oh bondage up yours!

(I wrote this in 1993 for the journal Bad Subjects. It was anthologized in a book in 1997. I am reprinting it here, because the Bad Subjects website has been down for what feels like years. I have added a video at the end.)

Oh Bondage Up Yours!: Thoughts on the Rhino Punk Anthology 

'Thus, as soon as the original innovations which signify 'subculture' are translated into commodities and made generally available, they become 'frozen.' Once removed from their private contexts by small entrepreneurs and big fashion interests who produce them on a mass scale, they become codified, made comprehensible, rendered at once public property and profitable merchandise.'
---Dick Hebdige, Subculture: The Meaning of Style

1977: While I'm browsing in Rather Ripped Records of Berkeley, the in-store stereo begins playing one of the most powerful pieces of rock and roll I have ever heard. I stand transfixed until the song is over; when it ends, I go up to the counter and ask the clerk, 'What WAS that?' He sneers at me with know-it-all superiority and says, 'The Sex Pistols.'

January 14, 1978: I am at Winterland, the aging ex-home of ice shows, turned into a rock emporium by Bill Graham (and soon to be torn down forever, though the name lives on in the souvenir company that sells rock and roll tee-shirts). The Sex Pistols take the stage for what will turn out to be their last concert ever (so far), and the crowd begins the most awesome display of audience participation I have ever witnessed. The Pistols are used to playing clubs; Winterland holds 5,000. It is the biggest crowd in Sex Pistols history, and Johnny Rotten, at least, hates it. People begin throwing things at the band, not just the usual wadded-up paper cups, but money, toilet paper rolls and dead flowers. Rotten hangs on the mike stand, dodging the missiles, and though I am perhaps halfway back of the old auditorium, I can see the piercing intelligence of his demonic eyes as he badgers the audience and sings our favorites: 'Anarchy for the USA' indeed. He paces the stage, pocketing the most useful debris, asking 'Cameras? Anyone got any cameras?' (and sure enough, what looks like a camera flies through the air and lands at his feet). Greil Marcus described his own reactions to the show in Lipstick Traces

Walking the aisles of Winterland as the Sex Pistols played, I felt a confidence and a lust that were altogether new. Thirty-two years had not taught me what I learned that night: when you're pushed, push back; when a shove negates your existence, negate the shove. I felt distant from nothing, superior to nothing. I also felt a crazy malevolence, a wish to smash people to the ground, and my eyes went to the ground, where I saw small children (what sort of parents would bring little kids to a place like this, I wondered, thinking of my own at home), and thought of smashing them. 

My own reactions were odd variations of those Marcus was experiencing. Surrounded by the largest display of public nihilism I had ever participated in ('real' or 'fake' seemed unimportant at the time), my thoughts kept going back to MY children, not only my two-and-a-half year old son, but the daughter who it turned out was born the very next afternoon. Perhaps it was the thoughts of my daughter-to-be, but in the midst of all that spectacular malevolence, I was happy. To be a part of 5,000 people singing 'NO FUTURE!' in unison seemed somehow both the most negative and most positive statement possible. Camus once pointed out that to refuse suicide is to accept life; in refusing the future we had been offered, we were accepting something more unknown, more frightening, more wonderful.

Winter 1993: Amidst rumors of a Sex Pistols reunion tour, Rhino Records, anthologizer to the Boomer generation, releases a series of volumes called DiY ('Do it Yourself') that encapsulate the punk moment as it appeared on record. I snap up a few of the volumes right away, and find myself one night driving my now-teenaged son's car down the freeway, listening to Anarchy In the UK: UK Punk I. An old favorite comes on, 'Oh Bondage Up Yours!' by X-Ray Spex. This single, and their one great album, Germfree Adolescents, had been very hard to come by in America; I can remember listening to 'Oh Bondage' on the radio many times, but I never actually saw a copy of it, and I never even heard Germfree until a friend made me a copy of his import version. But now, here was that classic song, easy to find in the CD era of endless anthologizing, and I was happy.

Poly Styrene, the lead singer with braces, led off with her wonderful British accent, calmly speaking without accompaniment: 'Some people think little girls should be seen and not heard. But I think ...' and then she upped the stakes, screaming into the void, 'OH BONDAGE, UP YOURS! ONE! TWO! THREE! FOUR!' And the band kicked in, led by Lora Logic's amazing amateurish sax playing, and I drove down the road, bouncing like Wayne and Garth in Wayne's World, alone with my music and my memories, singing along as best I could: 'Nyah nyah nyah nyah chain me to the wall, I wanna be a slave nyah nyah, Oh Bondage! Up Yours! Oh Bondage! No More! Oh Bondage! Up Yours! Oh Bondage! No More!' At that moment, I loved Rhino Records.

