Friday, July 20, 2007

The re-emergence of the angry, young ... Donkey

I bet you never knew that there was a punk band from the 1970s called Thrush and the Cunts! Nah, me neither, and I nearly pissed myself with mirth and fell off my seat on the train this evening when I read about it. Apparently they were a seminal punk band in Melbourne's avant garde music scene in the late 1970s, and almost certainly the southern hemisphere's first all-female line-up of the genre. They obviously didn't do much other than snarl and bang a few pots and pans on stage, 'cause no one seems to have heard of them, but it got me to thinking about how much, after all these years, I still don't know about punk ... and I suspect I'm not alone.

I can remember my first punks. It was a wet Sunday afternoon in about 1982, and I was in the city with my family. Things are a bit different nowadays, but back then, there didn't seem to ever be much cause for families from the suburbs to go to the city, and certainly not on a Sunday, when everything was closed. Looking back, I'm sure it might have been only my second or third time in the city, and it was all quite overwhelming – lots of huge buildings and unfamiliar streets. I remember feeling completely swamped by the number of people around the main railway station, and I was scared I was gonna let go of my mother and be swept away in the throng. But most of all, I remember being shit-scared of all the punks that were hanging around.

Perhaps my memory of this day has been distorted a little (blind terror has a habit of doing that, I've noticed), but I remember groups of three or four guys and girls milling around – the girls all with thick eye-liner and matted hair, and the guys – man, the guys – they were, in retrospect, friggin' immaculate! Mohawks sticking up into the sky in huge, coloured pillars of gel, press studs in their eye brows, massive crucifixes dangling from their ears, leather jackets with all kinds of studs and metal hanging off them, and they were all sitting around looking angry and menacing ... well, actually, if I am to be really honest about it, thirty-year old Donkey has to admit that they may just have been hanging around talking, laughing and generally minding their own business. But still, at the time, I was pretty certain I was gonna get knifed and my family brutally killed if I so much as looked at one of these animals.

So what is it that makes a seven year old Donkey scared of punks? It's a tough question. How could I have known what they were? I can recall having seen a Knight Rider episode in which KIT and a leather-daked Hoff took on a gang of mohawked bikies who were terrorising a US mid-west town (yeah right, like there would have ever been any real punks in the American mid-west!). And perhaps the leather-clad, violent villains of the Mad Max film which my older siblings had forced me sit through would have seemed pretty frightening to a six year old Donkey foal, so it's possible that I was influenced by these, but the truth is, I can't really identify how I would have known to be frightened of these people.

By my reckoning, that Sunday in 1982 must have been almost the end of the punk era, and these studded, mascara-ed, follicularly sculpted beings were probably the last of their tribe in Melbourne. I was too young to have been exposed to their behaviours, and never really learned what they'd been about. Later, when I was old enough to understand a few things about the world, the punk waters got muddied a bit with the rise of the Nazi skins, who were violently terrorising the Vietnamese immigrants in Melbourne's west. These leather-clad, jack-booted skin heads received the mantle of 'punks' by those of us in the comfortable, ignorant, leafy east, and so cemented in me the fear of punks that my early trip to the city had engendered, and I remained mistrustful and fearful of punks for many, many years afterwards.

Back to Thrush and the Cunts (there was no real need to slip that in there again, but I think you'll agree, it's both priceless and fun). Tonight I have been reading a history of one of my greatest, non animate loves of this world, the community radio station, Three Triple R (for the uninitiated, cast your eyes over yonder to the link in "Stuff I Dig" and enjoy the fun). I found Triple R in about 1990, when, for reasons not entirely clear to me, I began rejecting the music, clothes and attitudes that I was being force-fed by my friends, TV and anyone of influence, and I found in this rather odd radio station, with its occasional dead-air and potty-mouthed announcers, not only an extraordinary range of fantastic music, but a critical, and seemingly informed view of society, literature, the media and in particular, politics and social issues, which had definitely not been a feature on my landscape up until that point. Most importantly of all, I somehow felt both welcomed and valued by the Triple R family, in a way that I certainly hadn't been by the supposed trend-setters of my peers and the wider, mainstream media.

Triple R was born in the mid 70s, and much of its early content was punk and new wave, which was screaming its way out of the UK and finding a receptive audience right here in extremely conservative Melbourne. What I have discovered in my reading, and through listening to the Rs over the last decade or so, is that punk was not about white supremacy and radical right wing views – quite the opposite, in fact. Punk was about a bunch of people who rejected the conservative music, literature and especially politics, of 1970s Britain, the US and even lil’ old Australia. These talented, and occasionally informed individuals, far from being the racist red necks I later mistook them for, were actually the next generation of peace-loving hippies, admittedly with a little confusion over their post-free love identity, washed-up onto the shores of 1970s conservative, Cold War politics. Like their older brothers and sisters of the 60s, and like me making the switch to Triple R in the 1990s, they were simply rejecting the conservative politics and social attitudes of the day, albeit with a little more angst and irritability, a bucket of hair gel and a much sharper wardrobe.

