Sunday , September 27 2020

How Do You Say “Punk” In German?

I think it’s “punk,” but regardless, there is a big punk convention – or Kongress, as they call it – in Germany this September:

    Punk! Kongress

    September 22 – 26, 2004 in Kassel
    4 Days and 4 Nights
    Discussion + Live Acts + Films + Readings + Exhibition

    Punk is and always was more than just a music style or a passing fashion. Within the last three decades, the punk culture has established itself as a decisive component within the contemporary culture, with big influences on fashion, art, advertising and literature. But what exactly is punk, where are its roots, which meaning did it have in its various places of origin and and to which point has it developed itself until today?

    It`s high time that theoreticians, experts, pioneers and activists on punk come together in one place to exchange their points of view and their experiences. As this should not end up in a bloodless, pop historical discussion we also want to have a look at today`s punk.

    Well-known punk protagonists like Sex Pistols` manager Malcolm Mc Laren, Mark Perry, Marty Thau or Sezgin Boynik will talk and discuss about development, philosophy and substance of punk, its traces in the mainstream culture and its current influences.

    Buzzcocks, Jayne County with Dumbell, Alternative TV and some more valuable live acts from home and abroad will provide a wide spectrum of entertainment.

    A small but decent film programme, an exhibition and a trade fair will round off the first international Punk! Kongress.

Malcolm’s always a hoot, of course, but the stars of the show will be my great pal (and Blogcritic) Marty Thau – industry legend (New York Dolls, Ramones, Blondie, Suicide, Red Star Records) with many a tale to tell, and the still woefully underappreciated Buzzcocks, whose status should be on par with the Sex Pistols and just slightly below that of the Ramones and the Clash.

Here’s my bio of Marty from the Encyclopedia of Record Producers:

Marty Thau is first and foremost a visionary. After spending most of the ’60s as one of the top promo men in the record business (with stops at the Cameo/Parkway and Buddah labels), Thau forsook a cushy position with a mainstream production company in ’72 to manage the rebirth of rock ‘n’ roll in the form of the New York Dolls, whom he guided until ’75.

Having entered New York’s underground rock demimonde with the Dolls in the early-’70s, Thau was integral to the scene’s development into a spawning ground of punk/new wave stars by the late-’70s. His good will and energy directly aided the careers of the Ramones, Blondie, and Richard Hell; and he produced Suicide, (Boston’s) The Real Kids, The Fleshtones, and others for his own Red Star label.

Marty Thau was born December 7, 1938 in the Bronx, and loved music from the beginning, including the well-crafted songsmanship of Irving Berlin, Cole Porter and the like from his parents’ generation, the gutty R&B of the early-’50s (Sam “The Man” Taylor, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins), and the rock ‘n’ roll explosion of the mid-’50s, especially Elvis Presley. Thau’s cousin and friend Elaine was one of the first presidents of the Elvis Presley fan club.

After high school, Thau attended NYU and graduated with a degree in communication arts, then served a stint in the Army. Upon his release in ’63, Thau answered an ad in Billboard and became an advertising trainee with the magazine. Elaine, whom Thau had lost touch with, saw his name in Billboard and called him up to get reacquainted. Through his job at Billboard, Thau had met and become friends with ex-teen star Tony Orlando (who had had two hits in ’61); after Elaine called, the trio became close and spent good deal of time together (Elaine eventually married Orlando).

By ’64 Orlando had spent three years trying unsuccessfully to resurrect his career; he asked Thau to manage him suggesting that Thau would do no worse than the $90 per week that he was making at Billboard. Thau became Orlando’s manager, and although he lined up sessions for Orlando with both Burt Bacharach and Bert Berns, neither produced a hit. Thau was married by then, and with Orlando’s career stalled out, it was time to get a real job.

While Thau had been managing Orlando, another friend, Neil Bogart, had become a promotions man for first MGM, and then Cameo/Parkway in ’65. Bogart invited Thau to join him as a radio promotions man at Cameo – the “real job” Thau had been looking for. For a year Thau traveled the country five days a week handing out records and pressing the flesh under every broadcast antenna he could find. He helped place 28 records on the charts that year, including a national No. 1, ? and the Mysterians’ “96 Tears.”

In early-’67 Thau went to a new label, Buddah, as vice president of promotion, where he enjoyed great success promoting a series of smash hits for bubblegum legends 1910 Fruitgum Co. and Ohio Express, as well as hits for the Brooklyn Bridge (“The Worst That Could Happen”), Edwin Hawkins Singers (“Oh Happy Day”), Isley Brothers (“It’s Your Thing”), and Lemon Pipers (“Green Tambourine”).

