BB Shot

by Vince Vanguard Vainglorious

American Hardcore Punk Rock music is indisputably the original creation of White suburban teenagers from California. Simply stated, this music doesn't borrow or steal from any other culture. Those kids created that music to express their dissatisfaction with the cultural contradictions and outright lies that were manifested by and expressed throughout the exclusionist rhetoric and hateful philosophies of Reagan era Americana. While their parents were advocating an inequitable system of trickle down economics and defending the bail out of malfeasant savings and loans, many of their children were advocating anarchy and rejecting materialism. These kids had everything we wanted, or at least everything we were told we needed, so it was hard to understand why they were so angry.

When I was a teenager, there was really no comparable way to express the angst that Black kids felt at being the children of the say it loud I’m Black and I’m proud "New Soul Rebels" of the 1960's and 70's, who were now being taught by their elders to reject their own culture in order to get by in the "real" world. We were being forced to wear Polo shirts, Duck Head khakis and LL Bean penny loafers and being taught that the keys to success were learning to speak proper English and mastering the rules of polite society better than kids being schooled at Choate and Exeter. We were encouraged to act like “fake” White people by seeking to mimic and replicate the behavior and institutions of “White” society better than White Americans had. In the early 1980s when our White contemporaries were rejecting materialism and all of the ideals of the military industrial complex, we were attending tuxedo clad Ebony soirees and church sanctioned "Tom Thumb" weddings, in order to be accepted by society for who "We" were. Even though we were being taught that we were as good as and we could do anything that anybody else could, the underlying message was that "their" culture was better that ours. Although most people went along with this ultimately failed experiment, some young Black people rebelled against this pastiche of assimilationist behavior. Before conscious Hip-Hop and the Afrocentric movement would ultimately give a voice to the angst and anger of Black American youths, many young African-Americans became "Punks" also.

Young Black kids did not go down to the basement and start Punk bands in large numbers. The lure of the thrashing guitar was not as strong as the booming call of the drum for most of us. However, R&B and Disco didn’t provide much of a platform for expressing the ideals of resistance and rebellion that many of us felt within. The agenda in “Hardcore Nation” would continue to be set mostly by bands of young White kids and populated by their peers. However there was an active minority of Black Punks. As with the American musical forms that Black people had created, it just so happens that the band that is considered the best, most talented and most influential band of the American Hardcore Punk Rock Music scene that started in California by skateboarding kids, is a band that originated in the "Chocolate City" of Washington, D.C. and featured an entirely Black lineup of accomplished musicians. The group was called Bad Brains.

The Bad Brains were formed in 1979, out of the remnants of a Jazz-fusion band named Mind Power. Their roots in Jazz provided them with skills that enabled them to explore territory that their peers {who typically were not skilled musicians) could not venture into. Despite the fact that they chose to play a style of music that was “alien” to their cultural roots, the Brains wore “dreadlocks” and they were practicing Rastafarians. The band itself was all Punk though and regarded by their peers as the band you never wanted to follow behind in a concert lineup. The BB's influenced three young fans who would ultimately become the Hip-Hop group the Beastie Boys so much, that they refused to accept any name their manager gave them that didn't have the initials BB. The Bad Brains were regarded by their peers, fans and critics alike as the best instrumentalists in a genre that wasn't known for its musicianship and the best songwriters of a genre not known for tight songwriting. They also had the best stage show and one of the largest followings and longest careers in Punk Rock music history.

I was in high school during this time and except for the emergence of Prince and Run DMC, Black popular music didn’t provide Black youths with many outlets for expressing resistance or rebellion. Along with a few of my friends, I would occasionally explore the Punk Rock scene. Many of the nationally known bands and a few local acts would perform at now defunct clubs with names like the 688, the Bistro and the Metroplex. The crowd would be full of Southern "Skinheads" and I was usually only one of about three Black kids in attendance and we all came to the show together. When I would tell my friends I was going to see Black Flag, the Dead Kennedys or Fear in concert instead of going to Six Flags or the mall this weekend, few of them would understand. Most of my contemporaries shunned this scene because it was considered "White Boy Music." I embraced it because somehow I could tell that the ideas of rebellion and resistance, which had always been a staple component of young Black people’s musical diet, was now sorely missing from our own school cafeteria menu. I was drawn to the music of the Bad Brains, even though I had no idea that they were Black at the time and I never saw them perform in person. They simply were expressing ideas that I felt were important, the music was well done and they somehow seemed culturally relevant to me personally. It sounded like “Rebel Music” to my ears.

During this short season in which we observe and honor the accomplishments of Black people, I believe that the group Bad Brains expresses the ideals of Black History Month and Black progress as well as any other notable figures from history, if not better. Bad Brains entered an exclusively White field and shattered all barriers, using their talents, creativity and perseverance as their weapons. In this era in which many people complain that some people regard the best rapper as a White kid named Eminem, it may be worth remembering that most White people consider the greatest band in Punk Rock to be the Bad Brains. Earning respect for our achievements and preserving our culture is our challenge and not the responsibility of anybody else. The Bad Brains clearly represent the idea that Black people can excel in any human endeavor without compromise, while still embracing our distinct culture and upholding our proud heritage without shame. This is a Black history lesson that many of us have forgotten and one that others have never clearly understood.

BB Shot by Vince Vanguard Vainglorious

© Copyright 2007. All rights reserved. No portion of this work may be duplicated or copied without the expressed written consent of the author.

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