Responses to questions about "Punk" and "Old Time"
A nice young man asked if I’d be willing to participate in a research for a college paper he was working on, and exploration of the great number of self identified “punk” musicians involved in “old time.” Though he had never heard of me, or Bad Livers, several of his other interviewees recommended he approach me. Here are my responses:
Hello Mark Rubin, Thank you for being willing to participate in my project.
You are very welcome, Mr. XXX. I always appreciate the opportunity to share my observations.
The questions are below.If you feel that I am missing anything or if you want to add anything else please feel free to tell me.
I think you’ll find my recommendations in the provided answers. Jews tend to answer questions with questions. I apologize what whatever cultural disconnect that might provide.
What drew you into the punk rock/alt/harder scene? The purposeful rejection of the overarching consumerist narrative of the time. And finding, finally, a community of the fellow marginalized. Bear in mind my involvement in a “music” emanating from this counterculture was simply an advent of my already radicalized socio-political world view. This was the Reagan years, ’81-86. You cannot possibly conceive of what rejecting the narrative presented to you would be like at that time, and in a relatively rural environment. Either throw my lot in with these people, Kikes like me, Blacks, Fags, Meskins, Injuns, poor white trash etc, i.e. “Degenerates.” Or try and assimilate into a culture I don’t recognize and wouldn’t let me participate anyway. It was a once wonderful vibrant culture, with its own language, art, dance and even music, until the rich boys and jocks showed up with fucking love songs. These, the very people we worked hard to get away form. But like anything genuinely revolutionary, it was coopted by the well-off and became no more than another consumerist proto-culture, a hobby. It had once been the soundtrack to anti-consumerist radicalism, but it died for good right around 1989 and anything that appears after is mighty suspect. Most all the authentic voices were silenced by the new fashion craze. Capitalism can take down anything it seems. Except Fugazi. They’ll be punk rock long after the Apocalypse.
Can you talk about your journey into that community and what role you fulfilled there?
See above. For a brief time I roadied for the Flaming Lips on trips to Texas. With a Anarcho-collective group, we hosted 100’s of “hardcore"shows in Norman OK from 82-86 before I split for Dallas to join the collection of like minded musicians there. Literally everyone you can think of that toured at that time stayed at my flophouse after the gig we arranged at a the the local VFW hall and ran the PA. Minutemen, Black Flag, etc..I still in touch with many of them today. At least those still involved in the struggle. Bad Livers actually toured the US opening for the Butthole Surfers in 1991, which many have told me in the years since opened their ears to aggressive music forms outside of “rock."
When did you first hear Old-Time?
Define that term, It’s literally meaningless to me. Do you mean regional music that represents and speaks for the traditions and aspirations of a unified community? I grew up hearing Tohona-O’ohdam fiddlers and Chicken scratch bands as a kid on my family’s ranch in Arizona. The vaqueros we hired introduced me to their corridos and mariachi. In Nebraska and Kansas my family went to the Czech towns to dance their polkas and schottisches. I literally grew up at square dances my parents dance at with a local live dance band every Thursday, with fiddler sawing tunes accompanied by three-finger roll banjo. My brother was a adopted from the Kiowa tribe and on Sunday afternoons we went to the local pow-wow at the Rez and heard the singing and drumming. I recall we had Pakistani foreign exchange students who lived with us and played tabla and sarrood in our living room sometimes. I learned to sing in the Church of Christ next door to my home and stayed around in the parking lot afterwards when the pastor drove off and the beer and the banjos came out for a “bluegrass” weekly jam. I played with my dad in a village brass band playing the same tunes they had since they first formed after the Civil War as well, evoking “old times." When I moved to Dallas, I lived in a Mexican slum and got hip to Los Alegres de Teran, which my next door neighbor said was “old style.” So, what signifies “old-time” to you?
What were the circumstances around that?
It was the culture of my neighbors. Jews have to be good neighbors. They’ll still burn a cross on our yard anyway, but one must be nice.
What made you start playing Old-Time?
Again, sorry, I utter reject the notion that white skinned, Protestant immigrants get to use any term they like and make it mean anything they like. Like “waterboarding” means “torture,” or “resettlement camps” means “gas chambers,” all gifts of white skinned “Christians.” Your nomenclature is woefully insufficient I fear. Are you really asking “Why did you abandon your own family and cultural history just to steal someone else’s because it seems fun?” Is that your question ultimately?
What is it like being in this category of Old-Time musician? Were the people in the tradition welcoming?
Music doesn’t exist, cultures do. How welcoming would you be to someone who invited themselves to your party, eats all the food, drinks all your beer and takes one of your girls out to parking lot to have fun with? Hmmm…I stick to my own knitting and I didn’t grown up in a culture that rewards and supports thoughtless appropriation, so I get along just fine with my neighbors. Most importantly, I'm filled to the brim with my own culture and have no need to top it off with somebody else’s anyway. When I’m at a jam session, if anybody asks, I have a song of my culture that I can share. I cannot muster a whit of respect for those who posses the temerity to live otherwise. They may not be bad people, but even the casual observer would agree that’s really awful behavior.