By ’70 Thau was burnt out on the promotion circus and became partners in an independent record production company, Inherit Productions, with producer Lewis Merenstein. In Thau’s two years there, the company released classic albums by Van Morrison (Astral Weeks and Moondance), John Cale (Vintage Violence), and Mike Bloomfield with Barry Goldberg (Two Jews’ Blues).

Restless again by early-’72, Thau left Inherit to become head of A&R for Paramount Records. Less than six months later he wandered into a New York Dolls (singer David Johansen, guitarists Sylvain Sylvain and Johnny Thunders, bassist Arthur Kane, drummer Billy Murcia) show at New York’s Mercer Arts Center and saw a group that resurrected the outrageousness, fun, and sheer exuberance that had been missing from rock ‘n’ roll since the heyday of Elvis, Little Richard, and Jerry Lee Lewis. The Dolls’ urban street kid attitude, gender-parodying costumes, party ethic, and ripping tunes (drawn from such disparate influences as early-’60s girl groups, harmonica blues, Southern soul, novelty songs, ’50s rock ‘n’ roll – all of it revved up for the ’70s) stunned Thau out of his complacency and inspired him to champion their (ultimately lost) cause. He left Paramount to become their manager.

If one feels compelled to identify the first ’70s punk band, the Dolls are a logical choice: they were the first to overtly reject the slickness and bloat of ’70s corporate rock, the first to find a compelling voice to express that rejection, and the first band to unite the amorphous New York underground rock scene since the Velvet Underground (the arty, somber Velvets were more art-noise minimalists than a punk band) in the late-’60s.

Thau’s experience with the Dolls was both satisfying and heartbreaking. He produced the band’s first real demos (which were released as Lipstick Killers by ROIR in ’81) and raised their profile exponentially; yet, in his first tour of England with the band, drummer Billy Murcia died in a drug-related accident (he was replaced by Jerry Nolan). Already perceived by the mainstream media and the record industry as evil, drug-addicted transvestites (they were enthusiastic heterosexuals according to Thau), Murcia’s death hardened those attitudes toward the band in addition to whipping their fans into an even-greater frenzy.

In the face of strident industry antipathy, Thau finally got the band signed to Mercury in late-’72. The Dolls wanted Phil Spector, but Todd Rundgren ended up producing their archetypal first album, which was released in early-’73 to mostly rave reviews (although some critics felt that Rundgren had overly tamed their sound). The album sold around 100,000 copies, which Thau viewed as an excellent start but the label viewed as disappointing given the band’s notoriety. When the second album (Too Much Too Soon), produced by Shadow Morton, fared about the same, Mercury dumped the band. By ’75 Thau (and his financial backers, Leber and Krebs) had had enough.

“I thought all along that it was just a matter of time before they broke through because I saw it happen in certain locales – like Cleveland – where they would go back and play and allow the fans to adjust to them. Eventually the band imploded: you can only go so far with five people, two of whom are drug addicts, and one is an alcoholic [Thunders and Nolan have subsequently died]. I implored them to get it together and work hard and write new material, but it just didn’t happen,” he says.

A call from Jerry Nolan in late-’75 revived Thau’s sagging spirits. Nolan told him of the scene growing up around the notorious Bowery club CBGB’s, with exciting bands like the Ramones, Patti Smith, Television, Blondie, and Richard Hell playing there. Thau developed an immediate rapport with the Ramones, who wanted him to manage them; but after his Dolls experience, Thau was loath to trod that path again. He instead produced their first demos (available on the Songs Of the Naked City collection): the roaring “Judy Is a Punk,” and the sweet “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend,” which together proved that the band could be successfully recorded and got them signed to Sire (where their classic first album was produced by Craig Leon).

Thau and Richard Gottehrer hooked up in ’76 to start a production company, Instant Records, and signed Blondie, Richard Hell, and Robert Gordon. Leon and Gottehrer (with Thau sitting in and contributing ideas) produced Blondie’s first single, “X Offender,” which Thau then licensed to Private Stock.

Thau, always on the move, opted out of Instant and started his own Red Star label in late-’76. Thau signed and produced Boston’s punky Real Kids, and then signed and co-produced (with Leon) his most important record – Suicide’s startling debut in ’77. “As a producer my greatest credential is the Suicide record. They were such a creative and original entity, carving out new turf. I think that recording really stands up,” he says.

