I was in high school when the first wave of punk rock hit Toronto, Ontario, in the mid 1970s. A couple of friends had family in England and they had picked up copies of Never Mind The Bollocks by the Sex Pistols and the first Clash album while on vacation and brought them home for us to listen to before they were readily available here. It took me a bit to warm up to the Pistols, but I was soon hooked. My buddies and I soon took to trolling through the small, alternative record shops in Toronto that sold imports from England, and between us we soon built up a collection of music that you definitely weren't going to hear on the local radio stations.
What really surprised me about a lot of the music these bands were playing was how familiar so much of it sounded. What most of the bands had done was simply returned to basics and stripped the music back to its rawest and most elemental form. Short, two to three minute songs, played fast and furious and fuelled with the energy of youthful rebellion, anger, and the excitement that the music itself generates. The other thing that separated must punks from their immediate predecessors was their attitude of defiance and their easy acceptance of their outsider status. They were a reminder that at one time rock and roll hadn't been acceptable music, and had been the topic of many a sermon from the pulpit for its potential to be the ruination of young people; a path to the devil.
As befitted their outsider status, the punks sang about people and subject matter that went beyond the usual silly fodder of pop music. You weren't going to hear any whining about my girl friend left me for another guy, or I wish I were prettier songs from these folk. They sang, and still sing today, about the people that get left behind and fall through the cracks to be forgotten about by the rest of us. They look at the world and see that not only isn't the emperor wearing any clothes, his throne is made of bones and his palace flesh and blood. The real punks are the ones who express their anger and outrage over the way our society treats people and the world through their music, which is why its hard and mean with lyrics full of so-called obscenities.
So when I first read about All Aboard: A Tribute To Johnny Cash, being released by Anchorless Records on the 21st of October, '08, and that it was to feature fifteen tracks performed by various contemporary punk bands and performers, it made perfect sense to me. Who did Johnny spend his life singing about? Prisoners, guys who shot their girlfriends after getting loaded on cocaine and booze, people from the wrong side of the tracks, and the sad state of the world.