On Tuesday, Thomas Dunne Books, a St. Martin’s imprint, releases 1973: Rock at the Crossroads, a deep 347-page dive into that year’s music biz and music scene by Andrew Grant Jackson. In the excerpt below–kindly offered to PKM by the author and St. Martin’s–Jackson connects The Stooges, Lester Bangs, Danny Fields and the New York Dolls to William Shakespeare and the prison culture meaning of punk.
In his new book, 1973: Rock at the Crossroads, Andrew Grant Jackson provides all the front-page context (Watergate hearings, Arab oil fears, etc.) needed to frame a look back at the music from that year. It’s an album-oriented reflection, the year seeing the release of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, Led Zeppelin’s Houses of the Holy and The Who’s Quadrophenia, as British concept albums dominated the American rock scene. It’s also the year Motown faded from prominence and Austin, Texas came to be the home of country. Meanwhile, in New York, looking to do something new, Hilly Kristal renamed his Bowery dive bar “Country, Bluegrass and Blues and Other Music for Uplifting Gormandizers”––shortening that unsayable moniker to CBGB and OMFUG on his street-front awning.
Jackson’s book is a guilty pleasure: it’s easy to object to; it’s hard to put down. Its encyclopedic detail, its meticulous footnotes and its tidy-eyes-of-hindsight connections create a universe too often dominated by Todd Rundgren, Mick Jagger, Elvis Presley, Lester Bangs and Paul McCartney. For better or worse, 1973 can set you to singing Elton John’s “Bennie and the Jets”, Grand Funk Railroad’s “We’re an American Band” and Jim Croce’s “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown”, with an enthusiasm you didn’t know you had for those songs. With history once again being written by those who prevail––and by those who get the last word in––Jackson fosters a new appreciation for David Bowie, George Harrison, the New York Dolls, Aerosmith, Linda Ronstadt, Bruce Springsteen and David Geffen.
In his introduction, Jackson documents the fact classic rock stations today play more songs from 1973 than from any other year. That’s consistent with his claim that the bestselling artists in history released some of the best music of their careers in 1973––with each Beatle, The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Elvis Presley, Willie Nelson, Stevie Wonder, The Eagles, Steely Dan and Aretha Franklin all finding their way to the top of the Billboard charts. Jackson also describes a varied and changing menu on the music scene. Bowie covering Springsteen’s “It’s Hard to Be a Saint in the City” is an example of that creative stew, with Bowie also retiring Ziggy Stardust, developing Aladdin Sane, and producing Iggy Pop and The Stooges’ Raw Power––all after having produced Lou Reed’s Transformer.
Joan Jett, Black Sabbath, Neil Young, Merle Haggard, Patti Smith, James Brown, Parliament-Funkadelic, Bob Marley, Alice Cooper and Waylon Jennings all get their due in the 1973 narrative. Jackson finds a way to delve into their stories and also go behind the scenes at Max’s Kansas City––where Billy Joel opened for Jennings; Springsteen and Marley traded off opening for each other and Iggy Pop came in for midnight shows. 1973 is organized into four distinct sections––Winter, Spring, Summer and Autumn––with the chapters rolling from one into the next. In Chapter 27, in the Autumn of the book, Jackson provides a brief re-cap of the origins of the Punk scene and reveals a few moments of its evolution that summer. – PKM Editors
An Excerpt from 1973: Rock at the Crossroadsby Andrew Grant Jackson:
In 1968, twenty-two-year old critic Nik Cohn thought rock was spent as a creative force, and banged out a book in seven weeks to summarize its rise and fall. “There was no more good fierce and straight-ahead rock ’n roll, no more honest trash,” he wrote in Awopbopaloobop Alopbamboom. “Groups like Family and the Nice in England, or Iron Butterfly or the Doors in America, were crambos by their nature and that was fine—they could have knocked out three-chord rock and everyone would have been content. But, after the Beatles and Bob Dylan, they’ve turned towards culture and wallowed in third-form poetries, fifth-hand philosophies, ninth-rate perceptions.”
The antidote arrived the following year in a group named after self-abusive comedians, singing deliberately cretinous songs like “No Fun” and “Real Cool Time.” Their antics transfixed Alan Vega of the New York musical duo Suicide. “Suddenly Iggy’s flying into the audience. Then he’s back onstage and cutting himself up with drumsticks and bleeding.”
Vega was also struck by Lester Bangs’s review of the Stooges’ 1970 album Fun House.
Bangs wrote how people loved to hate “that Stooge punk. . . . Someday, somebody’s gonna just bust that fucked-up punk right in the chops!”
