People Who Died

Q: Is punk an attitude or a musical genre?

I’m getting an early start on the punk themed Song Lyric Sunday. No, the challenge isn’t this Sunday, the last Sunday in October, but December twenty-fifth. Christmas Day. I began thinking about this a month ago. Jim Adams, the host of Song Lyric Sunday left a comment on my blogpost where I featured Molly’s Lips by Nirvana: If you really are a Punk aficionado jeff, then you won’t want to miss December 25, 2022, where the theme is Punk music. If I ignore the phrasing, which seems to cast doubt on my punk cred, the idea was enticing.

a·fi·ci·o·na·do (noun)
def: a person who is very knowledgeable and enthusiastic about an activity, subject, or pastime.

Knowledgeable? Meh. I know what I know. I don’t study punk music, but I lived quite a bit of it.

Enthusiastic? Just last night, heading out the door to drive to a neighboring town to attend a meeting, I announced my plan to ‘blast punk rock’ the whole way there. Not a special occasion. I have three playlists on Spotify:

Pop, twenty-two songs, mostly new wave.

Twang, eighteen songs, all of them alt country, and,

Radio Jeff, two-hundred-thirty songs, punk, proto-punk, post punk, pop punk, cowpunk, garage punk, hardcore punk, oh and the Beatles.

A few days after Jim Adams left his comment, I read the short story Curtis’s Charm by Jim Carroll. Carroll was an author, a poet and a punk musician. As soon as read the story, I knew what song I would feature on SLS. If you’re familiar with Jim Carroll, it’s probably from the movie the Basketball Diaries. It’s a biographical look at Jim Carroll’s life based on a diary he kept between the ages of twelve and sixteen. I checked this book out from the library. It was fantastic. Also, it’s the exact sort of book the righteous are trying to ban from libraries across the United States. Cover-to-cover heroin abuse and graphic sex scenes, many of them with Jim working as a teenage prostitute.

Last week, a big story in the Gettysburg Times was about a local woman trying to get the school district to ban the memoir All Boys Aren’t Blue, by George M. Johnson. She showed up at a school board meeting and started reading a passage that details an oral sex encounter between two teenagers. She wanted to know why the district would “introduce pornographic filth into the reach of students under the guise of the First Amendment.”

That night, around eight o’clock, I wrote a letter to the editor:

In response to Carolyn Jenkins’ desire to ban books from the GAHS library: Dear Ms. Jenkins, books are curious things. They sit on the shelf with their covers closed inflicting their will upon no one. It’s only when someone seeks out a book and decides to read it does its contents become known. Books are written for varying interests and maturity levels. A book that may not be appropriate for your child may well be appropriate for mine. This is where parenting comes into play. Every library contains objectionable material, only what you and I find objectional is probably not the same. No one knows what’s appropriate for a student except that student and their parents.

By six o’clock the next morning the emails started rolling in. I’m happy to say they were all positive, thanking me for sticking my neck out and taking a stand. The whole time I was thinking “Damn, Carolyn Jenkins ought to read the Basketball Diaries.” In my opinion, all high school students should read the the book. First, it shows how a teen can keep a diary that’s important enough to be published and then turned into a movie. But also, it serves as a cautionary tale—a life off the rails about a kid who might live or die in any given scene. I’ll tell you what, when I finished that book, I had no desire to be a prostitute or a junkie. Mrs. Jenkins doesn’t need to worry. This book won’t lure anyone into that lifestyle.

One of the highlight scenes in the movie shows a montage of Jim’s basketball team kicking some serious ass with the Jim Carroll Band song People Who Died playing as the soundtrack. The song lyrics recount a long list of people in Jim’s life who died untimely deaths. I know this song exceptionally well. As a spin instructor for seven years, I frequently used People Who Died as sort of a central piece to my workout—a song that urges out your last bit of energy when you have almost nothing left. Blisteringly fast and seemingly endless—I always enjoyed the ironic connection between the chorus: Those are the people who died, died… and the riders figuratively dying—drowning in sweat—around the room.

Reading the Basketball Diaries was a cool experience because many of the deaths Jim sings about in the song he writes about in his book. I kept thinking “Hey, I know this one.” People Who Died has been in my head non-stop for a month. It’s almost like it’s destined for Jim Adams’ punk theme, except I’m using it two months too early. Here’s the deal. I don’t consider People Who Died a punk song. I’ve always squarely classified it as new wave. Too poppy, too bouncy for punk. And this gets back to my original question. Is punk an attitude or a genre?

