On an afternoon in 1984, my mother, a teacher by trade, delivered a lesson with more lasting effect than any in my 18 years of formal education. She sat with me on our living room floor, placed a stack of records in front of me and stated, “This is where it’s at!” Pointing to her copy of Blonde on Blonde, she continued, “When I was a kid, there were two kinds of people.. those that listened to Dylan and the ones that listed to The Beatles.. I listened to Dylan!” From here she let the music speak for itself. As the needle dropped and sound crept from the speakers, I witnessed joy wash over her face.
The content was simple. There is a line in the sand. An us and a them, and between an opposition of principle. Music is formative and an articulation of this difference. Through it we can find ourselves and our locality within larger contexts. She’d laugh to see my shelves and understand the can of worms she opened. Her words ever present. The unconscious operation in my hunt for “where it’s at!” For fragments of self and the sound to articulate my difference.
My first “Dylan” was Punk and Hardcore. Discovered five years after this encounter. The beginning of a life spent within a conceptual counterculture. The first voices that seemed to speak better for me than my own. The first washes of the ecstatic joy I had seen on my mother’s face.
Punk’s lasting aural presence in my life is limited. My record collection has grown as varied as it is vast. Through its contents I understand my place in the world with far greater nuance than a single genre could offer. What remains, an angel on my shoulder, is the central thesis of Punk as a movement. It stands against orthodoxy and authority. Even its own. Punk is an attitude and a principle. A place in society and the terms of participation. Solace outside the persuasion of Groupthink. I have come to see my entire record collection as a cohesion of this idea. Set aside genre and time. Punk in spirit when not Punk in name.
In the 15 years following my mother’s death, it’s impossible to count the records I’ve wished to share with her. To show her where her words had brought me. To see her face light up once more. To return the favor. On the thirtieth anniversary of her lesson, here are a few albums that embody her lesson. Voices from beyond the line in the sand. In the spirit of the original, I have chosen albums from her generation. Punks that grew in the shadow of Dylan. A long overdue “Where it’s at!”
The Village Fugs - Sing Ballads Of Contemporary Protest, Point Of Views, And General Dissatisfaction (1965)
This is the first pressing on Broadside, but is probably better know in its second more widely circulated pressing on ESP as The Fugs – The Fugs First Album. A double pronged assault. The Fugs were the Black Flag of their day. Taking on the orthodoxies of the folk movement while using its tropes to attack and ridicule society at large. Saying to both… “What’s with all the rules?.. why’s everybody so fucking uptight?!?..” It’s important to note this album was released a few short months after Dylan’s electric controversy polarized the Folk movement. This recording may have been a direct response to this juncture. Everything about it is subversive. It’s initial placement on Broadside. It’s overtly folky title. It’s electric instruments. Its pointed irony staring down the expectant demand for the topical song. The Fugs embraced artifice to expose its hypocrisy. A band who, throughout their history, employed radical politics and fought for social justice. They had nothing to prove. The real deal. They went as far as trying to exorcize the Pentagon of demons and make it levitate. With all its jangle, sloppiness and humor this is one of the most topical albums ever recorded. Its action its content. By exposing the banality of society and the apathetic hypocrisy of Folk’s politic left, it may be the first in the tradition of our contemporary understanding of Punk.
John Fahey – Requia (1967)
Fahey was a radical, revolutionary, and dedicated member of the avant-garde. Ironically few knew it. His entire recorded output is a subversive construct. Nothing is what it seems. Fahey used Folk music as a smoke screen. In truth his modus and ambition was far closer to that of Ives, Vaughan Williams and Rimsky-Korsakov. He lifted from folk idioms but did not operate within one. Fahey’s revolution was far more radical and subtle. Where these composers spliced folk melodies into the constructs of classical music in their search for authenticity, he used the aural signifiers of Folk and Blues as a Trojan horse for his compositional ambitions. Embedding avant-garde musical structures into an inferred idiom and in the process making something entirely new. Very few understood the subterfuge of his music, and thus his output has been greatly misinterpreted. Requia offers a rare clue. The first side is everything you would expect of Fahey. Raw direct unaccompanied Fingerstyle guitar playing with complex melodic arrangements. The second side however is something entirely different. It features Fahey playing guitar over a maddening sound collage. Forcing Music-Concrete into the Folk orthodoxy was revolutionary. Even more radical was his response to it. Unlike most sound collage, Fahey’s does not stand alone. Nor is it background ambiance. He used it as an instrument. His playing directly responds to what you hear in the swell of chaos. Something few have had the ambition to do. It was this single side that showed me how far back from that line in the sand Fahey stood and how flawed the context in which history has placed him is.
