. Subcultural capital then takes part in creating hierarchy within the subcultural group (or scenes) which also impacts its character. Because of the stress we put on both ideology and style, we do not use the term ‘counterculture’9, which emphasizes ideology at the expense of style. Analytical concepts of ‘neo-tribe’10 or ‘clubculture’11 are related more to contemporary social reality and thus do not allow us to compare punks and skinheads in diachronic perspective. Our paper is based on our own research and also on data gathered in research by our students at the Faculty of Humanities, Charles University, who undertake a great deal of primary research. All of this research was based on a qualitative research strategy focusing on an emic perspective of our informants and subsequent etic interpretation of gathered data within the framework of contemporary subcultural or post-subcultural theories. Based on the analysis of this data, we identified four ‘periods’ characterized by
different relations between these two subcultures or at least their sections. It is important to note that the ‘periods’ serve only as a framework tool and vary depending on local circumstances (e.g. in center and in periphery). Before 1989 - Punks and skins united In the beginning the shape of subcultures was largely formed by the political establishment (communist dictatorship), or more precisely its repressive tools. Information from the West penetrated through the ‘Iron Curtain’ with great difficulty. While it was possible (even legal) to acquire western music (LPs and cassettes), the core of subcultural style and even subcultural ideology was much harder to know. Thus the beginnings of punk, dating back to the end of the 1970s, came in the form of musical inspiration for a few experimental musicians – as in the USA, it was rooted more in intellectuals than in the working class. With the spread of punk rock music among a growing segment of contempo-
rary youth, the spread of other elements of punk, primarily its style, took place. The boom of punk rock bands came in the second half of the 1980s. It was only at this time that we can speak of punk subculture per se, in a sense that the social world was constituted not only of musicians, but also of their audience sharing the same punk identity. But this subculture was linked to its intellectual beginnings in Czechoslovakia
just by its music genre. Its milieu was, as in case of British punk, working class youth, who had only one possible future under the communist regime: to work in a factory without a chance of advancement and without a chance to escape communist mediocrity and boredom. The communist regime was almost completely successful in isolating its citizens from the Western world – be it physical isolation (such as the inability to travel abroad) or ideological (such as censorship of information, foreign mass media and limited language education). This situation contributed significantly to the nature of punk subculture. The contemporary punks usually did not speak English at all and thus did not understand the lyrics of the songs of their idols, in addition Punk as a lifestyle, late 1990s. to their unawareness Source: Collection of photography of the Institute of Ethnology, the Academy of Sciences of of corresponding subthe Czech Republic, v. v. i. – Department Brno. Photo: Jiřina Kosíková.
cultural ideology carried by these lyrics. After all, they were not intellectuals, they were primarily working class youth. Subcultural capital was thus built on the basis of subcultural style, which was also endowed with considerable personal effort, because clothing elements which should form the punk style were as hard to obtain as music or subcultural ideology. The DIY principle was thus more a necessity than an ideology. The available clothing elements were adjusted to roughly resemble images gained from limited foreign sources (LP covers and especially German music magazine Bravo). As a typical example, the dyeing of white medical trousers or airbrushing of working boots or Czech military boots. At this point, it is important to note, that the communist regime absolutely did not endorse individuality. Considerable visual difference from the mainstream, as well as denial of ‘positive’ social values, was the reason why the communist regime ascribed punks with the role of opposition and as such exposed it to strong repres-
sion. And maybe it was one of the reasons why punk became even more attractive to some young people: ‘we wanted to be different, and this was the most different thing we knew’ (Tuner, male, 43). From this milieu emerged the first skinheads at the end of 80s, as a kind of small and unique part of contemporary punk scene. Both subcultures at first listened to similar music (punk and oi), met each other in common events (concerts, pubs,
It was not uncommon for someone to listen to the Exploited, the Clash or the Sex Pistols and at the same time be racist and not see it as a problem
etc.) and except for some individuals, they both preferred subcultural style to subcultural ideology, which they knew almost nothing about12. ‘Thus it was not uncommon for someone to listen to The Exploited, The Clash or The Sex Pistols, and at the same time be racist and not see it as a problem.’ (Scribe, male, 41). The absence of subcultural ideology was substituted by opposition against the communist regime as an establishment. This position, into which they were forced by the same regime, was a key element in the unity of these subcultures. After 1989 - Punks and skins as enemies An important turning point in relations between these two subcultures became the so called ‘Velvet Revolution’, the fall of the communist regime in the fall
of 1989. Both subcultures lost their common enemy. With the ‘fall of the iron curtain’ information from the West started to pour into Czechoslovakia, which led to politicization of some segments of both subcultures. The ideological core of punks founded an organized anarchistic movement and started to organize various protest marches (usually against racism, neo-Nazism,
DIY Mohawk, early 2000s. Source: Collection of photography of the Institute of Ethnology, the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic, v. v. i. – Department Brno. Photo: Petr Baran.
globalization, European Union, etc.). The core skinheads split into three factions – patriots, neo-Fascists, and neo-Nazis. Both these trends were significantly supported from abroad. In early 1990s, an indisputable role was played by the skinhead band Orlík, which became so popular that they were even featured in mainstream media (e.g. Top-twenty in state television) despite being openly racist in their lyrics. Due to the band’s popularity, almost every young person listened to Orlík and skinheads became mass subculture. There were dozens of small groups of so called ‘kinder skins’, young skinheads around 13 to 15 years old, in the streets of Czech cities, who listen to Orlík and accepted the message of its ‘patriotic’ lyrics. Punks on the other hand did not become such a mass phenomenon, which led to a considerable imbalance in the numbers of members of both subcultures. Ideological antagonism of both politicized subcultures, which was to a great extent due to Western influence, a phe-
nomenon that was also reproduced in the context of Czechoslovakia, e.g. in the lyrics of the aforementioned skinhead band Orlík. But it was stripped of its political context and became an antagonism based on membership in the subculture. Thus Orlík sang: ‘Hey cock-a-doodle-doo, beware of oi, don’t go into streets, be afraid of skinheads...’13 or ‘Bomber jackets, shaved heads, were seen in a pub every day, no punks were allowed to go there after ten p.m....’14 Openly violent conflicts among punks and skinheads, originally based on antagonistic political ideology, became conflicts based on the perceived antagonism of these subcultures. This was supported by mass media images of these subcultures, which were constantly reproduced throughout the 90s, and which in some moments took the form of moral panic15. Skinheads were thus depicted exclusively as neo-fascists and neo-Nazis, punks on the other hand as anarchists, antisocial elements and junkies. In the early 1990s the border between
punks and skinheads was demarcated by a mutually negative relationship. Punks became ‘game animals’ to skinheads and they perceived them as their ‘biggest enemies’. Also significant was the fact that younger members did not remember the former alliance of both subcultures. The larger scale of popularity also did not enable the mainting of relations between these subcultures on an interpersonal basis, which was instead replaced by relations based on subcultural ideology, or more precisely
its perception, by the other subculture usually in its stereotyped version reproduced by mass media. Despite the experience of members of both subcultures that remembered the aforementioned strong ties before ‘the Velvet revolution’, the distinction between punks and skinheads became crucial, regardless of the particular ideology of a given group. Punks and skinheads became viewed by both subcultures as opposites. Even the style of both subcultures became a manifestation of this distinction regardless of the sub-styles of each subculture. A clearly delineated border between these subcultures was possible to cross only occasionally – and only on an interpersonal basis and in specific contexts. An important change also occurred in respect to the class structure of both subcultures. Neither one nor the other was exclusively based in the working class; on the contrary, both of them could be found across all social strata.
Ideologization of punks, Street Party, 2002. Source: Collection of photography of the Institute of Ethnology, the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic, v. v. i. – Department Brno. Photo: Petr Baran.
