Tuesday, November 29, 2005

How I Invented Punk Rock

It was announced yesterday that the Sex Pistols are finally going to receive their due and be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame next year. No one can doubt that their place in the pantheon is deserved, even if only for their profound influence.

There’s always been some controversy over whether punk rock migrated from the US to England or vice versa and who was really responsible for it. Now, at long last, I can reveal the truth.

It was all me.

Some time ago, a handful of years after the recording of the Great Sgt. Pepper Parody Album and somewhere in the vicinity of the premiere of Drug Fiend Polka on the steps of The Philadelphia Museum of Art, it occurred to me that it was high time for an ode to stupidity.

Up to that time, I considered the highest example of the form to be Allan Sherman’s Dropouts March, the flipside to his hit Crazy Downtown, a parody of the Petula Clark hit.

Dropouts March contained classic lyrics like:

March, Dropouts, down the field!
Proud of the will to fail!
You won’t find us in the school halls
Look in the pool halls
Or in jail!

March, Dropouts, Backwards March!
Ain’t we a tragedy?
We must unite
And fight, fight, fight
For good old stupidity!

Its unabashed celebration of idiocy always touched that part of me that was deeply in love with pure and unadulterated freedom and anarchy. One day, a melody popped into my head, more like four chords actually, with lyrics to match. The result was entitled I Don’t Know Nothin’.

It began with a spoken intro:

1 + 1 is 4!
2 + 2 are 5!
3 + 2 are 6
and 3 + 3 are 5!

Having established the lay of the land, the only other lyric was I don’t know nothin’!, sung as the four chords repeated themselves endlessly. There was, however a middle section during which the singer was to expound on all the different things he didn’t know.

Like John Lennon the morning he woke up with Instant Karma dancing in his head, I knew I had to get this thing to tape before the inspiration faded. I immediately called George and Harry and we all met at Harry’s house as I explained the intricacies of the song. I had even crudely notated a bass line that I thought George might find useful.

Our recording equipment consisted of a beat-up cassette machine and, on the count of three, I pressed the deep red of the Record button.

The three of us shouted out the mathematical intro, which led directly into the first round of my solo vocalizing. During this section, though, George was required to back me up between lines with what I referred to as the “Goofy laugh” after the Disney character. Something like a-hilk! thrown in between each of my lines:

I don’t know nothin’!
(a-hilk! a-hilk!)
I don’t know nothin’!
(a-hilk! a-hilk!)

Keep in mind that while all this was happening, Joey Ramone was still heavily into Glam Rock and Johnny Rotten was still miming in the mirror to Alice Cooper.

I proudly pounded out my four chords on the piano, while George obliged me on guitar and Harry provided the beat. When we got to the middle, George dropped out to make the effect of my vocals against the drums that much more stark and haunting:

I don’t know nothin’!
I don’t even know the words to this song!
That’s right, I don’t know nothin’!
I never learned how to read music!
I never learned how to play the piano!
(rude keyboard sounds)

Then I yelped as we headed into the finale, George returning with guitar blazing and even turning my theoretical bass line into a guitar solo. My keyboard solo even impressed George, staying within the chord changes as it did.

Finally, our mighty rhythm machine ground to a halt as another chapter in Music History was inscribed in the Book of Home Cassette Recording. The world would little note, nor long remember, what we accomplished in Harry’s living room that day, but we would know and that’s what was important.

I should also make it plain that if the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame even attempted to draft us into their ranks, we would refuse to participate in their cheap, corporate-sponsored dog-and-pony show. We have far more integrity than that.

And nothing decent to wear.


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