Inventing “Punk”

Inventing “Punk”

The word punk had previously been used by a handful of rock writers, such as Lester Bangs, Dave Marsh, and Lenny Kaye, but it hadn’t yet circulated widely as a music genre name. “Nobody in New York wanted to be called ‘punk,’ ” said Ramones producer Craig Leon. “There were no real tags except ‘New York Rock.’ ” By early to mid-1976, just after Punk began publishing—and could be purchased at CBGB’s bar—mass media outlets located in midtown began taking notice of this subculture that was brewing nearby. “I think punk,” Kristian Hoffman observed, “the name that got attached to our bands, happened because Punk magazine existed.” Punk magazine’s John Holmstrom added: “Punk rock didn’t really start with Punk magazine, but we really put it on the map. We brought media attention.” Even though some on the scene hated Punk—or at least thought it was sexist, knuckle dragging, or just plain clueless—they still hoped the magazine would write about their bands, because media coverage was hard to come by. Unfortunately, this eventually had the effect of flattening the diversity of New York’s underground rock scene, reducing punk to a one-dimensional parody of itself. “I think Punk was more about the cartoon aspects of the music,” Kaye said. “It was not a lot about the music. It was mostly a caricature of the music, which is somewhat valuable, and somewhat limiting.” The British punk band the Sex Pistols never had a Top 10 hit in the United States, but their media presence was substantial. US news outlets latched onto the sensationalistic, violent aspects of the British punk scene—which were then projected onto groups like the Ramones, much to their chagrin. This attracted boorish types who thought that being ‘punk’ was about starting fights, so most American record companies kept their distance from the scene. “Once the Sex Pistols and the British music scene embraced the word punk, it was very, very bad to have that word associated with the New York bands,” the Fast’s Paul Zone recalled. “It was hurting all of the New York artists to be called punk, because it was associated with the whole Sex Pistols fiasco.”

From Chapter 33 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore


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