Rob Palladino is a drummer, editor and writer. He’s been playing drums for 30-odd years, has been part of bands that no one has ever heard of but he is really proud of, has recorded, toured and has no intention of stopping anytime soon.
He is currently listening to Rush, Bruce Hornsby and Cardiacs , but not necessarily in that order or at the same time.
Rob has lived in many wonderful places. Most recently in Austin, TX, the self-styled “Live Music Capital of the World” and home to SXSW and the Austin City Limits Music Festival, and the much more relaxing and enjoyable “Austin Kite Fest.”
He is living in a small, pleasant, non descript town in Essex… at least for now.
In recent weeks the BBC broadcast a three-part series on the punk “phenomenon” that is celebrating it’s 35th anniversary. Like pretty much everyone at the time that had not already been privy to punk, it only came into my view with that infamous Today appearance in late ‘76 by the Sex Pistols where they cursed their way to notoriety.
Admittedly goaded on by the horribly obnoxious presenter Bill Grundy, this kid that was sat in his front room in the East End of London just liked the fact they’d sworn on early evening television and how much it pissed everyone off.
Around the time that punk started to break, I was a dedicated heavy metal/rock/prog fan. I was listening to bands like Queen – whose “A Night At The Opera” was the first rock album I ever owned – Kiss, AC/DC, Judas Priest, as well as more complex bands like Rush, Genesis and Yes.
I read the music press from page-to-page, front-to-back. Sounds was the paper that I most eagerly awaited as they always seemed to have a story on bands I loved, and new acts, virtually every week. I was soaking everything up.
At the time, rock journalist Geoff Barton was the man with his finger pressed to the pulse of the metal world. I and millions of other long-term and fledgling headbangers, hung on his every word. If Sounds was my bible at the time – as one wit so eloquently put it – then Barton was the guy who sent around his own version of the metal 10 commandments.
If he recommended a band you checked ‘em out. If he said “buy this album, buy that album,” you went and bought it. If the album had the magical “import” next to its title on a review, you paid the extra to get it, no matter what.
Sounds, at that point, was the only publication in its field to actually cover the metal scene in any great detail, whilst its competitors Melody Maker and NME were heading on a different course altogether.
Both of those papers were fiercely pro-punk and were not afraid to get in your face and tell you. They promoted bands like the Sex Pistols, The Clash, Buzzcocks and The Jam. But it was the NME – known amongst the headbanging fraternity I belonged to at the time as “The Enemy” – that bought into the zeitgeist and decided that all but punk rock was shite and must be destroyed, especially metal.
But, there was something that was oddly attractive about the punk scene’s bilious, nihilistic stance. Collectively, the bands and followers had a similar visual aesthetic and their anger was certainly something I felt, but not at any “system” as such. I was just one more pissed off kid.
Thing is, I desperately wanted to like the music as much as I liked the look and general feel of that scene. It was strange and new, and I thought that the music just had to be good. After hearing The Clash’s White Riot, and the Pistols’ Never Mind The Bollocks – which to these ears is one of the greatest rock ‘n’ roll albums of all time – I thought that I’d found another type of music to listen to as well as metal.
As I got further in the more disappointed I became. Some of the music being produced was absolutely awful, but not only that, the garbage that the punk-loving NME was spewing had absolutely no basis in reality as far as I could fathom.
Whereas some of the aforementioned bands had musicians that were underplaying simply to get noticed, The Police being a perfect example – clever boys that they were, there were reviews of all sorts of bands being touted as the next great hopes. One week it would The Exploited, another week Angelic Upstarts and another it would be Crass, and it just became one big vacuous blur of the talentless leading the talentless.
But the NME kept pumping out these new heroes. The fact that most of them couldn’t play, and the fact that I had to think “down” just to listen to this motley band of instrumentally challenged gobshites, was as astonishing as it was appalling.
Even as a young lad, I knew what was what, what was crap, and what wasn’t. These bands weren’t challenging any of the “dinosaurs,” as they so quaintly put it, they were just forced to lay low and come back even more powerfully than before. Punk was a spitball at a battleship.
The bands that couldn’t play, or sing for that matter, all fell into the gutter fairly rapidly. It seems no accident to me that bands like Siouxsie & The Banshees, The Damned and The Jam lasted because their individual messages, as whiny and meaningless as they were, got beefed up by the simple fact that they could actually play. The fact that not one of them could actually write a decent song – especially that crown head of mediocrity, Paul Weller – was entirely besides the point.Yet even though only about 5-10 per cent of the music has survived with any credibility – thanks to Never Mind The Bollocks – there is still, as proven by the BBC’s coverage, a rather unwarranted and nasty elitism that’s crept in over the years.
Whilst, in the main, it has always been the Birkenstock left-wing cabal of Guardian, BBC and NME hacks that has protected punk’s memory, you really have to ask the question: what is exactly there to protect? There’s certainly no actual legacy as such. Amongst all of the bands already mentioned, and most that haven’t, there’s not one Led Zeppelin, not one Elvis Presley, not even an ABBA for fuck sake. All punk did was leave a musical vacuum that was the result of sound and fury that achieved and signified absolutely nothing.
In purely historical terms, only the Pistols and The Clash come out of this whole bargain basement rebellion with any credibility: the Pistols because of Never Mind The Bollocks and John Lydon’s fierce intelligence and refusal to be anyone but himself, and The Clash because they did things with their sound that no one could have imagined they could.
When punk died with the Pistols’ last gig in San Francisco and, as Frank Zappa once put it, sterilized its own safety pin and became new wave, it seemed to have found its rightful resting place. From squalid mediocrity, to lowest common denominator pop cash cow that made countless millions for the major labels, punk had become the dinosaur it so wanted to avoid becoming.
Irony’s a bitch ain’t it?
You could say that the music and bands I enjoyed listening to, and in some circumstances still do, made millions and revelled in it. The most admirable thing about acts like Queen, Kiss and the rest of the stadium bands of that era is that they never lied about it. They didn’t care about any fake sensibilities and credibility. They just simply just entertained and in most cases did it magnificently. Punk was essentially, in almost every way, a lie from beginning to end and history has borne that out.