In 1979 I was 8 years old. My family owned a huge second-hand / antique shop on 3rd Avenue and 123rd Street in Spanish Harlem. My dad would populate the store with goods bought from homes in Northern NJ and Suburban NY. I would often accompany him on these estate buyouts, and whenever I discovered something I liked, he’d let me keep it – a toy piano, an antique marionette, boxes of books or… of records. And it was among a box of about 2 dozen or so records my dad said I could have, that I first met Punk Rock.
Perusing my new collection, five records stood way the fuck out to me; grabbed my attention like a tightly clenched fist about my (then non-existent) adam’s apple, pushing, straining to touch their fingertips together right through my muscles and flesh:
1. Ramones, Road To Ruin
2. Ian Dury, New Boots and Panties!!
3. The Clash, The Clash
4. THE STOOGES, THE STOOGES!!!!!!
5. The Velvet Underground, White Light / White Heat
Of course I played The Ramones record first. I recall the giddy excitement that coursed through me as I dangled in bligazzidy anticipation – I couldn’t wait to hear the sound that accompanied the sick-looking cartoon on the cover of this record.
I put the fucking record on. “Wait! Now! Wait! Now!” And goddammit, I will never forget, as long as my brain remains alive beneath my jarred, scarred and lumpy skull, that sound; that feeling. That moment. Everything, together, came, for me, together. They sang about 2nd Avenue – I knew that street! They sang about hanging out and about eating Kentucky Fried, finger-lickin’ Chicken. What the fuck?!
I picked up a second-hand Rickenbacker bass and somehow figured out the melody, a muscle-bound march down, then back up the neck, practicing for days until I could match the rhythm and the melody. I then spent another day figuring out how to attach the bass-amp to the bass speaker. Once things were finally, properly attached, I plugged in the instrument and turned everything up to 10.
Ba-dadadada – “Wait!” Ba-dadadada – “Now!” I had my first orgasm. But it wasn’t like the deep, loving orgasms I now enjoy as a well-studied, experienced adult, it first started in my belly. A sickening rumble in my guts that I think may have made some wet shit leak from my bunghole before moving down my pelvis, reaching back into my loins and then up from my prostate and out my poor, little, goddamned urethra. Fuck! The first, best, and maybe last important moment of my entire existence, hitherto. And I could play it! Exactly what those ugly, white, long-haired buffoons were playing, I could also play – and with minimal to no effort what so-fucking-ever! Right rhythms, right notes, primal pounding – “Tonight, Tonight, Tonight!” Well, alright! One of my existence’s three pure epiphanies; I had learned, in that 30-second or so moment, exactly who I was, who I’d always been, who I was going to be, and what I was going to do, until the very moment I fucking died.
I carried on, listening to the rest of the album, and exploring the others:
• Ian Dury, New Boots and Panties!!!
◦ Clever Trevor – whimsical, childish, my first taste of new wave punk mixed with white funk and soul.
◦ Sex and Drugs and Rock’n'Roll – humble and melodic yet demonic and aggressive. Forceful yet begging, for life and the permission to indulge and understand and please, if possible…
• The Clash, The Clash
◦ Police and Thieves – too bad I had never heard Junior Murvin’s original, produced by Lee “Scratch” Perry, but I had heard Reggae and I could discern. The working-class cry and entreaty mirrored my feelings for my perception of my parents’ aching scratch for their piece of the American dream, as I watched them work tirelessly to achieve their goals and desires and blahblahblah. And Paul Semonin looked cool as all burning hell on the cover.
• Iggy and The Stooges
◦ I Wanna Be Your Dog, cemented everything for me. I knew they were being sarcastic – defiant. But they also meant exactly what I was hearing; the self-hatred and dissatisfaction. It spoke to everything I’d ever felt in my young life and said it in the absolute perfect way. Now the world would understand what I meant when I expressed myself to it, in everything I would ever say or do from that point on. I hate you. I hate me. And I can achieve on levels so far outside and beyond your understanding and expectation that we will never miscommunicate again. Fuck you! I may need, but I don’t NEED YOU!!!!!
• Velvet Underground
◦ White Light, White Heat – me and white people are just the same type of people, want the same things. I don’t have to fear them, they also are not shit. And as soon as I grow up I am going to try drugs!
“Doesn’t it just break your heart… I mean, you want to make it. I mean really, really make it. But let’s see – how many people come to NYC every week, trying to be rock stars? 100 easy. They’re pouring off the buses at Port Authority. 100 a week, that’s 5,000 a year. Another 5,000 go out to LA, another 5 kick around Cleveland, Detroit, Chicago, working it there, that’s 15,000 a year? Shit, that’s conservative – it’s probably more like 50,000…
My point is… how many are going to make it? 45,000 a year never get anywhere. They never get a break, they knock up some girl, take a job driving some bakery truck – maybe 4,000 become professional musicians playing a hotel lounge near some airport. The cream, the top 1,000 get to be in a Zeppelin tribute band, make middle class money, or be 18th runner up on American Idle – but to really make a name, to be a star: maybe 10. 10 people yearly. Worldwide. 10 people out of 50,000 make it. Jonah. You think you’re going to be one of them?”
Jonah Gunn: “I don’t know. I’m not sure… I mean, I’m used to being a winner, you know, from playing sports and shit, but this is grown up life… like, I know Im good, but I guess at this point I just don’t think about that. I’m just following my interests, exploring what I love so life can be bearable. Maybe I’d kill to progress, depends on the circumstance. I ain’t gonna wind up playing no hotels, or in no Kiss cover band or whatever, but I’m not gonna turn my back on MY DREAMS. My dreams, they are me.”
Music by Zambia Greene
Produced by Mod Alien, Zambia Greene, Rey Miranda
Recorded by Mod Alien, Jacob Johnson, Edward Rawls and Jim McKell
Mixed by John Agnello and Francisco Botero
Mastered by Steve Fallone
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