When the folks on my TV first started talking about our countries financial troubles I took a kind of guilty pleasure in it. When I see banks collapsing and retail stores dropping deeper and deeper in the red I can’t help but think of the punk music that it’s more than likely to cause.
The first great punk musician came out of our first great depression. As the stock market crashed and the jobs began to dry up Woody Guthrie picked up his trademark guitar and began a musical grassroots movement. Just like today’s punk bands, he toured the country playing tiny shows for the people at the bottom of the economic food chain and built a “scene” for the dispossessed and scorned. They hadn’t quite figured out the wardrobe or the hair cuts yet, but the anger and the unity was clearly there.
Three decades later, when the world economy experienced a thing called stagflation the punk movement exploded. The only lines longer than the ones at the gas pumps were the ones in front of the venues where bands like the Sex Pistols and The New York Dolls played. An entire generation of angry young people were trying to find someone who was saying what they were thinking, expressing the hopelessness that they saw around them. The lyrics had changed some and the music didn’t sound too familiar, but “This Land is Our Land” and “Anarchy in The UK” have more similarities than differences. In couple years the financial world pieced itself back together and the punk movement fell apart, but not before creating a strong, believable format for the angry and confused.
It only took another six or seven years for the colossal machinery of commerce to droop and sag again. Tirelessly the lower crust picked up old guitars and leather jackets to try to articulate the way that they felt. Bands like the Dead Kennedys and Bad Brains found that the basement shows they were playing were suddenly crowded. They saw that down there underground the teenagers were grouping together. They had forgotten the words to “My Sharona”; and instead were screaming “It’s time to taste/What you most fear”.
Our current economic downturn hasn’t generated a voice as widely recognized yet, but the anger is there. The songs are starting to rise to the surface, and the hopelessness is palpable. In the basements in Brooklyn a group of guys called The Motorcycle Industry just put out a track that could be the “Marines’ Hymn” for our decades dispossessed. On “Blue Ribbon” they scream it out for us:
We got ‘em right where we want ‘em,
If the stocks don’t rise we’ll hang ’em out to dry,
I got just what I wanted,
Watch the suit and tie fall from the high-rise.
LORENZO WOLFF is a musician living in New York. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org