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Tuesday, January 16, 2007
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Thursday, August 30, 2001

Punk Rock Changed Our Lives

Neumu's Jim Connelly writes: "Our band could be your life," the man said. Well, yes and no. I've never thought that was really the key line in The Minutemen's "History Lesson, Pt II." To me, the key line is "Punk rock changed our lives." The song is the story of fans, rock 'n' roll fans caught up in the brand new world of indie rock in the 1980s. People just like me. And you. The best thing about the 1980s indie-rock underground wasn't just the bands — some of which were among the greatest of all — but the fact that those bands were made up of people just like you and me. Fucking corndogs, as opposed to inaccessible rock gods.

In a world that was post-punk, pre-Internet, and virtually free of corporate subsidies, dozens, maybe hundreds of scenes sprang up simultaneously around college radio stations; risk-taking "clubs" (in Fresno, Calif., where I lived, that included the local Knights of Columbus hall); typewritten and hand-stapled fanzines; hole-in-the-wall record stores and safe houses where people could crash. And of course, the hundreds, maybe thousands of bands formed by fans fueled by the "hey, I can do that" spirit. Not all of these bands were "punk" bands, of course, but nearly every single person in them had their lives changed by punk rock, whether they realized it or not.

I was one of those fans who ended up in a band; a college radio DJ and zine editor who haunted the local clubs and eventually taught myself to play drums. And while I was never a hardcore punk (too many rules), I loved how the punk ethos punched holes in the wall between "musician" and "fan." The line was never totally erased, of course: the bands got laid, got free booze and drugs, places to stay, and sometimes even careers, just because they played music. But it never seemed like the musicians were better human beings just because they made that music — no matter how great it was. Not when there were bands right down the street full of people who worked at the local record store, also making great music.

Best of all, that accessibility made for great stories. Surreptitiously taping R.E.M.'s soundcheck because the local AOR station forced us to go down to the club with a tape recorder to get an interview instead of doing the interview in-studio. Staying up all night talking to the guys from A Western Front and realizing that there were people in other towns who had essentially the same taste in everything. Lifelong Mets fan Ira Kaplan of Yo La Tengo demanding to see the field at Fresno High School where Tom Seaver pitched as a teenager.

Camper Van Beethoven playing a house party just for the hell of it. Driving all night just to support my friends the Miss Alans in their first gig in San Francisco. Seeing the police break up a Dead Kennedys show in a barn while we tried (in vain) to get Jello Biafra to come back to the radio station for an on-air interview about what went down. The Violent Femmes creating a campfire-like sing-along in a hotel lobby. Paul Westerberg telling me the words that ended the second verse of "Answering Machine."

All of those things happened to me, or to people I know. More importantly, those kinda moments happened to tens (hundreds?) of thousands of people, all of whom now have their own stories about bands famous, infamous and never famous. And there you begin to get the full story of indie rock in the 1980s.

The InsiderOne Daily Report appears weekdays at 9 AM PST, except when it doesn't.

by Michael Goldberg

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