Second half of the 1990s - Punks and skins: border crossing As time went on particular ideological currents started to polarize within both subcultures. It also brought more emphasis on adequate subcultural ideology of a given current, but also on ideology coming from the tradition of the subculture. This led mainly to an increase in antifascist skinheads, be it just a few redskins and RASH (Red and Anarchist Skinheads), or more numerous SHARPs (Skinhead against Racial Prejudice) and traditional, apolitical skinheads. Many SHARPs were recruited from former patriot skinheads influenced by the band Orlík. Although the rise of neo-Nazis and neo-fascist skinheads is attributed specifically to the influence of the band Orlík, many informants saw them as an alternative to these ideologies. ‘SHARPS appeared late in this city [Jablonec nad Nisou], so I think that the patriotism of Orlík was the best thing that had been there at that time. If it wasn’t for Orlík, we would all be chanting “Sieg heil”.‘16
This trend was visibly manifested in subcultural style, which was aimed primarily at distinguishing particular currents within the subculture. Formerly undistinguished all-skinhead style (consisting of bomber jacket, army boots and jeans or army camouflaged trousers), in which subcultural ideology was manifested just by using particular patches, started to be more and more specific. The intentional choice of ‘skinhead’ brands such as Lonsdale, Everlast and Ben Sherman on one hand and brands like Thor Steinar on the other, became more and more frequent. There was also another trend which affected the style and this one came from the suppression of subcultural ideology of both subcultures, often with regard to common historical roots. Among some within the subculture, influenced by this trend, the blending of skinhead and punk style took place. It happened both among punks17 and skinheads18. But it did not mean any crisis of their subcultural identity as it remained unchanged and unchallenged. This phenomenon cannot be under-
stood just as a consequence of the commodification of both subcultural styles. Even though specialized stores with so called ‘street fashion’ appeared and they were frequented not just by members of both subcultures but also by mainstream shoppers, it is more accurate to interpret utilization of elements of ‘other’ subcultural style as a deliberate declaration of sympathy, apolitical attitude and obviously also anti-racism (by skinheads) or recognition of its absence among some skinheads (by punks). Thus some parts of both subcultures became close to each other again, but not
Punks and skinheads in punk music festival Antifest XIII., Svojšice, 2007. Photo: RayeR.
on the basis of ignorance of subcultural ideology, but just the opposite, on the basis of its intimate knowledge. Thus the ideology is then either emphasized (as among apolitical, traditional skinheads) or suppressed (as among skunks). Turn of the millennium - Punks and skins: similarly different Then came the steady withdrawal from politics by the core of both subcultures. Since the 1990s, anarchist punks were gradually retreating from punk and became anarchists without the necessity of being declared punks. Among skinheads leaders of neo-Nazi, neo-fascist and patriotic organizations, which used to use skinheads as pawns, they chose new strategies by which they wanted to enter politics and for this aim the image of skinheads as brutes was inconvenient. At the same time, major new subcultures that created opposition to mainstream culture, started to emerge in Czech society. Be it ravers, in Czech called freetekno (seen by mainstream as junkies and
asocial elements), hip hoppers (who are seen as vandals who devastate public space with graffiti) and later emos (seen as self-harmers and suicides). Because of the new moral panic concerning these subcultures, which were talking about by mass media, these subcultures became much more provocative than punks and skinheads and thus became more interesting for youth who wanted to be seen as non-conformist. At the same time, the image of punks as anarchists and skinheads as neo-Nazis ceased to interest the mass media as new subcultures caught their attention. This might be the reason why there has been a decrease of skinheads that manifest themselves as anti-racists (mainly SHARPs) in favor of apolitical skinheads. It seems, that with the vanishing image of skinheads as neo-Nazis (be it due to the outflow of neo-Nazi oriented individuals or due to the lack of interest in skinheads by the media ), the rest do not feel the need to manifest their identity as active anti-racists (SHARP), but the identity of traditional
skinhead.19 Ongoing commodification of punks and skinheads led to the ‘incorporation’ of their styles into the mainstream, be it due to pop idols like Madonna, who in some phase of her career appropriated punk subcultural style or due to the coming of new wave pop-punk bands (like Green Day, Offsprings, Blink 182, Sum 41, in the Czech and Slovak Republics e.g. Iné Kafe, Jaksi Taksi or Rybičky 48), which brought the punk into the mainstream, , without clear distinctive attributes of style or ideology. The commodification and ideological emptiness of these subcultures led, for example, many punks to embrace ravers’ subculture (freetekno), probably as an alternative opportunity to be free, liberated and non-conformist. Conclusion Using this example of changing relations between punks and skinheads, we asked two interrelated questions: (1) To what extent a subcultural identity is formed by subcultural style and/or subcultural ideol-
ogy and (2) how different accents placed on one or the other creates such configurations that significantly influence the character of the subculture and possibly also its relations to another subculture. As we have shown in our paper, focusing on subcultural style or subcultural ideology creates not just different kinds of subcultures, but also different kinds of mutual relations among them. It is important to note that in the case of Czech punks and skinheads, both place an emphasis on the same aspect – be it style or ideology. We believe that it was due to the constant need to define themselves in relation to each other. As we assert, it was due to their interconnection which started in the beginning of their emergence in the Czech Republic and the similar position into which they were forced into by the communist regime. Just as they were interconnected in the course of their history, they now face the same problem. In the era of late modernity / post-modernity, in which ‘everything’ is possible and ‘no one’ is watching the
visage of others, punk and skinhead style cease to be a manifestation of difference. What’s significant is any difference from the mainstream, but not the one based on a defined style, but the one that is ideological. Visage is not meant to classify but to individualize. Polhemus’s ‘supermarket of styles’20 also becomes a ‘supermarket of ideologies, music and behavior’. As a typical example, bands consisting of members of different subcultures, playing musical
Cover of the first LP of Czech skinhead band Orlík, released in 1990. Source: authors’ archive.
genres that do not correspond to any of the subcultures the band members are a part of. Ideological difference which is appreciated today (as is manifested in bio food, farmers’ markets, natural birth, communal living, etc.), cannot be subsumed under any subcultural label. External signs are no longer outrageous and also cannot express ideology hidden behind them. The question of whether it is possible to use the traditional concept of subculture (as defined by CCCS scholars) as an analytic tool for studying contemporary subcultural groups characterized by their fluidity and hybridity has several answers. In case we omit its class determinations, we believe that there are at least two formations to which this concept can be applied. The first one are the young members of the subcultural who want to be recognized as members of a particular subculture with its distinct style and ideology such as punks, skinheads, hip hoppers, and more recently- emos. The second determination consists of the old subculture members, who want to be recognized as
such on special occasions, like at concerts. While for most of their daily life, they appear as regular, mainstream people, on these occasions they again embrace a distinct subcultural style. But there are also two other groups who resist the use of this classical concept. The first ones are older members of the subculture who kind of outgrow these distinct subcultures and are prone to hybridizations and fluidity of subcultural identities and who became post-subculturalists (in Muggleton’s meaning21). And the second are people who deny any labels and stive for maximal individualization and differentiation thought the concept of an ‘alternative’. They are characterized by indistinct style but somehow clearly defined ideology which can be conceptualized by Maffesoli’s (2002) concept of urban-tribes.22 Endnotes 1. This publication was supported by the The Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports - Institutional Support of the Longterm Development of Research Organizations - UK FHS (2012). 2 See David Hesmondhalgh, ‘Subcultures, Scenes or Tribes? None of the Above’ in Journal of Youth Studies, 8(1), 2005, pp21-40. 3 Thomas Hylland Eriksen, Small Places, Large Issues: An Introduction to Social and Cultural Anthro-
pology, 2nd ed., London: Pluto Press, 2001, p299. 4 See Richard Jenkins, Social Identity, 3rd ed., London: Routledge, 2008. 5 Martin Heřmanský & Hedvika Novotná, ‘Hudební subkultury’ [Musical subcultures] in Petr Janeček (ed.), Folklor atomového věku. Kolektivně sdílené prvky expresivní kultury v soudobé české společnosti [Folklore of the Atomic Era. Collectively Shared Features of Expresive Culture in Contemporary Czech Society], Prague: National Museum & Charles University, Faculty of Humanies, 2011, p94. 6 Mike Brake, Comparative Youth Culture: the Sociology of Youth Cultures and Youth Subcultures in America, Britain and Canada, London: Routledge, 1990; also Dick Hebdige, Subculture: the Meaning of Style, London: Methuen, 1979. 7 See David Muggleton, Inside Subculture: the Postmodern Meaning of Style, Oxford: Berg, 2000. 8 Sarah Thornton, Club Cultures: Music, Media and Subcultural Capital, Cambridge: Polity Press, 1995. 9 Theodore Roszak , The Making of a Counter Culture: Reflections on the Technocratic Society and its Youthful Opposition. Garden City: Anchor, 1969. 10 Michel Maffesoli, The Time of the Tribes: the Decline of Individualism in Mass Society. London: Sage, 1996. 11 Sarah Thornton, Club Cultures: Musíc …, op. cit.; Steve Redhead, Subculture to Clubcultures: an Introduction to Popular Cultural Studies, Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1997. 12 Karel Zástěra, ‘K některým otázkám okrajových skupin dělnické mládeže (Punk a jeho charakteristické rysy)’ [On some issues of marginal groups of working-class youth (Punk and its charactetistics)], in Zpravodaj KSVI pro etnografii a folkloristiku, 2, 1991. 13 In original: ‘Hej kykyrý, dej si pozor na Oi! Nechoď do ulic, skinheadů se boj.’ The word ‘kykyrý’ means in Czech the sound of a rooster. It refers to similarity between rooster‘s comb and mohawk hairstyle, which is also sometimes refered to as a rooster. Orlík: Až nás bude víc. Album Live – Delta (1989). See. Ladislav Ašenbrener et al., Encyklopedie čs. alternativní scény [Encyclopaedia of Czech Alternative Scene]. [online] Available at: <http://www.projektpunk.cz/obsah/O/Orlik/Live-delta/> [accessed in 2.12.2011].
