Even Punks Sing the Blues

Beneath the flattering floor mirrors and flashing light strobes of the steady disco pulse, the ignored malcontents of the new wave in rock are being driven by some mad energy.

These are the days of the disco juggernaut and the electronic blip. No longer can you go to Jamson's Nook in San Francisco and hear the players ball their twisted soul-horns into the night.

The days when buttoned-down teenagers of the '50s dropped their books at the jittering of rock'n'roll are gone. Also departed are the summery afternoons when the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane gave free concerts to a second generation of rock'n'rollers, the flower children of the '60s, who ate acid and dressed down and became disenchanted and noisy for reasons no one is yet sure of.

Today America can go to the disco after work to unplug all that pent-up9-to-5 workday energy and see it gush and explode in the hanging mirrors.

Intellectual America shuns the shallowness of disco and instead unleashes its soul somewhere in the space maze of blips and unpredictable tones of electronic jazz.

America has mellowed out.

"In the '60s, kids realized what was happening around them," Joe says, "and their music became very rebellious and energetic. Then there was a lot of disillusionment because they realized that all the work of the '60s really didn't accomplish much.

"So now you have the generation that doesn't want to give a fuck about anything, it wants to be laid back, it wants to listen to jazz so they can sit back in their easy chair and smoke a j or have a drink and not think about it.

"People have had enough of problems, they just want them to go away," Joe Incagnoli '80, a first-semester sophomore and self-acclaimed punk, says. (Joe prefers his neighborhood nickname, "Lulla.") Incagnoli plays rhythm guitar for "Ricky and the Invaders," a local punk band from East Boston, where he grew up.

"Eeeez Baw-ston" sprouts up in craggy, square-nosed triple deckers behind Boston's Logan International Airport. It is one of Boston's old ethnic neighborhoods--Italian and working class--and it is isolated from the rest of the world by Boston Harbor and connected only by the Callahan Tunnel. East Boston is a cultural island.

The East Boston kids hang out on street corners, play street hockey, take drugs, "beat on each other," Incagnoli says. The streets are narrow and idiosyncratically crooked. The tall, narrow tenements seem forced against each other, like crowded teeth. Joe and his friends proudly call East Boston home, and they call their band "Ricky and the Invaders."

"When you're faced with something like punk," Incagnoli says, comparing the new wave to disco, "it has to make you re-evaluate the society around you--it's sink or swim where I come from."

Lulla, lying back in his bed in the corner, grimaces at the use of the term "new wave."

"It's so-o-o-oh...general," he moans. He points out the differences in punk that hails from various cities, to emphasize the inadequacies of the general term. While the British punk rockers vomit on their audiences and cry for anarchy, Boston punk rock is at times nothing more than pure late-'50s-early-'60s rock'n'roll. Joe is quick to point out that punk is the song of a culture, and different cultures shape different songs.

Only hours earlier, Lulla and I had gone to Cantone's Restaurant in Boston to hear a couple of local bands, "The Thrills" and "Baby's Arm," play tunes like "Bad Boy" (a Larry Williams oldie the Beatles activated for their gigs in Hamburg, Germany):

The Bad Little Kid moved into the neighborhood

He moves to rock'n'ride and to settle down look so good

He don't want to go to school to learn to read and write

Just sits around that house and plays that rock'n'roll music all night

Well, he puts the tacks on teacher's chair

Puts his gum in little girls' hair...

Now Junior...behave yourself

"When I first started to play the guitar," Lulla explains, "I used to veg out in the corner and listen to the radio and hear something like Aerosmith. Aerosmith always turned me on because it was like--lust for life. It was movin' and it was live for the time and get everything you can get out of it."

But when you ask Joe what he'd really like to play, this hard-core punk says he loves the blues--"everything comes from the blues." Demonstrating on his guitar the three-chord progression central to all blues riffs, Joe looks up and complains that critics who acccept the blues make fun of punk for its "simplistic" chord progression.

"It's exactly the same thing," he says. "With the blues, the progression is a vehicle around which you tell a story, to convey a feeling using the guitar riffs and words--tell exactly what the meaning of the so. And it's exactly the same with punk. It's simplistic, but it has to be understood that it's only a vehicle around which the real meaning of the song out."

Many people will toss punk to the after hearing it raucously go dum-dum-dum-dum-dum-dum-DAAH!" But they've never seen it.

"Punk, and I know sounds in a visual experience, much the same with a ballet is. You can't separate seeing it happen being people are getting into it," says.

Incagnoli takes up his the headpiece devil's trident, and progression. He then plays the same progression "punk-like," he bangs the strings with his pick, not so much as clawing at them with frenzy. Then he looks up from his guitar and of punk: "The way explicative of the energy behind the music.