 

It probably isn't a question of whether or not punk rock died that night in Winterland. The Sex Pistols died, maybe; but punk and Sex Pistols were never completely interchangeable terms. Much terrific punk rock music has been made in the fifteen years since the Sex Pistols broke up, not only by Pistols contemporaries like The Clash but by the many children of punk: Hüsker Dü and the Replacements in Minnesota, X in Los Angeles, the Seattle grunge bands of today. No, punk rock didn't necessarily die at Winterland, but what about rock and roll itself, the music which 'defined a generation'? Did the Sex Pistols really bring on the end of rock and roll, as Johnny Rotten, now using his 'real' name of John Lydon, claimed in the post-Pistols years?

Many of us who believed in the notion that rock and roll represented liberation welcomed punk with open arms in the late 70s. Our music had gotten too cautious, too worried about the bottom line; punk rock was for us a return to the rebellious roots of rock and roll, filtered through Iggy and the Dolls and stamped with intentional ugliness. Many of our contemporaries took one listen to the Sex Pistols, or the Ramones or Flipper or whichever band first interrupted their contemplations, and decided in a seeming instant that it was time to grow up. They changed the buttons on their car radio from 'underground' stations to oldies, classic rock, and Tom Petty; they might tolerate the so-called New Wave, but they weren't about to listen to a group called the Dead Kennedys. Those of us who embraced punk adopted the sneer of the Rather Ripped clerk: we had seen the future of rock and roll, and it was playing on college radio, not KFOG. In distancing ourselves from the oldies fans, we thought we were placing ourselves in the forefront of the elder statesperson wing of the New Rock and Roll. We perhaps never noticed that punk wasn't the beginning of a new era, but the end of an old one.

For an era must have passed before it becomes grist for the nostalgia mill. And nostalgia is partly what I was experiencing as I sang along with Poly Styrene: 'This is what it used to be like' fueled my joy just as much as did Lora Logic's saxophone. The incongruities involved in listening to 'Oh Bondage' on my son's car stereo were unimportant as long as the song was playing. In 1977 'Oh Bondage! Up Yours!' was a call to end the bondage; in 1993, it was a call to remember a time when our bondage was different than it is now. The cultural force of 'Oh Bondage!' in 1977 was empowering; the stagnation of the mid-70s, economic, artistic, psychic and social, was confronted with a NO so emphatic it became an affirmation, an insistence that things did not have to remain as they were. But in 1993, 'Oh Bondage!' in part represents a trip back to the good old days. We love Rhino Records, because we get one last chance to stare down bondage, but as long as we are dealing with remembered bondage, we are powerless. Only by using Poly Styrene's cry as a weapon against our current, ongoing, bondage, can we be true to the spirit of 1977.

If we accept 'Oh Bondage Up Yours!' solely on the terms of the Rhino reissue, as a formerly-rare artifact now offered to CD owners who want to complete their collections, then we are acquiescing in the process described by Dick Hebdige at the top of this essay: subcultural innovation becomes 'codified, made comprehensible, rendered at once public property and profitable merchandise.' Hebdige is not the only cultural studies scholar who believes there is a potential for dissent within the complex processes in which commodities and consumers interact, but if such against-the-grain reading of texts is difficult even at the moment when sub-cultural innovation first presents itself, how much harder is it when it must be performed in an atmosphere of nostalgia, which is ultimately only memories served up to us by others for their own purposes? Rhino Records is not interested in reproducing the social and artistic milieu that spawns an X- Ray Spex; they are only interested in creating a nostalgia for that milieu, for the purpose of selling albums. 

Of course, record companies have always been interested in selling albums; this was no different in 1977. But the tensions of 1977, in the period between the initial sub-cultural innovation and its inevitable commodification, lay partly in the desire of the exploiters to encourage a continuation of the then-current social malaise (which would create more artifacts to be exploited) and partly in the desire of the innovators to resist exploitation. With the later onset of nostalgia, our memories are exploited, the innovators are long busy elsewhere, and the tensions have disappeared. Those who 'remember when' have their memories stripped of the tension that provided a foundation for thought and action; those who are hearing this music for the first time are hearing it stripped of the social context that was equally important in making this music 'matter.' In both cases it is possible to make X-Ray Spex matter once again, this essay itself being one attempt to get beyond cheap nostalgia. But the disappearance of the social context makes listening to X-Ray Spex in 1993 a personal, individual experience; contrast my singing alone in a car with the communal nihilism of the last Sex Pistols concert.

