Debbie Harry Demonstrates the Punk Pogo Dance for a U.S. Audience (1978)

Each gen­er­a­tion takes what it needs from ear­ly punk and dis­cards what it does­n’t, so that count­less sub­gen­res have descend­ed from a small, eccen­tric col­lec­tion of punk bands from the late 1970s. The speed and brute sim­plic­i­ty of the Ramones took over in the 80s. The Clash’s stri­dent, reg­gae-inflect­ed anthems guid­ed much of the 90s. The angu­lar art rock and new wave dis­co of Tele­vi­sion, Talk­ing Heads, and Blondie defined the 2000s.

But some things became almost ter­mi­nal­ly passé, or ter­mi­nal­ly stu­pid, after punk’s first wave: like sign­ing to major labels or wear­ing swastikas, iron­i­cal­ly or oth­er­wise. Already out of fash­ion by 1978, the first punk dance, the pogo, was so trag­i­cal­ly unhip that Deb­bie Har­ry pro­nounced it dead on arrival in the U.S. on famed Man­hat­tan cable access show TV Par­ty, above. She offers to demon­strate it any­way as a “his­tor­i­cal” arti­fact.

Her com­men­tary seems like both a sar­cas­tic rip on the ridicu­lous spread of trends and a gen­uine warn­ing to those who might try to make this, like, a thing in New York. Don’t bring a creaky pogo stick with you to the club. Do pour beer over your head after a sweaty half-hour of what­ev­er dance you do. There was so much to learn about punk eti­quette even then. Unless you hap­pened to be Sid Vicious, or in the audi­ence of the first Sex Pis­tols shows. Then it was all fair game.

The pogo orig­i­nat­ed, so the lore goes, with Sid. As Steve Sev­erin of Siouxsie and the Ban­shees remem­bers it, “We first met [Sid] at one of the con­certs. He began bounc­ing around the dance floor, the so called leg­end of the pogo dance. It was mere­ly Sid jump­ing up and down, try­ing to see the band, leap­ing up and down because he was stuck in the back some­where.” Just as every­one who saw the Sex Pis­tols start­ed their own band, every­one who saw Sid bounce around start­ed to pogo.

What at first looks like harm­less fun, espe­cial­ly com­pared to the bru­tal mosh pits that took over for the pogo, was any­thing but. “Pogo­ing was very vio­lent and very painful,” one eye­wit­ness remem­bers. “Peo­ple were not quite crushed to death, but seri­ous injuries occurred.” We might rethink Men With­out Hats’ “The Safe­ty Dance,” the 80s hit writ­ten in defense of pogo­ing. Lead singer Ivan Doroschuk penned the tune after he was kicked out of a club for doing the pogo. “I think peo­ple can relate to the empow­er­ing kind of mes­sage of ‘The Safe­ty Dance,’” he says.

“The Safe­ty Dance” would not have been the empow­er­ing world­wide smash it was had it been called “Pogo Danc­ing,” a minor hit for the Vibra­tors in 1976. Not near­ly as icon­ic, and over­shad­owed by a hip­per dance of the same name in the 80s, was the robot, ele­gized by The Saints in “Doing the Robot.” This dance was “both more expres­sive and less spon­ta­neous,” as cul­tur­al the­o­rist Dick Heb­di­ge describes it in Sub­cul­ture: The Mean­ing of Style, con­sist­ing of “bare­ly per­cep­ti­ble twitch­es of the head or hands or more extrav­a­gant lurch­es (Frankenstein’s first steps?) which were abrupt­ly halt­ed at ran­dom points.” Hard­ly as prac­ti­cal as the pogo, but prob­a­bly a lot safer.

via Boing Boing

Relat­ed Con­tent:

How Blondie’s Deb­bie Har­ry Learned to Deal With Super­fi­cial, Demean­ing Inter­view­ers

A Short His­to­ry of How Punk Became Punk: From Late 50s Rock­a­bil­ly and Garage Rock to The Ramones & Sex Pis­tols

The 100 Top Punk Songs of All Time, Curat­ed by Read­ers of the UK’s Sounds Mag­a­zine in 1981

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

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Comments (5)
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  • Matthew Brown says:

    I would love to have been old enough when Punk was new. I always feel is missed out on some­thing even though it was sort out of my con­trol.

    Great arti­cle btw.😀

  • Gilberto Gonçalves Fonseca says:

    Eu cur­ti muito o movi­men­to punk, ten­ho muito orgul­ho, é cur­to até hoje, com os meus 51anos de idade, hoje mes­mo esta­va escu­tan­do replicantes,gostei demais da matéria 👍🏿👍🏿✌

  • PunkRock Granny says:

    Tele­vi­sion an influ­ence on Dis­co? Real­ly? I don’t hear any cor­re­la­tion or deriva­tion. When was the last time you lis­tened to Mar­quee Moon? Ver­laine and Lloyd would be dis­gust­ed by your obser­va­tion.

  • David Stephens says:

    If you lis­ten to The Wheelz — I Wan­na Get Drunk (sim­gle ver­sion), Deb­bie Har­ry’s expla­na­tion of the pogo is sam­pled. Oi! to all the real punx

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