"What is a punk? An inner-city person whose attitudes have been drastically altered by--(the sociology major's voice trails up in self-examining retrospect) a confining social situation."

Joe Incagnoli is more than a smart punk. He even manages to put his Adams House life into perspective. He has rambled down many city streets, collecting the kind of knowledge only living there can provide. He knows where the punks are coming from.

"There's a lot of frustration living in that environment. It's like you sit around, and you have all this nervous energy. And everybody's hanging around and what the fuck do you do? And what can you do? In all seriousness, come down my neighborhood, what can you do? There's a gym. How many times a week can you play basketball before it becomes ridiculously boring? The high school's a dive, it's a serious joke, you don't learn shit. Your parents are basically working class, are basically going to work, coming home, going to sleep. They're happy that they're clothing you and feeding you. They don't take you down to the amusement park or the zoo on Sundays or take you skiing. And there's no money. Not that I'm seeking sympathy. I'm glad to be from where I am.

"So you have nothing to do, it's a lot of wasted energy, it's everybody's-running-my-life-and-what-the-fuck-can-I-do? That's why city kids can get into rock more...or certain types of rock."

And in East Boston, with all its packed-in toughness, violence is a way of life. Joe explains that the East Boston social hierarchy is determined by "earning a certain level of respect" from you peers.

"There are a lot of people waiting to take advantage of you. So when someone shoots you down, you can either take it like a wimp or learn to fight back and take care of yourself and earn your respect that way," he says.

Some have predicted punk's demise when monied success befalls the street rockers. But Joe Incagnoli doesn't think punks can be commercialized. Punk is much more than punk rock; it is lived by real people, not fabricated for sale. "Look where punk is coming from--who's going to listen to it? It's not really an age group, it's a culture."

Joe's record collection is well-used, judging from the ragged-edged condition of the record jackets. It contains a smattering of Dick Clark's greatest and the Beatles and Zep and Willie Loco and Stones and Doors--all those who kicked out in their time at conformity.

"People are much more concerned with marketability than they were. I mean, when the Rolling Stones started playing, they were a blues band when there were no blues bands in England. They were low life. But they didn't care because they liked the blues. There were a lot of rival sounds and playing the blues was like cutting your but the just went out and what they wanted--and worked, the says.

Lulla there have always been punks, and there always punks, as long there feel individuality by some frighteningly by-product of our own his case, business.

and Top 40, and there's a formula for these sounds, so you get 60 disco songs that all sound alike and all sell a million copies.

"That's why punks get into anarchy and disorganization; it's really a reaction to the absurd organization which has taken all the creativity out of music that's been coming out over the past few years," Joe explains.

It shows--on the faces of old men, in the dim solace of Eastie bars, in the punk energy--that there are people in this new age who are not part of the burgeoning wave of IBM and mechanization and mass transportation.

"It's a lot harder for the little guy to make it on his own these days," Incagnoli says. "After all, how many Italian shoemakers do you see around anymore?"

The important thing to remember about punk besides what it has thrived in diametric opposition to, is where it comes from. "Punks" like Ricky and the Invaders had to confront a lot of things that aren't easily found on manicured suburban lawns.

"Punk is a cultural thing. You can't take the music without taking the culture. If you live in a community that's crime and violence oriented, then you're going to appreciate punk a lot more...not because you're a criminal, but because there's nothing to do," he says.

When Lulla came to Harvard last year, he was confronted by students who never had to worry about survival, who were never threatened by the weapon-slinging boys and consequently could never understand why Joe was "Lulla."

"Not that stealing a car is any big shit, but you'll never know what it's like to be in a knife fight until you've experienced it, I don't care if you've read Mean Streets 90 times.

"And this gives you less to be afraid of in life. The experience of having a lot of close friends die because of drugs or just having a lot of close friends murdered--seeing friends overdose, stabbed to death, shot, strangled or found in the water somewhere, you know?

"You gain a broader perspective on what life really is. And what holds value. You know that when a friend died, and it happened suddenly, you know that nobody ever expected it to happen--and you can see what a rat-race life really is--you can appreciate the fact that what you're here for is to live for yourself, and that if you take things too seriously, you're going out of your way because just die anytime."

Willie Loco Alexander and the Boom Boom Band, Baby's Arm, The Thrills. The Nerous Eaters, Human Sexual Response. The Jaguars, The One, The Cars, Tracks, The Molls, Ricky and the Invaders.

They gather in some dark restaurants and bars, these punks who are to the violent passion which rips through their music like so many pins and needles poking surprise where order has set it.

Just as those who try to the cost-benefit grid brought punks than in "beat" .

bably play at. The Club in the next it depends on how rast we get our back. We're in limbo because his over and he beat the shit of her but out a warrant for his don't think he's coming back." In says a back of "ake sure Babys Arm, .

You have to see the man...asss, you have to see."