Joe Bonni MA Paper Readers: Michael Dietler & Shannon Dawdy

Turning Up the Light:
The Role of Rock as Ritual for Counter Culture1 Communities
“Ritual is, above all, an assertion of difference … ritual represents the creation of a controlled environment where the variables (the accidents) of ordinary life may be displaced precisely because they are felt to be so overwhelmingly present and powerful. Ritual is a means of performing the way things ought to be in conscious tension to the way things are. Ritual relies on its power on the fact that it is concerned with quite ordinary activities placed within an extraordinary setting.” - J.Z. Smith, To Take Place (1987: 109, emphasis mine) We can’t go on again without a change The things I see everyday Run too deep I have to say How many times can we watch the same old play? I am turning up the light – I am turning up the light And the light illuminates everything I am inside I am turning up the light – I am turning up the light And the light illuminates everything we want to hide - Bentmen, “Up the Light,” Patient Zero ABSTRACT This paper argues that independent rock and roll performances are a type of modern ritual for marginal social groups who often find little meaning in traditional ritual. I will look at a specific period of time some 15+ years ago (late 1980s – early-mid ‘90s), a period of transition for the artists and fans responsible for these rituals. During this transitional period I was a music journalist in Boston and this has allowed access, even today, to a large archive of local music history that along with my own writing during the period provides something akin to an ethnographic record of the local rock and roll community in Boston from 1988 -’96. With this record in hand I will provide an anthropological history of independent/underground rock and roll just before it became heavily influenced by major record labels and capitalist/industry goals in the mid 1990s. This paper will not be concerned with the eventual commercialization of so-called “alternative” rock and roll in the 1990s but will concentrate on the performance of rock and roll during the transition period and largely on the performance of a specific band, The Bentmen, a band both representative of many of the broad characteristics of a rock band as well as a particularly extreme and exceptional case and thus particularly revealing. Through this brief history and example it will be shown that rock performances within local ‘scenes’ - or as I believe may accurately be called, communities - possessed their own method of celebration; ritual performances rife with room for improvisation and yet full of symbolic action recognized (often) imperfectly by those who participated in them regularly, and dependant upon the creation of sacred spaces, often impermanent, but


Cf. Theodor Roszak’s The Making of a Counter Culture, particularly Chapter 1, “Technocracy’s Children,” the final paragraph of which opens, “The young, miserably educated as they are, bring with them almost nothing but healthy instincts (41).”

marked and recognized though regular practice. In these Durkheimian “effervescent social milieu[s],” the rock-ritual is born.

I. Introduction: Rock and Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution
The very act of congregating is an exceptionally powerful stimulant. Once the individuals are gathered together, a sort of electricity is generated from their closeness and quickly launches them to an extraordinary height of exaltation…the initial impulse is thereby amplified each time it is echoed, like an avalanche grows as it goes along…a collective emotion cannot be expressed collectively without some order that permits harmony and unison of movement, these gestures and drives tend to fall into rhythm and regularity, and from there into songs and dances…the human voice is inadequate to the task and is given artificial reinforcement … the sexes come together in violation of the rules governing sexual relations … indeed sometimes incestuous unions, in normal times judged loathsome and harshly condemned, are contracted out in the open and with impunity … the ceremonies are generally held at night … we can easily imagine the effect that scenes like these are bound to have on the minds of all those who take part. They bring about such an intense hyperexcitment of physical and mental life as a whole that they cannot be borne for very long. The celebrant who takes the leading role eventually falls exhausted to the ground (Durkheim 1995: 21718).

On Friday, November 13th, 1992 I drove to the working class suburb of Brockton, MA to see the band Sexploitation perform at a rock club called Derringer’s. Unlike clubs and their patrons in Boston proper, suburban clubs could be a bit of a crap-shoot for innovative bands that avoided playing covers of popular material and instead offered original but widely unknown compositions. This concern was highlighted in the conversation I had that evening with my traveling companion, Lisa, whose boyfriend, Michael, was the bassist in Sexploitation. I wrote in my review of this show that Michael, “apparently had warned [Lisa] of straying too far from the club or hanging in the parking lot … the natives [Brockton area residents] don’t take too kindly to mohawked, dreadlocked, pierced, tattooed freaks like ourselves.” Michael’s was an apt description of author, companion and performers. To offer some context, Brockton has a history of being a “tough” town. While two cities away, Quincy, MA, the “City of Presidents,” can boast of two native sons that achieved the

And indeed,


The Noise, January 1993, #124

Joe Bonni

Page 2


executive office, Brockton, on its official website, notes that it is “known as the home to two of boxing's ‘World Champions,’ Rocky Marciano and Marvelous Marvin Hagler.”3 But tonight it would be shown that Durkheim’s notions of congregation as a “powerful stimulant” leading to an “effervescent social milieux” was as applicable to the corroborees of Australia as to this “City of Champions.” My review of the performance read,
Sexploitation put on one of their best performances … and the crowd there ate it up. [Frontman] Jonathan Kelley’s pissed off drag queen, which for some [in Boston] runs a fine line between innovative and rehash/passé, is the perfect forbidden desire for those kids trying to break out of the routine of ‘burb living. The kids there cheered on my favorite bunch of cross-dressers and started a mosh-pit to Sexploitation’s wah-wah laden liquid crunch. The crowd’s energy seemed to fuel the band and the band gave back that much more in a mutual masturbation.

For any who have been to an independent rock show, particularly where the bands involved are of any “hard rock” subgenre,4 the scene above is recognizable. But more relevant to this project is that to any student of Durkheim, there are notable similarities between this typical rock performance and the corroboree. The crowd of music fans gathers within the club at an event “generally held at night,” outside of their quotidian existence and indeed fans stimulate one another falling into the rhythm of a mosh-pit.5 Song and dance are “inadequate to the task” of wholly expressing “collective emotion” so the band provides the “wah-wah laden liquid crunch,”6 as opposed to knocking boomerangs and whirling bullroarers as in the corroboree.
3 4 ‘Hard-rock’ bands might be considered those bands primarily dependent on loud, distorted guitars played in excited, repetitive and patterned rhythms, accompanied by generally parallel base lines and drums accenting on the two and four beats heavily, offering an easily recognizable – sometimes described as tribal or akin to a heart beat – rhythm. 5 ‘Moshing’ or slam-dancing are physical and sometimes violent forms of dancing, often involving a group moving in circular pattern, and involving the crashing of bodies into one another sometimes combined with indiscriminate flailing of legs and arms; injury is not uncommon, although according to most participants it is not a specific goal. 6 The “wah-wah pedal” is a device used by guitarists to alternate the frequency of their guitar’s output between a high and static-y sound to a low and muddied one. The effect is akin to a “wave” of sound (high pitches to low and back again: “wah-wah-wah” is somewhat onomatopoeic) and is often described as liquid as well as having some psychedelic effect for listeners. The “crunch” is a common way of describing the heavily distorted chordal “riffing” of rock guitar-playing. The guitar, like the piano technically a percussive instrument where the impact of fingers or guitar pick on strings results in the resonation of impacted strings against a sounding board, offers both an initial impact of sound – when the strings are aggressively strummed - and then resonation. Since many hard rock styles include less resonation, and more chord strumming, or attack, the sound of the attack, so common in the genre, is often referred to as a “crunch”.

Joe Bonni

Page 3


Sexual boundaries are difficult to map as a band of transvestites invites a group of mixed gender (though primarily male) to participate in a heated, physical expression of “hyper-excitement” that, long before I had read Durkheim, I described with sexual metaphor as mutually masturbatory, an unknowing nod to Durkheim’s “electricity” derived through “closeness” starting as an “impulse” and collectively enhanced into an “avalanche.” While not all rock bands possess cross-dressers, extremely distorted guitars and mosh pits, these particular characteristics are hardly uncommon. By habitually, consciously and

unconsciously employing these and a variety of similarly effervescent expressions as well as acquiring a shared and specialized knowledge about the music, there is created an extended network of musicians, audience, booking agents, music writers and many other types of actors which comprise a rock and roll community. I intend to make it clear that independent and local rock performances have held in recent history a potent ritualistic importance in not only cohering counter culture social groups who often find little meaning in traditional ritual, but also providing an opportunity for these groups to explore, discover, innovate and find acceptance in a corporate body, a communitas, of diverse beliefs and behaviors often rejected outside of this community. These rock-rituals were particularly powerful, frequent, chronicled and heavily attended on a local level in numerous nightclubs in the 1980s and early-to-mid 1990s before many of the bands comprising an “independent” rock and roll community were discovered by major record labels.7 While this paper will concentrate on performances in the Boston area during this period, where as both a musician and a music journalist8 I was, in the Malinowskian


The term “discovered” is used here almost as problematically as it is in the notion of the Americas being “discovered” by Europeans. In both cases what is discovered is actually not something new or heretofore outside the scope of all human knowledge but instead only outside the awareness of a dominant and dominating class. 8 As a music journalist in the late 1980s and ‘90s I contributed articles on music and the underground music community to The Noise, Pit Report, High Times Magazine, The Boston Phoenix and Boston’s Weekly Dig; I served as associate editor, publisher and founding editor respectively for The Noise, Pit Report, and Boston’s Weekly Dig.

