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Sparrow and Sander Hicks Define Punk Rock ONCE AND FOR ALL!



Punk is a type of friendship.
Sparrow, Great Poet, and Friend of the Masses,
Defines Punk Rock and its Relationship to New York City.



Sparrow is a someone who has a love for the world that is bigger than anything else in it. He's a poet, a compassionate soul, a yogic, a former Presidential candidate and an art punk rocker in the band Foamola.

When a San Fran punk named R.J. Glass emailed me asking questions about the relationship between punk and New York City, I forwarded it onto a few people I thought could say some insightful things. Sparrow's answers made me want to cry, they had a purity to them that comes not from expertise, but from openness.

Heck, Sparrow himself recently wrote me, saying:

I had great fun, realizing "the fact that I know nothing about Punk does not interfere with my expertise on it." I forgot to mention in the interview that I went to high school with Scott Kempner of The Dictators (who recently missed the 31st reunion) with whom I never once spoke. (Well, maybe once.)

Yet, his answers carry the authority of experience. I mean, this guy was in NYC helping do shows at Danceteria in the late 70s....



What is punk, how do you define it, and can it be defined?

Punk is the hammer that strikes a blow, without knowing what that blow is FOR (the blow is musical).

What are the ethical and political philosophies operating within the punk community in New York and how are they articulated?

1) anarchism
2) the Republican party
3) a faint racism
4) ecology
5) Marxism

All are expressed through a small smile, inarticulately in the lyrics, mostly by friendship. Punk is a type of friendship.

What are the New York punk scene's key elements not only to its development, but also currently?

Original elements:
1) People who did not know how to play music, but wanted to be famous
2) Jewish humor
3) Queens (the borough - a semi-suburban, melancholy area of middleclass ambition)
4) the exhaustion of Beatles-inspired music

Elements now:
1) anger
2) rage
3) entreprenuerial drive
4) ambition
5) Utopian hope
6) youth Punk is now more about Youth than originally.

How has New York helped to shape/create punk as we know it?

The fact that TV shows emanate from there is essential. Punk is related to the desire to be on TV, or more literally to be a TV show. Also New York is the center of High Culture; opera and paintings. Punk is both a protest of this art and an arm of it.

Is punk a reflection of New York or vice-versa?

Punk is a view of New York, from Queens -- specifically Rego Park. (I enjoy the phrase "Rego Park.") That song by The Ramones, "Rock, rock, Rockaway Beach" is central to this understanding. From Queens, New York looks slightly smaller, almost cute -- but also passionately beautiful. Punk is about taking a subway to the East Village, from Queens, and suddenly feeling TOO alive.

Is New York the center/heart of punk or merely one community in a larger whole?

At this point New York is a footnote -- or worse, a museum -- of Punk. (I believe in capitalizing the word "Punk.")

If punk is a resistance to mainstream culture, politics, and economics and New York can be said to be the capital of the mainstream, what implications does this have for the relationship which the punk community has to the city?

"Mainstream" culture no longer has a capital. The capital of Mainstream is any TV set. Cities have become stage sets for TV shows, not "capitals." This is why NYC is no longer essential to Punk.

How has punk changed over the years in New York and what caused these changes?

Punk is much more about class (in the Marxist sense) than it used to be; about middleclass people pretending to be poor. As a result, Punk has lost most of its artistic intentions -- Punk has painted itself into a corner (in a way Rap has not; intellectuality is central to Rap). As the culture becomes more explicitly anti-intellectual, Punk's War On The Intellect becomes less salient.

What changes has the punk community incited within the city and how?

Punk is about friendship, and Punk has always, and will always, make the city more friendly. As some Punks stop drinking, they become philosophical, and even sometimes enter therapy. This represents a hope for Humanity: a truly self-aware Punk can be a valued revolutionary.

What are the goals/purposes/intentions of the punk community in New York and how do they relate to the city?

At this point, Punk merely hopes to survive. Our nation constantly attempts to erase Punk, and replace it with Pop. Punk people spend all their time un-erasing themselves.

To what degree has New York been instrumental or detrimental in achieving said goals?

New York is, paradoxically, an excellent place to hide. Thus it is perfect for Punk today.

What event(s) or decision(s) historically within the punk rock community had the greatest impact upon New York?

