Punk with Perspicacity

I had a head full of ideas about how to spend my vacation this week. I imagined myself leisurely jumping into each new day with an open calendar ready to read for fun, swim in the cool water of Lake George, jog the Warren County Bikeway through the Adirondack Mountains, or just meditate. The universe had other plans for me.

As John Lennon said, "life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans." Life, in this case, is turning out to be a marathon of maintenance and repair at the lake house. Without going into the nitty-gritty, I've spent the better part of this week and last cleaning out a flooded basement, repairing some malfunctioning light fixtures, repairing a hole in the ceiling, repairing screens, and other assorted repairs, not to mention regular maintenance like raking leaves, trimming weeds, power washing the boat house and deck, refinishing said deck, and lots of other swell stuff. And it's really okay.

It gives me the space to put on my Aftershokz blutooth headphones that my wife and daughter gave me recently and work with my hands. I often think about how crafts persons used to pour their time and energy into projects, sometimes taking years and years to complete. Think of the stone facades of some of the great churches of Europe, like the La Sagrada Familia Basilica in Barcelona, which took about 130 years to build. So complaining about having to spend a few days on a project, however insignificant, would be purely asinine.

Not that I would every compare myself to Antoni Gaudi, the great architect, but that doesn't mean I can't aspire to make every project my personal Basilica. And in the process, I discovered a great podcast called Henry and Heidi.

Henry is Henry Rollins, a musician, writer, and spoken word artist. He used to front Black Flag, a notorious punk band, and he has since done many projects including a spoken word album with William Shatner.

The punk scene exploded when I was in college, and I never got it. A friend of mine named Dave Evans drug me to a Huns show at the Union Ballroom on the campus of the University of Texas. That band later become regulars at Raul's, a punk haven in those days, which was just down the Drag a block or so.

Here's the thing. I cut my teeth on the Beatles and all that engendered before graduating to the Mahavishnu Orchestra, Weather Report, Miles Davis, Charlie Parker and other virtuosos like Chick Corea, who was a child prodigy, and Andre Segovia, who regularly put in eight hours a day practicing his craft. I had studied the masters like Bach, Ferinando Carulli, and Fernando Sor. I loved the way Al Di Meola mastered technique, how John McLaughlin used odd time signatures and polyrhythms, and how Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane used complex chord structures and voicings. In my mind, music was a discipline, a hard-earned craft that only journeymen could master after pouring themselves into it, heart and soul.

And here were these guys who sounded like they just learned to finger a fretboard last week. What they were peddling was complete devoid of melody, harmony, or anything I could relate to. They were just throwing down like they were driving off a cliff in a truck full of dynamite. They were literally hocking luggies at the audience, who were only too happy to return the favor. They floor was covered with about an inch of cheap beer and the audience was pelting the band with full cups of it. They were dodging the waves of beer while the mosh pit was raving with kids out for blood. I stood on the sidelines taking it all in.

You've heard, no doubt, about performers "leaving it all on stage." These guys were spilling their blood and guts and I was unimpressed. The message lost on me. Lost was the angst and the energy they brought. Lost was the nose thumbing at everything traditional about music. Lost was the art of their performance. They tainted the whole punk scene in my mind, and I wanted none of it.

Years ago, I remember walking through the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. I came across an exhibit of Diego Rivera, who, up until that point, was decidedly one of my most unfavorite artists. His work seems flat and lacking dimension. I was a fan of the realists - Rembrandt, Vermeer, and their contemporaries. Rivera's work, by comparison, seemed sophomoric or amateur. But on that day I discovered the message behind Rivera's art, which touched on important issues of his time like communism, the electrification and industrialization of the world, science, radio, television, and atomic power. It opened a whole new vista on his work.

That's how I felt when I stumbled on the Henry and Heidi podcast. All of a sudden I was forced to reconcile my view of punk rock with this guy who came across on the podcast as intelligent, insightful, articulate, thoughtful, funny, well-mannered, and, at times, a real punk. He's even into weightlifting. I mean, who has ever heard of a punk rocker who loves to work out? And then write about it?! He's even very humble, which, in this political era is really refreshing.

At first I was reluctant about listening to the podcast and I almost bailed halfway through the first one. But soon I was hooked and before the end of the second day I had listened to the entire library of podcasts and I wanted more. Along the way, I learned about Hubert "Cubby" Selby Jr., the West Memphis Three, Dez Cadena (no relation), and so much more.

Until now I had always thought that punk rock and intelligence were mutually exclusive, but now I know that art comes in many forms. I might even dial up Black Flag on Spotify. Then again, I might rather rake some more leaves.

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