Joe Bonni

Page 4


had been a mainstay of the independent music scene since self-produced photocopied fanjournals had popped up with the rise in popularity of similarly self-produced punk-rock music in the ‘70s. local cable access shows. “We” was a sprawling cooperative of fanzines. Beneath the radar of the corporate behemoths. “Who was ‘we’? And why were we so different from ‘them’ (2001: 3)?” It is his answer to his own question that I think provides a succinct and thorough description of the “indie scene” in the 1980s and ‘90s. Azerrad goes on to ask a pertinent question regarding a victory that to all but rock music fans may seem an insignificant or even unknown event. booking agents. described the release of the band Nirvana’s album Nevermind as the moment. a “‘zine”10 which I joined in its second issue. nightclubs and alternative venues. tip sheets.” (as opposed to magazine) were Do-It-Yourself (DIY) publications which were labors of love rather than profit. II: A Brief History of Indie Rock: I Get by with a Little Help from My Friends In his book. underground and college radio stations. eventually becoming its publisher. Our Band Could be Your Life: Scenes from the American Indie Underground 1981-1991. Joe Bonni Page 5 10/14/2010 . mom-and-pop record stores. The term’s history will be dealt with in more detail below on p12. I would be another one of those music journalists who suggests that the early ‘90s began a period of transformation within the history of rock and roll and in particular. quoting music journalist. Gina Arnold. 10 ‘Zines. the phenomena described here are hardly isolated to Boston. found itself at the crest of not only an increased interest in 9 “Alternative” rock is a description given by major record labels to a wide variety of rock and roll in the 1990s that had been previously relegated to college airplay. “We won. short for “fan-zine. The Pit Report. Azerrad asked. these enterprising frankly entrepreneurial people had built an effective shadow distribution. the victors in a cultural battle of sorts that much of America may have been unaware was even being fought.sense. a participant-observant within the community. independent distributors and record labels. communications and promotion network – a cultural underground railroad (2001: 3).9 The success of Nirvana’s Nevermind sparked tremendous interest in independent music scenes all over the country.” Hardly the only two music journalists to suggest that Nevermind’s release in 1991 marked a change in rock and roll history. former Rolling Stone contributing editor Michael Azerrad. bands and fans that had been thriving for more than a decade before the mainstream took notice. “alternative” rock and roll.

The Beat. ostensibly. 1993 Issue #8 Joe Bonni Page 6 10/14/2010 .independent music but also of the desktop publishing revolution. New York and New Jersey. Metronome. to develop unique talent and market new music in innovative manners. New England Performer. Boston alone had at least five other consistently published ‘zines covering the local music scene including. Letters To Cleo. These two fortuitous events allowed a staff of 2 ½ paid workers and dozens of volunteers to write. In a 1993 issue of the Pit Report13 the staff developed a “Boston Rock Family Tree” showing how some 125 bands and over 300 musicians were related to each other due to so many Boston musicians having spent time playing with their colleagues during this period (see digital appendix: “Boston Rock Family Tree” 1 & 2). The Bentmen. 12 An exception might be made for the Bosstones. and The Noise. could count over two-dozen local musicians as part of their “clan” over the years. Powerman 5000. Morphine. The Pit Report was hardly unique. 13 Nov. design. these members had 11 These bands are mentioned because all were popular local Boston bands that succeeded in being signed by major labels and releasing songs which received national radio airplay. regular MTV rotation and became hit singles. often doing 200+ dates/year while still signed to local Boston record label Taang! An argument can easily be made that the Bosstones. a band that will be looked at in more detail later in this paper. the Lemonheads and the Bosstones11 were perhaps the best-known of a host of bands that went from local dive-bars in Boston to Los Angeles with large recording contracts previously unheard of for bands with unproven mainstream appeal.12 That there had been a strong and dedicated community which supported these bands for years long before they were noticed by the music industry there is little doubt. publish and distribute some 15. In Boston this feeling of “indie rock” victory was salient.000 copies per month throughout all five New England states. In the 1990s a number of Boston bands which had just recently graced the covers of local ‘zines found themselves with offers from major record labels and newly developed ‘alternative’ labels created by the majors. more so than their comrades in arms. Although they did not acquire a major label contract until 1993 (Mercury Records) they toured at an unprecedented pace on the DIY level. had already proven themselves to have considerable national appeal before being signed but did so without a major lable apparatus to promote them. Lollipop. Godsmack.

15 14 15 Pit Report.14 Lest this seem like the rant of one particular writer. and it is THE most damaging factor in the band’s ability to sustain their perspective on why they’re playing music in the first place … when people ask why this band or that band broke up [after being signed to a major label] it’s because of the herky-jerky. changed their name to Slower and re-emerged healthier and happier as a local band once again.played in some 30-plus other local bands including a guitarist who left the Bentmen to play with rock and roll icon. high-hopes-to-nosedives impact of being no more than a pawn in the record industry game. and once they went to a major label. March 1995. during this period when several Boston bands were signed to major labels. local band Stompbox dissolved their relationship with major label Sony Records. MTV airplay. These guys have had major label interest and high exposure press but the effect this has on a band and its members can range from elation to trauma. CA and for the most part sever its ties with its former hometown. fame. musician/journalist Joey Ammo wrote. Michael Azerrad notes that. most would not find the commercial success of Powerman 50000. while writing on the band Powerman 5000. The importance of this community leading up to the surge of mainstream interest in underground music should not be underestimated.” In 1995. While questions of “selling-out” and the impact that big-budgets. move to Lose Angeles. personal and emotional isolation and all the trappings of success had on artists who were formally part of a cohesive and reciprocally supportive music scene are not the subject of this paper directly. rearranged musicians. “Virtually every band did their best and most influential work during their indie years. 1995. #24 Joe Bonni Page 7 10/14/2010 . a local Boston band which would soon find national success. an important part of their connection to the underground community was inevitably lost (2001: 5). had a falling out with their lead singer. the fallout will usually rip them apart like a hungry veolciraptor. Regardless of the tremendous talent and possibilities of these bands … they are getting in the ring with the soul-eating machinery of a monster that is bigger than god and for those who don’t appease the beast. #23 Pit Report. David Bowie. In the same year. April 1995.

writing for the Pit Report in 1995 about recently signed New York City band Girls Against Boys. Joe Bonni Page 8 10/14/2010 . Max did indicate that his ‘zine will cover bands on major labels if they send material in for consideration. but. labels and press were reliant for their own success upon the positive response of fans to their 16 Noise editor. held a special session at its annual conference for the independent music industry in 1994 in which a typical major label contract – some 48 pages long – was dissected by lawyers and label representatives for the benefit of a packed room of musicians. agents.17 Additionally. T Max had been already covering them for years (Personal communication. Similarly. independent media’s concerns were not simply ones of insuring the emulation of a pre-ordained model of some idealistic notion of making music for music’s sake and forsaking financial success. fans and bands alike.At the Pit Report we had a standing policy of no longer covering bands once they were signed to major labels. Joey Ammo was not alone in fearing his comrades’ souls would be eaten. T. press. warned fellow musicians.” Another ‘zine in Boston. The Noise has chronicled the local Boston Music scene for over 25 years and in all that time has limited its coverage strictly to New England-based bands. independent record labels and nightclubs. through signing and booking bands respectively. a magazine dedicated to “College Rock” as it had been known at the time of the publication’s inception. and while most musicians and those involved in independent media wished nothing but success for their brethren. by the time a Boston band was signed to a major label. “I’ve seen too many friends become tax write-offs [for major labels]. local artists allying themselves with major labels seemed a Faustian deal at best. the very definition of success is what concerned so many local music journalists and artists. I see the man disrupt the genuine article in so many ways.” Witnessing a wave of independent band signings in the early 1990s and a concomitant “failure to launch” for most of these bands.16 While local. and to many musicians as well. January 2008). To many both in media. 17 Former musician/journalist Jeffrey Witte.” but ultimately all of these authoritative voices found themselves with only limited power to authenticate because clubs. independent/underground press was indeed one of several arbiters of “authenticity” in regards to who belonged within the local rock and roll community and who might be considered on the outside. Azerrad’s book chronicles the careers of 13 bands through the 1980s into the early ‘90s but he is clear in pointing out that these biographies “trail off when and if a band is signed to a major label (2001: 5). also helped define the extent of the rock “scene. in general. the College Music Journal. with a focus on the Boston music scene and bands without major label connections.

