Jello Biafra

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Punk: Attitude Review


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At the start of Don Letts' excellent new documentary Punk: Attitude, ex-Black Flag-er and perennial curmudgeon Henry Rollins explains punk as being in essence one guy looking at the world he's living in and saying "Fuck this." A pithy summation of the movement, to be sure, and also quite a smart one, as this is one of the few films about the birth, death, and pseudo-revival of punk rock to actually acknowledge the genre's limitations (you can only say "Fuck this" while playing 90-second songs for so long), while simultaneously reveling in another trip down the antiestablishment memory road.

Most of the literature and documentaries on punk tend to start out in the same place, talking about how in the mid-1970s music had become this bloated, big-business monster, with pretentious arena rock bands playing 20-minute solos and so on - and then came The Ramones to shatter all that. Letts - a former producer and icon in the scene, as well as director of the authoritative documentary on The Clash, Westway to the World - digs deeper than that, going back to the 1960s and early '70s, finding the root of the coming musical uprising not just in expected places like The Velvet Underground, MC5, and Iggy Pop, but also in the jaggedly poppy sounds of many now mostly forgotten garage bands (whose sound is still inspiring post-punkers like The Hives). In describing the ascent of punk later in the '70s, Dead Kennedys frontman Jello Biafra talks about how just about every smaller town and city had one guy who was into The Stooges and The Velvet Underground who then moved to the bigger cities, met up with all the other like-minded small-town new arrivals, and started bands.

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