Last Christmas, I offered to beta-read a book written by one of the writers in my “Authors with Tourette Syndrome” Facebook group. I loved it, I can’t wait for it to be published. It chronicles the ups and downs of a high school girl with Tourette who plays in a punk band. Each chapter starts with a supposed Twitter post. One of them read: @justMelody: Top ten punk bands ever?  I gave this days of consideration and then I assembled my list.

1)   The Clash
2)   The Ramones
3)   X
4)   The Sex Pistols
5)   Nirvana
6)   Sonic Youth
7)   The Pixies
8)   Gang of Four
9)   The Dream Syndicate
10) Patti Smith Group

But here’s the rub. With the exception of the Sex Pistols, who only recorded one album, all of these bands started as punk, but moved away from the genre as they grew and matured. Even the Ramones, the founding fathers of punk, recorded plenty songs that could never be identified as punk rock. Yet throughout their careers, these bands’ music (even those songs that were ultimately relegated to the ‘classic rock’ genre) contains an overarching attitude that still classifies the bands as punk.  

Jim Carroll’s lyrics, his book, his short story, his life are as punk as they come. The guy’s an outsider, a wiseass, a trouble maker. He lived on the streets, did time in jail, and watched friend after friend fail to make it through the life he was living. Maybe the song has a new wave feel, but this story is authentic punk.

Here’s the official audio version of the song People Who Died. I hope you love it as much as I do.

Teddy sniffing glue he was twelve years old
Fell from the roof on East Two-nine
Cathy was eleven when she pulled the plug
On twenty six reds and a bottle of wine
Bobby got leukemia, fourteen years old
He looked like sixty five when he died
He was a friend of mine

Those are people who died, died
Those are people who died, died
Those are people who died, died
Those are people who died, died
They were all my friends and just died

G-berg and Georgie let their gimmicks go rotten
So they died of hepatitis in upper Manhattan
Sly in Vietnam, bullet in the head
Bobby OD’d on Drano on the night that he was wed
They were two more friends of mine (two more friends that died)

Those are people who died, died X 4
They were all my friends and they died

Mary took a dry dive from a hotel room
Bobby hung himself from a cell in The Tombs
Judy jumped in front of a subway train
Eddie got slit in the jugular vein
And Eddie, I miss you more than all the others
And I salute you brother

Those are people who died, died x 4
They were all my friends, and they died

Herbie pushed Tony from the Boys’ Club roof
Tony thought that his rage was just some goof
But Herbie sure gave Tony some, some bitchen proof
Hey, Herbie said, Tony, can you fly?
But Tony couldn’t fly, Tony died

Those are people who died, died X 4
They were all my friends and they died

Brian got busted on a narco rap
He beat the rap by rattin’ on some bikers
He said, hey, I know it’s dangerous
But it sure beats Riker’s
But the next day he got offed
By the very same bikers

Those are people who died, died X 4
They were all my friends, and they died

Repeat the whole freaking song

Those are people who died, died X 4
They were all my friends, and they died

Those are people who died, died X 4
They were all my friends, and they died

24 thoughts on “People Who Died

  1. Thanks Jeff, this is a powerful bit of writing, which befits the topic and the feature song.
    I have no punk credentials (despite having coincidentally used the word punk at lunchtime today in a draft post that I will amend to acknowledge my ignorance before posting it tonight) but I do own ‘Never mind the Bollocks …’
    God Save the Queen absolutely nails punk attitude for me…
    But what would I know, not being an aficionado of punk.
    And your letter about the book?
    It sounds spot on to me.
    Kind regards

    Liked by 2 people

  2. What a fantastic high octane post, Jeff. I do hope no-one is put off by your warning at the top. In fact, I hope you remove it. The best music writing doesn’t require knowledge of, nor even interest in, the particular toons. And this is top shelf writing. The articulation between parental over-control, teens making choices, life, tragedy and the right to bear a keyboard was deftly handled. I don’t consider myself a punk aficionado at all; my interest is only passing and my holding small. But that made not one jot of difference to my appreciation of this excellent piece of writing.