These were cooperative constituencies within the community each informing and relying upon one another. the following labels might be considered part of said behemoth: Warner. conforming to a specific musical style is not so important within the community at large. Sony and Universal.a local collection of which. Almost anyone involved in any of the authoritative voices also found themselves acting simply as fans at many performances. and artists often started their own labels and “signed” friends’ bands as well. Elektra or Atlantic. these are subsidiaries of the four (in this case. Conversely. While many “imprints” exist such as Sire.” The definition of an independent band . and acts that were as much performance art as musical performances. Sire. to suggest that these communities possessed some sort of perfectly balanced and uncomplicated diversity would be to simplify the cooperative competition of diverse styles and subgenres of music created within the community.should be considered for this paper as any band that does not have “its records distributed through one of the corporate music behemoths (Azerrad 2001: 5). venues and aforementioned entrepreneurial networks as described above and by Azerrad. there were cliques of fans and 18 “Corporate Behemoth” is an inexact term for certain but not strictly due to music journalists’ predilections for hyperbole. Booking agents played in their own bands. Perhaps most unique about the so-called voice of authority within this community is that any one individual was likely to play more than one of the above roles. Joe Bonni Page 9 10/14/2010 . make up an indie scene . The tendency for media companies to buy one another.selections. folk-rock acts. Musicians were journalists for local ‘zines. Elektra and Atlantic are all owned by Warner).” 18 The diverse subgenres within independent rock make an over-arching aesthetic definition of an independent music scene impossible. 2008. Ten years ago there might have been considered six. EMI. Certainly. Local bills often included a slate of musical styles that ranged from bands formed of all electronic instrument musicians to the heaviest of “metal” bands. mean that any articulation of a list of ‘major labels’ is bound to be temporary and will likely need to be soon modified. and in fact. Fans in return looked to these authorities to offer some direction. along with the fans. merge or otherwise consolidate resources and the massive changes facing the music industry today in light of digital recording and file sharing. who collectively defined and redefined “belonging. As of November 15th.

’” But instead this community is a blend “of lowliness and sacredness” that recognizes “(in symbol if not always in language) a generalized social bond that has ceased to be [in their daily lives] and has simultaneously yet to be fragmented into a multiplicity of structural ties (Turner 1969: 96). The rock scene is a community.that catered to these fetishes. Joe Bonni Page 10 10/14/2010 . day in and day out.musicians that preferred certain styles of music to others as well as clubs . within mainstream society.” What prevents this fragmentation for the rock and roll community is its ritual. a physical connection bound by place (the performance venue) during the celebration itself but also by the notion of an ideological connection when a marked ritual place is not present (as in the reading of the same media.” This ritual place provides ample room for like-minded individuals to come together and contest the status quo in ways unavailable to them outside of ritual practice (1969: 96). in which the group steps outside of the daily social norms it lives under and enters a realm that is far more “unstructured or rudimentarily structured (Turner 1969: 96). a group not strictly bound to an “area of common living” or to strict notions of “structured. While many who are a part of the community find ways to make their living within it (working at nightclubs. the rock-ritual. differentiated and often hierarchical” systems “separating men in terms of ‘more’ or ‘less. a shared knowledge of a musical history that few others can claim) is akin to Turner’s communitas. But to a large degree such local independent music scenes were internally porous and the various cliques fit together well under the rubric of underground or independent music scene so long as the method of distribution of music to fan was not tainted with the profit motives of major industry players. buying records from the same independent record stores. For it must be remembered that the rock and roll community exists. This connection of fans to bands and to each other.and sometimes specific club nights .

namely major record labels. the importance of situating this paper during the period of the late 1980s through the mid 1990s is precisely because communitas . scripted and predictable – and for many artificial . Frank suggests that manufacturers and advertisers “attempt to call group identities into existence where before there had been nothing but inchoate feelings and common responses to pollsters questions (1997: 24). In Thomas Frank’s The Conquest of Cool.) many more are forced to spend much of their daily life linked to normative social structures in order to.bars. at the very least.” missing in much of their daily lives and not realized or impressed upon them through traditional rituals that ring more of hollow. civic events.the various connections real and imagined between individuals in a local rock and roll community . empty habit. earn a living. as tattoo artists. Communitas is akin to real interaction. and the rituals that result from such unique groups as make up the independent rock scene differ from the structured notion of community which assumes traditional. the timing of which is determined seemingly by an amorphous “them” – which leads this subculture to retreat regularly into liminal space in order to recognize “essential and generic human bonds (Turner 1969: 97). etc. at record shops. Frank astutely recognizes the importance of group identities within marketing.” Frank’s “book is a study of co-optation rather than counterculture (1997: 7)” concerned with corporate America’s successful use of the symbols of counterculture America in the 1960s to market individuality and rebellion to Joe Bonni Page 11 10/14/2010 . It is my contention that the failure of traditional ritual be it church services.still existed so strongly while at the same time was coming under regular and increased threat by powerful outsiders. annual and other modal disposal and reacquisition of goods. or even arguably the regular participation in a consumer society that dictates seasonal. small record labels and artist management action. that is the informal practice of being social. Given this.

mainstream America while simultaneously (and ironically) promoting the very music and accoutrements (fashion in particular) of an anti-capitalist hippie movement as profitable and mass-consumed products. and Republican … And usually that means there’s going to be a good underground … There’s something to get pissed off with communally (2001: 9. perhaps one had to be young to genuinely possess youth. One no longer had to “drop out” to be cool. and other accessories. “College Rock” as the music had been known for years due to the fact that these independent bands found airplay almost 19 Oddly enough.” this transitional period from the 1950s into the ‘70s that Frank explores is not unlike the transition experienced by musicians from the 1980s into the ‘90s. Frank explains that instead of creating an identity. Resulting in part from “a reaction to the stultifying economic and cultural environment of the postwar years (Frank 1997: 6). money conscious. one could simply purchase coolness through acquisition of the appropriate music.” It should also be noted that it was during this period that the industry’s very description of the music produced by independent bands begin to change. drummer for the band Mission of Burma. emphasis mine). clothes.19 “The Eighties were a little like the Fifties – it was sort of a conservative era. Azerrad quotes Peter Prescott. politically nasty. but one could be any age to participate in a youth culture. Mission of Burma’s importance in the national underground rock scene reached such prominence that after their break-up the band eventually regrouped in 2002. But Frank notes that what made counterculture a particularly ripe target for conquest in the ‘60s was that it was not an identity that had to be invented by marketers but instead one that already existed with its own symbols. Demand for the band’s original three albums – just 21 songs – has grown so steadily that Matador Records re-released the band’s original catalog in March of 2008. and slang (1997: 26). Joe Bonni Page 12 10/14/2010 . marketers in the ‘60s turned instead to suggesting that the ‘60s counter-culture identity was one that anyone could aspire too. a seminal underground rock band from Boston whose short career (1979-1983) nevertheless influenced countless bands over the ensuing years as well as countless covers of their music. music.

