Punk rock means a lot of different things to different people and that’s okay (unless you’re the likely-now-dead guy who wrote that infamous episode of Quincy M.E., decrying the “dangers” of punk). Punk is diverse, including bands and fans from many countries around the world: age, gender, orientation, ethnicity, and religion make no difference (there are Christian hardcore bands in Winnipeg!). The Brits gave punk a bit of spit and snarl, the LA and Vancouver hardcore scenes added testosterone-fueled rants, Washington, D.C. eschewed drugs and alcohol, creating the “Straight Edge” movement (leaving plenty of beer for the rest of us), but it all started in New York City. Punk’s antecedents can be traced back to ’50s rock ‘n’ roll acts like Chuck Berry, with nods to garage rock, surf rock, and British Invasion rock of the ‘60s (my old buddy Mike Y. is adamant that The Doors are also a proto-punk band, so who am I to say no?), but the Velvet Underground is regarded as the first of the NYC proto-punk bands. With darkly romantic lyrics and unapologetic frankness not found in the “peace, love, and rock ‘n’ roll” of the hippie movement, the trio of outcasts inspired a generation of misfits and ne’er-do-wells to pick up music instruments and play three-chord rock, no experience necessary, While the MC5 and The Stooges were discovering their raw power in Detroit, The New York Dolls took glam rock stylings to the next level, making people like David Bowie take notice (I smile thinking about Bowie contending with CBGB’s toilets). A lot of the bands—Blondie, Talking Heads, Television—that contributed to the punk scene in the Lower East Side might not sound traditionally “punk” to many people, but their talent and influence cannot be overstated. Richard Hell’s onstage antics and torn-up-Goodwill fashion sense inspired Malcolm McLaren to orchestrate the infamous Sex Pistols. The Dead Boys amped up the scene when they arrived in the Bowery from Cleveland (because everybody leaves Cleveland eventually), cutting to the front of many a line with brashness and swagger not found in the other native New York bands. Like so many scenes, the punk scene fizzled out by 1980, leaving a legacy for the art school kids to start the No Wave movement and never look back. I created a playlist that includes many of the beloved NYC bands (it’s heavy on The Ramones, for which I make no apologies), but is by no means definitive. Consider it an appetizer before delving deeper into the punk abyss. 


  • Jay Alary

    Jay lives in downtown Calgary, Alberta with his beloved partner, two cats, and far too many books and movies.

    j.alary@gmail.com Alary Jay