"Champagne for my real friends. Real pain for my sham friends" (used as early as 1860 in the book The Perfect Gentleman. Famously used by painter Francis Bacon)

domenica 11 marzo 2012

NOTES ABOUT PUNK MUSIC IN ITALY (from Milano as a standpoint)

This post in Italian ([1]) is one of the most read of the blog, hence I though it might be of some interest to translate and adapt it in English ([2]).

                                            NOTES ABOUT PUNK MUSIC IN ITALY
(from Milano as a standpoint)

1. Punk ([3]) in Italy “arrived”, that is – rather a contradiction – it was already well defined in its canons and in my country it would have remained as such, at first perceived, then known and appreciated by some.
I don’t think it to be a great discovery: this nation has never created something new within rock and pop for the youth ([4]); still many people will get angry, considering what I am saying something with a “self-defeating” flavour.
Nonetheless, punk enabled some of us to become better than we would have been without it, others tried to (at least), other ones fell under the crossed and deadly fire of the enemies (drugs and AIDS ([5])) and of their vulnerability.

In my opinion, the appearance of punk in the country where everybody likes everybody else occurred in 1976, this is because punk was brought by the records (vinyl ones, then).
In those days: people didn’t read a lot; the music press was slack; concerts? Don’t even think about them (indeed, punk would have also, and maybe especially, caused a comeback and a coming of foreign artists, after the long season of Molotov cocktails and police charges as the not uncommon end of many concerts; other than that, not a lot else changed).

The problem is just that: records would not have been the mean to create in Italy the inspiration for a new approach which will consolidate into a long lasting musical trend (as in other countries).
Thus the apparent absurdity is that the most interesting Italian bands originated in areas where the availability of import vinyls was scarcer.

Another peculiar feature is that disco music helped punk: more than one record shop which was devoted to dance music had a corner offering punk records as well, after all they were imports too.
Furthermore, although in their respective and opposite formats par excellance of 7 inches (punk) and 12 inches (disco) ([6]), in both genders the single reigned supreme: not only as the most immediate but also the (usually) artistical expression, if compared with the album format.

The Milanese scene, the one which I know better, seems to me a good test for some recollections.

2. Those refined and uncommon local appraisers of The Stooges and The Velvet Underground ([7]), didn’t wake up until the coming of punk, in the beginning made of little tangible (and audible) and much “so they say”.
For sure, even in my hometown Milano punk day one was the release (better its import and availability) of Ramones debut LP ([8]), labelled as the “holy sound” even by British most authoritative scholars (The Clash and Sex Pistols), and further confirmed by the illustrious punters at London Roundhouse on July 4th, 1976 attending the concert by Forest Hill Four ([9]).

Because of the desire to listen to music from the street – due to a lack of new products, especially from European countries – a past-plundering attitude emerged within the kids, something which may (concur to) explain a consistent pro-USA faction of local music critics: thus listeners picked-up from Nuggets, while on the other hand punk musicians already looked at The Monkees or at the French maudits ([10]) and the British at the rock’n’roll founding fathers.
Consequently, in those first months Italian punk was truly a trench in which very little fresh sound was consumed and the fresh music (for clear commercial reasons: in those countries they already understood that even the new music could be sold) was north American ([11]).

Because of this, for the very few attentive ones, more than Damned debut ([12]), it was crucial (even if maybe not fully conscious) to grab a copy of the first studio efforts by Sex Pistols ([13]); but fun was very short lived and you didn’t need all of a hand fingers to count the Italian owners of one copy labelled EMI of “Anarchy in the U.K.” when, at the beginning of January 1977 the first record contract of the acknowledged kings of the British scene was ended by their record label.
Nonetheless, in Italy like in the rest of the world the fracas caused by Rotten, Matlock, Jones and Cook would have caused everything to explode, making even here 1977 the year of punk.

3. In any group of more than 4 people, sooner or later somebody thinks to start to play and, adding more people, inevitably splits start.

