Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Exegesis Addenda: Lessons Learned in a Modern Mystery Cult

When I wrote The Secret History of Rock ‘n’ Roll I spent a lot of time worrying that some might see it as a major detour from the work I was doing here on The Secret Sun.
I also had to contend with younger readers, who were justifiably cynical about the music industry, which took total control over the creative process for major label acts sometime in the mid-90s.*

How could I explain that once upon a time things were different and there was a scene that kids built from the ground up without realizing they were recreating the ancient Mithraic cults? Or that everything I needed to know I learned from punk rock?

There was also the evidence of Dave McGowan’s Laurel Canyon series to contend with, which a lot of people (including McGowan himself, it seems) misinterpreted as a condemnation of the counterculture as a whole, deliberately overlooking the fact that what actually emerged from the Laurel Canyon scene was the ersatz Soft Rock movement of the early 70s, a deliberate attempt to defang the power of rock ‘n’ roll by replacing it with a watered-down, depoliticized, corporate-concocted simulacrum.

In other words, the LA scene was designed to appropriate the already-existing counterculture, which was largely birthed in San Francisco and environs. The whole LaRouchian reaction McGowan’s series inspired was especially galling for me personally, since I grew up hating soft rock so intensely.

Jello Biafra, formerly of The Dead Kennedys

My hatred of soft rock (which was impossible to get away from in the 70s) was one of the reasons I embraced Punk so passionately. And not only Ramones-type Punk- I was especially keen on the Postpunk scene (a term I don’t remember hearing until several years later); bands like Wire, Joy Division, Killing Joke, Bauhaus and the like. Bands that took the energy and subversion of Punk and applied them to a larger canvas. This was the music I listened to when I wasn’t at a hardcore show.

But those bands were out of reach for the most part. I do remember sneaking in to see Killing Joke at The Channel (I never paid to see a show unless it was at a big venue) by creeping in during the soundcheck and hiding beneath the PA riser until the doors opened. I saw Motörhead by grabbing an amp and walking through the front door while the opening act was breaking down. But for the most part, it was all-ages shows or bust. But the all-ages shows were where the action was.

One of the pivotal moments of my youth:
Mission of Burma's all-ages show at the Hotel Bradford, 1983
Didn't pay to get into this one either and reconnected with my
high school girlfriend, who I met in the pit at a Clash concert

And when I say hardcore punk was a revival of the Mithraic Mysteries, I’m not trying to be cute. I mean it, literally. It was an unconscious revival and the connections were not explicit (aside from the straight edge X icon, that is), but it was all the more powerful and sincere for being so. The bands were no different than the Kouretes or the Cabieri, thrashing, aggressive, militaristic noise mean to alter the consciousness of the listener.

There was the same masculine, militaristic ambiance and similar puritanical morality - the Straight Edge ethos frowned on drinking, smoking and drugs and often promiscuity as well. (Straight Edge orthodoxy has been heavily mythologized in Boston hardcore history- I went to a lot of scene parties and there was plenty of drinking and drugging going around, believe me).

Like any good mystery cult it was all about experience, first and foremost. Going home and listening to hardcore records was kind of ludicrous- the music was made for movement, extreme and immediate. It never sounded right on your stereo.

We Are I Am the Road Crew

I had a different view of the scene than most, having been part of the inner circle of the Braintree bands, Jerry’s Kids and Gang Green. An aspiring guitarist, I ended up as a roadie- if you can call it that, since the only road was the one from Braintree to Boston- lugging amps and drum cases and setting up and breaking down. And it was a privileged view to a scene that was largely self-created. It taught some vitally important lessons...

I learned to distrust not only the authorities- the first show I attended (SS Decontrol and The Freeze at Gallery East) was shut down after SSD’s 15 minute set simply because the cops didn’t like punks- but also the media. I saw how the big local fanzine picked favorites and blatantly rewrote history simply based on the personal whims of its editors.

I saw how movements can grow, based almost solely on the conviction of their adherents. Hardcore shows went from being small affairs at offbeat venues to taking over venues like The Channel and The Paradise. I’d see regional hardcore bands who even college radio wouldn’t touch fill large venues while bands with hit singles struggled to fill small clubs.

I’d see how movements could go wrong, too.

Hardcore was a high school thing. My high school friends all got into it in our sophomore years and largely moved on when we graduated. Towards the end of my tenure, Nazi skins, street kids and jocks began showing up just to hurt people. The last big show I attended-- Jerry’s Kids and Gang Green at The Paradise during Christmas vacation, 1984-- was a nightmare.

SSD singer Springa got chased off the stage by giant skins who didn’t appreciate his drunken rant about the old days and the bouncers were so agitated by the violence they were threatening to beat up the musicians. After that show the original HC bands drifted into a kind of ersatz metal, but the bloom was off the bush.

But I also got a full blast of the phenomena that would ultimately lead to the work I do here- how spiritual consciousness can give art a visceral punch lacking in strictly materialist art.

The Bad Brains’ Boston debut was a powerful object lesson in this. I did the “I’m with the band” amp-lugging routine to get into that show (it amazes me how often I entertained myself back then without ever spending a dime) and got my teeth loosened for me during Negative FX’s set.

Even with a bloody mouth full of loose teeth the sheer electrifying power of the Bad Brains was impossible to deny. The story would get complicated thereafter, but when it mattered, they delivered.

My only regret is that more bands back then didn’t tap into that Source, that spiritual power.  New York’s Cro-Mags did so- they were/are involved in the Krishna Consciousness movement (which ingratiated itself to punks by offering free vegetarian meals on weekends) and were highly influential in their own right, but most bands shunned such things. Especially in Boston, where so many people on the scene were trapped in all-boy Catholic prep schools like Don Bosco and Xaverian Brothers.

Although Hardcore faded as a vital musical force rather quickly, the DIY spirit and rule-breaking that it inspired was a major influence on the developing alternative rock scene.
Many of the big stars of the 1992 grunge explosion got their start playing in Hardcore bands and Hardcore remained a yardstick with which the integrity of the various subgenres of alt.rock were measured.

So in many ways, Hardcore would take over the mainstream within ten years of its emergence as a major force, against all odds and expectations. Something to think about, when you think of the present state of esotericism and its various branches, which people regard with the same disdain they regarded Punk Rock with 30 years ago. And this is a tradition with thousands of years of history behind it, as well as some of the greatest minds in history in its ranks.

Something to think about very, very seriously, my friends. Very seriously indeed.

*And then of course there are those who ignorantly impugn and defame the ancient Mysteries, but they never tell you their true agenda, do they? Those sneaky little snakes in the grass are always out to scare you back into the EvangeliCIAl church, a true mind control agenda if ever there was one.

PS- Speaking of which, this will explain of all that very well.