gave way to a less age-restrictive moniker. flew in the face of the burgeoning complacency. where the “high and the low” were “leveled” (1974: 307). a means of binding diversities together and overcoming cleavages (1974:316) … it also has a flavour of Karl Popper’s “open society” – straining towards a global unity of mankind tangible as well as in idea (1974: 307). The independence of mind. Turner saw the potential for a long-term sustained example of communitas along the journeys pilgrims made together. ignorance and conformism that engulfed the nation like a spreading stain throughout the Eighties (2001: 10). just maybe. the community of those involved in the network that bound bands and fans and bands. the stuff that was shoved in our faces by the all pervasive mainstream media wasn’t necessarily the best stuff. he posits an ideal global communitas that suggests permanence but ends the same article suggesting that his ideal notion of a permanent “universal communitas is still yonder (1974: 326).” In pilgrimages.exclusively on non-commercial college radio stations.” The rock scene.” Like the marketers conquering cool in the 1960s. the fin-de-siècle conquerors of youth culture recognized that they were somewhat constrained into marketing a product called “college” rock primarily to college students. “Alternative Rock. Azerrad suggested the ‘80s also reflected the tensions that America’s youth felt in the 1960s: The American Underground in the Eighties embraced the radical notion that maybe. Ultimately Azerrad’s conclusion about the 1980s is one that reveals a cycle regarding counterculture. but “alternative” – this was an aspiration that was far less constrained by class or age boundaries. While Prescott saw the Reagan years as parallel to the so called golden years of the 1950s. is another example of long-term sustained communitas. In the passage above. “when communitas operates within relatively wide structural limits it becomes. The independent rock community was well aware of itself as groups and individuals both outside of Joe Bonni Page 13 10/14/2010 . the determination to see past surface flash and think for oneself. for the groups and individuals within structured systems. *** Turner said that.

demo tapes. “Approximately what the hippies today would call ‘a happening’ and William Blake might have called ‘the winged moment as it flies’ or. The communitas was shared tangibly through the trade of records. show not the presence of ritual but something else entirely . jobs.S. and unintentionally. This admittedly incomplete iteration of Turner’s communitas perhaps best resembles what Turner calls existential or spontaneous communitas which Turner defined in 1969 as. family. The rock-ritual was the crystallization of communitas for this community and provided those claiming membership in it an opportunity to discover that more important than any conspiratorial (and potentially imaginary) “them” there is still most definitely an “us” (Turner 1969: 97). and conflicts with landlords.mainstream traditional American values ideologically but also wholly enclosed by it in a quotidian sense. and it was present in every major city in the U. ‘zines. and other assorted methods of communicating common ideas and ideals. later ‘mutual forgiveness of each vice’ (1969: 132).but instead adapts Joe Bonni Page 14 10/14/2010 . and bosses. and much of the Western world.” None of these descriptions stray too far from the types of forgivable vices that “happen” when independent rock fans and musicians take flight and dance and drink and escape into a liminal world for a few hours before returning to school. We are now feeling our way into the crux of the problem for this paper or any examination of ritual: what does the very term “ritual” mean? What does it define? What acts are outside its definition and might be better described as habit or routine? What is a ritual and what does ritual do? Here we are tasked with assembling an understanding of ritual that does not stray too far from the diverse and often contentious analyses of ritual from Durkheim to today – lest our analyses be rendered so far from any established understanding of ritual that we instead.

Rituals are not just idiosyncratic practices but represent in varied ways social ideals to be reached for – in the realm of rock and roll this is accomplished often through criticism of social reality rather than via a specific or “fixed” idealistic representation.” While the term “sacred” is perhaps just as complicated as ritual. what makes a ritual a ritual? In Feasts Michael Dietler. rituals mark. In this last aspect rituals do more than simply offer social cohesion as Durkheim suggested early on. or differentiate specific intentional action from the quotidian. Ritual symbols and meanings are too indeterminate and their schemes too flexible to lend themselves to any simple process of fixed ideas (Bell 1992: 221). require the external consent of participants while simultaneously tolerating a fair degree of internal resistance. we might better pose the question. “venues. Rituals both reify beliefs as well as play a role in creating those beliefs. Instead. of necessity. quite literally. states that “rituals need not be necessarily sacred in character. Rituals are actions that tend to describe or explain socially held beliefs often through symbols and symbolic action. as Dietler suggests. rituals offer a space not only for transmission and reification of ideology but also an opportunity for cultural improvisation and contestation of the status quo. As such they do not function as an instrument of heavy-handed social control.these ideas in order to understand and discover ritual practice at play in postmodern Western society within arenas. when does the regular and repetitive behavior of a self-ascribed community become ritual? That is. with a nod to Moore and Meyerhoff. Ritualized practices. I will be working from the assumption that foremost. I refer to Dietler because my analysis of ritual rejects the notion that ritual must inherently include some sort of religious component or reference to the divine (Rappaport 1999: 25). as does Smith (1987: 109.” where previously no ritual may have been assumed. Rather than asking what is a ritual. Ritual is “work” (Bell 1992: 221). The defining criterion of rituals is that they are in some way symbolically differentiated from everyday activities in terms of forms of action or purpose (2001: 67). Instead. 103). Dietler points out that “the Joe Bonni Page 15 10/14/2010 .

albeit sometimes only temporarily. In fact some nightclubs.that we will see to be most at play with rock-rituals as we later attempt to understand the meaning of this ritual for those participating in it. an axis mundi is not needed for the rock-ritual because among the participants the rules are well known and near impossible to forget due to constant repetition. Indeed.g. The rock-ritual also demands a strong sense of place.resistance.” and then paraphrasing Kelly and Kaplan while calling out to theorists ranging from the Comaroffs to Bell. However. But far more often. Apter 1992. he adds: There is no ritual without politics and no politics without ritual … many scholars (e. there are many specific and well-remembered centers of rock-rituals.g. like CBGB’s in New York City or The Whiskey a Go-Go in Los Angeles are akin to Meccas within the rock community. unlike Eliade’s “sacred center” rock-rituals are naturally inclined to a Smith-ian (that is. But politics is only one locus of investigation in understanding and defining ritual for our purposes. etc. Bloch 1989) see ritual as essentially a conservative authoritarian force that acts to mystify asymmetrical relations of power while others (e. as a specific landmark unique from other spaces. important to be remembered and a link to help maintain communal memory. mystification and Bell’s notions of flexibility and indetermination . in night-club. rock-rituals lack a permanent axis mundi.) perspective of the role of space within ritual. practice-oriented perspective approaches ritual as an instrument of both domination and resistance. Rather than a physical and specific place being important. Where in the Joe Bonni Page 16 10/14/2010 . in city after city. basements. Comaroff and Comaroff 1991. mystification and contestation of authority (Dietler 2001: 70-1). Kertzer 1988) view it as an important historical force for both the reproduction and the transformation of relations of power. It is these latter notions of ritual . as Smith suggested in his criticism of Eliades’ notion that a sacred center is always necessary for ritual proper to take place. This latter more fluid. night after night. the ritual. as an arena for the symbolic naturalization. contestation. sacralizes the place. 1993. Tambiah and Turner.Z. J. art lofts. the performance. galleries. demarcating it.relationship between ritual and politics is seen to be an intimate one. Rock-rituals regularly transform space into place (Smith 1987). instead.

without space being marked as place. misplaced. which can allow for performance to move from profane/ordinary to sacred. basement. the tavern is the temple for a rock-ritual . the band’s performance flawless. but more a random instance of loud music. group marking of space. on a beach without a crowd. transformed to place by presence and practice. when chanted in a tavern they are not … the songs are sacred or profane sheerly by virtue of their location. not architecture. a category of emplacement (Smith 1987: 104).” As Smith describes the role of place in the recitation of the Song of Songs. but there is nothing inherently sacred (or profane) about a performance out-of-place: In a sterile sports arena with only an economic exchange between fan and band (a ticket). is endowed with value (Smith 1987: 28). The space. or what have you are generally restricted. A shared. and unrecognized. they are perforce sacred. stressing archetype. above all.afternoon sports fans gathered in a bar to drink beer and watch football. or perhaps more accurately. accept and vie for these positions according to a shared social understanding of how to act in this place. in the evening a new and diverse set of actors take their place according to a set of shared rules and understanding about the performance. intentional. the whole performance would not be a ritual. misunderstood. he is also describing the rock-ritual. The issue here is not the content of this collection of erotic ditties. While a number of inversions are required to put Smith to work in our project – e. lyrics may be pointed.where Smith’s notions are not at odds with the notion of rock as ritual is his point that there is arbitrariness to turning spaces into sacred places (1987: 105). It is not just the temple.g. but their place. offered to certain actors who know. Conversely. When chanted in the Temple (or its surrogate). A sacred text is one that is used in a sacred place – nothing more is required (1987: 104). Certain parts of the club. but also surrogates. turns it into a sacred place and one where acts not otherwise Joe Bonni Page 17 10/14/2010 . alone in their rehearsal spaces. these performances are not ritual because “sacrality is.

