wrum

The Blasting Concept (1983)

So…Blasting Concept. It’s a compilation of music from SST records. Let’s put it on.

The instrumental parts are fine, and even a little bit catchy, I actually said the first song sound like The Strokes “Last Night,” BEFORE anyone started singing. It’s the singing part that is just, NOT. FOR. ME. I’m trying to picture myself making dinner or reading the paper or hanging out with friends and thinking, “let me put this album on.” It’s never going to happen and it’s all because of the vocals- at least at this point - the Minutemen and the Meat Puppets. Take “Tumblin Tumbleweeds” by the Meat Puppets. Melodically, yeah, why not? Vocally? No. It does sound like the voice I would imagine a meat puppet having though. A little bit like Animal from the muppets, I’m kind of picturing a puppet that looks like a hamburger making crazy sounds behind a drum set. I’m totally cracking myself up with that image, so at least there’s that.

Hold on a sec- Saccharine Trust is pretty good.

Alright, so it’s time to move on to side two!

The first song is Black Flag and I’m actually liking it. I think it’s because I’m liking the vocals a lot more. This music feels really young and energetic and I like the guitar solos interspersed between the singing. There’s definitely a passion behind all of the music on this album, but Black Flag feels like a passion that I’m connecting most with. Side two in general which includes Black Flag, Overkill, Stains, Wrum and Husker Du feels a little more listenable to me, but still not the kind of music that I’m interested in getting into.

Part of the reason I’m not connecting with this music is because I’m having a really hard time getting over the cover of this album. Alex told me that the artist Raymond Pettibon did the cover and that he’s done most of the covers for the SST record label and that he was the brother of someone in Black Flag who also ran SST records.

I’m actually kind of familiar with Raymond Pettibon. I saw a show he did at the Whitney when I used to work there back in 2005, and I have his book called Turn To The Title Page. But the album cover is really hard to look at. It’s an image of a naked woman being strangled by a man who is also raping her and there’s an atomic explosion behind them through an open window. I’d like to think this is a statement about the horrors of violence against women and war- and the destruction that humans are capable of causing, but it’s not clear that it’s meant to be arch or ironic. It just feels vicious.

I decided to call my friend Kara Kvaran, who is a professor of Women’s Studies and also a lifelong fan of punk rock to see what she thought about this cover. Her dissertation was about gender politics in punk rock and she is also a part of the punk subculture. When I told Kara that while the image shocked me, I couldn’t get over the fact that I felt like I wasn’t being shocked for the right reasons, this is what she had to say:

“If your attempt in art is shock or satire, then you would draw something that wasn’t reality for a lot of women. But the fact that rape is so common and not taken seriously, to me means that showing an image like that isn’t satire. It’s saying that’s the place that women belong. This image says, ‘we don’t take rape seriously.’ In that way, it doesn’t become about shock or satire it becomes exactly what is expected.”

At the University of Akron, where Kara is a professor, someone recently wrote on the community whiteboard of the honors dorm: “It’s not rape if you yell surprise.” A female student who was upset by this decided to take a picture of it and post it on the honors dorm facebook page. The reaction was not to try and find the person who wrote it, or start a conversation about how this makes women feel, it was instead to demand that the girl who posted the picture take it down, because it was making the honors dorm facebook page look bad. Kara said talking about this cover reminded her of that incident. “That is the definition of rape culture. If we live in a rape culture, then showing an image of a woman being raped is not satire, it’s not shocking, it’s derivative and common and part of the problem.”

I have to say that it’s hard for me to get beyond this cover and listen to this music objectively. This compilation does not include one woman and while punk is a reaction against a certain mainstream culture, the message of this cover makes it feel just as mainstream and exclusionary as a fraternity- what’s so different about what these young men are doing? This record is telling me I am this woman, with my boobs hanging out and a chain around my neck, being raped, and that this music is not for me. Satire is meant to give a voice to the powerless, this image ignores and further alienates those without power.

Overall, this listen really ended up being about the cover art for me! And while I support art that makes you feel something- and this art definitely made me feel, I can’t get behind this cover. It’s ultimately making me never want to listen to this album again.