Formed in ’70 by sculptor/singer Alan Vega and avant-jazz keyboardist Martin Rev, the duo’s bizarre confrontational shows – leatherman Vega pounding the stage and walls with a heavy chain, Rev extorting sounds both vicious and otherworldly from his early synth – sought to disrupt rather than entertain. Light-years ahead of their time, Suicide was in essence a synth-pop duo (with a serious punk attitude) ten years before the phrase was even coined. After sitting out a few years, Suicide returned to the scene in ’76 still confrontational (they caused riots in Europe), but musically much more mature and varied.

The album consists of seven timeless songs flawlessly recorded. “Ghost Rider,” “Rocket U.S.A.” and “Johnny” offer Vega’s whispery baritone echoing urgently over Rev’s throbbing synth landscape. “Cheree” is a stunningly beautiful synth tapestry, evocative of the Velvet’s “Sunday Morning”; “Frankie Teardrop” is a horrific 10-minute biography of the title character.

Thau also co-produced an exceptional solo album by Martin Rev, Clouds of Glory; recorded in ’81 and ’84, released in ’85, Clouds is a fascinating electronic workout replete with space, ambient, trance and other techno elements, again wondrously ahead of its time.

I wrote this about the Buzzcocks last year:

    I listened to the new Buzzcocks record and woke up this morning with the tunes still rolling around my brain – in a good way.

    Buzzcocks? Another name from the cradle of British punk along with the Sex Pistols, the Clash, the Damned, Wire, etc., that speaks of the rebirth of rock ‘n’ roll in ’76-’77 as youthful energy, rage, rebellion, assaulted the bloated corpse that was corporate rock and reconnected the music with its explosive birth.

    In late-December of ’76, the late great Martin Hannett (Joy Division, Magazine, New Order), under the nom de punk of “Martin Zero,” produced the Buzzcocks first and last recorded work with lead singer Howard Devoto (who left shortly thereafter to form Magazine), an EP called Spiral Scratch.

    Little more than a no-budget demo released on the band’s own New Hormones label, the EP is pure and brilliant. “Boredom” is the highlight with Devoto’s spirited vocals belying the title, and the band’s angular, almost-mechanized rhythms foreshadowing Joy Division. Hannett also produced some of the Buzzcocks’ great, cheerfully despondent pop punk of the early Pete Shelley-led period, including “Everybody’s Happy Nowadays,” “Lipstick,” “Noise Annoys,” “Oh Shit!” and the convulsive “Orgasm Addict.”

    With Steve Diggle providing excellent counterpoint to Shelley, singing, writing and bashing out his own tunes (“Autonomy,” “Harmony In My Head”), the Buzzcocks’ outrageously catchy, yet supercharged singles from the time were collected on the indispensable album Singles Going Steady in ’79. The Buzzcocks belong in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on the strength of that album alone.

    But then “artistic differences” intervened, Shelley went solo and the Buzzcocks drifted into history. Shelley and Diggle reunited with a new rhythm section as the Buzzcocks in the ’90s for three good but not great albums, performed electrifyingly with three generations of punks at the KROQ/Levi’s Inland Invasion 2 in So Cal last September, and have now put out their best album since Singles Going Steady, 24 years ago.

    The tunes are all catchy, the energy up to 11, Pete Shelley’s high, English-inflected tenor still strains affectingly in his upper register on the great “Jerk” “Friends” “Lester Sands” (co-written with Howard Devoto) and “Useless”; Diggle’s rougher bark shines as never before on “Wake Up Call” “Driving You Insane” and especially “Sick City Sometimes,” a classic anthemic romp.

    This just rocks and rocks, kicks age in the balls and makes me smile. I’m smiling right now – the Buzzcocks are back – you hear that Rock Hall?

Stay tuned for more announcements on the Punk Kongress

About Eric Olsen

Career media professional and serial entrepreneur Eric Olsen flung himself into the paranormal world in 2012, creating the America's Most Haunted brand and co-authoring the award-winning America's Most Haunted book, published by Berkley/Penguin in Sept, 2014. Olsen is co-host of the nationally syndicated broadcast and Internet radio talk show After Hours AM; his entertaining and informative America's Most Haunted website and social media outlets are must-reads: [email protected], Facebook.com/amhaunted, Pinterest America's Most Haunted. Olsen is also guitarist/singer for popular and wildly eclectic Cleveland cover band The Props.

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