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White Noise


Getting together for drinks here in the neighborhood tonight with a New York friend and long-standing NYU prof, Stephen Duncombe, who's in town for a program at the Getty today. His books are always fascinating and prescient, but this latest one he edited--White Riot: Punk Rock and the Politics of Race--is a simply stupendous read for those of us who were slamming with irony at CBGB and Stardust Ballroom while recognizing there was often something not quoite roight about it all too. "Critical punk pedagogy at its finest."

Stephen Duncombe
Through some enormous luck which I am nonetheless reticent to call "privilege," I had a chance to catch some of punk and especially New Wave in its three most seminal cities, New York, LA and the Bay Area, in the mid and late 1970s.  I didn't go to these places in search of the music--I went in search of people--but the music was a key element of the appeal of every spot.  In all this music, punk and New Wave alike, there was an ironic subcurrent; although the sentiment of the audiences was towards inclusiveness, the lyrics were often color-coded and even the music was too, in fact, even when it was at its best, the music was ironically specific to ethnicity.  Think The Tubes White Punks on Dope, X's Los Angeles, &c.  It was sometimes hard to know where the satire left off and the demands began, a fact to which Duncombe's co-editor Maxwell Tremblay testifies persistently in his half of the forward.

The supervising editor, Duncombe, is certainly a man who anticipates our political theater well.  Duncombe's book Dream: Re-imagining Progressive Politics in an Age of Fantasy, which I've been telling readers here about for a very long time, seemed to anticipate the Obama campaign to a chilling degree--those who know the book feel like the campaign might have even lifted a page or two (I know I've been lifting ideas from it since I first broke the spine).  Now this book, which borrows its title from a Clash anthem, comes at the precise time of masked suburban angst in the #OWS effort, which could definitely use a soundtrack to explain what its democratic councils thus far haven't.  (And Duncombe has indeed been popping up at Occupy Wall Street marches, as his Facebook friends can attest--I think he gets tagged in more photos there than anyone else I know there.)

Duncombe's book, fascinating as it is, leaves room for more.  I have long wished that someone--even me?--would write a book about the spaces in which this music unfolded.  For to me the spaces seemed perfectly tailored to the music, as the music was to the scene.  Who can recall Iggy in LA in the late 1970's without thinking of him crawling in the accessible rafters of the Stardust Ballroom? That was indeed a white riot.