Thursday, February 9, 2012

Zombies, New Wave, the Fashionable Punk

Return of the Living Dead released in 1985. Being a big fan of zombies, Jo and I got tickets and saw it at a seedy little strip-mall theater in Southern Maryland. It was fantastic; we laughed and cheered and stood on our seats with every gruesome spray of arterial essence, every absurd and hilarious death.

What was not to like about zombies for a Punk? The perfect analogy for 80s society: mindless consumerism, perpetual dashing after nebulous goals, a lack of self-examination, just the relentless drive for self-aggrandizement. The heroes struggle to escape being consumed and integrated into this animal world, still possessed of the cloak of humanity, violently striking against the seemingly inevitable tide, unbowed. And in this particular vision of the zombie doom the director had inserted leather clad, be-mohawked "punks", deviant through and through, like cockroaches post-nuclear Armageddon, one of the few surviving beings of this apocalypse. Looking back at this more than 25 years later, of course, these "punks" were nothing more than comic relief, a sort of nod at the pathetic youth of the day, clowns in leather and studs.

Fittingly, T.S.O.L. is prominently featured on the soundtrack, all Friday night hair and Monday evening attitude, safe punk rock, the masses can handle this, clean up the guitars, give them new amps, let's make a buck on this revolution. This is how Hollywood sees the punks, how they can digest them without ending up with ulcers, no sickening glances in the tarnished mirror held by Black Flag or Bad Brains or Black Market Baby, just a superficial tease of the hair, a liberal hand with the mascara.

The movie industry never got it, any more than the record industry did. The record industry abandoned the punks the very second "New Wave" lumbered out of the slime left by The Clash and the Sex Pistols and delivered it's first romantic and tearful ballad, something introspective and self-pitying, skinny and pale and languid. Don't worry parents, no more horrifically fast rhythms, no more primal screams, just pop-y, can't-wait-to-kill-myself-this-world-is-too-hard English fops.

It is snowing, nature trying to hide humanity, cold, quiet. The '74 Malibu Classic station-wagon eases out onto Hwy. 301, a massive spray-painted ark, two laughing fuchsia haired punks in the front seat, talking about the movie, smoking, hoping the dove comes back with something better than an olive branch. The apocalypse they hope to harken is a new beginning, a chance for humanity to triumph over it's own self-made undeath.

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