Last night Titus Andronicus played a wild set at the Rock N Roll Hotel in Washington, D.C., a venue that is celebrating its tenth anniversary this week. After closing the set with “A More Perfect Union,” Patrick Stickles returned for an encore. He again thanked the Rock N Roll Hotel, and started talking about the need of venues like it. He then went on about D.C.’s rich musical history. “D.C- great punk city, great punk city. But, we all know there’s only one birthplace of Punk,” he said (to incredibly aggressive hollers from Beau and I), before shouting out an epic “1,2,3,4,” and launching into the Ramones’s “Blitzkrieg Bop.” The band followed it up with “Judy is a Punk” and “Sheena is a Punk Rocker,” each time leading in with the signature Dee Dee Ramone count. Being too young to have ever been to CBGBs or seen the Ramones play live, it was the closest thing to it.
Aesthetic trends tend to be the culmination of artistic histories that collide, or better, flow into one another like small tributaries coming into a larger river. Because of this, it can be hard to pinpoint exact starting dates and moments of movements. But that being said, we can still find the places where all of these influences combined into something cohesive and new, like Jazz in New Orleans. With this in light, Stickles is correct when saying that New York City is the birthplace of punk. Punk music was born not only out of garage and rock sounds from the 60s and 70s, but from the New York City art and poetry scene. More than the hippies that preceded them, punk found the Beatniks as one of its strongest influences. Just look at Jim Carroll and Patti Smith, if you want to question the poetic credentials of early NYC punk. The movement was also distinctly visual, drawing from other NYC artists living on the fringe in lower Manhattan. At its birth, Punk was more than just a musical revolution against 70’s radio rock. Punk was its own distinct art movement, across different forms of media.
This playlist compiles some of the tracks of early New York City punk. It’s not a comprehensive list. The history of punk music in NYC is massive, so we’re confining ourselves to the early days of the scene. The goal is that, ultimately, this will be a good snapshot of the different sounds that define the early punk scene. There’s the avant-garde art of the Velvet Underground and the cross dressing proto-punk of the New York Dolls. As the scene develops, we see the free verse poetry of Patti Smith, alongside the interlocking guitars of Television and the hard and fast Ramones. There’s Blondie, Devo, and the Talking Heads, all bands with their earliest roots in the scene. Finally there are the distinctly NYC mainstays-Jim Carroll, Richard Hell, and Johnny Thunders. Again, it’s far from comprehensive, but hopefully it provides a picture of one of the most creatively fertile periods in American art.