Bell and Smith provide plentiful fodder for setting the standards by which we allow some rock performances to be recognized as having many of the potential characteristics of ritual as defined in contemporary theory. but if so Victor Turner should be considered its builder. intoxicants abused recreationally and also intentionally used for inspiration. with Bell. experiments . The details and description of these specific. but scattered among a minimally structured. but in truth. with Turner at the fore. anecdotal perspective rather than measured. I am aiming for a synthesis of ritual theory. What has been assembled here may seem a bricolage of ritual theory. recognized and shared traits will be investigated shortly. often through methods of satire and criticism leveled from a personal.ritualistic can become so (Smith 1987: 104-5). to seek within them not simply a nihilistic or cynical reaction to the present. Dietler and Smith20 adding necessary helping hands as we work with some common and uncommon materials for the anthropologist: from the folklore of ‘zines to the authorized voices of journalism proper. and etic attempts to order things by investigators likely to suffer from 20 Bourdieu is of course comparing the original blueprint of this construction to what is actually constructed and nodding knowingly. modern practices which Turner hinted at (hippies. Bricolage this synthesis may seem. some successful . but also new. Joe Bonni Page 18 10/14/2010 .at innovating old and inventing new alternatives for artistic. studied or traditionally hierarchical ones. Beat movement) but never fully explored. modes of dress as social markers (with less than consistent emic explanations offered from within the group. political and even spiritual expression. but not incoherent community. that will allow anthropology to penetrate the oft misunderstood and stereotyped practices of modern counterculture movements. but here it should suffice to suggest that Turner. Dietler. one project of this paper is to expand Turner’s ideas on ritual on and beyond orthodox religious practice and show that Turner’s theories are powerful tools to understand not only traditional spiritual ritual.some doomed to failure.

a performance rife with room for improvisation and yet nevertheless full of symbolic action recognized imperfectly by those who participated in it regularly (Bell 1992: 221). Their communitas cohered through the various networks described so far and as any society needs. the performance additionally required a Joe Bonni Page 19 10/14/2010 . possessed its own method of celebration. While it was mentioned earlier that Bell disputes a Durkheimian notion that ritual mainly reifies. and perhaps most challenging. Few of these bands ever made it out of their own local rock scene unless it was in a used van touring the clubs of similar locales across the country. “in terms of its scope. to which they felt a direct. she too notes. bearing some of the hallmarks of capitalist exchange as well as antiestablishment practices (raising questions of authenticity). they coalesce and establish a community with this host of recognizable cultural tropes. innovative bands. Voluntary exiles from mainstream society these “scenesters” may be. and.” And indeed this often autonomous and diverse group of sub-groups. nonetheless. The indie or underground rock scene nationally was a collection of local rock and roll communities less interested in best-selling artists and more interested in mostly unknown. the rock and roll community. visceral connection. Per Smith.” who simultaneously possess worldviews comparable to the interrogator’s own but also possess interpretations and understanding of their community’s practices poetics and performances which can appear strange and incomprehensible (at first). the independent rock performance is the community’s most practiced and recognizable ritual. risktaking. and legitimization. the social cohesion of rock and roll communities needed ritual. dependence.considerable misrecognition without sufficient time spent within the community). I believe. performances that emulate and invert historically similar ones. informants from one’s own “culture. the type of authority formulated by ritualization tends to make ritual activities effective in grounding and displaying a sense of community without overriding the autonomy of individuals or subgroups (1992: 220-1).

in the last two decades.” when discussing heterotopias. it could be a nightclub. inauthentic . been under constant threat of being corporatized . contested. and not a necessary one.” and when underground rock “superstars” Nirvana pushed mainstream pop-music icon Michael Jackson out of the top MTV video spot. This useful combination of a break in space and time in order to provide an arena for the uncommon to appear is suggested by Foucault in his lecture “Des Espaces the music industry and so I would like to provide a brief ethnographic account of the period before the ‘colonizing’ effects of major labels began to intrude upon a formerly independent community. moot.sacralized place for the ritual to take place. [which] are simultaneously represented. There is also temporality. It need not be permanent. “sites that can be found within [a] culture. de-sacralized.and ritual space used in practice will require looking at the Boston local music scene in the late 1980s and ‘90s at that juncture when “College Rock” became renamed and re-marketed as “Alternative Rock. or even a basement temporarily set up as ritual space – but all such places followed several conventions necessary for a minimally proper rendition of the ritual (the details of which will be explored in the following section).or perhaps in religious terms. and inverted … the heterotopia begins to function at full capacity when men arrive at a sort of absolute break with their traditional time (1967/1984). space is only one of several possible ways of framing ritual action. made rote. And it is in these places where the community sought to address the hypocrisies and ruptures in their quotidian social structure in manners which minimally would be considered inappropriate outside of the ritual place.” Joe Bonni Page 20 10/14/2010 . 21 As pointed out by Michael Dietler in an earlier version of this paper. A brief description and analysis of the networks – of communitas in action . for example: a break in quotidian temporal patterns can be a very effective marker of ritual whatever the spatial setting. and at worse forbidden or punished both legalistically and through various forms of social ostracization.21 These unique rituals have.

The Butthole Surfers visited frequently the liminal space provided by Dr. noting the deep concerns he had in regards to its recreational use as well as the high hopes he had for its potential in psychoanalysis as well as its potential for “mystical experience. the Butthole Surfers were the real deal (Azerrad 2001: 275). we tried to get out onstage. #77 Chemist Dr.” Vocalist and guitarist Lee Ranaldo of the band Sonic Youth. And those guys [the ‘Surfers] were.” Later in life Hoffman would reflect on the drug’s various uses in his book. then in the future this problem child could become a wonder child (1980: 3). and a naked dancer short-circuiting every last brain cell of every last member of the audience. in medical practice and in conjunction with meditation. They were a band ultimately destined for commercial success although few would have predicted it at the time. for visionary breakthroughs to a deeper. under suitable conditions. there was no dividing line between the two (Azerrad 2001: 284). strobes. LSD: My Problem Child. Azerrad described them as “always up for a good submersion in the fetid cesspool of the psyche … a reminder that the underground was the rightful preserve of some of culture’s most bizarre manifestations (2001: 275).” . With vocals hollered incomprehensibly through bullhorns. When we came offstage we weren’t drug addled freaks. wild jungle-drumming summoning up an unholy blend of violence and lust. everyday consciousness. Albert Hoffman’s accidental ingestion in 1943 of a compound he had developed five years earlier. The Butthole Surfers were. September.” By all accounts. and they were maniacs. who were fans. gory films. perhaps. bassist/guitarist for the Boston band Slaughter Shack 22 In 1989 I attended a performance by the Butthole Surfers.III: Turning Taverns into Temples: The Immaculate Contraption “After a good Butthole Surfers show my friends and I unwind by getting tribal tattoos. is the first recorded “Acid trip. Onstage. said about them. 22 23 Tattoo spread in The Noise. Hoffman’s “problem child”23 and the ‘Surfers recognized exactly what someone under the influence of psychedelic drugs needed to hear. more comprehensive reality than that perceived by our rational. the Grateful Dead. Lysergic Acid – 25.Deb Scott. dry-ice foggers. offstage.” Joe Bonni Page 21 10/14/2010 . kindred spirits and often shared the stage with the ‘Surfers. “Whatever insanities we [Sonic Youth’s members] had.” It was his belief “that if people would learn to use LSD's vision-inducing capability more wisely. punk rock’s awful answer to the 1960s psychedelic rock gurus. 1988.