What do you feel like your role in the Old-Time community is?
Zero. None of my business. I hang out and keep my mouth shut until I am invited to participate and then only just so, as I was raised. There’s this bizarre new “proto-culture” left over from urban hippies culture that identifies itself this way I’ve come to encounter. To my experience (nearly 30 years now) it’s simply just yet another consumerist enterprise that any thoughtful person would naturally avoid altogether, as it’s readily identifiable as an abysmal example of White Supremacy. My role? Destroy the entire system that allows people to abusively disrespect and dehumanize others in this offhand way. Question and confront anyone who engages in such, appealing to their inner goodness and humanity, to simply just fucking stop, stop right now and think about what the fuck it is they’re doing. They can’t all be bad people, because if they knew what we knew, they just wouldn’t be that way. I stand in opposition to these notions and my excoriations, stinging sometimes, are my expressions of love and concern, seeking compassion and working for world that people can meet as equals with respect and mutual understanding. Which, so we’re clear, these perspectives are deeply ingrained into both cultures' tradition, Kike and “punk."
What are the crossovers with punk rock and Old-Time?
As they have been expressed in the last 40 years, they are both consumerist fictions, a coopted facade to support Capitalism and ultimately destroy the native traditions of communities they lampoon. It's an effort to delegitimize them so as to assimilate them into the mainstream were they can be sold stuff easier. Culture thus is anathema to Capitalism and and anything that stands in the way of commerce is to be removed or destroyed.That’s it. Literally nothing more. I contend that if you can’t see the unified thread that connects all peoples who are marginalized, then I question what you’re are looking at. Further his kind of questioning belies a premise I utter reject and bears no relation to any reality I’ve experiences in living communities. Except of course, to any consumerist trained to abuse other people as a sport. That anyone can hold themselves at arms length for a other group of people and then parse their “music” independently because they themselves can’t understand it any other way simply represents the absolute worst behavior this country engages in. “Old Time” is a fiction, and was ever since Uncle Dave published his “old-time” songs, and was listed as a description on the 78’s. The clueless hippies found these discs and made the term up whole cloth, so they could put yet another culture in a box so they could understand it. It’s important to note that famed Anti-semite Henry Ford actively supported, even recording and distributing 78’s his fantasy imaginings, American “old time” music and culture as a was to confront the hoards of immigrants defiling his great country. This from a man who ensured Ford Motors supplied a copy of the “Elders of Zion” book in the glovebox of every Model T that came off the line. (“Take America Back.” )
“Mountain” is a moniker for a living culture of which “mountain music" represents only one tiny facet of. In reality, living “mountain” people (like the Spencers on Whitetop Mountain for instance) don’t have the privilege these folks exhibit by pulling apart their heritage, nor can they stop others from describing their lives as a “genre,” yet another consumerist fiction. In doing so, these rude outsiders are in fact choosing to refuse or acknowledge that this “music” is simply a desperate and fleeting moment that this entirely marginalized community uses as tool to regain their basic humanity, endangered the very forces you wish me to comment on? The people I see today who come from some other culture and glom on to another do so because they truly believe its a dead art, available for them to revive. How would you feel, a living person who is set upon by necrophiliacs? What cultural treasure do they possess? Would any take umbrage to some Chinese millionaires appropriating in the same sort of crude and classist burlesque that these people do? Do they have anything at all to contribute to these communities beside scorn and ridicule and theft? Is that your question?
For the record, no, they don’t. Like the Vikings they are descended of, they simply show up anyplace and take whatever suits them, without a single consequence supported by an angry sky god that requires blood. Hollow and hungry vessels buoyed by privilege they fill themselves up and care little what they leave in their wake. “Blues,” “Country,” “Old-time,” etc.. using this terminology and referring to “genres,” that’s how we in living cultures identify the racists and classist arriving to do ill. Like Ralph Rinzler, they yank the gold top Les Paul out of Doc Watson’s hand and make him play an acoustic, because Ralph knows his market and couldn’t care less about Doc’s people. “Genuine Hillbilly, come and see!” That’s what you say to me when you say “Old-Time."
Can you also add a few of your favorite fiddlers/banjo players from "the tradition" that influenced you? (I understand that "traditional" carries a lot of weight and I am using this term loosely to describe those who grew up in the vein of Old-Time) I am compiling a playlist alongside this research paper made up of tracks of "traditional" Old-Time musicians who former punk musicians connect with.
Just Google me. Who I’ve recorded, produced and toured with should give you a nice long list of my neighbors and folks I live or lived around. I toured with many, until I was told by the promoters they didn’t need a “white” bassist. Former “punks?” Adam Tanner had a great Metal noise act long ago. And though we disagree on the points I’ve noted, we stay in touch.
Thanks for participating!
A genuine pleasure. My responses to these queries are my expressions the culture I grew up in, how it lives right now and expresses as a unified culture; a people of which I am simply one of. Not some Ayn Rand solo act told all their lives they can do whatever they like with whatever they find, just as long as they have the gold to buy it.
It was “Nazi punks fuck off” then and its no different today. The Nazis just play banjo now. No fucking difference at all. Share that widely.