Early on, the Punks became a movement. First they were a movement, then a commodity. The Punks chose love over ambition. They have always remained true to that. The problem is that ambition is not always evil. Artistic ambition is necessary. But in capitalism, how can one separate ambition from greed? Punk has never solved this.

Where do you see the punk community headed in the future?

No doubt electronics will enter, somehow. Punk must accept the possibility of a future, if it is to have a future. If Punk is only about the present moment, it will not survive.

What goals does/should the punk community have in the future?

This question is a little unclear. I will answer this: Punk should look deeply at racism, and ally with underground Rap. Punk must also address Heavy Metal, which has nearly replaced it. Punk is anti-heroic, but perhaps today this is impossible. Punk demands a new heroism, even a hubris. (This was Nirvana's suggestion.)


Tra-la, Sparrow On Thu, 16 May 2002



Need more Sparrow? Buy his book

or see great older works here from The Sun, magazine, in North Carolina.

Contact him, if necessary, at sparrow44@juno.com

 

I, Sander Hicks, also took a whack at answering the punk rock definition quiz. Here are my answers—

 

The big over-arching assignment/question at hand:How has the punk scene/community in New York made New York New York?

Punk helped the economic and cultural turnaround of New York. The mid 70s bankrupted the city, with President Ford refusing to bail out the City government. Crime was way up and businesses were fleeing the city. Punk signified the drawing of a line in the sand, the resistance to the fraud, depression and apathy of the 70s, and the beginning of a more active age.

What is punk, how do you define it, and can it be defined?

Punk is an important cultural and political movement, the anti-product of an uncertain postmodern age, a current that runs counter to contemporary values of subjectivity, moral relativism and bourgeois consumerism. It is a permanent resistance movement expressed mostly in music but other forms as well, notably independent media, internet, art, design and fashion.
The media spectacle of the late 70s helped launch something that tends to shy away from mass media, at least that is true for punk in its purest form.

What are the ethical and political philosophies operating within the punk community in New York and how are they articulated?

The problem with punk is that it's not articulate enough about its philosophies, and I think too many of the participants lack the language or the background or the precedents to speak of "ethical and political philosophies." This is not an academic movement. Most participants would say that the ethical and political philosophies of punk are Punk, and that it itself is a ethical/political philosophy with a set of values: independence from the super corporate machine, freedom from bourgeois social values [i.e. stealing shit, hitch hiking, hopping trains], tough durable clothing [leather jackets].

What are the New York punk scene's key elements not only to its development, but also currently?

Well, you gotta read the history, like back issues of Big Takeover, etc. You should also talk to Jack Rabid, the editor there. [jack rabid---jrabid@erols.com] I didn't live in NYC until 1991, but I do know a little about the evolution of hardcore in NYC. But not enough to really speak in a useful way.

How has New York helped to shape/create punk as we know it?

I think the "no future" statement of the Sex Pistols in the late 70s was just as true of NYC at that time as it was of post-industrial England. And yet New York came back in the 90s, after the "go-go 80s." I think another anticlimax for the city, one that also produced great art, is Lou Reed's New York album. I think that marked a great time of synchronicity between the city and raw rock/punk music. I think a lot of New Yorkers have their senses of history marked by culturally significant events, the great concerts and little shows, the releases of CDs and the words on them can act as epitaphs for a dying time, or as prophesy for what is to come.

Is New York the center/heart of punk or merely one community in a larger whole?

No, it started here, but it's decentralized by its nature. It's everywhere, it's international, see Maximum Rock and Roll, etc.

If punk is a resistance to mainstream culture, politics, and economics and New York can be said to be the capitol of the mainstream, what implications does this have for the relationship which the punk community has to the city?

The mainstream and the alternatives are like a double helix, intertwined. They feed off each other. The mainstream gives the alternatives something to mock, to surpass artistically, to parody, to destroy. The mainstream in response occasionally picks off the prettier children of alternatives and makes them more palatable alternatives, or more edgy mainstream commodities.

What changes has the punk community incited within the city and how?

I gotta go to work now it's 5:19 AM



HAVE INFO ON NYC AND PUNK?
TO CONTACT THE INTERVIEWER, R.J. GLASS, EMAIL erejota@hotmail.com




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