14 In original: ‘Bomber, holou hlavu, v Orlíku jsi viděl každej den. Žádnéj pankáč, po desátý večer nesměl sem.’ Orlík: Orlík. Op. cit. 15 Stanley Cohen, Folk Devils and Moral Panics: Creation of Mods and Rockers. 3rd ed., London: Taylor & Francis, 2002. 16 Jiří Dvořák, Vývoj vzájemného vztahu punkové a skinheadské subkultury od 80. let 20. století do současnosti na území Liberecka a Jablonecka (historicko-antropologická sonda) [Development of Mutual Relationship between Punks and Skinheads in Region of Liberec and Jablonec from 1980s till 2000s], unpublished bachelor thesis, Prague: Charles University, Faculty of Humanies, 2006, p37. 17 Kristýna Klozarová, Vizuální atributy punkové subkultury v Československu, respektive v České republice a na Slovensku v 80. a 90. letech 20. století [Visual Attributes of Punk Subculture in Czech and Slovak Republic in 1980s and 1990s], unpublished bachelor thesis, Prague: Charles University, Faculty of Humanies, 2004. 18 Jiří Dvořák, Vývoj vzájemného …, op. cit. 19 Tomáš Novotný, S.H.A.R.P. - Skinheadi proti rasovým předsudkům. Příklad současné Prahy. [S.H.A.R.P. – Skinheads Against Racial Prejudice. Case of Contemporary Prague], unpublished bachelor thesis, Prague: Charles University, Faculty of Humanies, 2011. 20 Ted Polhemus, Streetstyle: from Sidewalk to Catwalk, New York: Thames and Hudson, 1994. 21 David Muggleton, Inside Subculture: the Postmodern …, op. cit. 22 Michel Maffesoli, The Time of the Tribes …, op. cit.
Hedvika Novotná, Mgr. (b. 1974) is a socio-cultural anthropologist, Head of the Department of Social Studies of Bachelor Degree Study Program of Liberal Arts and the Humanities at the Faculty of Humanities, Charles University in Prague. In her PhD dissertation she focuses on the issue of the Jewish minority in Czechoslovakia after World War II. The discursive framework of individual and collective memory she also addresses in ethnographic team research of the Slovak post-rural community. She is also concerned with various issues of urban anthropology (subcultures, continuity and discontinuity of city space). She is editor-in-chief of English edition of the scholarly journal Urban People.
Martin Heřmanský, Mgr. (b. 1976) is a socio-cultural anthropologist working as a teaching fellow at the Faculty of Humanities, Charles University in Prague. Besides issue of youth subcultures, his research interests include body modifications and North American Indians. Since 2008 he also participates on long-term team ethnographic fieldwork of Slovak postrural community. In his PhD dissertation he addresses the issue of body piercing as a transgressive practice in youth (sub)culture and its commodification in contemporary Czech society.
Joni Mitchell ‘I Wasn’t a Protest Singer When It Was 1 Fashionable’ : Joni Mitchell: Music & Feminism By: Ruth Charnock
n Richard Curtis’ 2003 film Love Actually, Emma Thompson’s beleaguered wife, Karen, is wrapping presents with her soonto-be-unfaithful husband, Harry (Alan Rickman). Playing in the background is Joni Mitchell’s anti-Christmas Christmas song ‘River’, with Mitchell singing of a ‘selfish and sad’ lover who has ‘gone and lost the best baby that [she] ever had.’2 Listening to ‘River’, Harry and Karen have the fol-
lowing exchange: Harry: ‘What is this we’re listening to?’ Karen: ‘Joni Mitchell.’ Harry: ‘I can’t believe you still listen to Joni Mitchell.’ Karen: ‘I love her and true love lasts a lifetime. Joni Mitchell is the woman who taught your cold English wife how to feel.’ Harry: ‘Did she? Oh, well, that’s good, I must write to her sometime and say thanks.’3 Here, Karen’s attachment to the singer4 registers for her husband and the audience as anachronistic – Harry cannot be-
lieve that his wife still listens to Joni Mitchell. In the 2010 film, The Kids Are All Right, Annette Bening’s character Nic sings ‘All I Want’ at the dinner table, accompanied by sperm-donor Paul (Mark Ruffalo) - much to the embarrassment of her children and partner Jules (played by Julianne Moore). Heartfelt and tuneless, Benning’s rendering is an especially uncomfortable moment in a film constructed around such moments. The scene registers both Ben-
Excessive, embarrassing, too sensitive, Mitchell’s songs have made frequent appearances in popular culture to signify the overattached woman
ning’s nostalgia for the girl who ‘spent half of high school in my room crying to that album [Blue]’5 and her growing distance from her partner, who looks first bemused then horrified by her partner’s off-key reverie. In Zooey Deschanel’s New Girl, Jess (played by Deschanel) lies fetal on her floor, listening to ‘River’ on loop, further inscribing its cultural status as a breakup song. There is a communal sigh of relief when Jess is finally persuaded to turn the record off. As housemate Winston puts it ‘‘I liked it when you played it for the first time at 10 o’clock last night. I liked it a little bit less at 2 a.m., and now I’m kind of hoping that the sun comes up, thaws that river, and that woman drowns.’’6 Excessive, embarrassing, too sensitive, Mitchell’s songs have made frequent appearances in popular culture to signify the over-attached woman: lost in the music and drowning in her own feelings. Figured in these spaces, hers is music to wallow in, music for breaking up, breaking down, for when you feel heartbroken - even when it is unclear who has done the breaking. Yet the
Feminists have been cranky about Mitchell - especially about her refusal to identify herself as a feminist acuity and range of feeling in Mitchell’s work is simplified into female mourning in the depictions above. Moreover, such accounts underplay the breadth, subject matter and influence of Mitchell’s oeuvre, not least the role her music has played and continues to play in the cultural imaginary of the 1960s and 70s, in particular. This is not to fall into the same error as Alan Rickman’s Harry – Mitchell’s music has lost none of its punch or relevance and, arguably, the majority of her lyrics have stood the test of time - even if the production on certain of her albums has not. As Sheila Weller has said’her music [is] a form of sociology, of social history. You can read many of the cultural chang-
es of the ‘60s generation in her songs.’7 Specifically, this article will attend to Mitchell’s uneasy relationship with feminism,8 a relationship where Mitchell often comes off as fractious, recalcitrant and, as Weller puts it, ‘’the dame’, the tough, cranky, boastful woman living for her craft’9 - rather than as a feminist role-model. It will also consider ‘Woodstock’ as a case example of Mitchell’s influence, but also her uneasiness with regards to becoming a cultural relic. Considering Mitchell’s conversations with feminism (and, somewhat less problematically, the imbrication of her music with environmental activism), we also turn our attention to the questions of identity politics, representation and efficacy inevitably raised when we think about music and social activism. If Mitchell is cranky about feminism then, occasionally, feminists have been cranky about Mitchell – especially about her refusal to identify herself as a feminist. This refusal works to disrupt easy narratives about Mitchell as an exemplary figure for other women, feminist or not. As Michelle Mercer aptly sums it up: ‘[Mitchell
a piece of paper from the City Hall’12 to ratify her relationship, to state of the nation polemics such as 1994’s ‘Sex Kills’: ‘and the gas leaks/and the oil spills/and sex sells everything/and sex kills.’13 Unmarried mothers
has] already taken enough blame for being a muse to every flaxen-haired girl who picked up a guitar and mistook emotional turbulence for art.’10 However, what is indisputable is the extent to which Mitchell’s music represents social discontent and desire for change – from the environmentalism of ‘Big Yellow Taxi’ (‘they paved paradise and put up a parking lot’), and ‘Woodstock’ (‘we’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden’11), to critiques of marriage in ‘Song for Sharon’ or ‘My Old Man’ where Mitchell announces that she doesn’t ‘need
Born 1943, in Alberta, Canada the young Joni Mitchell (then Roberta Joan Anderson) was an only child. As Mitchell has described, her moment of artistic conversion came when she was hit by polio aged 914 and was reinforced by a high-school English teacher, who told Mitchell, ‘if you can paint with a brush, you can paint with words.’15 At school, Mitchell learnt guitar and spent the early 1960s playing folk music in Saskatoon cafes whilst attending art college. Aged 21, she fell pregnant by college boyfriend Brad MacMath, moved to Yorkville, Toronto and gave birth to a daughter in secret, whom she placed in foster care, intending to raise her as soon as she was able. She met folk singer Chuck Mitchell one month later in March 1965, and the pair married in June. They
