Saturday, January 20, 2007

Plugged In vs. Unplugged (Part 1)

I've recently read articles profiling early punk rockers David Byrne and Patti Smith. I came away with the same general impressions from both articles 1) If they had come around a few years earlier or later than they did they wouldn't be regarded as punk rockers and 2) For being aging punk rockers, they are both pretty "plugged in."

What do I mean by "plugged in"? My definition of "plugged in" is "having an intense interest and curiosity about life, society, and cultures." A cultural polyglot, if you will. The more I think about it (and research it), most of the survivors from the American punk generation fit into this category. The New York Dolls' David Johannsen would certainly qualify. I went to the website of X's John Doe, and found him ruminating on bugs:

This morning I found a 4" praying mantis on the railing, carried it around for several minutes showing DJ & Exene. What a marvel-alien thing they are, w/ dozens of shades of green, a cross-hatched pattern on their back & that crazy way they swivel their heads. There are a few things I like about the south.
This is a perfect example of what it means to be "plugged in." John Doe is 52 years old and he still marvels at the "crazy way they swivel their heads." His interest in and awareness of geographic uniqueness is also indicative of someone who is "plugged in."

What makes first generation punks the type of people who become "plugged in"? Every documentary or essay on the history of rock treats the punk movement as a crucial reaction to and rejection of the bloated, cynical, greedy, corporate structure rock 'n' roll had supposedly evolved into by the mid to late 70s. I've heard the term "rock's mid-life crisis" as a referent for this phenomena. But I think to refer to punk (particularly American punk) as a reaction to corporate rock is to sell it short. To use words like "rejection" and "reaction" suggests a negative motivation behind the movement. What if the punk's supposed rejection of mainstream conformity was concomitant to a larger spirit of affirmation--of accepting and exploring what the world truly had to offer?

I would like to contrast this spirit of being "plugged in" to the realm of metal. I am certainly not the first person to set up punk and metal as binary opposites. But I can't help but compare the spirit of inquiry present in the first generation punks with the seemingly deadened sensibilities of first generation metalheads. Ozzy Osbourne is, of course, the poster child for what I would call "unplugged"--a state of being in which the self is distanced from the world around it. The reality show "Tommy Lee Goes to College" is also an interesting case study. The show is a variation of the archetypal "fish out of water" formula--with the Motley Crue drummer out of his element in a rural educational institution. Why do we like to see Ozzy and Tommy Lee in reality shows? Why do we find these scenarios funny? I think the humor comes from the tension that comes into play when the "unplugged" individual is forced to interact with an outside environment they don't have the ability to assimilate to. We laugh at the novelty of the strategies that they employ, but we also cathartically recognize ourselves. It can be awfully hard to find the outlet sometimes.

Coming next week: how electric vs. acoustic music figures into the discussion

17 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I found this article very interesting. I have no idea why any one wants to deal with a preying mantis. yuck!

11:33 AM  
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11:33 AM  
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11:33 AM  
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11:34 AM  
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11:34 AM  
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12:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello, I am in Becky Kelley's English Class and would like to be added to your mailing list. lgoodwin0007@kctcs.edu
Thank You

5:17 PM  
Anonymous nWo 4 life! said...

Hey yo,

if i could be serious for a minute,

"Tommy Lee goes to college" was an entertaining/very funny television show. The best parts were when he decided joining a stupid fraternity was a bunch of crap and started his own mock fraternity house called "The house of Lee." Also, when he attempted to run around the track and ran out of breath was great too. But when he joined the marching band and had to do all the requirements actually showed him in and out of his element at the same time. He had the drumming talent to make it, the problem was getting to practice before dawn and learning the routines. It was kind of interesting i guess.

6:46 PM  
Blogger Tee said...

This was an interesting article, but may I add my point of view?
I understand your point of view about the "plugged in" and "unplugged" however, I believe that this has little to do with music, although music is a part of being somewhat "plugged in".
I believe that the reason Byrne and Smith are now "plugged in" is because they have matured mentally and somewhat spiritually.
For a person to be "plugged in" you have to slow down long enough to realize what is going on around you, kind of like driving down the same road you always travel, but observing things that you have never seen before. Why does this happen? 1. Because we slowed down long enough to "smell the roses". A lot of people are so busy in this world today that they don't even sit down to eat with their children much less stop to observe what is actually going on around them. 2)Maturity. Not to be disrespectful to any Ozzy fans, but Ozzy still has not grown up. He has many problems that cause him to continually resort to drugs or alcohol and until he fixes the problem, he will never be able to "smell the roses" no matter how old he gets.
Music can certainly be an inspiration an get people to "plug in"... it WHAT they are Plugging into is the problem.
I don't believe that punk rockers ever felt rejected. If I read that right. I think that music is a part of mainstream conformity and its like a cycle that keeps moving in a circle until something changes. Music is written mostly because of the mainstream, but musicians know that the styles are going to change. They can either change with it or not.
This was my opinion of the article and I enjoyed reading it as I do all of your articles.

9:41 PM  
Blogger Boo said...

Hey everybody, this is Ms. Kelley. Thanks for signing up. It think it'll be great to get some discussions going with people in and out of class; even that anonymous guy (I'm guessing) who called me a broad and can't accept that Azor is my best good friend. Happy reading.

9:43 AM  
Blogger Boo said...

Now I'd like to post a comment. "Plugged in" as you explain Azor, could also mean cosmopolitan, someone who is well traveled and can speak on a variety of subjects, someone who would fit in most places. Tommy Lee may have traveled a lot, but his attitude while doing so seems to have been, "Let's see what this place has to offer me," instead of let's see what this place offers. If he were less ego-centric, he might be more "plugged in."

10:16 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi. I'm in Ms. Kelley's English class and would like for you to add me to your emailing list. My email address is awalls0009@kctcs.edu. I would really appreciate it. Thank you.

10:54 AM  
Blogger anonymous said...

Please add me to the blog bclemmons0001@kctcs.edu

12:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

hahahahahaha....

Azor you should take about Canada/America relationships, don't you have any opinions on that matter?

1:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm a student of Ms. Kelley (aka boo) and would like to be added to youe mailing list my email is acollins0104@kctcs.edu Thanks

10:24 PM  
Blogger Enjoy_Every_Sandwich said...

Somebody really wanted you to see their comment.

My opinion? Someone who uses the term "plugged in" is unplugged.

Sorry Azor.

2:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree 100% with Sandwich.

"plugged" and "unplugged" where did those terms comes from?

3:49 PM  

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