Sunday, February 19, 2006

Real Punks Don't Wear Black Book Review

By Frank Kogan
University of Georgia Press ($24.95)

Real Punks Don’t Wear Black is an anthology of some 30+ years of Frank Kogan’s ramblings about pop music and the culture in which it resides. His writings have appeared in The Village Voice, Spin and his own zine, Why Music Sucks, as well as various other print and on-line outlets. But to label Kogan a music journalist understates the philosophical and exploratory qualities of his verbiage.

Kogan is the ultimate example of the critic as artist. His voice is very matter-of-fact when he claims the only real punks on the planet are Axl Rose and Michael Jackson, and that James Brown is an “indigestible problem for modern R&B and hip-hop.” These statements are not attempts at making bold claims on forbidden musical terrain just for the sake of it, but are meant to provoke his readers. He draws out pre-conceived notions and puts them under the microscope. It’s in this process that Kogan truly shines as not just a critic of music, but of the culture at large.

In analyzing the manic skronk/funk of No Wave band the Contortions while tripping on acid, or explaining why artists must insult their audiences, to avoid being "contaminated" by acceptance; Kogan is both neighborly and unpredictably coherent.

The voice in his head spills onto the page with both style and substance. Kogan tumbles headlong, explaining the simplest notions by the most convoluted means; bending all the rules your English teachers beat into your head, and reshaping them to serve his voice. Witnessing his words in action is at once baffling and alluring.

Real Punks balances half-baked high school essays with insightful rumination on punk, rock, disco, hip-hop and R&B. Any page throughout the book is an easy entry point, save for a handful of embarrassing poems buried near the middle. Grasping the linear motion of his writing is not essential to the Kogan experience, but tuning into the drawn-out processes his thoughts follow is the key to unlocking this real punk’s true colors.

--Chad Radford

Published by Creative Loafing on 2/15/06. Re-edited by Chad Radford.