formed a musical duo together. According to Joni Mitchell, Chuck had promised to adopt her daughter and raise her as his own as soon as they were married. However, Chuck Mitchell has always denied this account.16 Whatever the truth behind this episode, Mitchell was not reunited with her daughter until 1997. ‘Little Green’, written in 1965 but not appearing until 1971’s Blue recounts Mitchell’s experience of signing her daughter’s adoption papers: ‘child with a child pretending/ weary of lies you are sending home/ so you sign all the papers in the family name/ you’re sad and you’re sorry but you’re not ashamed.’17 Mitchell would return to the subject of unmarried mothers in ‘Magdalene Laundries’18 on 1994’s Turbulent Indigo, which depicts a
appear on her first album Joni Mitchell, in 1965-66 Mitchell wrote ‘The Circle Game’ (later recorded by folk singer Tom Rush) with its haunting, disarmingly lullaby-like refrain ‘the seasons, they go round and round/and the painted ponies go up and down/we’re captive on the carousel of time’20 and ‘Urge for Going’21, arguably the first of Mitchell’s bid-for-freedom songs which would reach their culmination in 1976’s Hejira. By 1967, the Mitchells had separated and Joni Mitchell moved to New York City, propelled by a burgeoning interest in her songs from more well-known artists such as Rush, Buffy Sainte-Marie and Judy Collins. Spotted by David Crosby in a Florida bar in 1967, by the end of the year she had moved to Los Angeles to start her record-
woman ‘sent […] to the sisters/for the way men look at me.’19
ing career in earnest. From 1969 to 1976, Mitchell would make the run of albums that she is still most known for, from 1969’s Clouds (featuring ‘Both Sides, Now’ and ‘Chelsea Morning’), through Ladies of the Canyon (‘Woodstock’, ‘Big Yellow Taxi’), Blue, For The Roses (‘You Turn Me On, I’m A Radio’), Court and Spark, The Hissing of
Early Career The Mitchells became a touring couple, playing mostly folk songs, although it was during this period that Mitchell’s own writing took flight. Among others which would
Summer Lawns and Hejira. Dylan vs. Mitchell According to Weller, starting her recording career, Mitchell was terrified that ‘her reputation and her prospects would be hurt by the revelation of the baby’: Four years earlier, Bob Dylan – who’d come to New York, letting it be thought he was an exotic vagabond – had been humiliatingly exposed by Newsweek as a middle-class Jewish fraternity boy; still, after a brief retreat from the public eye, his glamour was undiminished […] Even in rebel-loving 1960s rock, a young man could be forgiven for having a less tortured and romantic past than he’d invented for himself, but a young woman had to fear retribution for having a more tortured and romantic past than the public knew about.22 Dylan is often mentioned in the same breath as Mitchell, although this associative traffic is by no means two-way. That is to say, Mitchell is often known by comparison with Dylan but Dylan, apparently, can
stand without comparison. Indeed, on several occasions Mitchell has been referred to as a ‘female Bob Dylan’23, a label she has rightly bridled at although she has frequently cited him as an influence.24 Such comparisons speak to the uneasiness of quantifying Mitchell in her own right, an uneasiness one could also argue is displayed in Sheila Weller’s Girls Like Us: Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon and the Journey of a Generation which suggests not only that the three musicians fulfill attainable womanly archetypes (a highly problematic statement when you consider the apparent diversity of these women from each other and the fact that they are all famous, white, middle class and wealthy) but also that their stories should be both interwoven with and made exemplary of a generation’s experience to be understood. At the time, Mitchell didn’t cultivate a heavily-mythologised backstory for herself in the way that Dylan did, although others would create narratives for her – the Californian sunshine girl, the fatal enchantress, the Canyon lady, as this gushing 1974 pro-
file for Time magazine attests: She is the rural neophyte waiting in a subway, a free spirit drinking Greek wine in the moonlight, an organic Earth Mother dispensing fresh bread and herb tea, and the reticent feminist who by trial and error has charted the male as well as the female ego.25 Such descriptions testify to the shiftiness of Mitchell’s public persona, but also to critical attempts to pin her down through recognizable images of femininity: the ingénue, the goddess, the mother, the cranky oracle. Stuart Henderson has argued that, ‘[a]t stake in the late 1960s and early 1970s was the central concern for […] her audience that ‘Joni Mitchell’ was a stable identity which could be categorized, recognized, and understood’26, a concern that plays out in Time’s dramatization of Mitchell which succeeds only to affirm the singer’s unquantifiability. Much of this concern was founded on an investment in Mitchell as an ‘authentic’ public figure, an investment borne out of an understanding of Mitchell
as a confessional singer-songwriter27 that women, particularly, could listen to in order to make sense of their own emotional experiences, a version of Mitchell that takes us back to Emma Thompson’s ‘cold-hearted English wife’ who was ‘taught how to feel’ by Mitchell. Women’s liberation movement Investments in Mitchell as an authentic, knowable figure should be read as emerging, to a large extent, from the women’s liberation movement of the 1960s and 70s, and especially the emphasis within radical feminism on, ‘the sexual politics of personal life’28, as Alice Echols puts it. From the late 1960s to mid-1970s, Mitchell made a se-
ries of allusively autobiographical albums whose lyrics were oblique enough that listeners could interpellate their own emotional experiences, but specific enough that they could also feel in intimate connection with Mitchell.29 Reprise’s promotional campaign for Ladies of the Canyon (1970) capitalized on but also helped to construct this story of emotional solace via Mitchell. An advert, which ran in Rolling Stone, features the story of a fictional character ‘Amy Foster’, a middle-class hippy in a state of ennui ‘toying indifferently’ with ‘the enormous antique ring on the index finger of her left hand’ to avoid ‘lapsing into that state of bored listlessness she’d found herself in so frequently of late.’30 Newly dumped by a man (‘David’) who, a month later, has married, Foster is contemplating leaving town when a delivery boy knocks at her door with a copy of Mitchell’s new album. Amy is soothed: As much as they [the songs] downed her by reminding her all too vividly of her nowirrevocably-consummated relationship with David, Willy and Conversation were
somehow reassuring — there was someone else, even another canyon lady, who really knew. Amy began to feel a little better.31 Whilst the branding of Mitchell’s ideal listener is clearly contrived to appeal to aspirational female listeners with a purchase on the Laurel Canyon lifestyle, this should not take away from the fact that Mitchell’s albums provided a language of experience hitherto unexpressed by a female singer. Women had sung about sex and relationships before, obviously, but few had written of their own sexual pleasure and sung of it with Mitchell’s candour and sensitivity to the perils of sexual life. As in ‘Coyote’, which depicts Mitchell’s weakness to the charms of a man who has ‘a woman at home / another woman down the hall’ and ‘seems to want me anyway’, a cad who ‘picks up my scent on his fingers, while he’s watching the waitress’s legs’32, Mitchell depicts, with sometimes discomforting acuity, the vagaries, power-plays and seductions of heterosexual relationships. Bradford Martin argues that, at
the time, such expressions constituted a radical cultural act, in and of themselves: [I]n the early 1970s, the sheer novelty of a woman singing her own compositions about her own experiences often sufficed to generate cultural resonance. [...] Critics noted that such intense self-concern may have come off as egotism in a male artist, but for a woman it constituted an act of self defiance.33 Whilst Martin identifies the ‘cultural resonance’ of the female singer-songwriter (a label Mitchell dislikes) during this period, Sheila Weller more explicitly associates Mitchell’s music with the second-wave feminist movement in America, drawing a parallel between the fact that by the same summer Mitchell was writing Blue (1970) ‘[a]lmost every national magazine had published an article on feminism.’34 However, Weller does not fully explore Mitchell’s oftvoiced distaste for the feminist movement, understandably, as to do so would involve unpicking the enjoyable and, to some extent, convincing portrayal of Mitchell as an imagined sister to a generation of American women. Whilst Weller foregrounds the
