:: Article

The Three Rs

By K. A. Laity.

Right noise.

The sound of punk, purists proclaim, reverberates through three chords, four beats and about two minutes. One two three four and Johnny’s guitar at its heart. A simple math: it adds up to the right night but multiplied by millions across the planet and through time. As John Peel said of The Fall, “They are always different, they are always the same.” The Fall are the right noise. Right? Noise. For the detractors that’s right, it’s noise. Right? Noise.

Cos we dig-ah
Cos we dig-ah
We dig-ah
We dig repetition-ah
We dig repetition-ah
We’ve repetition in the music
And we’re never going to lose it.

A limited palette requires repetition. The sound of punk iconically the quad beat, relentless until the song is up, then beginning again, time without number until the band and the audience have wrung every reverberation out of the crash, bang, wallop. A repetition too fast to contemplate, it can only be embodied as percussive movement. Pogoing in mad chaos despite the repetition of the beat because each punk received the wisdom singularly. Individuals made one flesh by the repetition—but one heaving, twitching flesh as if mad or sick or dying. Entrainment to the music, to each other assures the twitching corpse will dance and heal itself, resuscitated by the pounding heart’s thump .

All you daughters and sons
who are sick of fancy music

Punk came along and it was ignored. It came as garage band music in the sixties and it was overlooked. Some said it came in Dave Davies’ guitar in “All Day and All of the Night” and other said no, never—not until the Velvets. Only they can’t decide if it was hammering of “I’m Waiting for the Man” or the droning of “Heroin”—and what of The Stooges? Iggy is anointed by Lester Bangs in 1970 but is that orthodoxy? The arguments rehearsed and debated and the purists will still say no, look to the holy places. Not the enclaves of bourgeois art but the temples where the word was first heard.

We dig repetition
Repetition on the drums
and we’re never going to lose it.

But even there the church is split between East and West: did the edenic explosion begin in Saint Martin’s School of Art or at CBGB’s in the Bowery? Do we credit the Slits and the Pistols or is it Patti and the Dolls? Does it matter? Do we require an orthodoxy, some painstaking lineage to account for the progeny spread like dandelion seeds across the consciousness of the world? It’s an impossible task, but it touches on the obsession: purity of essence. Are you pure enough to be a punk? Punk is pure and yet punk is dirty. Pure intent to smash through the fancy music to get to the truth, the real the all. An explosion, a fire, a cleansing burst of energy like divine mandate or a demonic blast: it cleared the stage, swept away the clutter of prog and masturbatory solos, arena rock and smarm. An ephemeral experience, gone when the last drum beat has faded. The only way it can live again is to shout the count, hit those chords and thump the skins again. Ever dying, ever reborn, always failing, flailing. Flail again. Flail better.

This is the three R’s
The three R’s:
Repetition, Repetition, Repetition

Like Peter Cook’s manic football manager character, Alan Latchley, who preached the three Ms (Motivation, Motivation, Motivation) the triple repetition makes it stronger. As Jacqueline Susann would agree, once is not enough. The holy trinity of repetition is necessary because you have to club people over the head with obvious truths or they look behind it for more: for nuance, for sarcasm, for some kind of trick. Asked if The Fall had anything to do with punk, irascible TM linchpin Mark E. Smith said, “Er, yeah… no…”

Oh mental hospitals
Oh mental hospitals
They put electrodes in your brain
And you’re never the same
You don’t dig repetition

Repetition is all about resistance. The grinding down of the automated mechanized world of drudgery and bullshit jobs zaps your grey matter to remove the natural punk ethos of resistance and replace it with bored repetition. You give in to the pressure to normalise, to succumb to labour as a cog in the system. Your entrainment no longer an ecstatic delirium but a deadening soporific trance that allows you to accept the violence done to your body while your mind sloshes in the anesthesia of Muzak. It’s never the same but always inoffensive. No lows, but no highs either. You lose the adrenaline charge that came from the first revelation of punk, when the spirit moved in you, when the loas climbed your back and rode you new understanding. When the bright wings of chaos carried you over One Hundred Punks and you knew with every fibre of your being your truth, your Identity.

President Carter loves repetition
Chairman Mao he dug repetition

How do you escape? How can you defy age? Punk is for the young, they say, whoever they may be. But the greying Mohican beats the faux-hican surely? Can we fight against the relentless beat of commodification in a capitalist society? When you can buy a punk wig for your Halloween fancy dress, somewhere a punk loses her wings and hurtles to the earth like another Icarus. God is change, Octavia Butler swore before her own fall. Maybe it’s inevitable. The old makes way for the new. Change form, keep the energy. But that’s not what happens: we all know about the 1% and the grip they hold upon the wealth of the world. The digital revolution was meant to change all that but musicians will tell you: they get less and less (writers know this even better). In the face of such relentless pilfering of our time, our faith, our wealth it’s easy to give in, give up, resign yourself to the blanketing effects of the Blank Generation.

There is no hesitation
This is your situation
Continue a blank generation
Blank generation
Same old blank generation
Groovy blank generation
Swinging blank generation

Yet that chord change comes along just to throw you off when you have succumbed to the repetition of the fall of the hammer, the weight of comfort and homogeneity and hypocrisy. You bow before the judge-penitent but you hear the laughter behind you. That laughter is the key. The mocking laugh of the punk is the only way to puncture the deadening beat of the bastards grinding you down. Laughter is sacred, laughter is loud. Laughter pokes through lies. Only the Fool can confront the Monarch. Only laughter breaks down the thick walls of dead hypocrisy and ruin. When Clemance hears the laughter on the Pont des Arts it tears him down and takes him back to the night when he ignored the woman who leapt from the bridge. Her fall becomes his fall. We all fall.

But we rise again. We rise and sing. We laugh. We seize the power of the Three Rs, we invoke the right noise, right noise: right? Noise.

(Homage to The Fall “Repetition”.)

KT Laity is the award-winning author of How to Be Dull, White Rabbit, Dream Book, A Cut-Throat Business, Lush Situation, Owl Stretching, Unquiet Dreams, Chastity Flame, and Pelzmantel, as well as editor of Respectable Horror, Weird Noir, Noir Carnival and Drag Noir. She also writes historical fiction as Kit Marlowe and crime as Graham Wynd. As a 2011-2012 Fulbright Fellow in Galway, Ireland she worked in digital humanities at NUIG. Dr. Laity teaches medieval literature, film, gender studies, digital humanities and popular culture at the College of Saint Rose, where she is also the director of the Digital Humanities Initiative. She divides her time between Hudson, New York and Dundee, Scotland.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Friday, February 2nd, 2018.