[Today: Hide the women and children…]
When Punk first appeared in the mid-70s, its adherents were considered vile, cretinous sociopaths just a level or two above the criminally insane. The public perception of and reaction to Punk was based partly on fashion like spiked mohawks and safety pins stuck in flesh, but the music itself could be pretty abrasive as well. However, with the added perspective of a few decades, it’s clear that not all punks were created equal: bands like The Jam and the Undertones sound positively musical in retrospect, and even The Sex Pistols’ combative brand of Punk comes off as finely tuned hard rock. Regardless, it’s a fact that most punks were actually thoughtful, intelligent people with perfectly good vocabularies and generally respectable parents.
Of course, some punks were pretty nasty critters, and bands like the Dead Boys and Germs did their very best to live down to the genre’s neanderthal stereotypes. But longtime musician Lee Ving wasn’t impressed with either the chops or the confrontation being brought by the first generation of LA punks, so he formed his own band. “What I really liked about [Punk] was the audience!” Ving told the Riverfront Times. “The band starts playing, and the audience starts jumping up and down and bashing the living daylights out of each other! With Punk you could say whatever you want, play whatever you want and give the audience a hard time if you wanted to. I thought, ‘Wow, this is great.’ So that’s what inspired me to start the Fear thing.” With Fear, Ving would take Punk to its most extreme conclusion, and inspire the hardcore movement. An avowed conservative, he had little trouble provoking his audiences past the point of violence.
“Rankling people wasn’t strange to us,” he admits. “It was definitely a part of what we wanted to do. We weren’t looking to just rankle straight bank workers; we were looking at the Punk audience itself as a prime target. We had enemies everywhere we went. Promoters… got shit for booking us. Some people thought we were sayin’ shit for shock value, some thought it was for humor value; others bought it, hook, line, and sinker.” What they were buying was a savage blend of politics, irony and obscenity, with Ving’s lyrics and vocals disguising a talented group of musicians. Too many people took songs like ‘Let’s Have A War’ and ‘I Love Livin’ In The City’ at face value, refusing to acknowledge their inherent mockery of Punk and missing out on some excellent music in the process.
John Belushi was Fear’s #1 fan, and bargained to get them into the musical slot on Saturday Night Live on Halloween in 1981. But when the audience (including Belushi) erupted in violent slam-dancing, producer Lorne Michaels pulled the plug on their performance. It was a perfect Fear moment: musical anarchy that was most definitely not ready for prime time…
Listen: I Love Livin’ In The City
Listen: Let’s Have A War