Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Lilian Caruana’s Fascinating, Bittersweet New Photo Book Offers a Rare Glimpse of the Mid-80s New York Punk Rock Scene

In one of the initial CBGB crowd shots in photographer Lilian Caruana’s new book, Rebels: Punks and Skinheads of New York’s East Village 1984-1987, an audience member appears to be wearing a swastika patch. A closer look reveals a famous Dead Kennedys quote: “NAZI PUNKS FUCK OFF.” In many ways, that capsulizes the unexpected complexities of Caruana’s collection of black-and-white photos and brief interview quotes. It’s more bittersweet, strikingly insightful historical document than it is nostalgia.

In her introduction, Caruana puts the era in perspective. By the 1990s, punk fashion had been completely co-opted by corporate interests. Violent evictions by the police put an end to the Lower East Side squatter movement, paving the way for the destruction and suburbanization of a long-thriving artistic neighborhood. With a finely honed sense of irony – in the true sense of the word – and a wry sense of humor, Caruana portrays a long-lost subculture in their irrepressible DIY milieu.

In what might be the most surreal shot of all, a blonde girl who looks all of about fourteen sits on a mattress, her legs wrapped in a repurposed American flag. Her blank stare fixes on a black-and-white tv propped up on a milk crate. A Ronald Reagan movie plays on the screen. The pillow to her left is from the Bellevue mental ward. Decorations on the wall are sparse: a grimy handprint and a label peeled off a torpedo of Budweiser. The year is 1986.

As Caruana explains, the individuals in her portraits come from a wide swath of social strata. Collectively, they feel disenfranchised. Bobby sees himself as exploited at his minimum-wage job and isn’t beyond taking a little extra from the till to make ends meet. Dave, an Army deserter, longs for the American dream but not the mortgage and suburban drudgery. Matt comes from a more affluent background but is similarly alienated by outer-borough conformity.

As grim as their worldview may be, these people seem anything but unhappy. They lounge with their pets – a colorful menagerie including rats, kittens and an iguana – practice their instruments and strike sardonically defiant poses. Recycling may be all the rage in yuppie circles now, but punks were doing it forty years ago, if only because it was a practical survival strategy.

Unsurprisingly, the Cro-Mags, the Exploited, Agnostic Front and Battalion of Saints are the bands most often visually referenced here. But what these photos remind over and over is the vast difference between the Lower East Side hardcore contingent and their bridge-and-tunnel counterparts. Hardcore may have been more relentlessly aggressive, monotonous, and implicitly violent, compared to punk. But the LES crowd was far more likely to be politically aware, multi-racial, tolerant and open to women. In other words, they remained closer to punk’s populist roots than the high school boys whose moms would drop them at CB’s for the Sunday afternoon hardcore matinee and then drive them home to Long Island in the family Chevy Suburban. Other photographers have made big bucks shooting the famous and the semi-famous in that same part of town at the height of the CB’s scene a few years previously; Caruana’s work both dignifies and illuminates a time and place too infrequently chronicled.

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January 10, 2018 Posted by | Art, Literature, Music, music, concert, New York City, photography, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 10/28/10

Tons of new stuff waiting in the wings: Mick Rock’s latest photo exhibit at Morrison Hotel Gallery; a punk/skinhead photo retrospective at the Calandra Institute in midtown; Middle Eastern groove band Copal’s new album, and much more, check  back in a few hours. In the meantime, as we do every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Thursday’s album is #824:

The UK Subs – Crash Course

Believe it or not, the prototypical oi punks’ first live album made the top ten on the British charts in 1980. This is the original, classic lineup with Charlie Harper backed by Nicky Garratt on guitar, Paul Slack on bass and Pete Davis on drums. Unlike so many of the hardcore bands that followed in their wake, the Subs’ irrepressible sense of humor and genuine defiance are in full effect here: Harper always let it be known that he and the rest of the crew were just glad to be able to make a living without having to work for some slimeball boss. The original vinyl album has 20 tracks; the cd includes the bonus ep with four additional live songs recorded considerably earlier. Unfortunately, you can’t download the big 20-inch UK SUBS stencil that came with the record, an absolutely brilliant piece of marketing that literally can still be seen 30 years later in places where long ago, punks used to get together. All their early hits are here: the hardcore classic I Live in a Car; the Subhumans-style reggae-rock Warhead; a trebly New York State Police (without the loud lead bass on the studio version); a comfortably unhinged Emotional Blackmail; the punk-pop of Tomorrow’s Girls and Teenage (Harper was 36 when he sang “I don’t wanna be teenage”). After awhile, a lot of this starts to sound the same, but there literally isn’t a bad song among the total of 24 tracks here. Harper has assembled several different outfits to back him over the years, Garratt and later bassist Alvin Gibbs rejoining at times; after a detour into a more metal-oriented direction in the mid-80s, they’d make a return to their punk roots in later years to cash in on the nostalgia circuit. Now in his late sixties, Harper remains as unstoppable as ever and still tours. Here’s a random torrent.

October 27, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Top Ten Songs of the Week 8/2/10

Here’s this week’s version of what Billboard should be paying attention to: we try to mix it up, offer a little something for everyone, sad songs, funny songs, upbeat songs, quieter stuff, you name it. If you don’t like one of these, you can always go on to the next one. Every link here will take you to each individual song. As always, the #1 song here will appear on our Best Songs of 2010 list at the end of the year.

1. The Larch – Strawberry Coast

Brooklyn new wave revival – but smart new wave revival. This has Squeeze overtones – and big brother watching on the spycam. From the band’s best album, the brand-new Larix Americana.

2. The Notekillers – Papers

This was avant composer David First’s instrumental noise/surf/punk band, a proto Sonic Youth circa 1981. This is a twisted surf tune; the band is back together and reputedly as energized as ever.

3. Dark Dark Dark – Wild Go

Tersely haunting and Radiohead-esque, live on Minneapolis TV. Thanks to Jamie of the Brooklyn What for the link!

4. Tris McCall – Sugar Nobody Wants

Expert tunesmithing and wordsmithing – this one’s a tribute to trespassing, which is always fun especially if you live somewhere that’s really boring.

5. Wintersleep – Black Camera

The Auteurs as done by Sloan in 7/8 time.

6. Ocote Soul Sounds – Tu Fin, Mi Comienzo

Dub cumbia! Yum! Like Chicha Libre but trippier.

7. Not Waving But Drowning – The Drowned Man’s Ball

Menacing, dramatic noir cabaret, like the Dresden Dolls but better.

8. These New Puritans – ???

Scroll down to the “live on the BBC” clip – trancey percussion driven chamber rock with a woodwind section!

9. The Giving Tree Band – Early to Bed

Bluegrass/Americana with a message: night owls unite! Free download.

10. Low Society – Girls Puke For Free

German hardcore band singing what could be an anthem for the entire Lower East Side now that the tourists have taken over.

August 3, 2010 Posted by | country music, latin music, lists, Music, music, concert, rock music, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 2/26/10

The best 666 songs of alltime countdown continues every day, all the way to #1. Friday’s song is #153:

Barry McGuire – Eve of Destruction

What a fortuitous coincidence – snow in New York! The apocalypse has arrived! Suspend civil liberties, declare Michael Bloomberg mayor for life, call out Blackwater…woops, the National Guard! Seriously though…written surprisingly by born-again El Lay scenester songwriter P.F. Sloan, this snarling Summer of Love single embodies yet transcends every folk-rock cliche of the era. You gotta love that kettledrum. The Dickies’ hardcore punk version is also a lot of fun; if janglerock is your thing, check out the Red Rockers’ 1984 cover.

February 26, 2010 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 7/12/09

Every day, our top 666 songs of alltime countdown gets one step closer to #1. Sunday’s song is #381:

Black Flag – TV Party

With the litany of all those long-forgotten network tv shows from the early 80s, it’s a little dated, but the hardcore anthem still packs a punch, Henry Rollins showing off a sense of humor that very rarely made it into any of his songs. “I couldn’t live without my tv for a day, or even a minute/Don’t even bother to use my brain anymore, there’s nothing left in it!” From Damaged, 1981; mp3s are everywhere. The acoustic version by the Asylum Street Spankers has more current references and is just as savagely funny as the original.

July 12, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment