Punk Arrives

New York:

Punk in New York City, 1975-1985

Before the music of the downtown scene was collectively labelled “Punk Rock,” journalists referred to it simply as “New York Rock,” promoting the city itself as a partner in the creative explosion taking place between 1974 and 1977. Those were dark years for the city, however—bankrupt, forsaken by President Ford, pock-marked with abandoned buildings and empty lots. But the dilapidation meant cheap rents, especially in the Lower East Side, which had a neighborhood bar whose owner, Hilly Kristal, was open to all kinds of music. The full name printed on the awning was CBGB-OMFUG (Country, Blue Grass, Blues, and Other Music For Uplifting Gormandizers), but mostly CBGB hosted new rock bands. Other venues for these bands included Mercer Arts Center (before its physical collapse in 1974), Club 82 and Mother’s (both gay discos and drag clubs that doubled as live rock venues), and of course Max’s Kansas City (which closed in 1974 and reopened under new owner Tommy Dean in 1975). But CBGB made history in the summer of 1975 with a month-long rock festival that featured 40 bands, most unrecorded and unsigned, landing the scene and the club a feature article in Village Voice.

The bands that played CBGB were eclectic, unified only by a bohemian spirit. The literary-minded punks, such as Patti Smith and Television (after Richard Hell left), aligned themselves with French symbolist and Beat poets, while the Pop Art punks, such as Blondie and the Ramones, made twisted versions of early ‘60s surf music, girl group, and bubble gum. Then there was the odd electronica of Suicide, the nervous funky grooves of Talking Heads, and the dissonant noise “no-wave” of Teenage Jesus and the Jerks.

Max’s Kansas City Text

Max’s Kansas City

Warhol’s almost nightly presence at Max’s Kansas City from 1966-1971, owned by Cornell alum Mickey Ruskin, consecrated that venue as the location of “the underground,” and a pilgrimage site for the next generation of musicians--Jonathan Richman, Patti Smith, Richard Meyer (later Hell), Debbie Harry, Wayne (later Jayne) County, and David Johansen. By 1973, the fluid social world of the backroom percolated to the upstairs music space where one could see Bruce Springsteen, the Wailers (in their first US appearance), Tim Buckley, Iggy Pop, and the New York Dolls. Max’s closed in 1974 and reopened under a new owner, Tommy Dean in 1975, quickly establishing itself as a rival of CBGB for the new scene of rock performers. The 1976 New York Rock festival line-up at Max’s shown here, along with Max’s drink menu with cocktails named after popular bands in the scene, illustrate an effort to promote Max’s as the home of New York punk.

Items: “Max’s Kansas City Presents” , _089_1, _089_2

NY’s Eve Menu, _162_1, _162_2

Teenage Jesus & the Jerks flyer _161

Ramones text


In January 1976, the Ramones signed with a major label (Sire Records), which quickly recorded and released their first album, Ramones. More than any other group, the Ramones’ style of punk song—fast, short, simple, and loud—became the paradigm for the next generation of bands coming from the Midwest, West Coast, and even the U.K.

Ramones items:

Ramones poster. Summer 1975. _205

Sire Records. Press Kit accompanying the release of The Ramones first record, Ramones, 1976. _217

t-shirt, _114

CBGB flyer, _219

Ramones, 1976. Photograph by Roberta Bayley. _043


The Sex Pistols Arrive

The Sex Pistols made their first breakthrough in February 1976, within six months of their first show at St. Martin’s School of Art. In the meantime they had played art colleges, colleges of further education and the odd art event. When they supported Eddie and the Hot Rods at the Marquee, they caused a sensation by damaging the stage equipment: they were banned from the club, but New Musical Express journalist Neil Spencer saw them and had a quick backstage chat.

In the article, entitled “Don’t look over your shoulder, but the Sex Pistols is coming,” Spencer called the group “a quarter of spiky teenage misfits from the wrong end of various London roads, playing 60s styled white punk rock.” He talked to guitarist Steve Jones: “‘actually we’re not into music,’ one of the Pistols confided afterwards. Wot then? ‘We’re into chaos.’” With the centralized music press being read by hundreds of thousands of British teenagers, this small review inspired several groups to form, like Buzzcocks and Penetration.