Mitchell depicts, with sometimes discomforting acuity, the vagaries, powerplays and seductions of heterosexual relationships feminist movement in her work, she bats off Mitchell’s denial of the appellation: ‘Joni saying ‘I’m not a feminist’ is endearingly funny to me! […] Actions speak louder than words - she was one of the major feminist role models of her time.’35 Mitchell would beg to differ. Responding to her categorisation as a ‘Woman of Rock’ in 1998, she commented ‘genderization is a form of bigotry.’36 In the same year, musician and feminist Ani DiFranco baulked at the incongruity between Mitchell’s lived experiences and her claimed
politics: What intrigues me most about Joni Mitchell is that she is such a notable feminist in terms of her own life, yet she refuses to publicly support feminism and would dispute my, or anyone else’s, use of the word in reference to her. She has, in fact, nothing but disparaging words for ‘the feminists,’ describing ‘them’ as a militant political faction that only ‘made things worse.’37 No doubt DiFranco would have been further bemused by Mitchell’s comments in a 1997 interview with Morrissey, where she opined that feminism was ‘ineffective from the beginning’: I remember when the word first came up. As a matter of fact, Warren Beatty and Jack Nicholson and I used to go at the time for dinner […] and they were amused that I’d never heard about the feminists. I was kind of a media dropout. […] I was much more inner-world oriented.38 Here, Mitchell is ‘one of the boys’, hanging out with those legendary 1970s lotharios Nicholson and Beatty, in a scene that pours cold water on the sisterly warmth of
the Ladies of the Canyon advert.39 Protest songs The questions raised by Mitchell’s public scorn for feminism deserve more attention than I can give them here. However, certainly one of the most salient is about the triangulated relationship of the singer, the song and the sociocultural event. Does it matter (and what does this ‘matter’ mean?) if a songwriter does not manifest in person the political stance that is assumed by listeners in their songs? Whilst Mitchell’s songs undoubtedly represent stances that could be called ‘feminist’, we also have to recognise the cultural work of appropriation and perhaps misplaced identification that goes into labelling them as such. Furthermore, the at times oblique nature of Mitchell’s lyrics of the 1960s and 70s has saved her songs from the curse of kitsch cultural artefaction that besets a self-identified feminist track such as Helen Reddy’s ‘I Am Woman’ (1975). If we are to view Mitchell’s songs as, in many instances, protest songs (and let us not forget that protest can manifest in
many guises), then these are rarely songs tied to one historical event.40 The protest songs that can be understood outside of their original moment are the protest songs that last, according to Deena Weinstein: ‘A protest song […] has a far longer shelf life if it is oblique, since it can be heard generations later merely as a song relieved of the baggage of a protest that may no longer be relevant or popular.’41 True though this might be, it does not excuse Amy Grant’s cover of ‘Big Yellow Taxi.’ Woodstock Ironically it was a song about an event that Mitchell did not experience first-hand that would soundtrack the American counterculture’s last big shout of the ‘60s: the Woodstock Music and Arts Festival, 1969. Famously, Mitchell missed the festival because she was due to appear on The Dick Cavett Show the following day and her manager, David Geffen, was afraid that Mitchell would not make both. Watching the festival on t.v from a hotel room in New York, Mitchell wrote ‘Woodstock’, an almost invocato-
ry call to alms where Mitchell dreams of the ‘bombers riding shotgun in the sky, turning into butterflies above our nation’, of ‘half a million strong’ moving towards Woodstock with the knowledge that they are ‘caught in the devil’s bargain’ of the Viet Nam war. The song shivers with anticipation, a feeling that something is happening: ‘maybe it’s the time of year, maybe it’s the time of
Mitchell has expressed her sense of the failure of the ‘Woodstock generation’and criticised those who in states of false nostalgia, fetishize the event man.’42 David Crosby (who later recorded the song with Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young) has said that, with ‘Woodstock’, ‘Mitchell contributed more to everybody’s understanding of that event than anyone else did.’43 ‘Woodstock’ became an anthem, capturing the utopian spirit of the event, immortalising, as Margot A. Henriksen puts it: [t]he ’back to the garden’ sensibility [which] signified the withdrawal of the youth culture
from the out-of-balance American system of technology and signalled the countercultural desire to restore the balance in relations both in human society and between humans and nature.44 However, in the past two decades Mitchell has expressed her sense of the failure of the ‘Woodstock generation’ and criticised those who, in states of false nostalgia, fetishize the event. In a 1991 interview, Mitchell recounts a conversation with ‘a self-admitted yuppie’: He was in some financial position, and inside this yuppie was this hippie dying to get out. And he was very romantic about the Sixties. He and I had an argument kind of late at night, because he was really praising us. And I kept saying to him, ‘Yeah, but we failed.’ And he kept saying ‘Yeah, but at least you did something. Like, we did nothing.’ I said ‘Look, the thing is, don’t just ape our movement. Don’t do hippie poses. Look at us. Admit to yourself that we only took it so far. Build from where we left off. ‘I know my generation - a lot of them, they’re getting old now, and they want to think
back fondly, they want to kid themselves. A lot of them think, ‘Yeah, we were the best.’ That’s the kiss of death. That’s nongrowth. And also that’s very bad for the world.45 In a move not dissimilar to her resistance to being branded as a feminist, Mitchell has resisted being branded as a flowerchild curio, wheeled out of retirement by made-for-television documentaries to provide pithily wistful comments about the era. Instead, she remains a vociferous commentator both on the 1960s and 70s and on contemporary politics. Big Yellow Taxi Mitchell has also referred to her other most famous protest song, ‘Big Yellow Taxi’ as ‘a nursery rhyme’, saying of the most famous phrase ‘they paved paradise and put up a parking lot’ that it has been ‘a utilitarian slogan […] a good little workhorse.’46 Whilst Mitchell stands by the ecological message of the song – which she followed by playing at the first ever Greenpeace benefit concert along with James Taylor in 1970 – her occasional flippancy when it comes to the
most popular items in her back catalogue speaks to a desire to appear as relevant rather than as a relic. As such, an account of Mitchell’s politics has to pay attention to recent contributions, such as the 2007 ballet The Fiddle and the Drum - a collaboration between Mitchell and the Alberta Ballet which reworks some of her most explicitly political songs from the 1980s and 90s. In an interview with the New York Times,
Mitchell clearly demonstrates her continuing investment both in world politics and environmental issues: ‘’Humbly I hope we can make a difference with this ballet,’’ […] speaking of her outrage about the foreign and environmental policies of the United States. ‘’It’s a red alert about the situation the world is in now. We’re wasting our time on this fairy tale war, when the real war is with God’s creation. Nobody’s fighting for God’s creation.’47 Going back to the garden Although the wars and times have changed, Mitchell has referred en passant to ‘Woodstock’ in recent years to convey her sense of the current climate: ‘The West has packed the whole world on a runaway train. We are on the road to extincting ourselves as a species. That’s what I meant when I said that we’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden.’48 In the title track from Mitchell’s 1976 album Hejira, she is in flight from a ‘possessive coupling’ in which ‘so much could not be expressed.’49 This is a fitting sentiment
from an artist who has often bucked at the constraints of categorisation whether as a feminist, a singer-songwriter, or a generation’s ‘voice.’ Mitchell’s songs are undoubtedly touchy: outspoken, contradictory and often cranky – but are too often misread as touchy-feely: saccharine, sappy sentiments. Her songs document the difficulty of making the right choices and the pleasures of making the wrong ones: You know it never has been easy Whether you do or you do not resign Whether you travel the breadth of extremities Or stick to some straighter line.50 Travelling the breadth of extremities, Mitchell’s music should be allowed to move as it is: disruptive, expansive, and never straightforward. Endnotes 1 Joni Mitchell, ‘Joni on Point.’ Interview by Nic Harcourt. Los Angeles Times, June 7, 2009. 2 Joni Mitchell, ‘River.’ from Blue. Reprise, 1971. 3 Love Actually dir. Richard Curtis, Universal Pictures, 2003. 4 This attachment that will later play out in painful irony for Karen, when she receives a copy of Mitchell’s Both Sides Now from her husband instead of the necklace she thinks he has bought for her, which he has actually bought for his much younger secretary.
