Saturday, June 14, 2008

Happy Birthday Big Red: Punks vs. Beats

Awhile back I participated in a debate-- Punks vs. Beats-- at the Alamo Drafthouse downtown as part of the Dionysium debate series. I got to represent the punks. I was pressed for time and, I confess, inspiration. I mean, I had an idea of what I wanted to do but the words just weren't coming to me. I asked Baby Daddy, aka Big Red, to help me out. He came up with a stunning array of arguments in favor of the punks. I added on to his list, but I have to say he by far did the heavy lifting.

In honor of Big Red's birthday, which is tomorrow, here's are the points we (mostly he) came up with:

[First, some jackass is probably going to ask you to define what "punk" actually means. Is it a music movement? A way of life? A certain attitude towards life? I suggest you not get bogged down in a bunch of windy definitions and just say that it means whatever you say it means and you'd be happy to whip anybody's ass who wants to argue with you about it, and you don't care if this is a fucking debate or not, bring it on motherfucker.]

1. Punks beat Beats in death. Jack Kerouac sinks into a mire of alcoholism and becomes more pathetic with each passing day and eventually, finally, dies at age 47 of internal hemorrhaging caused by cirrhosis of the liver. Sid Vicious stabs his girlfriend to death and then OD's on heroin provided to him by his mom. What an incredible way to go out! Advantage: Punks.

2. Punk fans way less embarrassing than Beat Fans. I can only imagine the horrified looks on Harlem residents' faces after "On The Road" came out when they began seeing hundreds of affluent white people stream into their neighborhood searching for an authentic "black" experience. Or "negro" experience, actually. Advantage: Punks.

3. The influence of punk has been far more widespread and long lasting than that of the beats. Many people actually listened to punk and continue to do so to this day. Converse still makes a fortune off of Chuck Taylors more than thirty years after punks made the footwear fashionable. This in turn supports the Chinese economy and keeps the cost of the shoes affordable. And ask any sixth grader to define “punk” and odds are high that sixth grader, outfitted in a mainstream Anarchy t-shirt from Hot Topic and possibly sporting a blue mohawk, can tick off at least four punk rock bands. As for the Beats—by applause, how many of you here have read or can even name a Jack Kerouac book other than On The Road, The Subterraneans, or the Dharma Bums? Now, by show of hands-- Has anyone here ever finished a book by William Burroughs? Junky doesn't count, cause it's really short and it makes sense. And Ginsberg? Did anyone here even finish 'Howl'? Fuck that poem is long. Come on, fess up. You read the first page of it with the stuff about "I have seen the best minds of my generation destroyed... and then struggled through another page and finally said "The hell with it, I’m watching a The Wire.”

4. Inspired punk amateurism beats inspired Beat amateurism
There have been a lot of great songs written by people who don't actually know how to play whatever instrument they are banging on onstage. The Do it Yourself ethos of punk has yielded some incredibly great songs that will last as long as people do. The DIY ethos of Beat has yielded a lot of beret wearing loudmouths at coffeehouses ranting their nonsensical gibberish to an uncaring and/or horrified audiences that just wishes they would go away.

5. Hey, Jack Kerouac- Jack Kerouac isn't directly responsible for Natalie Merchant, but he's obviously a big influence and that's enough for me.

5a. Punk was gender equal, embracing androgyny, nihilism, addiction and rage for both sexes and offering us hot boy and girl punks including the Ramones, Jonny Rotten, Joe Strummer, Patti Smith, Wendy O. Williams, and Exene Cervenka to name a few. Name me one hot Beat chick. The only woman regularly remembered as being part of the beats was Joan Vollmer, who married William Burroughs, who later shot her in the head “BY ACCIDENT.” She never wrote a thing.

6. "There's no way of knowing this for sure because he's dead, but is there anyone here who doesn't think that William Burroughs was a bigger fan of punk than he was of the Beats?"