was filled to capacity – over 1000 patrons. all bets were off. and for some. Most in attendance could not see the stage clearly. naked (and pretty furious) woman to let me know that the stage was on fire.” A friend of mine pulled my attention away from the pretty. as suggested in the opening quote of this section. torn fishnets. it was. Some sort of Joe Bonni Page 22 10/14/2010 . nor stilettos or combat boots suggest a specific sex – in this effort to mark themselves as legitimately belonging in this liminal space. mismatched period/vintage wear and overtly erotic accoutrements ranging from corsets to stilettos. Her dilated pupils hinted at her psychological state and she wanted back in the crowd.At the Butthole Surfer’s show in 1989. the norms of the outside world were oft inverted and ignored in the ritual space of the rock club and the congregants were free to innovate. the club. One should not assume however that the terms warrior or princess. She wanted to “surf. clothes or no clothes – seemingly preferring the latter. a way of commemorating one’s participation in the ritual. The Channel. Body-piercings and exaggerated make-up along with gravity-defying hairstyles were all par for the course here (but not required). she fought them. And indeed. Costuming for the event was important to many in order to mark themselves clearly as congregants for the event. tattoos were a common manner of marking oneself as belonging. but this was not a major problem because what took place on stage was only one part of the performance .so much of the event was actually the audience’s reaction and creation. The guards had draped a jacket over the woman in a futile attempt at decorum. Urban warriors draped in leather jackets and combat boots wearing wallets and jewelry adorned with chains and spikes swayed in the smoke filled room alongside punk rock princesses dressed in remnants of high fashion. now defunct. At one point during the performance security guards carried a naked woman out of the crowd towards offices at the far end of the club. and. experiment and compete with one another while distinguishing themselves.

both of these bands shared one very important element in their rituals for social refugees: the space. 25 Pit Report Nov. the other natives to the northeast. The band that opened that day for the ‘Surfers was a local Boston band called The Zulus. “affectionately called ‘The King’ by his bandmates.flammable liquid had been sprayed on the drum kit and lit. Despite radically different aesthetics in each celebrant’s performance of the ritual. Lead singer Larry Bangor’s voice was one of the finest in the city24 and Rich Gilbert was arguably the Boston rock scene’s most talented guitarist in the 1980s and ‘90s. It perhaps isn’t surprising that Deb Scott (quoted at the opening of this section) would celebrate after such an event by marking her body permanently. performed each Easter and receiving rave reviews from local press outlets to Rolling Stone magazine.000 spectators or more. the congregants still knew their place. 1993. They would not find the same commercial success as their comrades from the Lone Star State but they did reach local critical acclaim and the band’s guitarist. would turn out to be one of the ego band members in the aforementioned Boston Rock Family Tree. Flames were shooting up from drums and cymbals as gear was kicked over in an effort to both extinguish the flames and bring a raucous end to an unforgettable show. one from the deserts of the southwest. Rich Gilbert. Larry Bangor shined as Jesus in the 1991 inaugural performance.that is to make their particular and distinct brand of music while still remaining a recognizable rock band . whether the calculated chaos of the ‘Surfers or the careful compositions of the Zulus.and the fans possessed a knowledge of how to maneuver in a regulated 24 In a local Boston rock production of Jesus Christ Superstar. The Butthole Surfers hailed from Texas and ten years later would be headlining arenas around the country with capacities of 15. both bands. knew their place and roles within the venue. #8 Joe Bonni Page 23 10/14/2010 .”25 However. Where the Butthole Surfers relied on chaos. The bands possessed the ability to manipulate an understood system to their specific advantages . In their very divergent approaches to rock and roll. the Zulus were a technically exacting band.

shopping and even working at certain places) and through ritual practice where this habitus found its most potent expression.26 That is. came together regularly “without being in any way the product of obedience to rules … collectively orchestrated without being the product of the organizing action of a conductor (Bourdieu 1990: 53).but irregular structuring structure (Bourdieu 1977: 72). but a system that is consistently recreated and innovated. I see Bourdieu’s notion of habitus as an apt description of the unique set of practices broadly 26 Bourdieu also suggests that in order for a “musical composition.” As mentioned earlier regarding the definition of an independent band. the naked. both as a result of individual daily practice (reading about bands. their place in proximity to the music. tripping woman was not particularly out of place but neither was she “on the bill. Joe Bonni Page 24 10/14/2010 . Mutually understood behavior in which there is also room for innovation and improvisation. those who participate in rock-rituals posses a knowledge and conviction that they are part of an understood. dance or any temporally structured practice” to achieve “poetic and musical pleasure is to invoke frustrated expectation (1977: 198 n. both physically and symbolically. an over-arching aesthetic definition is impossible – what matters is the fans connection to the band. learning an instrument. Whereas I find Turner’s communitas an apt definition for the common bonds and networks that link the rock-ritualists together even when they are not physically linked at the ritual. As per Bourdieu’s habitus. listening to music. dining. to imitate the successes of past artists and innovate the form in such a manner as to find acceptance among a group which possesses dynamic standards which are still traditionally influenced. they also are creating the event on the fly and taking calculated risks to increase the recognition of their role and level of participation.8.” People who attended independent rock and roll performances expected there to be an effervescent framework in place upon which they could improvise. hang their own sign if they chose. important and useful system.g. e.” I find this term apt for describing the tension that exists in rock and roll as bands try to both adhere to and defy expectations simultaneously. reflecting Bourdieu’s notions of habitus. emphasis his). the crowd are not simply spectators of an event in an arena of understood rules.

recreated and modernized by the ritualists. local bands supported each other constantly in these scenes attending each other’s gigs and indeed. there is a correlative element between the proximity of a fan to the music that is weakened when the crowd is comprised of larger numbers of fans whose primary relationship to the music is as consumers. at any given local rock show. The communitas of an independent rock scenes discussed in this article includes the artists as a part of that communicative community.understood. present-day online communities with a shared enthusiasm. playing smaller venues where they could be easily talked with after a gig. Let me make clear a rather important point about this communitas. The artists themselves were approachable. at other bars.” as Azerrad pointed out earlier. To the savvy “scenester. specialized knowledge and networks of communication which idolize mega-selling pop artists and flock to their arena-sized performances. Although I will make no attempt to suggest a crowd’s size is a causative factor in whether or not a rock performance is a ritual or simply an artistic spectacle. Exchanges of libations between fan and band took place regularly at the venue before of after a ritual performance. a measurable percentage of the audience was always likely to be comprised of members of other bands. Whether one hands their money to a cashier at a mom and pop record store or to a national chain bears significant difference to the independent music fan. tattoo parlors. a point which separates the rock and roll communities of the 1980s and early ‘90s from say.) and even at other rituals – viz. record shops. A poet might suggest that communitas functions as a shared heart or spirit among the ritualists and habitus shared body and mind. the knowledge that the independent record purchased came to a local Joe Bonni Page 25 10/14/2010 . local “hang-outs” (book stores. at post ritual “feasts” (keg parties and barbecues for example) and outside the ritual place as congregants and celebrant often met each other as equals on the job. etc.

I studied rudimentary percussion for 14 years in drum corps. Joe Bonni Page 26 10/14/2010 . perhaps Boston’s most successful independent hard-core band. I conducted a band and taught high school music and general music for grades K-12 for two years. All those involved in maintaining these intertwining networks – networks which provided both the recordings produced by artists (who. “I went to BU Music school for classical piano. seeing clearly the facial expressions of band members and oft times walking away covered in the spilt beer. bore enough significance that bands were willing to see little profit on these record sales while independent record store owners generally scraped by as compared to their corporate competitors.” 27 A “cover charge” is the cost of admission into a nightclub. explained to the Pit Report that before touring claimed his life. MA] for a year – taught music and piano. sweat and spit of performers and fans alike were goals and expectations from these performances. unlike many major label brethren were saddled with nary a limitation placed on their creativity other than financial limitations) and the live shows . conscious choices to participate in these rituals and forego more traditional. and less dangerous events.record store through direct efforts of the band and its network. almost always fans of independent music themselves.made sacrifices. as a result of demand by the fans and their networks. more socially acceptable. three stories above the band in a sterile sports arena. the local record shop’s employees. I taught music in Stoneham [a middle class suburb of Boston. Feeling the fire from the stage. Jesse “Jet” Crandall. could hardly claim living wages and the fans themselves would attend local shows on a repeated basis paying cover charges27 and buying marked up drinks for the sheer pleasure of being front and center in an intimate setting rather than 200 feet away. I got a degree in music education. literally a charge covering the basic costs of the club. frontman for “Sam Black Church” (named after the small West Virginian town from where most of the band members hailed).