As the punks grew up, got their hair cut and became teachers and lawyers, the radio station that they had managed also grew up, but Triple R maintained that healthy cynicism and critical comment which had grown out of its punk roots. It was this quality which drew me to it, and I too developed into the socially-minded, critical, witty, attractive and upstanding citizen you see today. In a way, you could say that I too appraised what I was being exposed to by way of music, media, social ideals and politics, and decided to adopt what I liked, and reject what I didn't. In that way, despite having been born about fifteen years too late, I too grew to be that which I once feared above all else; I too became a punk, albeit a ridiculously exaggerated, mule-like one with questionable bodily hygiene.

And armed with those angsty desires to do it my own way (I reference Sic Vicious and Nancy here, not Frank), I forged a life for myself which has taken me out of the suburbs, and into the big, wide world, where those views and ideals have been further shaped by my experiences. It's fair to say that there is nothing more likely to instil nationalistic pride in an individual than sending them away to live in another country, and it's true that this post-punk era expatriate Australian Donkey punk still, despite the odds, is proud to be Australian, and to live his life according to a set of values he deems to be uniquely Australian. The only problem, unfortunately, is that Australians at home seem to be rejecting those very ideals of social justice, inclusion and compassion which I believe makes us great. In returning to my beloved country this month, I have been shocked to discover just how deeply ingrained the xenophobia has become; from the political elite right down to the average Joe in the suburbs, Australians are becoming more and more conservative, less and less concerned with the plight of their fellow man and moving closer and closer to the right … and it's heart-breaking.

Every time I sit and listen to a loved-one spouting off about this foreigner or that aborigine, the bile starts to rise, and I increasingly find myself looking around for alternative conversations and alternative media to give me a metaphorical back-rub. Obviously I turn to Triple R, which never disappoints, and I also seek counsel in other, like-minded punks. People like me who are becoming increasingly horrified at the attitudes and beliefs of our leaders and neighbours, and people who, like me, have a developed social conscience and an ability to recognise what they believe in, and what makes them happy, and to offer informed criticism where behaviours and attitudes threaten these values and beliefs, even if it means going against the norm. Like me, these people don't wear ripped jeans, sport green mohawks or clink under multiple piercings, they are regular, everyday people - teachers, lawyers, plumbers and health professionals. They almost certainly wouldn't identify as punks, but in their admirable way, they are doing exactly what those menacing, leather-clad young people did some thirty years ago.

"Punk's not dead, it's just gone to bed", so the pop song goes, but bloody hell, it's time to wake up and get active again. It's time to stick a metaphorical pin through John Howard's nose, flash the forks to commercial media and spit at the camera of shoddy journalism. It's time to start being critical about who we are, and what we can do to become who we want to be, even if that means playing it a bit dangerously, and rejecting "what everyone else thinks".

I guess this could easily be conceived as frightening to a young Donkey, but you've got to hand it to 'em, imagine how long it would take to get that together each day. Pic: Google images

Don't worry about this pic - it's functional and has nothin' to do with the story - Donkey


lucy said...

I remember watching the Sid Vicious cover of My Way on Rage late one night and wishing a little wistfully that punk had of stayed around a little longer so I could've enjoyed it not just post-punk.

But I'd look ridiculous in a mohawk and it's been a long time since I've seen a proper punk (and not just 14 year girls wearing Sex Pistol's t-shirts they bought at f*cking Supre)

BV said...

I did not get a chance to read this yet, but I have posted a story. It's not new, but I'm not sure if you've read it yet as it came from an older blog of mine.

Eleanor Bloom said...

I've heard of Thrush and the Cunts, but only because I was obsessed with the movie Dogs in Space as a teen. It was set in Melbourne in the 70s and starred Michael Hutchence. I have the soundtrack on vinyl and it includes Thrush and the Cunts. Delightful name. Can't imagine why they weren't more successful.

DonkeyBlog said...

Eleanor - thanks for dropping by - as it happens, although I've never seen the film, I know quite a bit about it - I went to the same school as the character who the film was based on, and one of our teachers used to tell us about how, as a new-grad teacher, he had these two or three guys to deal with who were pretty drug-fucked and close to suicide - said they scared the shit out of him.

THANK YOU for your very informed presence on this humble blog site!

Loosey - yes, "post-punk" doesn't quite cut the mustard, street-cred-wise.

Ann O'Dyne said...

Sam Sejavska and The Ears.
first single was on the Old/GOOD Missing Link.