three nights of punk

from the Reader, November 6 1981

By Clarke Krueger

In the dim light, the bodies of muscular young men in T-shirts, straight-leg jeans, and Dr. Marten boots slam into one another to the thundering beat of the Effigies' opening number. The slammers' shaved heads bounce off one another, off the stage, off the floor, like' billiard balls. The music is dense and deafening, and powerful. Power is the name of the game at COD tonight.

Slam dancing is as much a sport as an art. The leaps and bounds are loosely choreographed, as are the goose-stepping and the pointed fingers that single out opponents, or partners, who are the next to be brutally slammed. But all in good fun. No hard feelings. It's like a practice scrimmage of a football team, except that there are no coaches, no rules, no winners. This is pure macho anarchy.

So began three nights of new music in the hot, seductive basement of one of Chicago's newest and most progressive clubs. Promoter Hank Zemola was quick to say that COD is not a punk rock club, that he is in fact booking acts from other parts of the musical marketplace. Nonetheless, this weekend he and Eric Nihilist, Chicago's adventurous and courageous independent promoter, put together a package that showed how much musical variety is packed into the corner the media have taught us to call new wave.

From Chicago's own Effigies and LA's TSOL (True Sounds of Liberty) on Friday night through Tom Verlaine on Saturday and culminating Sunday with the Professionals (the new band of ex-Sex Pistols Steve Jones and Paul Cook), the full range of a fresh aesthetic could be heard. Although people have been flogging the supposedly rotting corpse of punk rock almost from the music's inception, these bands proved that punk is very much alive, more filled with the spirit of life, in fact, than any other music being produced today.

The Effigies and TSOL are definitely at the hard-core end of the spectrum. Both bands create a harsh, jagged-edged sound that some among us might wish to categorize as mere noise. Johnny Lydon (read: Rotten, cofounder of the Sex Pistols and true genius behind the last five years' revision of rock) successfully dealt with this accusation in a recent Wet magazine interview. According to Lydon, the only difference between noise and music is that "Noise isn't deliberate."

With typical sarcastic wit, Lydon went on to explain, "If you deliberately want to create something from noise, then that's music. To me music is not notes played perfectly, it's the right rhythm. Everything, bass, drums, and guitar plays the same tune, the louder and more distorted the better, until it becomes a wash whose soul purpose is to induce stupidity."

Which is to say, to have fun, to go crazy, to vent the energy and frustration we are forced to repress in modern life. The Effigies are the best band in Chicago when it comes to opening the floodgates for manic release. Their songs drive relentlessly and their followers, as described earlier, respond in kind. The Effigies' inspiration is, of course, the English bands, especially the skinheads who have branded their music oi (from the cockney pronunciation of "hey") in solidarity with their working-class backgrounds. The oi bands write violent, aggressive songs.

They have been accused, in fact, of triggering the recent riots in England, and many have been banned from performance. The Effigies follow suit with songs like "Body Bag" and "Security," both sardonic expressions of alienation and self-desecration. As much as a lyric like "I'm living in a body bag" speaks of death, the music that propels it is essential, unrefined life force, just as slam dancing, with all of its sweaty, bloody brutality, is an existential commitment to the very act of being alive. It makes you aware of the thin line between life and death, and of the fact that it's when you are closest to death, struggling with it, that you are most alive.

Reflecting on all three nights, it is hard to conclude why TSOL and Tom Verlaine were so successful artistically and the Professionals failed so miserably. It seems to have more to do with the spirit of the artist than with the music itself. Verlaine and TSOL (and the Effigies) are all struggling to create something, to deliberately turn noise into music, into art, into a statement about existence.

What these three nights proved is that within the new definition of music there is room for a vast variety of expression. But what really makes it new is that it is being used for another reason. Not just to make money, to be "professionals," but to create a new way of seeing, of hearing, of being.

As for punk rock being dead, forget it. It is more alive than ever. People like the Professionals will help to popularize it, as will the wealth of other "safe" new wave bands, but the hard core will drive home the new values. Mike Roche described the scene in LA as he prepared to leave COD Sunday night to continue the tour.

"It's mostly kids out there," he said. "Little kids, like seventh and eighth grade. They come to gigs on their bicycles, and they've got cropped, bleached hair, and they're like real hard core. They hang out at the beach and surf and listen to our music. You see 'em all over at the grade schools and high schools. Like here, you don't see that happenin' at all. But it will. That's why we're here. Punk isn't dead. It hasn't even caught on yet."

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