History of Punk Rock, Part 1 - NYC

Posted Dec 7th, 2015.

The first era of punk rock was a movement of NYC bands operating out of venues such as CBGBs. These bands either came from or were Inspired by earlier bands such as MC5, the Velvet Underground and Iggy Pop. They eventually developed their own style, collection of venues, and following, mostly in the NYC area. Fleeting success, often ruined by drugs managed to dampen the movement but some carried on as well as inspired a new era of punk rock.

The first of these bands would be MC5 from Detroit which was born out of the hippie movement, lived in a commune and were part of the “White Panthers” movement. Still, they played basic rock and roll and had the claim to fame of being the only band to show up to the protests at the Democratic National Convention in 1968 where they played for hours until the police attacked. The next band would be the Velvet Underground which formed in 1965. Wearing all black leather, they sang about heroin and S&M while experimenting in making music. Andy Warhol and entourage were at one of their first shows and offered to manage them and put out some records. Warhol paired them with Nico and the record went on to inspire MC5’s little brother band, Iggy and the Stooges.

The Velvet Underground was formed by Lou Reed and John Cale with songs about heroin and S&M in 1965. They were seen by Andy Warhol and his crew on their first live show and approached by one of Andy’s people about being managed and making some records. Warhol was looking for a band to promote as part of an ongoing project. They paired the Velvets up with Nico and the rest is history as the album The Velvet Underground and Nico came out. The Velvets were all black leather and S&M in a time that hippies were on the uprise. Jim Morrison supposedly got his look by watching the Velvets on the West coast and after six months of hating the record, it inspired Iggy Pop. In general, the Velvets and the West Coast didn’t seem to get along. Black clothing versus lots of color. S&M versus free love. They liked homosxuals and gay bars and at the time the West Coast was very homophobic.

Iggy and the Stooges was formed out of Iggy Pop who had playing bands and when studying with blues masters in Chicago decided to create his own version of the blues and some juvenile delinquents who had been the first to grow their hair out in the midwestern city of Detroit (Ann Arbor actually). Iggy got his last name when he shaved his eyebrows off and the Stooges began to call him Pop as it was the last name of a friend of theirs that had lost all his hair. Their shows were exciting and Iggy was full of energy, at least when they were in good form. Later, drugs would affect the band to the point that they couldn’t play.

The scene began to nucleate around Lou Reed and Patti Smith as they began to play shows. Once the ball was rolling and venues like CBGB and Max’s Kansas City appeared, all sorts of bands began to play. The Ramones were all kids that had known each other before forming a band. They played fast and quick and set the fashion with their blue jeans, t-shirts, and black leather jackets. The New York Dolls were a band of guys that wore women’s clothing and played rock and roll. Surprisingly enough, they were the straightest of the bands in the first wave of punk rock. Blondie was a model in Punk magazine and later formed her own group of the same name which also played at CBGBs and was part of the new york punk scene. Dead Boys. Avengers.

The name Punk was used for the title of the ‘zine which was started to follow all these bands. The guys, including Legs Mcneil had decided to start a magazine about the stuff the cared about including some of the bands they liked. They had figured out a general feel and decided the name should be called “Punk” as they left to go to CBGBs. There they ran into Lou Reed who they decided to interview and saw the Ramones play for the first time. Lou Reed was on the front cover of the first issue. The Ramones followed him. Although some claim that this was the origin of the name for the genre, others will point out it has been used to describe the scene previously.

When the New York Dolls had toured in England, they happened by Malcolm Mclaren’s store SEX which sold rubber clothes and attitude. They were impressed with the store because there was no such one stop shopping for rock and roll like SEX was and Malcolm was impressed with the New York Dolls. He ended up following them back to the US where he would sell his clothes out of the back of his station wagon. Malcolm Mclaren and Nancy Spungen (of Sid and Nancy fame) were in this punk scene. He Managed the New York Dolls before heading back to London. Nancy was a junkie groupie that found her way to London in search of more rock and roll stars. The Dolls eventually broke up because several members couldn’t manage without the drugs on tour. Mclaren was also impressed by Richard Hell of Television and when he went back to London, he would take that impression as well as ideas from the band back with him.

“Please Kill Me” by Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain, Grove Press 1996
“The Best of Punk Magazine” edited by John Holstrom and Bridget Hurd, !t Books 2012

History of Punk Rock, Part 2 - Britain