Punking Out, a Short 1978 Documentary Records the Beginning of the Punk Scene at CBGB’s

I hate to be one of those peo­ple who goes on about how punk was an all-Amer­i­can phe­nom­e­non before it crossed the pond. But hell, I’ve no less an author­i­ty on the coun­ter­cul­ture than William S. Bur­roughs on my side, or on the side of Legs McNeil, at least, the music jour­nal­ist who just hap­pened to give punk its name by co-found­ing Punk mag­a­zine in 1975. Of McNeil’s sem­i­nal oral his­to­ry Please Kill Me, Bur­roughs remarks, “This book tells it like was.” More accu­rate­ly, it lets the music’s fron­tiers­men and women tell it, start­ing with Lou Reed and the Vel­vets and oth­er main­stays in Andy Warhol’s Fac­to­ry scene.

McNeil’s book sur­veys a num­ber of major Amer­i­can scen­esters, most of them from New York, with the excep­tion of The Stooges from Detroit, and one excep­tion­al band from, of all places, Cleve­land, Ohio. The Dead Boys rarely get their due, but they were as influ­en­tial as the Ramones in the down­town New York scene. Along with Iggy Pop, Dead Boys’ lead singer Stiv Bators indulged in the kind of thrilling onstage deprav­i­ty main­stream audi­ences came to think of as the spe­cial prove­nance of the Sex Pis­tols. In the mid-sev­en­ties, these bands, along with Pat­ti Smith, the Ramones, the New York Dolls, and Richard Hell and the Voidoids, etc. invent­ed all the moves punk came to be known for.

An excel­lent com­pan­ion to McNeil’s print doc­u­men­tary, the short, 1978 film Punk­ing Out, above, sur­veys three key down­town New York bands—the Ramones, the Dead Boys, who moved to the city in ‘76, and Richard Hell & the Voidoids. (Hell gave McNeil’s book its title, design­ing a t‑shirt with a bulls­eye paint­ed on it and the words “please kill me” scrawled above. He admit­ted he was “too much of a cow­ard” to wear it.) All three bands played cen­tral roles in the CBGB’s scene, and Hell—who also played in Neon Boys, Tele­vi­sion, and the Heartbreakers—gets cred­it for more or less invent­ing punk fashion—from spiked hair to DIY cloth­ing designs held togeth­er with safe­ty pins.

Made by Mag­gi Car­son, Juliusz Kos­sakows­ki and Ric Shore, the film serves as its own oral his­to­ry of sorts, fea­tur­ing inter­views with fans and the bands and CBGB’s own­er Hilly Kristal (who says, “the more crowd­ed and the loud­er it is, I think, the less vio­lence.”) Watch it for the his­to­ry, but also for the clas­sic per­for­mances, cap­tured from every angle in black and white, with sur­pris­ing­ly decent audio. And if you’d like to own your own copy, you can pur­chase it here for $11.95. The film’s site quotes one fan giv­ing it the ulti­mate old guy thumbs-up: “Great!!! Buy it for your kids!” It’s edu­ca­tion­al, for sure. Punk­ing Out belongs on every punk syl­labus right next to Please Kill Me.

Note: You can check out a copies of Punk­ing Out from the New York Pub­lic Library, and you can have them shipped any­where in the world.

via Boing­Bo­ing

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Watch an Episode of TV-CBGB, the First Rock ‘n’ Roll Sit­com Ever Aired on Cable TV (1981)

The Talk­ing Heads Play CBGB, the New York Club That Shaped Their Sound (1975)

Take a Vir­tu­al Tour of CBGB, the Ear­ly Home of Punk and New Wave

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness


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