In April, the Sex Pistols played the Nashville pub in West Kensington, where a fight between their entourage and members of the audience made headlines in the music press and definitively made their break with Pub Rock. In June they played Manchester for the first time, at the Lesser Free Trade Hall, where they again inspired several musicians to form groups, including Morrissey, Bernard Sumner and Peter Hook of Joy Division. It was as though they were pied pipers, encouraging the disaffected young to lay down their previous lives and follow them.

Items: Show items in the Sex Pistols wall and case





First Sex Pistols press handout. April, 1976. REX055_085


Johnny Rotten flying over Sweden. July, 1977. Photograph by John Tiberi. REX055_173




Johnny Rotten from the cover of Bomp Magazine, 1977. REX055_176

Promotional banner for the 1980 film The Great Rock & Roll Swindle. Designed by Jamie Reid, 1979._190


Poster from a Swedish magazine of the Sex Pistols performing in Halmstad, Sweden, 1977. _204



Rise of the Fanzines

The fanzine originated in Science-Fiction fandom in the early 1930s. After World War II, specialized mimeographed catalogues of records for sale started to appear, mostly jazz and blues, but also some classical. These lists started to include reviews, letters, criticism and infighting, slowly evolving into specialized amateur music magazines throughout the 1950s. In the early to mid-1960s, similar catalogues starting appearing specializing in doo-wop, surf music, first generation rock & roll and R&B, and subsequently mid-sixties British Invasion and garage rock. Two of the earliest rock & roll fanzines devoted to contemporary acts were Boston’s Crawdaddy and San Francisco’s Mojo Navigator, both appearing in the Spring of 1966. And some rock enthusiasts began to celebrate mid-1960s American garage rock—referred to as “punk rock” by collectors and fanzine editors—as rock & roll at its most primeval, noisy and rebellious.

Punk. Published in 15 issues between 1976 and 1979.

New York’s focal point ‘zine was Punk magazine, created by cartoonist John Holmstrom, publisher Ged Dunn, and Legs McNeil. Its first issue published in January of 1976, Punk saw its print run grow exponentially; by late 1976 it was distributed globally.

Punk Magazine. Issue #1. January, 1976. _213

_214, _215, _216

Fanzines and the Xerox Machine

Punk in its own eyes was a disposable culture. Fanzines, flyers and posters were manufactured cheaply and on the sly. The Xerox machine was king, and the paper stocks used were frequently cheap and unstable. The artworks and paste-ups that constituted the basis for the Xeroxes were more often than not lost, and the ephemeral nature of these artifacts were increased by the transient lifestyles of the key players, whether fans, musicians, writers or artists.

The Xerox Corporation introduced the photocopy machine in 1949. Initially quite an expensive process, it took until about 1969 before photocopy prices dropped below the cost of duplication via mimeographs or offset printing. The machines themselves started dropping substantially in price during the first half of the Seventies. Corner shops, schools, offices and businesses would own a photocopy machine, providing the punk generation with the access needed to publish their own DYI magazines in edition sizes ranging from a handful to a thousand. Once a publication run climbed into four figures, printing offset became much less expensive than photocopying.

Sniffin Glue. Published monthly July 1976-August 1977. _133, _134, _135

Mark Perry published the first issue of Sniffin’ Glue in London during the Summer of 1976, following his attendance of the first Ramones performance in the UK. It rapidly grew in scope and circulation over the course of the twelve issues published before its termination in late 1977. The first edition of number one was 50 copies, the last issue saw a reported print run of 15,000.

Vintage Violence. Michael Layne Heath. Washington DC, 1977. _092, _093, _091

Fanzines inspired by Punk and Sniffin’ Glue mushroomed everywhere. Michael Layne Heath’s Vintage Violence, which covered the Washington DC area punk scene in the late 1970s, was just one example.

By 1980, it’s estimated that at least two thousand different punk fanzine titles had been published, usually following the norm of collages, recycled photographs, situationist techniques of detournement (often unknowingly) and the mixture of rub-on, stencil and ransom-note typefaces that originated out of economical necessity and became an aesthetic norm.