7. Diluted punk gave way to stylish new wave and fine references to sex in songs about masturbation including She-bop by Cyndi Lauper, Turning Japanese by the Vapors and Touch Myself by the Divinyls. Diluted beat poetry gave way to Potsie on Happy Days reciting: Little Bird with your face pressed against the bakery window, there is no food for you today, only death, and Monica Lewinsky going down on Bill Clinton in a Beret as opposed to, say, a more tasteful fishnets-and-leather pants combo.

8. Punk rock elevated the status of safety pin from cheap, utilitarian household item to a multi-purposeful fashion statement slash home piercing device. The spread of safety pin usage also kept manufacturing plants in several small factory towns on both sides of the pond in business allowing hard working blue-collar laborers to save their poor crippled children from succumbing to a Tiny Tim-esque fate.

9. When the Sex Pistols sang God Save the Queen it was brilliant, rage filled irony exemplified. When Allen Ginsberg sang out God Save the Queen it was just another bit of self-referential narcissism as he made a toast to himself in a gay dive bar in North Beach.

10. The punks had an immediate, accessible clarity whereas the beats were a foggy headed nightmare as easy to plod through as a built in pool full of Vaeseline. To wit:

Allen Ginsberg said: I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked, dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix, angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night,

Whereas the Ramones, cutting to the chase, said:

Twenty-twenty-twenty four hours to go I wanna be sedated
Nothin' to do and no where to go-o-oh I wanna be sedated
Just get me to the airport put me on a plane
Hurry hurry hurry before I go insane.

11. Even on religious matters the punks were so much more clear cut.

Jack Kerouac said, "In myriad pricklings of heavenly radiation I had to struggle to see Dean's figure, and he looked like God."

Whereas The Clash put it right on the table: He who fucks nuns will later join the church.

12. The Punks had far greater prognostication skills than the Beats, particularly regarding the environment and global warming. Where as the Beats irresponsibly encouraged people to fill up the tanks of their enormous gas guzzlers and drive hither and tither across the land with no regards of the cost, in blood, of oil, the punks were, to misquote the Sex Pistols, “the Anti-Chrysler.” And with their insistence on wearing torn and vintage clothing, they were a catalyst for today’s reuse and recycle ethos. Not to mention that, with such incredibly tight pants, there is little doubt that they “cut off their circulation” if you know what I’m saying, and did not contribute to overpopulation. The punks FOR the people. The beats: selfish self-important pseudo-intellects choosing to hide behind a hip label and some finger snapping rather than taking the time to learn proper punctuation.

To the tune of London Calling:

Jack K. hitching to the faraway towns
Now Beat is declared, but it’s full of clowns
Jack K. searching with a hungry cry
Come out of the cupboard you tasty pie
Jack K searching, now don’t look to us
Phoney intellectualism is stirring up dust
Jack K. is calling but he aint’ got no swing
“Cept in the Hips of that Ginsberg thing

The Beat Age is coming, cars zooming in
Don’t they know bad grammar’s an awful sin
Brains have stopped running, but they have no fear
They’re drowning like Narcissist down by the river

Ginsberg’s howling to the imitation zone
Forget it, brother, you can go it alone.
Ginsberg’s howling to the zombies of death
Cause Burroughs’ wife just took her last breath
Ginsberg’s howling, all he does is shout
But while he was talking, we all nodded out
Ginsberg’s howling cause he ain’t got no high
Except for in William B’s yellowy eyes.

The Beat Age is coming, cars zooming in
Don’t they know bad grammar’s an awful sin
Brains have stopped running, but they have no fear
They’re drowning like Narcissist down by the river

Cassady’s calling, yes he was there, to
An you know what he said? Well none of it was true!
Cassady’s calling, he’s just out of jail
He’s giving a smile, his girl put up bail
Cassady’s calling

They always sound so much alike alike alike….


Big O at Big Harry said...

Big Fun at Big Alamo. Happy Big Bidet Big Red. Big Happiness to Big Spike. Punx Rule.

Tom said...

Ah, I remember it well. I think my favorite points were #5 and 7.

Now, the question is, was I that jackass? Probably.

Nevertheless, it was a darn good debate and you were erudite and often hilarious, putting me to shame.

Spike Gillespie said...

You beat me more than fair and square. What a night.