New York Rocks is a collection of 14 slabs of early punk straight outta Gotham. It’s not the prole-punk that originated in Detroit, nor is it the sk8r boi variety that came from California. This is the smack-shooting, cars-and-girls-loving, gender-bending stuff that slinked up from the Bowery and created the formula that bands have been copying ever since. Starting with the Velvet Underground’s take on Mitch Ryder’s “Rock ’n’ Roll” (or at least that’s how I look at it), through the major-league sporting event anthem “Blitzkrieg Bop,” the DNA of punk is right there in all its obnoxious glory. Patti Smith, the Dictators, Television, Blondie, Richard Hell and the Voidoids and Suicide show the breadth of the genre. Offering a fresh take on both terms, Wayne County and the Backstreet Boys give everyone in the scene a shout-out in “Max’s Kansas City.”
Really, the punk attitude derives from the fact that something sucks. In these songs, the things that suck include the lack of girls, the lack of drugs or the lack of personal autonomy. The strange thing, though, is that much of the music comes off as life-affirming in ways the hippie-dipshit fare of the earlier generation never was. People on the bottom of the ladder — whether we’re talking socioeconomic, musical talent or hygienic — are frequently without heroes. And while nobody should call Johnny Thunders a hero, the fact that someone that fucked-up could write a song as beautiful as “You Can’t Put Your Arms Around a Memory” should serve as inspiration for the rest of us.
Brian J. Bowe writes about music for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.