Vega decided to promote Suicide’s second gig at Manhattan’s OK Harris Gallery on November 20, 1970, as “Punk Music by Suicide.” Afterward, he began advertising gigs in The Village Voice as “A Punk Music Mass by Suicide.” Onstage the leather-jacketed Vega hit himself with his own motorcycle chain. “If the violence got really bad, what I’d do was smash a bottle and start cutting my face up. That seemed to have a calming effect on the crowd. I guess they reasoned that I was so fucking nuts that nothing they could do would bother me. I figured out a way of doing it so that I drew a lot of blood but I wouldn’t be scarred for life. I had it down to a fine art.”
In 1971, Bangs moved with his fellow Creem writers into a communal house on a farm in Michigan, a living situation that did not last long. Dave Marsh took issue with the fact that Bangs’s dog relieved himself inside and left some dogshit on Bangs’s typewriter, which resulted in a brawl. But they were on the same page with the concept of “punk,” which they applied to mid-’60s garage bands. Bangs originally used the term in the title of an unpublished, William Burroughs-influenced novel he wrote in 1968, Drug Punk. Marsh raved about a May 1971 gig by ? and the Mysterians (“96 Tears”) as “a landmark exposition of punk rock.”
The following month, Bangs extolled Count Five in “Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung,” then used the term “punk” again in an article ostensibly about the Troggs, “James Taylor Marked for Death” which advocated stabbing the singer-songwriter with a broken bottle of Ripple. The latter article ran in the fanzine Who Put the Bomp, edited by Greg Shaw, which celebrated “punk rock bands as white teenage hard rock of 64–66.”
Around then, Stooges handler Danny Fields contributed to an Esquire article about “movers and shakers” in the industry and included a friend named Lenny Kaye, who wrote for Rolling Stone, Creem, and Crawdaddy (and would later serve as Patti Smith’s guitarist). Elektra Records founder Jac Holzman saw the article and asked Kaye to talent-scout for him.
“I used to visit Lenny at the Village record store at which he worked. I was fascinated by the garage bands of the early ’60s who would have a single that was memorable over a short lifespan and no meaningful albums to speak of.” Holzman enlisted Kaye to compile a double album of such tracks and write the liner notes, which became Nuggets: Original Artyfacts from the First Psychedelic Era.
On January 4, 1973, Greg Shaw reviewed the collection in Rolling Stone in an article entitled “Punk Rock: The Arrogant Underbelly of Sixties Pop.” It claimed “the real vitality of American rock” was the “ephemeral local band.” “Punk rock at its best is the closest we came in the Sixties to the original rockabilly spirit of rock and roll.” Kaye acknowledged, “[Nuggets] was critically very well-received, [which] wouldn’t surprise me because it was the product of a kind of critical group-think that was in the air at the time. It was commercially received indifferently, and marketed fairly perfunctorily, all of which leads to your usual cult item. I would doubt—I mean, I don’t know how many copies it sold—I would doubt that there’s more than 10,000 in circulation. Saleswise, I can’t imagine that it topped 5,000.”
Kaye later observed, “What punk came to be known as—which is a very Ramonesish-based chant, and quick songs and black leather jackets, you know, that very specific kind of punk—you can really draw an analogy from one to the other in the sense that, you know, here [in Nuggets] you had short, very catchy songs played with a kind of iconic sneer.”
University of Buffalo student Billy Altman started the fanzine Punk, in May 1973, with the Seeds (“Pushin’ Too Hard”) on the cover. He invited Bangs to write for it (and later became executor of Bangs’s estate). 12 This was a different Punk than the one started in 1975 by Legs McNeil and John Holmstrom, which centered on the CBGB scene.
“Punk” was now the hippest word in rock criticism, even applied to newer bands ranging from the New York Dolls to Aerosmith, Black Sabbath, and the Guess Who. Kiss played with a New York band called Street Punk at the Hotel Diplomat in August. Townshend shoehorned a song named “The Punk Meets the Godfather” into Quadrophenia. “The punk” of the title chastises “the godfather” (Townshend) for being arrogant and lost in self-pity while people in the real world starve. Apparently none of the cognoscenti knew that in prison culture “punk” meant someone forced to sexually submit. It meant prostitute back when Shakespeare used it in All’s Well That Ends Well.
Andrew Grant Jackson, the author of 1973: Rock at the Crossroads, will discuss and sign his book at Book Soup in West Hollywood on Dec. 3, at 7 p.m.