Third Class: Seattle Grunge Rock, 9/11/12

Posted: September 12, 2012 in The Strangest Tribe: the College Course

Yesterday we focused on American hardcore punk, from 1980 – 1984.  I gave the students a bit of an introduction to the genre, which rebelled—at times violently—against the Reagan Revolution.  I also showed them an irreverent clip from American Hardcore: The History of American Punk Rock, 1980 – 1986.  For the reading, the class checked out the first two chapters of Michael Azerrad’s Our Band Could Be Your Life, which covers the LA hardcore scene through the lens of Black Flag and the Minutemen. Morgan led the discussion.

I had no idea how my students would react to stories of Black Flag’s Henry Rollins having cigarettes put out on him, or the Minutemen’s Mike Watt dodging bags of vomit. To my surprise, they seemed to appreciate the work ethic of both bands, as well as the intense DIY nature of the LA hardcore scene. The students talked about the devolution of Rollins from naive frontman to self-loathing misanthrope (although one student mentioned she had recently seen Rollins perform at a spoken word gig and was impressed with his lucidity and intelligence.)  They also compared the dynamics of the two bands: Black Flag’s intense workaholic schedule and the tension dividing Greg Ginn and Rollins versus the Minutemen’s more congenial relationship between Watt and D. Boon.

Next, Julia led the discussion on the music. Students were assigned to listen to Black Flag’s “Rise Above” (including a cover by Rollins and Chuck D. of Public Enemy), plus selections from DC’s Bad Brains and Minor Threat (“Pay to Cum” and “Betray,” respectively), and Seattle’s Fartz (“You Got a Brain [Use It.”])  They talked about the energy and the intentional offensiveness of the Bad Brains’ song title, and the song’s mostly unintelligible lyrics.  Students seemed to prefer the raw quality of the original “Rise Above” over the cover.  One young lady admitted that she chuckled upon hearing the name of the Seattle band.

Several students talked about reactions they received from roommates/friends when listening to this week’s selections. One mentioned how she was listening to Minor Threat when her country-fan roommate looked at her and said, “What the hell are you listening to?” “It’s for class,” my student replied.  “An honors class.”

I believe the students appreciated hardcore’s ultimate contribution: using the DIY ethic to lay the basis for American alternative rock.

Finally, three people: Christine, Tatiana, and Danielle, did presentations on Motown, the NYC (Harlem) 1920s jazz scene, and 1960s London.  They had so much material to squeeze into 10 minute talks, but they all did a wonderful job conveying the richness of their respective scenes and genres.

Next week’s class is kind of a mixed bag.  We’ll talk about the early ’80s Olympia (WA) scene, which helped move independent music out from under the shadow of London and New York; non-musicians who supported the Seattle music scene; and the strange world of the drummer.

(The main reception area at KAOS radio, at Olympia’s Evergreen State College.)

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