    Just remind me to never join one of your spin classes. You’re a sadist.

    Liked by 1 person

    • OK, at your advice, warning removed. Thanks for your compliments. These topics have been swirling in my head for months or weeks or days. I’m glad I could combine them into a coherent essay. When ever I write about song lyrics, I envision eye rolls and mumbles of ‘who cares.’ But really using a song as a writing prompt is one of my favorite jumping off points. Quoth the Pistols: I wanna be me.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. What a great question and post, Jeff. There is a doctoral thesis in there somewhere. I think punk is also a perception, although you could argue that was attitude. Here in the UK, I think the perception of punk music can differ between countries and generations. Have you read, Punk Rock: An oral history, by John Robb? It is a series of interviews and discussions with bands that where part of the original UK punk scene in the 70s and 80s. Robb also traces the roots of the British punk scene back to reggae and music in the 1950’s. A number of bands he interviewed give credit to the New York Dolls as being one of the major influences for the UK punk scene.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sigh. No I haven’t read that. There are so many books on punk that have been recommended to me that I haven’t read. I recently read the 33 1/3 about the Ramones and I was really bored the whole time. One day I’ll get though some of these books and then I’ll truly be a punk aficionado. I’ve been getting into more pre-punk music lately: VU, the Stooges, the Kinks, etc. And my son has recently latched onto 60s garage rock and is playing many of those songs on his guitar. My house is a rather punk place recently.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. That song is vaguely familiar to me. I may have heard it before.
    It’s timely since the blogging world (my wider circle of it anyway) just received news of the passing of one of our group.
    I think punk is more attitude than genre. Most of the original punk music was actually horrible😂😂 it had energy and attitude but so does a chainsaw, right?!
    Good on you for standing up for books! I hate censorship.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m sorry you lost a blogging friend. Do you think it’s anyone I knew? I often wonder about whether I’ll know if someone dies. It’s not like I’ve left instructions to put out a farewell post. I really like early punk, as you can see from my top 10 I’ve got a lot of first generation bands covered. I’ll need to come up with a different song to profile on Christmas day. Hmm, a punk song. Wonder if I can come up with one of those.


        • Yes, I saw her around in the comments but I never communicated with her. That’s nice that her family posted that. Well train in vain is certainly a very good song. I hadn’t thought about the Christmas connection. Reliant K has an excellent punk version of the twelve day of Christmas. Out for a walk this morning I was considering an iggy pop song

          Liked by 1 person

  5. Pingback: The Sex Pistols ••• after Daz Nuance | davidwdon

  6. I have to confess that I know nothing about punk, Jeff – at least, I didn’t but having read your post, I am that little tiny bit wiser. The only punk group I remember was the Sex Pistols, yet they only had one album, as you say. I did listen to the YouTube song and read the lyrics (twice), and I have to say, I can see the appeal. You may have a convert on your hands!


    • I’m sensitive to the fact that I’m an adult, I mean an older adult, and I’m obsessed with such a juvenile form of music. But it’s truly a lifelong love. Lemme know if you want any recommendations 😂

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I know nothing of punk either, aside from the fact that it makes my brain feel a little glitchy, though I can see how it’s not just music, but a life attitude.
    I remember watching the Basketball Diaries when it came out, how uncomfortable it was.
    Bravo on your letter.
    This People Who Died is a most excellent spin playlist song. I wonder what that cadence is?!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Cadence; 110, 120? Nothing I could spin on beat. I max out around 95. Here, since you’re a friend, let me ask you a question. When you see a song lyric post, do you groan and think ‘ugh, not again’? I’m wondering if more than just a couple of music oriented readers actually enjoy these. BTW. My nerve pain is carpal tunnel. I guess something I began or stopped doing after my dislocation aggravated it. Sort of tricky trying to balance shoulder PT with babying my hand/wrist.

      Liked by 1 person

      • No way, that’s all it was?? At least it gets better/is fixable! Splint at night, every night!
        I max at about 95 too… No one pedals that fast on a mountain bike, because well, I’m here for the journey…:p
        I actually really like seeing lyrics. And I like your lyric posts, because lyrics are poetry, and poetry makes you think, and then I know it’s going to be a post that has either struck a thought in you, or a post that will strike one in me. And it will also mean there’s an associated memory that you’ll be telling us about, and I like those…


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