Fashion: Text for T-shirts, Ties, Buttons

Malcolm McLaren

The co-proprietor of a cutting-edge clothes shop at 430 King’s Road, Malcolm McLaren was highly attuned to shifts in pop and youth culture: in 1972 he became obsessed with the New York Dolls and remained in touch until 1975, when he briefly assisted them on their last tour. With Vivienne Westwood, he had already opened “Sex,” which featured original T shirts - some including radical slogans and pornographic imagery - as well as hardcore rubber and leather fetish wear, which he encouraged his customers to wear out on the street.

Inspired by the New York Dolls, Television and Richard Hell, he returned to Britain in early 1975 and began shaping the group already formed by shop habitués Steve Jones, Paul Cook and Glen Matlock. In September 1975, John Lydon was added as the singer and lyricist after an audition in 430 King’s Road, where he mimed Alice Cooper hits like “School’s Out” in front of the shop jukebox. Renamed Johnny Rotten, Lydon would take the group out of pub rock and 60’s revivalism into something brand new.

McLaren formed the group as a kind of younger, more urban Bay City Rollers. He thought of himself as an old school manager in the mode of Larry Parnes, a gay 1950s impresario, and Rolling Stones’ manager Andrew Loog Oldham. His aim was to showcase the shop’s clothes - indeed, early articles on the group often accentuated his and Westwood’s designs - but as the group became more successful, his ambitions grew. By autumn 1976, he saw the Sex Pistols as the vanguard of a new, radical youth culture that would make a national impact.

_224, _229, _225

Vivienne Westwood

As co-designer of the clothes sold in the various incarnations of 430 King’s Road between 1972-76 - at first “Let It Rock” (1950’s rock’n roll), “Too Fast To Live Too Young To Die” (rocker and zoot suits), “Sex” (fetish wear and radical Situationist slogans) - Vivienne Westwood defined the visual appearance of the emerging UK punk culture. She created the basic clothes design, often using old materials and then McLaren would tear it up, give it a twist. The Do-It-Yourself feel and use of writing had a huge influence on the home made punk clothes to come.

Until spring 1977, the Sex Pistols almost exclusively wore clothes from the shop, whether it be the “Anarchy Shirt” - an old ‘60s white shirt with overprinted slogans and appliqués - or the various cap-sleeve T shirts. The group also wore out-of-date stock from the previous incarnations: Johnny Rotten wore a 50s teddy boy jacket with a velvet collar (“Let It Rock”) and baggy, striped zoot suit trousers (“Too Fast To Live”). The effect was of a living collage of pop history past, present and future.

In the “Seditionaries” collection, Westwood and McLaren moved beyond appropriating old designs into a new, almost couture look: the bondage suit in particular was intended to be a high fashion item, literally embodying the bound and trapped state of youth in England. As 1977 wore on, however, the Sex Pistols began wearing the shop’s clothes less and less and, within another three years, bored with punk, Westwood moved on to the colorful, pirate style clothes of “World’s End” - the next phase in what would be a long and distinguished career as a designer.

_111; _116_1, _116_2

The use of swastikas on ties, t-shirts, and armbands was intended as a grotesque shock-tactic and affront to parents in the 1970s who had experienced World War II. For Westwood and McLaren, however, the cavalier and irreverent treatment of culturally potent symbols and images such as swastikas, crucifixes, bare breasts, and cowboys was also linked to their interest in the Situationist strategy of détournement—the rerouting or hijacking of signs, slogans, and logos in order to subvert their meaning and neutralize their propagandistic impact. The swastika pushes this strategy to its ethical limit and begs the question of whether such a symbol of rationalized genocide can or should be neutralized.

_233, _234

Buttons and Badges

For a self-starter, Do-it-Yourself movement, Punk found its perfect fashion expression in buttons (or badges as they were known in the UK). Buttons were the perfect customizing object for an old jacket or an old shirt that might otherwise be written upon or ripped. Punk had begun as a fan/activist culture and wearing the button of your favorite band was a cheap and sure way of expressing allegiance - and difference from the pop mainstream. From the spring of 1977, most major British groups like Sex Pistols, Clash and Buzzcocks began promoting themselves with buttons, and American groups followed very soon after.


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