Three-Chord Monte

The other day I came across this excellent, concise history of the Chicago-area punk band Screeching Weasel on the terrifically-named blog Can You See the Sunset From the Southside? This was a straight nostalgia trip for me: the suburb where Weasel and Jughead got their start was where I grew up. I met them a couple of times in the early days, the most memorable being when my friend Nick talked them into visiting the Maine East High School cable access TV studio for an interview. (I think I was technical director for that one.) I had a copy of their self-titled first album; “Murder In the Brady House” was a particular favorite. Nick also turned me on to the Dead Kennedys, and then Jack Miller (who’s put in occasional cameos on this blog) dubbed off some Sex Pistols rarities for me, and I was hooked.

I still go through occasional punk phases, and about every eighth piece I start writing, I find myself thinking “now, this one should be just like a punk rock song” (after which it usually comes out nothing like a punk rock song). I did some summer teaching last year, and the overwhelming majority of my students (music ed majors) were horrified to find out that I enjoyed this stuff; on the one hand, I was puzzled, since I’ve always thought of punk as a late revival of early 1950s rock-and-roll (Eddie Cochran? Punk rocker), and who doesn’t like that stuff? On the other hand, I was sardonically pleased that it still had the power to charm, as it were.

Unlike our classmate and one-time Screeching Weasel bassist Johnny Personality, I was always a closet fan—I never had the requisite courage for a mohawk or multiple piercings—but regardless of genre, I’m still attracted to music that gives off a whiff of the style: tight, utilitarian bursts of energy that make no effort to soften any rough edges. More importantly, it’s the attitude of being exactly what it is and making no apologies for it. Maybe that’s why I go from Arthur Fiedler to Ben Weasel without any cognitive dissonance. I think that’s a big difference between the way musicians and non-musicians listen to music: if you’re able to empathize with the creator, you start to see that all this stuff, no matter how disparate, is coming from the same place. Ives? Mahler? Beethoven? Josquin? Punks.

Post title stolen from another Chicago punk band, Pegboy.

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