5 The Kids Are All Right dir. Lisa Cholodenko, Alliance Films, 2010. 6 ‘Backslide’ from New Girl dir. Nanette Burstein, 1:23, first aired May 1, 2012. 7 Sheila Weller in ‘The JoniMitchell.Com Interview with Sheila Weller.’ Interview by Richard Flynn, February 24, 2011. http://jonimitchell.com/library/view. cfm?id=2356 8 Mitchell’s conversations with feminists will also be considered, especially her dialogue with Ani DiFranco. 9 Sheila Weller, Girls Like Us: Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon and the Journey of a Generation, Ebury Press, 2008, 15. 10 Michelle Mercer, Will You Take Me As I Am? Joni Mitchell’s Blue Period, Free Press: London, 2009, 3. 11 Joni Mitchell, ‘Big Yellow Taxi’ and ‘Woodstock’ both from Ladies of the Canyon, Reprise, 1970. 12 Joni Mitchell, ‘My Old Man’ from Blue. 13 Joni Mitchell, ‘Sex Kills’ from Turbulent Indigo, Asylum, 1994. 14 Weller records Mitchell saying, of her experience with polio, ‘I think the creative process was an urgency then. It was a survival instinct.’ Girls Like Us, 67. 15 Weller, 71. 16 See Weller, 206-15. 17Joni Mitchell, ‘Little Green’ from Blue. 18 The title refers to the punitive institutions for unmarried mothers and women deemed ‘errant’ that existed throughout Europe but were known as the Magdalene laundries in Ireland. The last laundry closed in Ireland in 1996. There is an ongoing UN investigation into the laundries, see http://www.magdalenelaundries.com/. 19 Joni Mitchell, ‘Magdalene Laundries’ from Turbulent Indigo, Asylum, 1994. 20 Joni Mitchell, ‘The Circle Game’ from Ladies of the Canyon, Reprise, 1970. 21 Written 1966, recorded on Hits, Reprise, 1996. 22 Weller, 232. 23 For a discussion of these comparisons and Mitchell’s response to them, see Kelly Boyer Sager, The 1970s. Westport: Greenwood, 2007, 169. 24 See Larry David Smith’s Elvis Costello, Joni Mitchell and the Torch Song Tradition. Westport: Praeger, 2004, 28. In recent years, Mitchell’s public relationship
with Dylan has tended towards the fractious – see, for example: http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/music/news/joni-mitchell-accuses-bob-dylan-ofplagiarism-1952970.html in which Mitchell calls Dylan ‘a plagiarist.’ 25 David DeVoss, ‘Rock ’n’ Roll’s Leading Lady.’ Time, December 16, 1974. 26 Stuart Henderson, ‘’All Pink and Clean and Full of Wonder?’ Gendering ‘Joni Mitchell,’ 1966-74.’ In Left History, 10:2, 83. 27 Mitchell has been outspoken about her distaste for the term ‘confessional singer-songwriter’: ‘Augustine, Anne Sexton and Sylvia Plath are confessional writers and all three make me sick.’ Joni Mitchell, ‘Make war not peace: Joni Mitchell attacks Joan ‘break your legs’ Baez.’ Interview by Cahal Milmo, Independent, January 18, 2008. 28 Alice Echols, Daring to Be Bad: Radical Feminism in America, 1967-75. Minneapolis: University of Minneapolis Press, 1989, 15. 29 As Stuart Henderson has astutely commented, this period in Mitchell’s career ‘has been embraced for decades as the essential core ‘Joni Mitchell’’ even though her canon is incredibly diverse. Henderson, 83. 30 ‘Joni Mitchell’s New Album Will Mean More To Some Than To Others.’ Rolling Stone, May 14, 1970. 31 Ibid. 32 Joni Mitchell, ‘Coyote.’ Hejira, Asylum, 1976. 33 Bradford Martin, ‘Cultural Politics and the Singer/ Songwriters of the 1970s’ in Rightward Bound: Making America Conservative in the 1970s. Ed. Bruce J. Schuilman and Julian E. Zelitzer, Cambridge: Mass, 2004, 143. 34 Weller, 330. 35 ‘JoniMitchell.com Interview with Sheila Weller.’ 36 Joni Mitchell in ‘A Conversation with Joni Mitchell.’Interview by Jody Denberg, KGSR-FM, September 9, 1998. 37 Ani DiFranco, ‘Ani DiFranco Chats With the Iconic Joni Mitchell.’ Los Angeles Times, September 20, 1998. 38 Joni Mitchell in ‘Melancholy Meets the Infinite Sadness.’ Interview by Morrissey, Rolling Stone, March 6, 1997.
39 In the interview with DiFranco, Mitchell also reiterates that she prefers the company of men to women. 40 ‘Woodstock’ is perhaps an exception, as we shall see. 41 Deena Weinstein, ‘Rock Protest Songs: So Many and So Few.’ In The Resisting Muse: Popular Music and Social Protest. ed. Ian Peddie. Burlington: Ashgate, 2006, 12. 42 All quotes from Joni Mitchell ‘Woodstock.’ 43 David Crosby, interviewed for Joni Mitchell: A Life Story – Woman of Heart and Mind. Eagle Rock Entertainment Ltd, 2004. 44 Margot A. Henriksen, Doctor Strangelove’s America: Society and Culture in the Atomic Age. Berkeley: UCP, 1997, 383. 45 Joni Mitchell in ‘A Conversation with Joni Mitchell.’ Interview by David Wild, Rolling Stone, May 30, 1991. 46 Joni Mitchell in ‘Peace, Memories, Dance.’ Interview by John Mackie. The Vancouver Sun, January 15, 2010. 47 Joni Mitchell in ‘Working Three Shifts, And Outrage Overtime.’ Interview by David Yaffe. New York Times, February 4, 2007. 48 ‘Working Three Shifts, And Outrage Overtime.’ 49 Joni Mitchell, ‘Hejira.’ Hejira. 50 Ibid.
RUTH CHARNOCK has a DPhil in English Literature from the University of Sussex and teaches there as a Tutorial Fellow in 19th and 20th century English literature. Her thesis is entitled ‘Touching Stories: performances of intimacy in the diary of Anaïs Nin’ and her research interests included histories of feminism, psychoanalysis, life-writing, intimacy and modernism. Currently, she is preparing work for publication on graphomania, modernist affect and Anaïs Nin and second-wave feminism. She lives in Brighton, U.K.
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Keep on Pushing Black Power Music - From Blues to Hip-Hop By: Elke Weesjes
BOOK & AUTHOR
BOOK & AUTHOR
Keep on Pushing - Black Power Music From Blues to Hip-Hop Lawrence Hill Books ISBN: 978-1-55652-817-0
ast year Denise Sullivan, music journalist and online columnist for Crawdaddy!, published her fourth book titled ‘Keep on Pushing’. In this fascinating and thorough overview, Sullivan discusses the marriage of music and social change throughout the twentieth century and shows that the Black Power Movement which grew out of the Civil Rights Movement, provided the model for others that came afterwards, most notably the gay rights and women’s movement. She combines oral testimonies of musician-activists like Yoko Ono, Buffy Sainte-Marie and Solomon Burke, with solid archival research, making this narrative informative yet intimate and personal. The political and social history comes alive through a detailed description of important musical moments in this era. Although the focus is on the 1960s and 1970s, Sullivan presents a multilayered story covering many years and genres, from blues, folk, and jazz to disco, reggae, punk and hip-hop. The resulting book could be described as ‘a soundtrack to the revolutions of the twentieth century’.
