Saturday, July 24, 2010

OMFUG! Punk Rock Lives … Again!

So I forgot something, kind of. I left a book out of today’s earlier funnybook round-up. But that’s okay, because this book is all about a subject near and dear to my heart, so I don't mind giving it a post all its own. Plus, you know… I was dying to use this headline anyway.

CBGB #1 (of 4)
by Kieron Gillen, Marc Ellerby, Sam Humphries, and Rob G

It kind of goes against the spirit of punk to do a 30-years-later tribute to the greatest punk club ever, but here one is anyway. And, you know, it’s pretty good. It’s an anthology series, with a bunch of different writers and artists telling stories set in and around the titular bar. The aim, I assume, is to paint a picture of what CBGB, and by extension the New York punk scene, was all about.

The first story does that quite literally. It’s written, appropriately enough, by Kieron Gillen, whose series Phonogram did something similar for the British alty-rock scene in the Noughts. And turned me on to a couple of great bands in the process. The Long Blondes’ album Someone to Drive You Home, in particular, is now on my list of all-time classics. Gillen knows his punk rock history, too, though, as he establishes here.

His story is a just slightly marvelous punk take on Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” in which a punk rock Scrooge is visited by the three ghosts of punk. Gillen breaks with the original tale by having two Spirits of Punk Rock Past, one a be-sweatered academic and the other a Ramone. But you know what? Fuck you and your “rules,” man! This is a punk rock story! An-ar-chy! An-ar-chy! An-ar-chy!

Ahem. Where was I? Ah yes. This story serves as a history of the legendary club, and of New York punk as a whole, both in fact (the realm of the Academic) and in legend (the realm of the Ramone). I learned a few things I didn‘t know before, like the fact that it was Television that turned CBGB into a punk haven. Which means that I owe Tom Verlaine and (perhaps to a greater extent) Richard Hell a much bigger debt of gratitude than I realized.

But I was also wildly entertained, as the Academic and the Ramone bicker like an old married couple about which matters more: the fact or the legend. My favorite line in the story is, hands down, “Who she fucked is the least interesting thing about Patti Smith.” Beautiful. And the secret of the Ghost of Punk Rock Future is a nice bit of funnybook storytelling trickery that I won’t spoil here.

[SPOILER] Oh, all right. He opens up his spooky white cloak to reveal the future of punk: a page of empty panels, waiting to be filled by whoever’s got the balls to do so. Which, in retrospect, might have been a bit groan-inducing if it wasn’t prefaced by his line, “What Blank Generation was all about.” [/SPOILER]

The second story was written by Sam Humphries, who I know nothing about. But it was drawn by the awesome Rob G, whose Teenagers From Mars comic is still one of the most punk rock funnybooks ever. This one’s about a young punk in 1979, who discovers the spirit of punk in his dead uncle, who a couple of years earlier performed as a one-time-only insane terrorist noise rock act called The Helsinki Syndrome. I have no idea if that ever actually happened, but it sounds like the sort of thing that went on at CBGB sometimes.

(Be-Sweatered Academic Insert: A quick round of completely unreliable interweb research tells me that the term “Helsinki Syndrome” was coined by the movie Die Hard in 1988. It’s a mistaken reference to Stockholm Syndrome, a very real psychological phenomenon. So I’m guessing that nobody would have gone around calling their act The Helsinki Syndrome in 1977. Not even a crazy noise-rock terrorist like this guy.)

Anyway. It’s a nice little story. But the centerpiece of it is a pretty stunning two-page spread by Rob G of The Helsinki Syndrome’s one and only performance. Which I’ve scanned and reproduced below for your viewing pleasure:

(Sorry for the seam down the middle. As I said, it’s a two-page spread, and I don’t feel like breaking out my GIMP-fu today.)

So there you have it. CBGB #1. Like most tributes, it’s perhaps a bit too rosy a remembrance. But I was entertained, I learned something, and I got a giant two-page spread of a crazy screaming bearded man to boot! Well-worth four of my funnybook dollars, I think. I’ll have to see who turns up in the next issue before buying it, but after this one I’m predisposed to give it a chance.

Grade: B+

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