29 Whether well-managed nightclub. usually alcohol but often other licit and illicit mind altering substances: caffeine. loft. or an art gallery. tobacco. cocaine (this last of which is often consumed in bathrooms in an officially – that is legally – unsanctioned manner. #24 Unitarian churches in urban centers have often been receptive to hosting ‘straight-edge’ hardcore punk rock shows. and. if not most. added. power drinks. there is the “floor. The Gillmore Girls. which without. Whether club. but nevertheless a practice which is common knowledge to many. and remaking. marijuana. rearrangement. frequently a basement or a warehouse loft-space. sometimes a small theater. There is a stage where bands (celebrants) are expected to perform. “And now he teaches us. hallucinogens. Ground zero for this combination of communitas and habitus was the performance space. dining areas. it was impossible for the ritual to take place. usually a nightclub. or an impromptu basement house party.” 28 Jet’s walking away from a potential middle class lifestyle and the inversion of his classical musical training to create a signature (and yet recognizable) style of hard rock was not an uncommon example of the camaraderie which could be regularly found in the rock and roll community. celebrants and congregants). and once established. The ‘straight-edge’ movement was a subculture of punk rock that disavowed drugs and alcohol (as in “straight as an arrow”) and found a strange bedfellow with the often progressive Unitarian Universalist Church. While the building. the structure where the ritual takes place may have many other areas that could be noted – offices. Ben. basement.” that is a dance-floor. April 1995. interestingly enough on more than a few occasions.Jet’s brother and bandmate. Joe Bonni Page 27 10/14/2010 . or in the case of informal shows at lofts or 28 29 Joe Bonni. all involved were aware of some very basic arrangements. In Boston the First Parish Cambridge Unitarian Universalist Church was home to many hardcore shows and Philadelphia’s First Unitarian Church still hosts rock and roll events and has become so well known for its rock concerts that they were referred to recently in the mainstream adolescent melodrama TV series. a church. Pit Report. where the fans (congregants) are expected to gather and there is an area for the acquisition of intoxicants. there are three distinct areas generally recognized during a rock-ritual. the very division of space was constantly prone to contestation.

the sacred space for rock-rituals is “closed off from its encompassing context (Comaroff 1985: 208). but there is one other characteristic of the ritual space which is almost never varied except in the cases of outdoor performances. generally do not have windows in such a place that the ritualists can see out of them during a performance. 33 Thanks to Dr. Even those spaces.” And for good reason – that “encompassing context. It is a present absence. the outside world and its social structures and expectations that are so oft criticized during the rock-ritual have no place “inside the small cubicle that serves as ritual space (Comaroff 1985: 208). Joe Bonni Page 28 10/14/2010 . usually smaller venues in. this does not do away with the fact that the environment created by this potential necessity plays a major role in the ritual itself. While a practical argument can be made that fewer windows means less noise pollution into the neighborhood surrounding the venue. literally. All three of these areas are differently marked in various venues and some of the variants will be discussed momentarily.”32 It is the outside that world that is being contested. engaged at a distance and with some hostility. 32 It is interesting to note that the French term for going to a nightclub is. “going into a box”. for simplicity’s sake I use the term “bar” here to refer to those areas in the ritual space where the distribution of intoxicants take place.31 Basement parties and many loft parties also lack window space. Like the churches of the Barolong Zionist’s that Jean Comaroff detailed.basements. whether traditional tended bar. within the rock-ritual there will be ecstatic dance 30 While not all spaces have a “bar” proper. the floor and the bar30 that concern us in regards to understanding a typical ritual performance. bedrooms/living spaces (and bathrooms) – it is only the stage. Bruce Lincoln for this particular insight. aller en boîte. when a rock performance is indoors. which do have windows.33 While the spirit will not be coming down upon the congregants in the nightclub moving them to speak in tongues as in South African Zionist ritual (Comaroff 1985: 208-9). or at least openly criticized.” that is. 31 The vast majority of commercial performance spaces in Boston did not allow a view of the outside world from within. or cover up windows and/or block them in some way. a queue for a keg or a circle of people sharing a marijuana cigarette. there are seldom any windows in the space where it takes place.

height.(e. it is. Those closest to the stage. more formal example. the only line between stage and floor is marked by microphone stands. the tradition of “stage-diving” where fans will climb onto the stage and leap off it into the crowd. At other. Some well-managed and well-designed nightclubs have large stages. a 34 I question whether or not head-banging genuinely needs to be explained even to the non-rock and roll fan. but in case the reader is unfamiliar with the behavior. the show stopped and he was removed by paramedics. On the other hand. quite simply the rhythmic tossing back and forth of an individual’s head and usually torso towards and away from the stage in time with the music and in sync with other fans. “head-banging”34 and the altering of psychological states via the use of intoxicants (both provided within the ritual space and often brought in from outside). ostensibly being caught by their co-congregants and sometimes passed from fan to fan over the heads of the crowd – another tradition known as “crowd surfing”. Joe Bonni Page 29 10/14/2010 . raised considerably from the floor sometimes as high as three or more feet. I once witnessed a fan at a show by Boston band Bullet Lavolta. for example. as they oft do. and therefore most impacted by the loud volume of most rock bands. and somewhat self-destructive appearance of the behavior. moshing/slam-dancing). the most obvious of the three divisions of the ritual space is the stage. The stage can vary in its size. Generally.g. with sound systems and light systems that clearly mark the performers and their arena of action from the floor space and fans. Congregants find in the ritual space and the ritual there a relatively “generous license” in regards to acceptable behavior as compared to the quotidian world’s “coercive environment” (Comaroff 1985: 213). And again. more informal or impromptu events. while the stage is acknowledged as the domain of the band. duct-taped guitar cables and guitar effects pedals. There is. if a “head-banger” has long hair. and degree of distinction from the floor. In the former. do a forward flip into the crowd from the stage only to discover he had dived too aggressively into a thinly populated part of the crowd. He crashed to the floor. generally flail most furiously and there can be the appearance that fans are actually banging their heads against a raised stage in front of them – additionally. No one caught him. it is not an exclusive space. violent. the blur of the action only adds to the ecstatic. the level of participation in these traditions by the crowd can vary.

pointing their instruments in every direction. and spilling drinks. the fans took to the stage.and the difficulty for the band to perform with non-performers stumbling around the stage. like Shootyz Groove. duct taped cables. 36 Not a typo .that is how they spelled their name. so did the song they heard – with each member of the audience experiencing a slightly different and unique version and mix of the music played. 5ive36 inverted the traditional divisions of the ritual place entirely by setting up their gear in the middle of the floor in nightclubs.a wave of congregants washing onto the stage and flowing back onto the floor. disconnecting instruments from amplifiers. Joe Bonni Page 30 10/14/2010 . some bands. In informal from stumbling into band members.Brooklyn band called Shootyz Groove built stage-diving into their performance. effects-pedals and microphone stands might be the only barrier between “dance floor” and “stage” and could do little to prevent enthusiastic . One Boston “noise-rock” band called. knocking down gear. dived into the crowd and made their way back to the stage . embraced such ecstatic dance by their fans. A listener could make his or her away around the performers and as one’s proximity to different instruments and amplifiers changed. bumping into gear and getting tangled in microphone cables and guitar cords being amongst some of the major reasons why stage-diving was not always appreciated. fans who tried to take the stage were met by club security and ejected. unique. What is important to understand about the porous nature of stage and floor is that even though the line of demarcation is not wholly restrictive and differently respected at different 35 The potential liability for the club if someone got injured – ala the Bullet Lavolta example above . While some bands.and often intoxicated . and clubs. A band that combined both rap and hard rock.35 In some instances. like basement parties. frowned on the tradition. Shootyz Groove often closed their show with a song called “In the Ocean” and as they rapped about the flow of water back and forth off a beach. were smaller spaces and lacked such a staff. Even the notion of what a song sounded like was plastic in this instance – familiar and yet continuously renewed. Most clubs however.