Once there was a punk moment, when 'We mean it, maaaaan!' was not ironic, when you could, for a second or a minute or a lifetime, throw off bondage. This moment was quickly codified; the pathetic Sid Vicious, not the more dangerous Johnny Rotten, became the primary icon of the early punks, and New Wave (hello, Talking Heads) was the recording industry's money-making response to Punk (goodbye, X-Ray Spex). It is possible, even likely, that those who once heard a great and awful roar in 1977 are willing to settle for a Rhino reissue in 1993. But such a nostalgic settlement does not connect us with our past, but instead denies it.

Copyright © 1993, 2019 by Steven Rubio . All rights reserved. Permission to link to this site is granted.


music friday: b.b. king, 1968

On June 6-8, 1968, The Mothers of Invention headlined shows at the Fillmore (first night) and Winterland (next two nights). The supporting acts were B.B. King and Booker T. and the M.G.'s. It's a good example of the kinds of diverse shows Bill Graham would put on in those days. The Mothers were experimental rock, King was blues, Booker and the M.G.'s were R&B. All are in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Jazz Casual was a TV show out of KQED in San Francisco that ran occasionally from 1960-1968, shown on NET (which later became PBS). The host was critic Ralph J. Gleason. A look at Gleason's guest list boggles the mind: Dizzy Gillespie, Dave Brubeck, Carmen McRae, Sonny Rollins, Louis Armstrong, John Coltrane, Mel Tormé, Count Basie, and many more. In May of 1968, the guest was B.B. King. It gives an example of what B.B.'s music was like at the time. The band is B.B. King (Guitar), Sonny Freeman (Drums), Jim Toney (Organ), Mose Thomas (Trumpet), and Lee Gatling (Saxophone).


music friday: mick jagger's birthday

Mick Jagger spent his 34th birthday with the Rolling Stones, playing a Day on the Green concert in Oakland. It was the final show on the Some Girls tour, and tickets were $12.50. For your money, you got not only the Stones, but Santana, Eddie Money, and Peter Tosh. A Rolling Stone article about the tour asked, "Has the band lost that touring magic?"

Former Wailer Peter Tosh released his third solo album in 1978, Bush Doctor. It was his second album on Rolling Stones Records, and featured Tosh and Jagger trading vocals on "(You Gotta Walk And) Don't Look Back".

Eddie Money was a local favorite working out of Berkeley who had released his first album in 1977. It was a big seller and contained two hits, "Two Tickets to Paradise" and this one:

Santana was a bigger local favorite who, of course, were known world-wide. In 1978, they released a cover of Buddy Holly's "Well All Right":

The Stones made the fans wait more than two hours before they hit the stage. This was the setlist:

Let It Rock
All Down the Line
Honky Tonk Women
Starfucker
When the Whip Comes Down
Beast of Burden
Lies
Miss You
Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)
Shattered
Respectable
Far Away Eyes
Love in Vain
Tumbling Dice
Happy
Sweet Little Sixteen
Brown Sugar
Jumpin' Jack Flash
(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction

Some Girls was the Stones' last great album. A few years ago, they released a film of a 1978 concert in Texas. About that show, Chet Flippo, who penned the above-mentioned Rolling Stone article, wrote:

There have been bad shows on this tour, but Fort Worth was not one of them. It was the last small show of the tour, and the Stones gave it everything they had: these old pros, crippled by age and by dissipation, but still holding the flag high. Jagger’s defiance, missing in so many of the shows, returned for a while and Richards was — usually — leading the band. In “Beast of Burden” when Jagger pleaded, “Ain’t I tough enough?” it was a real question, not a rhetorical one. Thirty rows back, though, with everyone still standing, I was thinking: I’m thirty-four years old and I’ve seen rock & roll for seventeen years and I’d kinda like to sit down. Jagger is also thirty-four and he’s been doing rock & roll seventeen years and most of the time he acts like he’d like to sit down, too. Why does he keep this up? Just for these few moments of glory? I studied him through binoculars and his face showed no emotion whatsoever. During “Shattered,” he was mumbling the words, “I’ve been shattered” as he half-heartedly shook his cock. That’s been the extent of his 1978 theatrics: teasing the audience with whatever was in his pants and performing an intermittent striptease with his T-shirt. The audience reaction, even at this relatively supercharged show, was the same as at the other concerts I’d seen: at first buoyantly up and ready for the old Stones magic to wash over them. As that magic wanes, a certain listlessness sets in. At some of the outdoor shows, that listlessness turned to anger and stage-trashing.

