Mick Jones of The Clash had this to say in a recent Onion AV Club interview:
Well we certainly appreciated the Sex Pistols, yeah. They were quite influential just on a personal level. I was a great music fan, and always wanted to be in a band. I followed music intensely, from a very young age, and Sex Pistols showed me that music was something anyone could do.
I hear that a lot with punk and indie musicians: the realization that music is something anyone can do, as though there were some barrier beforehand that gave them the impression that they couldn’t do it. Jones is essentially saying “Anyone can play punk music,” which contains within it the assumption that there are other musics that not just anyone can play.
Maybe punker rockers all have low self-esteem and looked at those other musicians as people doing things they could never do. Or maybe they were simply lazy and thought music would be hard so they never gave it a try until punk music, apparently the easiest rock genre, came along and showed them the way. It’s no wonder, then, that punk rockers so eschew musical virtuosity; it’s the stuff that comes from that other world of music that they thought was too hard to do.
It’s not my intention to insult punk rock or its practitioners; I’m just wondering about the psychological roots of their chosen genre. I suppose in the 70’s (and still today), as the Big Rock and Roll Machine was coming into its own, taking over more and more arenas with bigger recording sounds, that kids would look at that inflated circus and assume that the mechanics of music were just too much for a kid to understand. Because rock and roll isn’t just music; it’s theater and sporting event and circus and fashion shoot. Strip all that away and it’s just guitar chords and lyrics, and that’s what punk wanted to do: strip out the other junk.
However, punk left theater in (few musicians are as theatrical as Johnny Rotten, Joey Ramone and Joe Strummer), and then fashion snuck back in as all the kids were determined to dress “punk,” and so the circus came back to town. So maybe what we need is a genre of pure music, with no attendant fashion expectations. That would most likely end up being jazz, though.
And that would definitely be too hard to try.