Punking Out (1978): American Indie #13

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Punking Out

You can never get enough Ramones and footage of 1970s CBGB, can you? So although this short documentary – it lasts only a smidgeon over 25 minutes – is not a millions miles away from this entry in the series, I reckon that Punking Out deserves a post here. Despite that awful title.

Directed, produced and edited by Maggi Carson, Juliusz Kossakowski and Ric Shore on a budget of around $7,000, Punking Out was filmed inside CBGB in the spring of 1977. Three acts are featured with snippets of their performances, together with interviews from some of the band members backstage after a set.

The documentary also talks to punters dotted around the bar. These range from committed regulars like Lydia Lunch and Helen Wheels, through to a couple of straights who had only ventured in to have a nosey at the much talked about bar. They weren’t going to come back. CBGB owner Hilly Kristal is also quizzed about noise and violence in the venue. It is noisy. It’s not terribly violent.

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Richard Hell’s great anthem Blank Generation opens proceedings, and we see more of the crowd, a real mix of music lovers. Some guys have long hair, some have bushy beards and nowhere is any kind of codified punk look in evidence. In other words, 1977 CBGB is absolutely nothing like Spike Lee’s vision of 1977 CGBG in his film Summer of Sam with mohicans, mohawks, piercings and a mosh pit. Whoever did the research for that film should never work in the same capacity ever again. Just as Randall Miller, the man behind the CBGB film of 2013, should never at any point in the future be allowed to step in front of a camera.

The interviews here come across as natural, with no questions and answers being discussed beforehand. Some look drunk, some stoned, some zapped on a high that isn’t entirely obvious.

‘Do you belong to the blank generation?’ a guy with fuzzy hair and aviator shades is asked. ‘I’m blank, you know,’ he replies, smiling. ‘There’s nuthin’ coming in and nuthin’ going out.’

Up next are The Dead Boys, who I always judged to be trying too hard to come across as young, loud and snotty. Here they play a pub band cover of Anarchy in the UK and when interviewed, they talk over themselves and are keen to stress that they haven’t rehearsed in a month.

The camera cuts to a pre-Teenage Jesus & The Jerks Lydia Lunch. With a mischevious grin, she talks about throwing a ‘genuinely used tampon’ at the band and tells us they’re ‘great fucks’ and that she’s fucked them. I’m guessing she must have skipped a few classes at finishing school. Inevitably we hear I Need Lunch.


Then it’s Ramones time. They blast through Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue and then a childlike Dee Dee, who’s wearing Bay City Rollers T-shirt, is quizzed about the song’s controversial lyrics. ‘It’s really just a frustration thing, cause there was nothing else to do. We got something better to do now. What’d’ya want me to say? That I want all kids to go drink ammonia or something? No, I don’t want that.’

You’ve likely seen some of this footage recycled in a number of later documentaries like The End of the Century: The Story of The Ramones and the punk episode of the BBC’s 1996 music documentary series Dancing in the Street. There’s a reason why it’s been reused so often. It’s fantastic.

Yeah, it would have been good to see some Patti Smith, Television and Talking Heads, and maybe some lesser known acts, but the documentary is only a snapshot of the venue that became one of the most legendary in music history.

CBGB Punters

Many now feel sad that some shop called Patagonia currently resides in what was once CBCG, but nothing lasts forever – and many of the faces we see in Punking Out are now dead: Joey, Johnny, Dee Dee and Tommy, Stiv Bators, Robert Quine of The Voidoids, Helen Wheels and Hilly himself.

Let’s face it; the Bowery has been utterly transformed since the 1970s, with retail values rocketing during the area’s gentrification. Going to see a show where you have to step over a Bowery bum on your way in to see Blondie or The Heartbreakers must have been a far different experience to sitting next to a horde of tourists and middle-class hipster locals while watching some group with precious little of the talent of the acts that helped establish CBGB as a byword for musical innovation.

As Patti Smith said during the set that would be the last performance there before the shutters came down for the final time: ‘Kids, they’ll find some other club.’

Helen Wheels in Punking Out

Its closure in 2006 did made me think back to my own teenage years. There was a plan in 1978 to convert the Glasgow Apollo into a bingo hall.

I was livid, I wanted The Clash and The Jam, not Legs Eleven and Two Fat Ladies. I’d seen many brilliant shows there, including The Ramones headlining. I’d seen The Dead Boys support The Damned and Richard Hell support The Clash. I signed all the petitions going to save the venue and dreaded it being shut and Glasgow becoming a ‘rock ghost town’. A reprieve was eventually granted but by the time it did close in 1985, I was hardly ever there. The Barrowlands had reinvented itself as a music venue and the old ballroom was a better place to see a band.

In his book Ramones (33 1/3), Nicholas Rombes called Punking Out ‘probably the best documentary of the 1970s CBGB scene’. It was selected for both the Chicago and the Philadelphia International Film Festival in 1978 and the following year it screened at the New York Film Expo. It is undoubtedly well worth seeking out.

For more on the film: http://www.punkingoutfilm.com/

The Return of Rocket to Russia, Action Painting & Some Swampland Jewels – Best Reissues & Compilations 2017

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Best Reissues and Compilations 2017

First up, The Ramones and a 40th anniversary deluxe treatment of Rocket To Russia.

