While rock ‘n’ roll has aged gracefully over its some sixty plus year existence, there’s one musical mix that still remains true to its insurgent roots. Punk came of age in the mid to late ‘70s, courtesy of bands like the Ramones, the Sex Pistols, the Stooges, the New York Dolls, the Clash, and others whose rabid rejection of mainstream rock created an angry out roar intent on shaking up the establishment. The sound erupted from both sides of the Atlantic, and in some quarters, it hasn’t subsided all that much since.
Still, it seems a bit of a contradiction to imagine anyone of senior citizen status still proclaiming their partiality to punk. Wholesale anger and rebellion mostly remains the domain of the young, even in this current era of political pontificating and utter outrage. That said, here’s a shout out to Iggy Pop, whose 70th birthday on April 21st finds one of the elders of that particular genre still at it, making music that recalls punk’s rudimentary roots while adapting those sounds for an entirely new generation of upstart and impressionable audiences. Here then is our list of ten ageing living legends still committed to the cause.
Iggy Pop: At the ripe old age of 70, Iggy still holds fast to his earlier ethos. Granted, he’s not flinging himself off the stage or mutilating himself to the delight of his fans — after all, it’s doubtful that Medicare would cover those claims! — but his squinty-eyed attitude and determination to veer away from the establishment is still present in his current efforts, whether solo or in an occasional regrouping with his band of note, the Stooges. And just because he lives in Miami now doesn’t mean he’s part of the early bird canasta crowd either. After spending his formative years in Detroit, one can hardly blame him for wanting a little warmth.
Patti Smith: Age hasn’t slowed down punk’s prime priestess and poet. Still intent on rallying the masses and sharing her savvy, Smith remains as unapologetic as ever. As one who chose to be subversive over sexy, she’s had a profound influence on any number of rockers that followed in her wake, from Mike Stipe and Sonic Youth to Shirley Manson and Courtney Love. Her biography “Just Kids” told her backstory, but she’s still very much in the present day, thanks to her ardent activism, political protest and consistent campaigns for worthy causes worldwide. Consider her a punk with purpose
David Johansen/New York Dolls: Granted, the New York Dolls often unveiled more camp than conviction, given their tendency to dress in high heels, tease their hair and adorn themselves with make-up and feminine fashion. Nevertheless, they became one of the initial instigators of New York’s budding glam/punk scene of the mid ‘70s, creating a template that others would follow a few years later. Once the band parted ways, singer David Johansen took a new direction, reinventing himself as Buster Poindexter, a nightclub crooner who found new success in ways far removed from the Dolls’ original environs. Still, Johansen’s punk precepts haven’t dissipated entirely. He purged Poindexter a dozen or so years ago to reignite with the surviving Dolls, releasing their most recent album, Dancing Backward in High Heels in 2011. One can only hope there’s more madness to come.
Johnny Lydon: The former Johnny Rotten was a major reason why the Sex Pistols became the most famous and influential punk band of all time. Indeed, his penchant for outrageousness and obnoxiousness made most of his colleagues seem like well behaved schoolboys by comparison. His ill-advised comments and allegations of racism suggest he might want to prioritize PR over PIL, the band he formed following the Pistols’ demise. Still, given the ill-fated Sex Pistols reunions and his ongoing attempts to outrage and upset people whenever opportunity arises, it’s reasonable to expect Mr. Lydon will remain relentlessly Rotten until the very end.
Henry Rollins: A key figure in the Washington D.C. hardcore scene, this badass first came to prominence as the physically imposing lead singer of the punk outfit Black Flag before veering off on his own to front the Henry Rollins Band later on. Lately though, he’s followed more cerebral pursuits, including poetry, acting, education and activism. Still a formidable presence, he proves that punk can be profound, albeit in different ways.
The Damned: While the Sex Pistols are given credit for ignited the punk scene in the U.K., in truth, it was the Damned that set the stage. Not only did their first single, “New Rose,” predate “Anarchy in the U.K.” by several months, but their debut album, Damned Damned Damned — produced by none other than Nick Lowe no less — boasts the distinction of being the first full length effort by any English band of the punk persuasion. Now, with their 40th anniversary full upon them, the band, with original members Dave Vanian and Captain Sensible in tow, are recording a new album, still touring and relishing the recognition accorded them by the 2015 documentary “The Damned: Don’t You Wish We Were Dead?” The answer to that question is, of course, no… no way.
The Buzzcocks: The recent release of Time’s Up, a collection of demos and songs from Spiral Scratch, the group’s seminal EP and an essential early offering that helped define punk as a whole, brought the Buzzcocks some well deserved recognition that’s been long overdue. These days they’re as active as ever, courtesy of founding members Pete Shelley and Steve Diggle and a 40th anniversary tour that will take them to the 18th annual Punk Rock and Bowling Music Festival in Las Vegas on May 29th, and a headlining stint in Denver on June 2nd. Apparently, there’s still a buzz on about the Buzzcocks.
Colin Newman: As Wire’s lead singer, Colin Newman consistently veered to the left of center. Still, that hasn’t slowed their progress or their proficiency. Their new album, Silver/Lead, is the 15th studio album and the epitome of 21st century psychedelic post-punk. Having influenced such diverse bands as Blur, Sonic Youth, and R.E.M., their spiky rhythms and jagged delivery continues to factor into their sound. Reissues of Newman’s first three solo albums late last year — A-Z, Not To and Provisionally Entitled to the Singing Fish — helped bring added attention, while also confirming the fact that Newman and his band might have been out of the ordinary, but they remain curiously compelling all the same.
Frank Black/Black Francis: A formidable force by any other name, Black Francis/Francis Black is as relevant today as he was when he first formed the Pixies, a seminal punk band unafraid to add a melodic tinge. A prolific and prominent punk pioneer, he continues to record and perform both under his own name(s) and in the company of a reformed and still powerful Pixies. While post punk anarchism is still a fitting description, his work is hard to conveniently classify, making every new effort worthy of intense scrutiny and exploration.
Bob Mould: An undisputed icon who first made his mark with the Minnesota hardcore punk band Hüsker Dü in the early ‘90s, Mould’s career blossomed when he went out on his own, first with the group Sugar and later via a superb string of solo albums that demonstrated a talent for mixing punk and pop in equal measure. A rocker, DJ, avid wrestling buff, and proud gay man, he remains as vital as ever (his most recent solo album Patch the Sky was released a year ago) as well as a frequent collaborator with others in on both the big and small screen. When they made Bob, they broke the Mould. (Sorry)