“If the band’s slightly lacking in energy,” he mumbled after “Shattered,” “it’s because we spent all last night fuckin’. We do our best.” Well, I thought, I’m glad this is a good show because the bad ones these days are really painful. Jagger’s voice started cracking and Richards gave over his guitar solo in “Tumbling Dice” — usually a magical moment — to Ron Wood. A good show, very close to being a great one. If the Stones continue to work this hard, they can hold on to their championship title for a while yet.

Finally, for archival purposes, here is a poorly-recorded audio of the Oakland concert:


music friday: fillmore auditorium, july 19, 1967

On this date 52 years ago, Bill Graham presented one of those interesting mixes at the Fillmore that he was known for in those days. He was in the middle of what he called "The Fillmore Summer Series", which the previous month had included my first rock concert (Chuck Berry, Eric Burdon & the Animals, Steve Miller Blues Band). Wednesday, July 19, 1967 was the second night of a six-day stand featuring Sam & Dave and the James Cotton Blues Band.

Sam & Dave Poster

Bonnie MacLean did the poster. She and Graham had been married the month before.

Country Joe & the Fish were the opening act for the first three nights (The Loading Zone took over for the final three). Here they are a month earlier at the Monterey Pop Festival:

James Cotton played all six nights, and then stuck around for six more nights playing with The Yardbirds, Richie Havens, and The Doors. Here he is, live in 1967:

Sam & Dave in 1967:

Sam Moore in 2009:


music friday: listening

My nephew got me started on a long ramble when he asked me in an email, "How did your music listening habits change from your 20s to your 30s?" My reply:
 
My formative years ... well, I'm gonna say for many/most Americans, our formative years for popular music come in high school or a little before. I was in high school from 1967-1970. So, try as I might, part of me is stuck in that era, which is proven by Last.fm, which tracks my Spotify listening. I'll brag about listening to Billie Eilish like that means I'm old-but-hip, except when we run the numbers ... well, my top ten artists for June were Beatles, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Sleater-Kinney, The Kinks, Tim Buckley, Rolling Stones, Bonnie Raitt, Bowie, and Fleetwood Mac (notably, that last act was almost all the Peter Green years).
 
I'd extract two things from this. One, I was raised on guitar rock. It's not that weird that I would like Sleater-Kinney, where 2/3 of the band plays guitar. That also means I started disconnecting when synthesizers replaced guitars in pop bands ... outside of New Order, I wasn't a big fan, and that came around the time I turned 30. Two, not sure how it works here, but probably my #1 pop music influence in high school was the birth of "underground" FM radio. That's where most of my current nostalgia lies, and those top ten artists above were either played on those radio stations or were outgrowths of that.
 
Next, there was no way, at least to me, to predict hip-hop, which long ago replaced rock and roll as the primary pop music. I am appreciative of hip hop, and have my favorites, but really, it was mostly Beastie Boys who connected with me, because they were kinda like Led Zeppelin with rapping. I turned 30 in 1983. That was when Run-D.M.C and Public Enemy and such were beginning, so I caught the beginnings of that, but my favorite was still Bruce Springsteen. And while Prince covered all genres, and I saw him first in 1981, he had strong roots in guitar rock, so I wasn't really stretching out then, either. Beyond that, my favorites were bands like Hüsker Dü.
 
The only time I fell headlong into an emerging sound was punk. I first saw Patti Smith in 1976, Talking Heads and Sex Pistols in '78, Clash in '79. I could never call myself a punk rocker ... I had a job as a steelworker and was supporting a wife and two kids. But it's really the only time I felt strongly connected to a genre. When did this end? I don't know, I saw the fake-Clash in 1984, maybe that ends that period. And I was 31 in 1984.
 
So ... I don't think my musical tastes have changed nearly as much as I'd like to pretend. Noisy rock in the 60s, Bruce and then punk in the 70s, Prince and Hüsker Dü in the 80s, first three S-K shows in the 90s, Pink ... well, she's a little different, except when you see her in concert and get past the high-flying acrobatics, she and her band are very traditional guitar rock.
 
So to your actual question: Listening habits.
 
