The origin of punk is hard to pin down. Your average music fan will claim it started in 1974, with the release of the Ramones’ first album. The average music snob will dig a little deeper and claim that punk started with The Stooges and their self-titled first album released in 1969. In the Iggy Pop biography, Open Up and Bleed, the author claims Pop actually developed his punk attitude when seeing Bob Dylan in concert. The concert was at the beginning of Dylan’s electric period. The crowd was furious and booed as Dylan started to play. Dylan turned his back to the audience, turned up his guitar, and continued to play. A very punk thing to do indeed. Your curmudgeonly elitist music snob will dig deeper yet and claim it started with The Who, David Bowie, Mott the Hoople, or even the Small Faces. Best case scenario, the origin of punk is a little hard to pin down.
Recently, I was hanging out in a musty card board box of a record store. This is not a new occurrence for me. I love record stores. Better yet, I love old ones where the guy working behind the counter has a stringy ponytail clinging on to his bald head, a mouth full of teeth that look like a lost game of Tetris, and the musical knowledge of a savant. I like that this guy will give the stink eye and a little attitude to anyone buying a copy of The Bay City Rollers. I was in one of those record stores. I was eyeing a pricy copy of The New York Dolls’ second album, Too Much Too Soon, when the slightly off kilter troll behind the counter started a conversation with me. He started to explain that the first punk album was actually the now forgotten Eve of Destruction by Barry McGuire. McGuire was a protest folk singer in the style of Bob Dylan minus the timeless lyrics of Dylan. The huge single from the album, also named “Eve of Destruction,” explained why society as a whole was on the brink of destruction in 1965 due to the war and the rampant anger and hate filling society. Indeed, McGuire had no idea what the next forty years would hold for society.
I’ve been familiar with Barry McGuire since I was a kid. Frankly, my parents were hippies. They never lived on a commune or went to Woodstock, but they were the standard hippie relics managing to raise families in the 1980’s. It was like a fucking episode of Family Ties at my house. I even had the older brother who Reaganed out in the 80’s just to spite my parents. I grew up on a steady diet of Harry Chapin, Simon and Garfunkel, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, and of course, Barry McGuire. I grew up with my parents’ constant fears of the evils of sugar, food coloring, processed food, the sun, and plastic or any kind, but yet, we drove in a VW bus with no seatbelts and a wooden board in the back that worked as a bench seat. My dad was a peaceful and highly educated man. He also didn’t give a shit about what anyone thought or did, as long as it didn’t encroach upon his family. He wrote and published his own books and pamphlets, he grew his own food, made his own pottery, and refused to pay anyone a penny for something that he felt he could do himself. His clothes were always out of fashion, dirty, and had holes. His hair was an unkempt garden of fiery Scottish red fire. He didn’t even comb it on a regular basis. He had a healthy distaste for the man in any form. This included an immense hatred for censorship. My parents never took any form of text (music included) away from their kids because of the content (though they would encourage us to make the right choice). He had a hard edge. My father was a hulking man. Physically, he was a caveman. When he lost his temper, you were scared. Not just me as the child in the relationship, but every adult in the room was scared. I once witnessed him threaten to kill a man in the movie theater because he wouldn’t shut the fuck up. The movie theater was silent for the rest of the film. Yeah he believed in peace and love, but that didn’t matter when others crossed the line. He looked like a wild boar walking around the streets, and he was intimidating.
Based on his DIY ethics, his anti-establishment attitude, his counterculture appearance, his hatred for the man, and his hard angry edge, it is possible that my dad might have been the first punk. In fact, he was the mold for future punks like Iggy Pop and Henry Rollins. My dad lived his life at the crossroads of high intelligence and raw aggression. Now I realize that this is the point where anyone who knows anything about the history of punk will have a problem with my argument. No, my dad did not wear a leather jacket. No, he didn’t wear Converse or Doc Martins. No, he never even listened to a Ramones album. He was the proto-punk. He was the model that was to be followed. Despite the fact he was a patchouli smelling, love bead wearing, peace and love toting hippie, he had the beliefs of an angry punk. Unfortunately, this beautiful, complex, trendsetting man died when I was still young. He’d had health difficulties for years. His kidneys had failed at a young age due to extensive scaring. Residuals of childhood neglect from his parents. He developed tuberculosis as a child, and due to a lack of care, the T.B. ravished his kidneys. He did receive a transplant in his thirties, but it was always a nagging problem. He died when I was nine. A time when a boy needs his father to help him become a man. I looked else ware for my guidance.
As a child, I started my life long adoration of Iggy Pop, my love of Black Flag, and my identification as a punk. My young love for punk took shape under the tutelage and guidance of my older brother. As I grew into a teenager, my musical fasciation expanded to include everything grunge. After all, grunge was just punk dressed in fuzzed out guitars. I love Nirvana (same as anyone else of the time I suppose), but I dug deeper. I discovered the Melvins, Mudhoney, Tad, Skinyard, Mother Love Bone, Big Black, Volcano Suns, Green River, The Butthole Surfers, and any other dirty punk band I could get my hands on. The ideals were all the same. The noise was just different. What I realize now is that I was trying to fill the void of my missing father. These musical surrogates were full of the same hard anger and hatred for the world that my dad had. I’m not saying blind rage hatred or hatred committed in ignorance. I’m speaking of his anger towards the system in general. I grew up with the ideals I believe my dad would have wanted me to have thanks to these musical paternal proxies. I was influenced by these men, who were influenced by men like my father. In the words of the very unpunk Nitty Gritty Dirt Band (who my dad was also into), “Will the Circle Be Unbroken?” The answer is hopefully no. The world needs people with a sense of cynicism, doubt, and indignation. It keeps the others out there on their toes.
What am I getting at here? I’m here to make the argument that my dad was the first punk. He preceded Iggy Pop and Dee Dee Ramone. He was there on the cusp on an era. He was a man out of his time. I know you have your reasons as to why this isn’t true. I know you’ll say hippies were the antithesis of punk. I know you’ll look back further in time and make your argument that it was all those who recorded at Sun Studios like Elvis, or that it was Charlie Bird and his revolution of jazz, or maybe you’ll even go back and say it was Robert Johnson: there’s nothing as punk as selling your soul to the devil. Even yet, you’ll make the argument no one has ever heard of my dad. He wasn’t influential to anyone except me. This is where I will take a page out of my dad’s book of punk to respond: Shut the fuck up, or I will fucking kill you.