Thus having been said, in Milan I think among the first to be mentioned are Maurizio Bianchi (lone and experimental ([14])) and the not so remembered X-Rated.
Confusion starts here, because if in their line-up there were some punks ([15]) Trancefusion didn’t create anything significant and this conclusion is good for many others, before considering the fakes who were Incesti or the controversial (especially among the kids for lack of sufficient credibility) Decibel ([16]).

Meanwhile, the number of punks increased ([17]) and among them the well informed put their hands over Buzzcocks’“Spiral Scratch” ([18]).
For detail lovers, in order to get new vinyl in those months either you went to Carù shop in Gallarate ([19]) or you started to follow the very oblique, casual and once-in-a-while-ish trajectories of Milano’s record stores (hence a place or two selling disco imports featured Ramones LPs too).

At the same time, a genuine political ignorance started to emerge (luckily! This is a simply personal opinion, but a heartfelt one, given that physical damages were very limited and the juxtaposition was fruitful). Thus to risk being coshed by left-wingers you simply had to praise The Clash, not needing to provoke them with the already mentioned Nazi insignias, things did not change when the Sound of the Westaway beat on the track the more emblazoned Sex Pistols and released their splendid debut album ([20]).
Apparently all this caused an enormous problem for young political activists (better for their already established leaders): there was a risk to be overcome; and what to do with free radio stations ([21]) programming, being them still rule-less and therefore capable of being infiltrated by such new sound?
It is therefore of some interest to consider the left-wing attempt to give a political orientation (in Italian “dare la linea”) to the kids as well: incredibly the United States production was preferred over the British ones, with keyboards ([22]) reassuring parties and movements even outside the Italian Parliament. A curio was the call to arms of Bruce Springsteen, labelled as a Dylan for the young ones. Even to talk about “new wave” was preferred to punk, maybe because Godard (not Vic, Subway Sect leader) has been digested already; after all the name of the game was to soften the tones and convince everybody that everything would have ended as a soap bubble with the “lost lambs” coming home to kiss the hands of the leaders under the shade of the red flags.
Punks had a laugh at all that, didn’t give a damn and tried to have the radio play their prized records, it would have taken them a while.

4. Boys and girls go to school, schools close for the summer, “you have to learn English” and therefore your parents ([23]) sent you in Great Britain for that reason: so the seeds of the second swell were spread.
Some came back from Albion lands with the summer of 1977 single in their luggage: “God Save The Queen”, Sex Pistols’ second release ([24]); meanwhile  France – in the name of culture and musical asylum, ah those revolutionaries! – ran to succour the many (who search it in vain) by publishing “Anarchy In The U.K.” and exporting it through Europe.
It was a requiem for mums and aunts who equalled UK with Wedgwood porcelains, for dads thinking Dunhill and for classmates still with their minds obscured by plastic memories of a Carnaby Street era they never lived.

It’s now or never: by Autumn 1977 punk exploded and media had to ride it. So the national press published the first colour pictures, features were moved from evening newspapers to glossy magazines for hairdressers’ public, television cooked some reports ([25]).

For the kids then the need became more to talk to the public than to talk with each other: here came the fanzines, all daughters of Sniffin’ Glue (until someone discovered Ripped & Torn and the rest), and the first to emerge from Milano’s remaining grey canals ([26]) was Dudu H.y.n.d.r.o. Punk News: “Dudu” is the result of “dada + punk”, Hyndro stands for Indro Montanelli ([27]). Even better than the historical artistic vanguards which inspired it (so dear to the masterminds behind the ‘zine itself) a split among the founders occurred just after the first (and only) issue ([28]): the next year Pogo and Il Sigaro d’Italia would emerge from its ashes.

Clothing was quite a dilemma: to torn and cut was not enough, safety pins ([29]) and cans rings, chains of course, but it would’ve been nice to own a pair of bondage trousers, and – why not – hang in the streets “with the Destroy” t-shirt without risking to be jailed for two criminal offences at once.
Liquefied sugar and butter for those who want to spike their hair.
Army laced boots, turned black (from their brown), substituted Doc Marten’s ones; quite popular were paratroopers jumpsuits and camouflage jackets, the leather jacket was loved (and didn’t come cheap) by Ramones followers.