International Harvester - Sov Gott Rose-Marie (1968)
International Harvester is but one name for a single group of Swedish musicians. They began as Parson Sound, evolved into International Harvester, then to Harvester and finally into Träd Gräs Och Stenar which still exists today. This is their first official release, and in my opinion one of the greatest of the psychedelic era. Harvester were at the forefront of the Swedish underground, deeply committed to political action and social change. This is a driving, heavy, dark album. In the year following the Summer of Love, it sounds like the drums of war. Burning embers focused against the establishment. It is an incredibly beautiful album. Filled with experiment. Drawing as much from rock music as it does from Jazz and folk musics from around the word. What differentiates it from most rock records of this era is that it is non-prescriptive. It does not attempt to lead by example or draw its listeners into an alternate view of society. It does not attempt to make itself pop music or appeal to anyone not already sympathetic to its moods. It is music for the angry tribe of revolution.
Satwa – Satwa (Experiência 1) (1973)
An album of beautiful protest. Recorded by the duo of Lula Côrtes and Lailson at the height of Brazil’s oppressive military dictatorship. It is a direct response to their country’s dire circumstances and the resulting censorships and exiles. The embodiment of the beauty and political potency of music. Rather than bow to censorship, the duo chose pregnant silence. This is a instrumental record out of politic. Musically it isn’t radical at first listen, which is part of its directive. Its protest only present to the initiated. Two intertwining acoustic guitars drawing from the folk melodies and structures of Europe, North Africa, India and South America played with furious intensity. A beautiful and poignant time capsule that stands alone in the history of Brazilian music and has few equivalents in any other.
Third Ear Band – Alchemy (1969)
The Third Ear Band were remarkable for the mystery they evoked. In an era when geographic and political tribes in music where clear to every listener, this album defies distinguishable association, genre, culture, location and period of recording. A true nonconformist. Without equivalents or piers. An album radical and defiant without ever asserting itself as such. It feels organic, natural, exactly as it should. Almost as if the entire history of the world’s music was forced into a blender and this is what flowed forth. It’s stunningly beautiful and challenging. Despite my lasting love affair with their music, I’m surprised the band managed to get as far as they did. The simple fact that this album was made speaks volumes of the era. Unsurprisingly, the lack of electric instruments, the complete absence of guitars, and the sounds the band generated failed to intoxicate a larger audience and fell on dead ears. A music existing outside time, too radical for its own.
Amon Düül – Paradieswärts Düül (1971)
Amon Düül was not formed by musicians with a political conscience. It was a group of musically untrained but politically minded people looking for a way to spread the word. This is a commune making music together in the spirit of their beliefs. All of their output was recorded in one single free-flowing jam session and split over four albums. My love affair with this fragment dates back decades and my favorite of the four. It’s contents are free-improvised folk rock, political action and experiment. Chaos and beauty intertwined. It’s incredibly inspiring. A moment of the “fuck it!.. get off your ass and just do it!” that embodied so much of the Punk era found hiding in Hippies. Beyond being a blast to listen to, it’s one of those albums that delivers the joy of making and leaves you with the sense that you should do the same.
Dom – Edge Of Time (1972)
Dom were a four piece from Dusseldorf that formed at the end of the 60’s and produced this one recorded document. Hippie Experimental music of the highest order. It drifts from instrumental folk, to psychedelic freak out jams, to spoken word and back to pure noise. It’s a great ride. I choose it as an example rather than an assertion. An artifact from my parent’s generation which bears similarity to many albums that I was drawn to in my youth from the Punk and Hardcore era. This is hippie DIY. Not your standard private press album from this era, often made when a band couldn’t gain traction with a record label. This feels closer to Punk’s refusal to participate with the establishment. “What we what, how we want, by ourselves and for our piers!” Music made on its own terms regardless of acceptance.