From my early youth until the Summer of Love in 1967 (when I turned 14), I listened to Top 40 Radio. Starting in the summer of 1967, I listened to FM radio, and I connected very much to a fantasy hippie world. The early-70s were more random, then Robin and I started going to concerts when we had a little extra money, so my 70s listening included lots of live music. Saw Bruce first in 1975, #1 life-changing artist for us. In the 1970s, the radio station that was once "Underground" was mainstream, but they still played what we now think of as Classic Rock, and I was still very attached to radio. Sometime in the 1980s, I found myself playing music I bought more than I listened to radio, although I had a few years in the mid-80s when I listened to college radio 24/7. And in 1983, I turned 30.
 
Nothing really changed in my listening habits from the mid-80s until 2002 or so. I was an early adopter of all-you-can-eat streaming services, so starting with Rhapsody and going into today's Spotify, my listening habits are fed by the idea that I can hear anything I want at any time in any place. Been doing that since I turned 50 or so. And while that gives me the chance to sample all kinds of music, see Last.fm above ... I listen to 60s music a lot. Well, 60s music and Billie Eilish (I remain a sucker for young girls/women with attitudes).
 
The real question is, how much of my changing listening habits came from getting older, and how much came because of emerging technology? Specifically, my listening is related to how radio came to me: Top 40, then FM Underground, then FM mainstream, then college radio, then a hiatus, then finally streaming. But WHAT I listen to, I assume, is tied to getting older. Maybe not so noticeably when I went from my 20s to my 30s (concerts I attended in 1982, when I was 29: Prince, Clarence Clemons, J Geils/U2, Clash/English Beat; in 1983, when I was 30: Prince, Marianne Faithfull), but by the time I was 40 ... well, I didn't go to as many concerts, for one thing. The only two artists I've obsessed about that started after I was 40 are Sleater-Kinney and Pink, and Pink isn't really an obsession.
 
So changes happen over the years, but they are gradual. And it is possible to stay current in your enjoyment of pop music, but most of my friends who are in their 50s and 60s, even the most music-obsessed ones, struggle to keep up. They want to hear the latest thing, but they'd rather listen to The Cure and Pavement. My glory years of music listening were the late-60s FM radio, and the mid/late-70s of fairly regular concert going. That is, Jefferson Airplane and The Clash have a special place in my heart.
 


music friday: top ten janet weiss sleater-kinney tracks

"Dig Me Out"

"Not What You Want"

"Get Up"

"Youth Decay" (these are in chronological order, but this would be my #1)

"One Beat"

"The Promised Land" (the Bruce Springsteen song, w/Janet on drums and harmonica)

"The Fox"

"Modern Girl"

"Let's Call It Love/Entertain" (New Year's Eve 2016, the last time I saw them together)

"No Anthems"

Bonus: Wild Flag covering Television and Patti Smith:

And a Spotify playlist:


god bless america for what

Oh lord, is this the land of the free? 
And can someone please explain this word called equality? 
’Tis the time for everyone to come to this country’s aid
And help repair the mess of this land that we’ve all made
You see kids are tired of growing up just to fight another war and singing God bless America
Unless they know, they know what for


music friday: rent

My wife is retiring. She might already be retired ... it's not clear to me. Part of me thinks her last day is Sunday, but of course she doesn't work on Sundays. So then I think her last day is today, Friday. But yesterday she went into the office and returned all of the equipment she had used over the years in order to work mostly from home. When she got back, she said she was retired, because she can no longer work from home, and she's not going in tomorrow, so it's a de facto retirement. As if to emphasize this, she went into the bedroom and unplugged her alarm clock. Said she would never use it again.

She spent 15 years working for Kaiser. They had a party for her. Lots of people told her how highly they regarded her. One of her best qualities is that while she's not exactly modest, she doesn't think she is anything special. If you point out to her that she is a good person, she replies that she's just like everyone else. If you tell her that not everyone does the right thing as often as she does, she deflects the praise. Still, I was glad to know that her long-time workmates forced her to listen to their praise. When she came home, she tried on some of the stuff they'd given her:

Robin retires

I walked off my factory job in August of 1984, 35 years ago. Robin immediately went out and got a job, then went back to school and got an MBA while she kept working. She has supported the family for the last 35 years, and you could say that she'll be supporting it for the next 35 years, too, since she made sure to put money aside for retirement. Understand, she doesn't like work. She's not someone like my father, who worked all his life and died within a year of retiring. She doesn't like work, never has, but for 35 years she supported our family so that I could goof off. I still can't believe it.

So here comes our golden years.