Fanzines, clothes and records: there were no proper hangouts, this was because we already differentiated between purists/early comers and others/late comers; nonetheless (also due to the described paramilitary look) Saturday Fiera di Sinigallia ([30]) in its old location of Via Calatafimi was a meeting and exchange point.

5. Radios were the last ones to be conquered by punk in a positive sense, as already mentioned.
As far as I remember, Milanese airwaves could be split in two: the program “Sine Ulla Intermissione” at Radio Milano Libera/Radio Milano Quattro and the program hosted by Francesco D’Abramo (sorry I cannot remember its title) at Radio Popolare.
While the latter was more serious, more authoritative and longer-lasting ([31]), the former was more fascinated by the unexpected, maybe because it was hosted by two of the persons who created Dudu ([32]).
Both programs had their backbone in the precious vinyl owned by young punks, who sometimes became the speakers instead of the official ones.
Quality and quantity of their audiences is still unknown, for sure a number of information filtered through the airwaves and contributed to define the tastes and make the kids collections more rich.

6. When 1977 ended, more or less everything which had to be said was already said.
There would have been no more intellectual exoduses of young minds ([33]), instead there would have been: on one side, an ephemeral proselytism, resulting in those who showed themselves in little groups in the centre of Milano simply following a fashion; on the other side, individuals who started to listen to “punk and new wave” without any other commitment.

That does not mean that in Italy punk died, on the contrary. What was no more was the aura of mystery and secret: those who became visible in that new year could aspire to myth, not to the legend.
You had to make room for yourself among the others if you wanted get hold of the new records, which arrived from abroad in bigger quantity but still not enough for a clique already of quite a size …([34]).

From then onwards, if it is not contemporary history is just chronicles, largely available elsewhere , while this writing tried to tell some details that, in the end, is almost like a “b-side” of the punk in Italy era.

A bibliography or a discography appear to be of little help for a very simple reason: most of the material I could list is now unavailable and, therefore, very hard to find.
Furthermore, the books are all in Italian while very little was recorded in terms of music before 1978 (and indeed 1979).
This situation confirms the correctness of the previous paragraph.



Some parts of the following three posts subsequently (years after) have been published – with my previous written authorisation – in the following book: Claudio PESCETELLI, Lo stivale è marcio, Roma, Rave Up Books, 2013 (for references see pages: 188 e 189): “Note sul punk in Italia e a Milano”, “Tonito Memorial”, “A proposito di Jumpers e 198X”.
When possible I metinoed the above book in the “labels” referred to each post, but for space reasons (over which I have no power) I was not able to do so for “Tonito Memorial”.
On the other hand, all of those three posts (in a way or another) have been revised before and after the versions used by Mister Pescetelli.