AUTHOR Q&A Journalist Billy Jam, noted that your book could easily be filed under American political history, but you think it should be filed under American music history. Why? “Because I work primarily as a music journalist and historian, going into the project, I felt entirely comfortable with my ability to handle the musical and artistic content, but wouldn’t dare to call myself an expert in American social and political history (for the record, my degree is in media studies). So in the interest of serving my subject--where music intersects with social and political movement from 1960 forward, it seemed best to go with the designation Music/History/African American: Music is history and when we are talking about American music for change, it is tied directly to the African American struggle for freedom and equality.” Was acknowledging this connection between arts, culture society and politics the starting point of your project?
“My questions going into the project were, given the cultural climate and social and political problems of the present, why aren’t more musicians voicing the issues in songs, as they had in the past---particularly in the 60s and ‘70s protest eras, and throughout history---and why aren’t people singing them in unison anymore? These were my main questions, but as I dug deeper, the answers were opening doors to all sorts of things and the book started to become not so much about answering my main question, but about asking more questions---an inquiry into what had happened to the message in the music---and an attempt to identify the forces that had largely contributed to silencing direct protest from reaching the mainstream of music. As a journalist, it’s what I’m comfortable doing---I ask the questions and I investigate. I don’t necessarily come up with answers all the time, but my subjects revealed many of those answers in the telling of their experiences, and in their songs. I hope the text provides food for thought and discussion, and opens things up for researchers and singers of
BOOK & AUTHOR
the future.” Keep on Pushing is very different from your previous books. It is much more academic (which is probably why Billy Jam thinks it should be filed under American political history). How did the nature and complexity of the subject of your book influence your methodology and your project as a whole? “Thank you for saying so---in the five years it took me to research and write it I like to think I could’ve completed the coursework for an advanced degree or two. The project evolved. I had intended to write a book specifically about the music of the black power era that spanned from approximately 1967-1975, but soon realized it would be impossible for me to tell that story the way I wanted to without providing the historical backdrop for how such an extraordinary sound developed, emerged, and found success across a broad spectrum of people. I’m not a scientist, but I like people and have spent my professional life talking to them and collecting their stories. It
seemed important to me to provide context for the lives I was talking about, not only for younger readers, but to give my subjects their due. People like Len Chandler, Buffy Sainte-Marie, and Solomon Burke, to name but three of the musicians I talked
to, played a role in that history, but were at risk of being written out of it. There were others like them, some I talked to, some I didn’t, whose stories I wanted to include, which is when the project got unwieldy. It was at that point, I decided on the broader overview and laid out what happened to the musicians and the music before, during and after the Black Power era. Hopefully, the overview completes the picture of how culture empowers people---and what happens when it does, as well as when it shifts or disappears. I think of it as an alternative to the usual history, a people’s history, with an emphasis on musicians and songs. “ Your subtitle is: ‘Black Power Music -From Blues to Hip-Hop’ Would you say that this title actually covers the initial project, but maybe not so much what the project became in the end? “I fought very hard for a different subtitle. Titles and subtitles are tied to marketing considerations and those are the kinds of decisions that are made in business meetings that often don’t involve the author at
all. You have to consider that this was well before the Occupy movement though obviously many of the ideas put forth in the book had been in the air for years, though they were reaching critical mass again. I thought it was more important to get the book into circulation rather than waste any more time in a boardroom battle over its title. That said, the artists featured in the book regardless of their gender, class, sexual orientation or race are singing for equality and freedom for all people; matters of social justice concern everyone, or at least those of us who believe humans are one race. I’ve noticed that people who can see the similarities between the artists and their songs, the shared histories and traditions, are able to make the leap and conceive that the subtitle dovetails with the spirit of the book.” The book can be divided into two parts. Part one discusses the era of the Civil Right Movement, Black Arts Movement and Black Power. Part two explores what came afterwards. You marry the two by stating that Black Power became
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a model for other movements that followed. Can you elaborate on this? “Scholars widely agree that the Black Power movement provided the model for the women’s movement, the gay liberation movement and other political and cultural minority empowerment movements to move forward and gain some political traction. Because I study music and the people who make it, I was generally interested in the threads of the songs of liberation, throughout time, and what the Black Power era’s musicians took from those traditions, and added to them, as well as what the socially and politically-motivated musicians who followed the ‘60s and ‘70s carried forward into their songs. By the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, the tradition of writing songs to free the people lived mostly in the poetic and political strains of punk and hip hop---though those songs weren’t necessarily heard on the radio. I also make the point that among the more mainstream message songs that were heard (“We Are the World”), though widely considered banal by critics, they fulfilled an important role
in a dysfunctional society that was becoming increasingly free of compassion for its people. I maintain that the style known as the “freedom song” or as I like to call them the freedom blues, after the Little Richard song, reached its zenith in the Black Power era. I mean the songs of Nina Simone,
Gil Scott-Heron, Curtis Mayfield--which is where the title “Keep on Pushing” comes from-- and What’s Going On? by Marvin Gaye pretty much say it all: War, environment, poverty, sexism, racism…still problems, and they addressed all of them, and so artfully. Forty years later, if a listener can’t get to what they were singing about then, if it doesn’t make them feel something, it may be an indication that the spirit is asleep and it’s time to wake it up.” The Black Power Movement (like many other single issue movements), peaked before it disintegrated into little factions. Did you see a similar development within the music scene that was part of the Black Power Movement? “I’d like to be really clear that the dissolution of the Black Power movement involved a combination of forces and its disintegration was complex; there was a concerted effort to destroy it and the facts support that. As for the music, I found the musicians I spoke to united by similar goals of progressive, and some might say idealis-
tic change, which they attain by exercising their right to freedom of expression; they encourage discussion and they encourage participation in community and in the democratic process. I observed that musicians of conscience also seem to be bonded in a brother and sisterhood of musicians who sing the language of the heart. Because I am interested in the lives of artists and specifically the lives of musicians, I’ve studied up close and firsthand where they come from, what motivates them, what makes them tick. What I found among the politically and socially aware and motivated musicians I spoke to, though different stylistically, personally they were very similar, with similar character traits, family, and economic backgrounds. Race and gender doesn’t seem to make a difference--though one thing they also have in common is they love people, human beings, and they choose to express their concern through art. Often it is at great risk to their own careers and reputations, but they lay it on the line, speak their minds and reveal the contents of their hearts for their causes,
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the message are able to hear it. Music has an impact on the brain---science supports that. So while people might not get what they need when you or I, an activist or a politician speaks to them, they might get the urgency of a message in a song, or in the sound of a horn. And if that song is sung by someone with a mainstream profile, that really opens up the possibility for a change of heart. For example, you can tell people voting is important, that people died for the vote and so on, but until they feel it in a song, they might not actually exercise their hard won right to it.”
