Sitting in on Tufts lecturer Michael T. Fournier’s course “History of Punk Rock,” offered via the university’s Experimental College, one can’t help but think of Johnny Rotten’s famous final words: “Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?”
Why the hell weren’t there classes like this when I was in school? Who wouldn’t want to delve into a required reading list that includes Jon Savage’s England’s Dreaming, Michael Azerrad’s Our Band Could Be Your Life, and Lester Bangs’s “Of Pop and Pies and Fun, a Program for Mass Liberation in the Form of a Stooges Review”? Or listen to songs by the Buzzcocks, the Dictators, and X — uploaded by the prof to the Web — for homework? Or produce a podcast, with commentary and song clips, in lieu of writing a five-page paper?
(Papers are due next week, Fournier reminds his students. Should they choose to podcast instead, it would behoove them to pay attention to file names. He’d had a hell of a time trying to upload a file for the course recently; it was only after 15 tries that he realized it included the Bad Brains song “Pay to Cum” — and Archive.org was trying to keep him from spreading pornography.)
Next up on the syllabus: the Boston scene. And on Monday night, a few stragglers ambled in to audit the class; word had filtered out about a special guest speaker, Mission of Burma’s Clint Conley. “I figured rather than me blabbing about Burma, I’d have Clint come in and blab about Burma,” Fournier said.
Conley’s insights into his own band’s early days were enlightening. (“La Peste were who we wanted to be when we grew up.” They realized early on that the world at large “had no use for the kind of music we were making.”) But it was his own coming of age as a music fan that the class seemed to find most interesting. In high school, he’d sneak from suburban Connecticut to Manhattan to see the New York Dolls, arriving in class the next day with sleepy eyes still smeared with makeup. During his own college days, he was a card-carrying member of the Iggy Pop fan club. Most amazing of all, he was at the Velvet Underground’s first show, when they opened for the Myddle Class at New Jersey’s Summit High School in 1965. He was in fifth grade then, and went to see the headliner. He remembers nothing whatsoever of the Velvets. “I’m half tempted,” he says ruefully, “to pay some psychiatrist to take me back there.”
Also on hand was DJ and booker Shred, who regaled the class, some of whom were born in 1988, about the halcyon hardcore days of SS Decontrol and the Freeze (both recently profiled in the documentary American Hardcore), the days when a few local bands at the Channel could easily draw 1500 kids. Shred had a couple of confessions to make. 1) Once a “Central Mass idiot” getting fucked up on acid and weed, he bought in to the Boston Crew straight-edge lifestyle almost overnight because the music was so powerful; and 2) One day, after having spent the afternoon moshing at an SSD all-ages show, he and his buddies went off to see Blue Öyster Cult and Foghat later that evening.