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[1] With the title: “Note sul punk in Italia e a Milano”, it was the revision of a feature I wrote for a book, but which was used just by means of certain quotes, as if it was an interview to me.
The book is Mauro MAZZOCUT, The Great Complotto Pordenone, Pordenone, Biblioteca Civica Pordenone, 2005.
[2] Because this does not mean that every reader, if any, is from Great Britain, I left everything in it.
I had to add some wording because certain phrases will have little sense in themselves for a foreigner.
[3] I will use the short form, as to add “rock” tells too little.
[4] Usually, “songrwriting singers” (“cantautori”) are labelled as an Italian phenomenon, but the French speaking countries gave birth to stars who transcended their homelands such as Jacques Brel or Serge Gainsbourg.
This footnote may require a few more lines: no one will calll Bob Dylan, or Lou Reed or Prince a “cantautore”, in Italy cantautore somehow makes the lyrics absolutely and always paramount to the music, and the latter just a guitar and little else; kin to French “chansonniers” somehow. But Italian cantautori are not an export product (not that Italian rock and pop sell a lot much better abroad …).
[5] What I am saying is that a certain “way of life” during the years led some people to fall prey of addictions and/or consequences of the “big disease with a little name”.
[6] This latter size and/or coloured vinyls were quite a gimmick.
[7] To a lesser extent of the New York Dolls, often wrongly blamed of being second generation Rolling Stones.
[8] Released on April 23, 1976.
I am sure that there will always be Italians claiming the ownership of then just released singles such as those labelled by Terry Ork, or of obscure recordings on magnetic tapes.
Without disturbing legends (true or false) it suffices to say that the individual person does not make a trend and that faceless and better-to-be-forgotten characters literally sit (even today) on recordings from CBGB’s dating from 1975.
[9] Not Sex Pistols, who that night were gigging outside London.
[10] Respectively: Ramones, again, and on the other side Television and Patti Smith.
[11] Other than the already known and accepted, and here namedropped, consider: The Runaways, Modern Lovers and, good also to spit on (by our local journos) the escapees Dead Boys, Pere Ubu.
[12] Dating October 22, 1976. Please note the homage to the Shan-Gri-Las which opens “New Rose” as a demonstration of the variety of inspirations for the first punk artists.
[13] Dating November 26, 1976.
[14] In the beginning quite an agent provocateur, still worth naming (he was one of the very few if not the only one who sported Nazi insignias to get violent reactions from passer byers), to be credited as musician only from 1979.
[15] From now on, the term “punk” covers everybody.
[16] It’s better to stop here before being trapped within a shopping list of dubious value.
[17] About a dozen or little more, maybe.
[18] Released on January 29, 1977.
[19] A 60 minutes train ride from Milano.
[20] On April 8, 1977, preceded on the previous March 18 by the politically incorrect titled – for the Italians, hence The Clash being labelled as dangerously flirting with fascism – “White Riot”.
[21] From 1975, Italy experienced a phenomenon not unlike that of pirate radios in the UK in the sixties with the so-called “radio libere”. But, surprisingly, in my country public monopoly lost (as opposed to what happened across the Channel).
Radio libere could be split in two types: commercial ones and political ones. The former plugged mostly easy listening (only because it was favoured by the public), the latter had the left absolutely prevailing with very few exceptions, but the splits among the various factions of the majority will create some differences too.
The result was, for instance, that in Milano punk was aired by Radio University (right winged) and a couple of left wing stations (as you will read).
[22] That is the use of them by the musicians.
Still, you can’t give a general rule and Suicide will be accepted only after they will have been forgotten: that is with their second album, dating 1980.
[23] For those who are a bit short of attention: even the punk smash, like all the revolutions, had a middle-class mark, even if it was the small middle class.
[24] At last with a record company which published what they recorded and kept it available.
[25] Most notably, in September 1977 a segment of the program “Odeon”, aired by the second channel of public television, was dedicated to this “phenomenon”. In the following months this channel would remain somehow the cathodic observatory for punk.
Please do consider that at the time Italy had only two (not three as someone wrote) national television channels, both public (that is from RAI, the equivalent of BBC).
[26] Leonardo Da Vinci’s “Navigli”.
[27] A well known Italian, then right wing, journalist born in 1909 was the target of a Brigate Rosse leg-shooting on June 2, 1977 in Milano.
[28] Presented at a party held in Milano by Ivan Cattaneo, an Italian singer and composer (but not a cantautore) who – courageously – never hid his homosexuality and that having been in London during the glam years understood what punk was about.
He was among the contributors of the publication too.
[29] The British ones being very much sought after, because they had a different closing head compared to the Italian ones.
[30] A very rough equivalent to a flea market, maybe closer to Petticoat Lane than Portobello (if you know both).
[31] He hosted an interview with Adam Ant when he played with The Ants in Milano, in October 1978.
[32] Their fake family names were Sandro “Del Campo” and Nicola/s “Ravel”, the third declared founder, Klaus was a member of Trancefusion and subsequently responsible for Il Sigaro d’Italia.
[33] I take the responsibility to affirm with no doubt that more than one kid – thanks to punk - had been saved from the risk to fall within the ranks of so-called “autonomi” (very left wing factions, somehow the ancestors of black blocks) and then to find themselves accused of being part of an armed gang. The reason was that in those days if you were left out from politics you were also immune from any risk of committing acts which could lead, at worst, to be considered of terrorism.
[34] Given the due differences, if a comparison is made with the British mod scene of the first half of the last century sixties, 1978 was “the 1964 of punk”: archetypes, uniforms and clichés then appeared and remained as it happened fourteen years before.

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