in songs, because it’s what they do---they are called to do it. They are criticized and in some cases cast aside, but they keep on singing. The songs, in turn, become important documents of history; they are tellers of stories, and containers for information, ideas, and inspiration. And because they communicate in the universal language of song, people who may not otherwise get
The famous British folksinger Ewan MacColl dismissed Bob Dylan’s protest songs as “puerile - too general to mean anything. Do you think protest songs need to be specific in order to be powerful? “I think that clarity is key, but poetry is divine which is why a song like Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind” is so beloved, powerful and timeless. Not all musicians are poets, and not all are politically engaged
or even inclined. And yet, a song can convey something through experience, emotion and poetry that propagandizing and sloganeering cannot. It simply has use words that are clear and distilled, and usually, there is a unified melody. Nina Simone was not always able to convey her political position without angry outbursts; she was prone to extreme emotional highs and lows. But when she sang a song and played the piano you knew exactly what she wanted to put across. The music transcended the never-ending political debates and prob-
The music transcended the never-ending political debates and problems that didn’t seem to have solutions
lems that didn’t seem to have solutions. I am not so naive as to think that music is the ultimate or only path. But it is a start toward opening up people’s ears and minds and changing their consciousness to the degree that they may wake up and change their immediate surroundings, their community and the wider world. A listener may be inspired to use his or her own gifts effectively as a result of hearing a song.” Why was the Black Power Movement so successful? “Well, I should probably stick to speaking to why the music of the movement was so successful: It spoke to larger truths that connected people with each other, with their higher consciousness and higher selves. This is the part that people don’t really want to hear in our increasingly secular society but just as the movement was rooted in social programs---people were feed, educated, organized--there was a moral outrage in the content of the songs, a righteous indignation that things just weren’t right. There were spiritual truths
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and principles in the work that conveyed you can’t continue to treat people, your brother and your sister, a fellow human being so poor and unjustly--things have got to change. The civil rights, free speech and anti-war movements combined with Black Power involved student leadership and clergy, community organizers , veterans, and everyday people, and singers who lived and believed in the struggle. It helped that there was consensus on these matters and the three major television networks were broadcasting the activity with a degree of competence. Of course now we see and hear very little and hardly anyone sings about it and if they do, you won’t hear it on the radio---you have to search it out. I apologize if I didn’t answer the question, but that wasn’t a question I set out to answer: I went in search of why there aren’t more songs that speak to the questions of our time and to do that I had to go back. What I found was that the struggle for jobs and equality rights and justice is an ongoing one, that the desire for improvement to society didn’t go away, but it was forced to
go underground until rose again, and that in my opinion, the movement could use a few more good songs.” In your book you establish that in the 1970s there was a narcissistic turn, in music in particular, but also in society as a whole. Would this be the reason that whatever movement is formed now, it will never be as strong as the Black Power Movement? It seems music is no longer about having a powerful voice, it has become about making money, which feeds this narcissism. “I don’t see things in terms of one reason or another, black or white; it’s a combination of forces and certainly the ‘70s, as the Me Decade, as it’s known, had its ups and downs. The move from enlightenment and engagement, of which introspection is part, toward navel gazing, narcissism and numbness or complacency is perhaps what we’re talking about. So while in a sense, it’s heartbreaking for me, as someone from the ‘80s punk rock and hip hop generations see two extraordinarily vibrant cultures be-
come mass marketed as lifestyles, both music movements did succeed in carrying forward some extraordinarily positive legacies alongside their negatives. Certainly, I bought into the cynicism at different times; but I went back to the well---to the people who never stopped pushing---to receive their wisdom and inspiration and to pass it on; I’m just telling you what I found. When you look at some of the people of influence in the world, they too came of age in the hip hop and punk era. They are self-starting and positive thinkers, with “do it yourself’” combined with “we can do it together” mentalities. I am talking about Barack Obama, Bob Geldof, Bono and Russell Simmons, to name a few high profile examples of people who came of age in the ‘70s and ‘80s, who believed in making things happen and did; imperfectly sometimes and easy to be cynical about them, but smaking a difference nonetheless. But the cynicism that emerged after the ‘one-step-forward-two-steps-back’ experience of the ‘60s, the nihilsm of punk rock, the culture of fear and doom-saying
is entrenched; certainly the election of Ronald Reagan, the debilitation of the media, the dissolution of the culture, the corporate corruption, the growth of the prison and military industrial complexes, and on an on, all contributed to that climate---so many forces have combined to neutralize people. And then I look what Leymah Gbowee did organizing women in Liberia and how non-violent resistance and singing played a role in that struggle, and I am filled with faith and awe and restored to being an idealist. So you see, and I stress this in all my work, things are rarely just black or white: I am simply presenting the pressure points and shedding some light in the various corners of arts and culture, and how those points relate to the potential for political and social change.” When it comes to lyrics, it seems that underground and mainstream music weren’t that different from each other in the sixties and seventies. A lot of critical songs discussing subjects like women’s rights, racial inequalities and other social issues, made it into the
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mainstream. Nowadays it seems that mainstream music is so fundamentally different from what is produced in the underground. Especially women in popular music are often being portrayed in a very negative way, in particular in hip hop and gangsta rap. Where are the alternative voices? “There are still alternative female musical voices---I’m thinking of M.I.A. and Santigold and Ani DiFranco, though as you say, they don’t often make it into the mainstream. Chuck D. of Public Enemy has publicly asked why more women aren’t involved in hip hop and has called for them to get involved, though like many of the other matters he’s brought to the table, from economic justice for musical heritage artists to the homeless population of LA, it’s like he’s a voice in the wilderness. Of course there are people in the underground creating hip hop of the conscious variety. I am always listening for new voices. At my readings, I ask poets and musicians to participate and we speak to the audience, ask their feelings about things and ask them to tell us
what’s going on in their communities. We have a dialogue and I hope it warms hearts in a world that can be cold. Like punk rock and early hip hop times, and in the early Greenwich Village folk music days, people came together, by word of mouth, in playgrounds and parks, dorm rooms and coffeehouses, record stores and nightclubs. That was the way the music was distributed. There is an opportunity to do that again. It’s strange that with so much technology at our fingertips, there isn’t more message music changing hands. But it’s out there and people are connecting with it, sometimes one song, and one musician at a time.”
When you look at different music genres today, which one is the most promising when it comes to protest music and critical voices? Or are critical voices all over the board? “You can find exciting new developments in every area of music. I like to listen to music from around the globe, especially from Africa, where there is a tradition of speaking in songs about what’s going on. You won’t hear critical voices on the radio or in the big arenas; they rise from the underground---the MC with the boom box, the DJ with the turntables and the folksinger with the acoustic guitar on the street corner. All music has content, from folk and blues to hip hop, there are messages in all of it, the question is what is it saying? I believe the listening experience is greatly enhanced by knowing if, say, a Kanye West sample or rhyme is rooted in poetic, black protest tradition, and that he is part of a literary and musical legacy that connects him to Gil Scott-Heron and Amiri Baraka. It’s important for listeners to know that when Tom Morello is singing a song, it may have
roots in the American labor movement---as it happens, he is the kind of singer who will let you know that! But in answer to your question, the songs are coming from all over the world and they develop at the grassroots level. When I interviewed artists from the previous generations, they were
As someone very critical of the popular culture and choices made by my generation and younger, I learned from these singers the secret to continued effectiveness in activism and art is love and tolerance
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so kind about the new singers, preparing to carry the torch and follow their path. They know the pitfalls and potential harms in the way and they feel protective of their musical offspring. It’s one of the reasons writing the book was a wonderful experience for me: As someone very critical of the popular culture and choices made by my generation and younger, I learned from these singers the secret to continued effectiveness in activism and art is love and tolerance. The fact they were open, and allowed me to tell their stories, considering what some of them had been through as artists and activists, was amazing. Their work remains inspirational to me, and I too have faith that the Millennial Generation of musicians and activists will keep on pushing.”
DENISE SULLIVAN is the author of three previous titles: in 1998 she published ‘R.E.M. — Talk About the Passion’, followed by ‘Rip It Up, Rock’n’Roll Rulebreakers’(2001), which is a collectioin of twenty interviews with rulebreaking musicians including Ike Turner, Wanda Jackson and the Talking Heads and in 2004 she published ‘The White Stripes, Sweethearts of the Blues’. Her music reviews, profiles and reporting can be read at www.crawdaddyarchive. com and at www.denisesullivan.com.
Photography Credits Article One: Page 7: Cuban Flag: © Dani Figueriedo’s photostream Page 12: Harry Belafonte: © lloyd89’s photostream Page 14: Fidel Castro: © a-birdie’s photostream Page 17: Cuba libre: © flippinyank’s photostream Article Two Author’s own images Article Three: Page 41: Punks: © todosnuestrosmuertos’ photostream Page 44: Crass - © RHiNO NEAL Photostream Page 47: Bleeding Through Page 49: Fist: © Hanna IrAÿlinger Fotografie photostream Article Four: Page 55: American nights - © Alice_bag photostream Page 57: Berlin Wall © Vpickering photostream Page 60: PUnks 80s - © brizzle born and bread photostream Page 66: PUnk girl - © Alice_bag Article Five: Author’s own images Biography: Page 101: Woodstock - © Mighty Moss photostream Book and Author Page 109: Black power - © Jacob Anikulapo photostream Page 112: Malcom X - © Jacob Anikulapo photostream Page 114: Nina simone - © Scarlatti2004 photostream Page 116: Bob Dylan © ky_olsen photostream Page 120: Chuck D - © DPlanet photostream
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Published on Jun 7, 2012
This issue's contributors have written articles about a variety of topics related to the study of subculture, popular music and social chang...