My life hasn’t been an easy one. I suffered abuses of all kinds while growing up in Trinidad & Tobago only to be followed by more abuses when I immigrated to the U.S. You might say that I was an angry person, and trying to wring a smile out of my stone face was probably like trying to climb K2 in the buff.
I was 16 years old and in 11th grade back in 1977. Sitting at home watching the news on TV, the announcer began talking about a new social movement that had hit young London. It was called punk. The kids were loud, reckless and anti-establishment, played and listened to a brand of music that was equally loud, guttural and abrasive, and wore the wildest fashions such as pins through their tattered clothes and faces, spiky hair cuts, and Doc Marten boots. The popular bands at that time were The Damned, The Clash and the Sex Pistols. The report hit me like a ton of bricks. A whole segment of society existed that was angry like me? I’d better give this punk business a looksee.
Around that time, I had already recently discovered bands like KISS, Boston, Aerosmith and Foghat. Lo and behold, checking the record bins in the local library, to my amazement, they already had an album by one of those punk bands. It was “Never Mind The Bollocks, Here’s The Sex Pistols.” I immediately borrowed it and took it home. I was nervous to play it because I didn’t know what to expect. Was it going to be so loud and abrasive that it would upset my delicate constitution? Oh my. Can’t have that. Nevertheless, after taking a few deep breaths, I delicately placed the needle on the vinyl. The first thing I heard was the marching of feet – STOMP! STOMP! STOMP! Then a crashing guitar chord, followed by another, and another, then the entire band stormed in as Johnny Rotten yelled, “Cheap holiday in other people’s misery!” I was floored. Song after song, I quickly got into the Pistols. Hell, I was even dancing to tracks like “Anarchy In The U.K.” and “God Save The Queen.” Punk had arrived to save me, and I was determined to explore it fully.
It wasn’t long before I started dressing like a punk, not with the spiky Mohawk or safety pins through my cheek, but black shoes, black jeans, and a black leather jacket I think I bought 2nd hand in a thrift shop in The Village of NYC. I acquired more punk records in 12th grade and college and even hosted a radio show on KPGY-FM at Iowa State University called “New Music Experience.” My playlists included Dead Kennedys, Bauhaus, Plasmatics, Joy Division, Lene Lovich, The Jam, DEVO, English Beat, The B-52’s, Iggy Pop, Agent Orange, Ultravox, The Stepmothers, Black Flag, and many others. I even had a paddle made back then that had the inscription “Punk Lord” on it. I was proud of that leather jacket, too, being that it was adorned with buttons like The Specials, Sex Pistols and The Clash.
I’ve always been into punk but things shifted a little when I was introduced to Iron Maiden. Their musicianship absolutely floored me and I got into them right away. Needless to say I became an ardent admirer of metal and that still exists till this day.
It’s interesting now to look back on how I’d grown up and the various musical styles I’d been exposed to. In Trinidad it was calypso and pop. In the U.S. I’d get into punk, classical (I’d seen “Amadeus” when I was 16 or 17 and it wiped the floor with me), metal and R&B. Jazz and blues came along a bit later when I started expanding my own guitar vocabulary. And you know, it’s kind of tragic that I no longer play guitar. I think it’s been five years since I did. Who knows? Maybe I can get back into it before I drop dead. If I did, I don’t think I’d play punk, though. Wouldn’t wanna rattle my elder neighbors’ nerves.