RE/Search interview. Punk and politics. Vale, Jerry Casale, Graeme Revell

Was at a screening Wed. night of an interview by V. Vale of RE/Search with Jerry Casale of Devo and Graeme Revell of SPK.

Vale asked how they viewed the birth of punk and what it meant to them. Casale said it was the last time there was an explosion of justifiable anti-authoritarianism in the US because back then people still remembered what it was like to not have things that way. In other words, in a way, punks believed in what America was supposed to be, maybe never was, but they sure saw it slipping away. As for the devolution that Devo sang about, yeah, it happened, and has been way worse than they ever thought it could be.

Revell, whose SPK was one of the first industrial bands, saw punk as having kindred spirit to what industrial was about, even if the music was different. Even if it wasn’t overtly political, it had a political, basically anarchist message. Back then, he said, we thought that a cultural revolution like punk could somehow translate into a political revolution. But how does that happen? How can it go from the cultural to millions in the streets? Besides, we did get millions in the streets against the Iraq War and nothing changed. Another problem: socialism has a strong and powerful message and is needed, but in the US (unlike the rest of the world), people know nothing about it. Yeah, Casale said, and what’s worse, get in a room full of Trotskyites and they’re insufferable.

So how do we bridge the gap between cultural revolution and genuine political change? Cultural revolution alone can not produce meaningful change but ideological Marxism, especially in the US, is no answer either. A room full of zealots does not a revolution make. But if you explain the basics of socialism to people in non-ideological terms, they generally get it, and want to know more. As Revell pointed out, his 35 year old girlfriend asked him, who is Marx? Why should she know, he said, schools in the US, unlike elsewhere, teach nothing about socialism.

Vale mentioned how he started Search and Destroy, a legendary early magazine about punk. He was working at City Lights bookstore and told Allen Ginsberg he wanted to start a punk magazine. Ginsberg immediately wrote out a $100 check. Ferlinghetti chipped in another $100, and with a final total of $425, he started Search and Destroy, and then RE/Search. That’s what punk was about. Do it yourself. Always a good idea.

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  • DJ

    “schools in the US, unlike elsewhere, teach nothing about socialism.”

    Admittedly it’s been a while since I was in high school, but Marx was required reading– by, I might add, a vehemently anti-commie Cuban expatriot teacher. We studied not only the writings, but their effect (positive and negative) on European history.

  • William

    What a waste of an article!

    You had access to some great minds that you could have tapped for real quotes to provide the reader with some fresh insights AND ALSO a screening and all you write is the same tired lines.

  • Well heck, then. Do it yourself! And you’ll find what I reported is what they said. It was all heavily political, with very little about the music. Revell is sympathetic to Marxism and Casale said a primary reason for Devo was they were really pissed about what was happening politically.

    Unfortunately, RE/Search doesn’t have a DVD of it and it apparently is shown only on local SF cable, so it might be hard to track down.

  • Sue

    Your Prep School in New Hampshire > My Public School in Southern California, where > means “obviously much better as to content, teaching, and all-around interest.”

    High School, for me, was four years of monotony sometimes bordering on. We had tired, graffitied textbooks that taught nothing relevant like the genesis of political movements and economic situations — we just memorized useless dates and factoids.

    However, I think this is just luck and not a function of place. I spoke to a Parisian recently who said in one of his high school classes they were required to memorize the names of a particular King’s many mistresses, 56 or so in all if I remember correctly. I had to admit he trumped me on the list complaint.

  • DJ

    Yeah, my wife graduated from Venice High. But despite that, she can read.

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