You know the drill with The Ramones. A barrage of two-minute, rapid-fire fury with dumbass lyrics. Here with an added surf influence.

Rocket To Russia was maybe their last true masterpiece and their last album recorded with the band’s original lineup. This reissue does the album proud with two different mixes plus a shedload of previously unreleased material. Best of all, though, is the disc featuring the band’s concert at the Glasgow Apollo from December 19 1977. Exactly forty years ago.

Listen out for me. I was there down in the stalls bawling my head off.

There was usually a palpable undercurrent of violence and edginess whenever a punk act played the Apollo with a real us and them divide between fans and bouncers. The stage was far too high – it was never a good idea to book a seat in the two front rows. You would leave the hall at the end of the night with soot up your nose. There was no bar and only very basic toilet facilities.

Needless to say it’s my favourite ever venue though and The Ramones show from 1977 is one of the three best concerts I ever attended. My two other favourites, the first appearance of The Clash at the Apollo and Iggy Pop’s show there in 1979.

Here on what was their debut at the old hall, The Ramones are at their ferocious best. This isn’t from that show but instead from the Hogmanay show that The Ramones played at London’s Rainbow Theatre not long afterwards:

Brimming with freakbeat fireballs, The Creation compilation Action Painting is undoubtedly the definitive Creation artefact. Collected together for the first time are the band’s complete studio recordings which have been remastered from the original tapes by producer Shel Talmy. There’s even four tracks by an earlier incarnation of the band when they were known as The Mark Four. Plus an eighty page book.

As a teenager I first became aware of band via Boney M’s cover of Painter Man (so they served some purpose after all). That and the collage inside All Mod Cons. The Jams’ 5CD 1977 box set is recommended too incidentally as is Making Time – A Shel Talmy Production, which I have already reviewed here.

Originally released in the early days of 1968, this is How Does It Feel To Feel. Did Oasis ever manage this kind of swagger? Nope.

From the same era that gave us The Creation comes the Jon Savage compiled 1967 The Year Pop Divided. This collection includes psychedelia, garage nuggets, Tamla, southern soul, early funk, a little UK pop reggae in the shape of Ken Boothe and some Gallic space age Psyche Rock from Les Yper Sound.

I know very little about this latter act but imagine them living in a Pop Art apartment in Paris and hanging out with Yves Klein and the models he would drag over his canvases while smeared in blue paint. Insanely catchy, this should have been on the soundtrack of Barbarella or Modesty Blase. Stereolab, of course, love them.

Unfortunately there’s no video footage of Les Yper Sound that I can find online but here’s another Savage selected gem. From Spring 1967, this is I Can Hear The Grass Grow (Roy and the boys must have had acute hearing at this point in their careers or maybe there’s another explanation for this remarkable ability). The song also cropped up this year on the CD/DVD Digi-pack collection Magnetic Waves of Sound: The Best Of The Move which I might just treat myself to in the not too distant future.

Newly released on the ever excellent Soul Jazz label, Deutsche Elektronische Musik 3 is a 23 track compilation of experimental German music released between 1971 and 1981. There are Krautrock big hitters such as Neu!, Cluster and Popol Vuh and there are some lesser known acts like Klauss Weiss and Missus Beastly.

Highlights include Michael Bundt’s The Brain Of Oskar Panizza (from 1977, I can imagine the early Human League being influenced by this) and Neu!’s Neuschnee, one of the most influential tracks of the 1970s.

Here is a very much unofficial video for the latter:

Swampland Jewels (on Yep Roc Records) is another in a long line of fantastic compilations of Cajun music. A various artists collection of songs from the 1950s and ’60s, a version of this album originally appeared on the Goldband Records label in a 1979. Now expanded and accompanied with liner notes and photos courtesy of Steven Weiss – no relation to the Klauss Weiss mentioned earlier I presume – this is a hugely enjoyable listen.

Tracks include Herman Guilee’s Bon Ton Roula, a straight-ahead bouncy number that’ll have you mamboing within seconds and Al Ferrier’s Yard Dog, which blurs the line between traditional Cajun and Bayou rockabilly.

Finally on the reissue & compilation front, a wee mention for Serge Gainsbourg & Jean-Claude Vannier’s OST Les Chemins Des Katmandou (on Finders Keepers) and Keb Darge And Cut Chemist Present The Dark Side (on BBE). And here’s a link to my favourite reissue of 2017, The Smiths’ The Queen is Dead.

Goodbye, Tommy Ramone


Sadly the last member of the original Ramones line-up, Thomas Erdelyi aka Tommy Ramone, has died, aged 62 in New York City.

The Ramones defined the sound of punk rock more than any other single band and Tommy played an absolutely integral part in that; drumming on and co-producing the first three classic albums, Ramones, Leave Home, and Rocket to Russia. He also wrote or co-wrote some of the band’s finest tracks including this one, from the eponymous debut. This is Blitzkrieg Bop performed at their famous Hogmanay 1977 show at the Rainbow Theatre in London:

I saw the band play a relentless, pulverising concert at the Glasgow Apollo on that tour and it’s one of most exciting shows I’ve ever witnessed.

Ramones Glasgow Apollo December1977

To read one of Tommys last interviews click here.

Tommy Ramone
January 29, 1952 – July 11, 2014.