Sound Seekers by Fateema Sayani is published weekly at OttawaMagazine.com. Read Fateema Sayani’s culture column in Ottawa Magazine and follow her on Twitter @fateemasayani.
Singer-songwriters are good navel-gazers. Ever been to a writers-in-the-round gig? That’s where dudes and gals with guitars sling one butt cheek on a barstool, put their hands together, lean forward and tell people in the audience how they really feel about their song and about the cad who inspired it. Then they play that song with gusto and leave you to ruminate on yet another story of some sunnovabitch.
Punk rockers haven’t been known to indulge in such expository displays (though I would cite Henry Rollins, who tours the soft-seat circuit and talks too much, as an obvious exception).
The three-chord, two-syllable structure of certain subgenres of punk rock doesn’t necessarily inspire an extensive analysis of the whys behind a song — you just kind of get the point of the song, or you don’t — but it’s a pretty quick study. In fact, if you had to summarize the messages of an entire musical genre in a tweet, you might say: People are marginalized, screw the masses, question everything, I wanna sniff glue. (I think that was more haiku than tweet, but I digress).
That’s not to say that punk rock tunes aren’t worthy of big head-scratching discussions or long-form essays, it just doesn’t happen as much as it does in other genres.
The writers-in-the-round setup is a standard format in folk, for example. And there are conferences about protest music, and university courses on hip-hop. There are even a few degree-granting institutions that discuss punk’s societal impact (Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk by Legs McNeil is on the syllabus at Connecticut U in New Haven). But, by and large, it seems the best discussions of punk tunes are relegated to the liner notes of compilation albums and Rough Guides.
Worthy of discussion in my books: “Holiday in Cambodia,” by The Dead Kennedys, “Bonzo Goes to Bitburg,” by the Ramones, and anything by Propagandhi. Perhaps you have your list too. Ken Ketchum has one. He’s an economist with the feds who fronts the Ottawa punk band four-stroke and says “Inquisition Day” by Subhumans and “Guns on the Roof” by The Clash are worthy of further examination.
He’ll talk about those tunes and how they inspired the songs he’s written for four-stroke Monday night at the first edition of Punk Rock Spoken Word. Depending on the crowd’s feedback, promoter Kimmy Rocks may present more of these punk pseudo-lectures at a monthly event.
The set-up is as so: The punk of the evening sits in front of a mic with lyric sheets and gets into the backstory of a tune Randy Bachman-style. Interaction is welcomed. Ketchum suggests finger-snapping like the Beats is a great way to show your enthusiasm without having to put your beer down.
“In punk rock, people don’t necessarily spend a lot of time on the lyrics, unless they’re trying to sue a band,” Ketchum says. (See: Tipper Gore, Negativland, Dayglo Abortions).
Even seemingly simple tunes, such as “Stupid World” by the Dayglo Abortions, have underpinnings about consumer culture that you can hear, if you’re thinking critically.
Then again, part of punk’s appeal is its simplicity, and Ketchum acknowledges that too. In the Facebook invitation, he mentions the four-stroke tune, “Fuck Ottawa” and writes, “If you’re looking for a hidden meaning…there isn’t one.”
Punk Rock Spoken Word takes place Monday, June 4, at Luneta, 665 Bronson Ave., 9-11 p.m. No cover. https://www.facebook.com/#!/events/362603287121979/.
Ottawa’s The Bushpilots (roots/rock/Neil Young luvas) release their new album Swerve on Friday, June 1, at the Elmdale House Tavern. Cloud of Rock opens. 9:30 p.m., $10.
More roots: Lynne Hanson plays the opening set at the Black Sheep Inn. She opens for Kelly Joe Phelps, a force on the Americana scene, Saturday, June 2. 8:30 p.m., $15.
Lefty McRighty is the nom-de-plume of Greg Harris. His Lefty character loves country music and writes lyrics that could only come from a mind stuck way in the gutter. Hear his dirty ditties, along with backing band The Sinister Six and guests Chris Landry and the Seasick Mommas. Saturday, June 2, at Irene’s Pub. 9 p.m., $7.
Big hype for this show: BADBADNOTGOOD comprises three Humber College kids who like hip-hop, want to affect some sort of jazz-style of playing, and love the insider, meme-type jokes particular to the digital era. They put all this stuff together to make a sound that the kids might call “frickin’ sick.” It’s pastichey, danceable, and indulgent fun. See them with Daughters of the Revolution and DJ Zattar Friday, June 1, at Ritual Nightclub. 9 p.m., $10.