everyone. ritual and structure. not a lack of shared tradition. if frequently contested. there is one line of demarcation that fans and band alike know not to attempt to cross over but in only the rarest of circumstances – the bar. the bar-staff. To cross this line is more than simply to employ an innovative strategy. there is habitus at play here – an understood. it is more than a band placing their equipment on the floor rather than the stage (as did 5ive). knowledge of who is ordinarily supposed to be where and when. Joe Bonni Page 31 10/14/2010 . and indeed if the poetry is popular. abstracted calendar (Bourdieu 1977: 105-6). Like Bourdieu’s Kabyle informants who offered “different durations and different dates” for the calendar period called lyali. Habitus allows for understanding of what should be but also for invention adjusted to particular conditions (Bourdieu 1977: 95). However. the participants of a rock-ritual are no more interested in insuring the theoretical definitions of stage and floor than Bourdieu’s informants were worried whether or not their practical understanding of when lyali took place matched the ethnographer’s theoretical. fans and band. It is the paradox of Bourdieu’s notion of habitus that is clearly on display here. encouraging fans to sing choruses of well-known songs with them. the resultant chorus is exhilarating often resulting in fans pushing and shoving for the opportunity to join the celebrant in the singing of the song. In a nightclub. Band members themselves sometimes leave the stage and cross into the crowd. Dietler has observed that. as a social lubricant it disinhibits individuals allowing them to open up to the performers and to each other in a more exuberant way than they might without. Alcohol plays a complicated role at the ritual. or rushing the stage for an opportunity to dive. take their place on the other side.venues by different performers and fans. as an intoxicant it intensifies the effects of the rhythmic music. And indeed the knowledge that the stage is for performers and the floor for fans is understood – understood to be imperfect. stays on one side of the bar while those designated to facilitate the distribution of alcohol.

but hardly lacks in dramatic composition (particularly the band. Moreover. while strategic calculations are still possible (Bourdieu 1990: 53). alcohol is also the primary source of revenue for the venue.” All those participating in the rock-ritual recognize the expected. Additionally. this property of fermentations as a quasi-magical transformation of food into a substance that. An especially bold singer may leave the stage and perform from atop the bar. proper behavior. yet its truth is unavoidable and establishes the most strict taboo (if perhaps the only) within the ritual space – everyone knows which side of the bar they belong on and they stay there (or there will be punishment). there is both tremendous symbolic and economic capital surrounding the right and role of “distribution and consumption of a basic need [alcohol] (2001: 74). Again. it is the sale of alcohol that allows the venue to profit and remain in operation. To be sure. If Joe Bonni Page 32 10/14/2010 . nodding to Dietler’s discussion of chiefs who distribute beer in many traditional feasting scenarios. to also become holistically liminal as individuals enter into an emotional and psychological state that differs from the norm. like the venue. whose dramatic elements will be discussed in some detail) and only benefits from the magical (and/or psychoactive) properties imbued in alcohol which allow a geographically liminal space. a rock show is not a feast. in turn transforms human consciousness. While cover charges to enter the club generally take care of the cost of the band and the staff for the evening. the very act in and of itself a daring move in a milieu where very little is thought of as genuinely shocking. This latter reality is not usually overtly recognized or discussed during the ritual (but frequently a topic of discussion by those in the community when outside of the ritual event).Alcoholic beverages have a privileged role in the feasting context because they are essentially a food with psychoactive properties resulting from an alternative means of preparation that tend to amplify their significance in the important dramaturgical aspects of ritual. augments the symbolic value of alcohol in the common liminal aspects of rituals (2001:73). Bentmen. “things to do or not to do” in regards to the bar.

if the singer annoys the bartender.the performance is well received an impressed barkeep may offer the transgressor a drink on the house for his or her bravado. and libations provide the basic mechanisms. a transformative vehicle. ostracizing or even removing the violator can be expected. the gears that create an event. and thus particularly revealing. celebrants. If someone prohibits others from access to a keg at a house party. Similarly. floor. But if not well received. where a bar proper is not so clearly demarcated. In informal locations. an immaculate contraption. that the bartender will leap over the bar to confront the problem directly. rituals do work. a moment. the bartender’s relocation from one side of the bar to the other is always an action that generally attracts the attention of everyone in attendance and can lead to the interruption of the live musical performance. The Bentmen are a band both representative of many of the broad characteristics of a rock band as well as a particularly extreme and exceptional case. if you will. similar taboos are placed on not sharing what communal intoxicants are at hand. who work this machine as well as anyone ever has. If as Catherine Bell suggests. Through a description of their particular iteration of the rock-ritual I intend to paint a detailed picture of the ritual in action and ultimately to describe what it is that this ritual does for its participants. Divisions between bands. s/he risks tarnishing the reputation of their band and not being invited back for another gig. I have witnessed bartenders become so furious with the way a customer has treated the bar-staff or another customer. Joe Bonni Page 33 10/14/2010 . fans. stage. does not share a bottle of liquor or rolls a marihuana cigarette and does not pass it around. that is. knocks over patrons’ drinks and otherwise makes a nuisance. This analysis will now to turn to a group of performers. then the above describes the basic machine of the rock-ritual. for those working. While in some venues the barstaff is also the security staff.

” Stan Reid. sold out most every club in town over the years and have been asked not to come back to many of them. monkey masks into commentary on the animal within all of us.”38 In the April 20th issue. A ritual object or action becomes sacred by having attention focused on it in a highly marked way. Boston’s Weekly Dig. These are not substantive categories. They are not easily described and defy comparison. This band/performance art troupe mix disturbing Dadaist psychedelia with a ferociously rocking stage show resulting in blistering. Their music is a sonic collage … it’s an aural assault on the ears. Each show is a themed extravaganza with stage design and costuming that could only be described as disturbing and worrisome. a mode of paying attention. undated.37 During any given Bentmen performance. shaving cream. feathered and dragged to the stage to partake in demented rituals. They were a group of virtuoso musicians who also enjoyed a dip in that “fetid cesspool of the psyche. 2001. It is a process for marking interest … place directs attentions … Within the temple. confusing and often mesmerizing performances. 2001 Joe Bonni Page 34 10/14/2010 . but rather situational ones (Smith: 103-4). there is nothing that is inherently sacred or profane. the band may turn clowns wielding cans of shaving cream into symbols of mutually assured destruction. a local writer for the Boston area ‘zine Metronome Magazine described the Bentmen as. and turn lobster bibs into symbols of a privileged class who can get away with murder if they so please. The band’s obvious musical talents and technical abilities are combined with an offbeat sense of humor and irony. Bentmen shows are horribly messy affairs where people get shaved. smoke. “a unique band. Metronome Magazine. and costumes there are two things we should not overlook.” simply by being there. But before getting lost in their world of confetti. the ordinary (which to any outside eye or ear remains wholly ordinary) becomes significant. should become evidently clear over the next few pages. gelatin. From such a point of view. tarred. The first is that the band was an uncommon combination of the calculated chaos of the aforementioned Butthole Surfers as well as the Zulu’s careful compositions. becomes “sacred. The Bentmen have wowed crowds of tens of thousands at outdoor festivals. The Bentmen have long been an enigma in the Boston rock scene. February. focus attention on it. Whiskey Priests: Turning Up the Light Ritual is first and foremost. That they successfully take the ordinary and mark it. of the 37 38 Joe Bonni.IV.

to telling plaintively and hauntingly the story of the first patient diagnosed with AIDS (“Patient Zero”). William “Des” Desmond in a 1989 interview with The Noise. while a complicated perspective on the role of religion in the 1993 Branch Davidian siege and killings in Waco Texas is presented in another song (“The Messiah’s Gun”). Joe Bonni Page 35 10/14/2010 .Boston Phoenix. “We’ve always tried to put a message in our songs.39 They are our biggest friend. revealing: turning up the light on a litany of social conflicts. curiosities and hypocrisies. Organized religion is often criticized (“Holy Man”). an agnostic soulfulness that permeates their music 39 The conservative daily tabloid of Boston in competition with the New York Times owned Boston Globe. “Usually a song’s lyrics will start with an article in the Boston Herald. author Ted Drozdowski wrote in an article describing the band’s 15 year stint as local music legends without ever landing a major label record deal. smart. The Bentmen are a fine example of this sentiment. direct approach the Bentmen take.” The second point that should not be forgotten was stated earlier: ritual is political and in the realm of rock and roll politics are oft explored through criticism of social reality rather than idealistic representation. Yet throughout these songs. failures and repressed tensions present in the status quo. critical as they may be.” explained band founder.” The topics of the Bentmen’s music range from cultural obsessions with serial killers (“The Bloody Benders”) and child molesters (“One Step Beyond”). that the reason major labels had stayed away might have been that the “somewhat tender lyrics about incest and the religion bashing that’s a recurring theme on Immaculate Contraption [the name of the band’s last studio album] don’t help even if they are more interesting than the usual rock or rap fare. and as technically proficient as the band may be. there is a powerful emotive quality. they are overtly concerned with criticizing. Instead. that shouldn’t stop people who aren’t spineless corporate jackasses from digging the hard. Still. They are not interested in representing an ideal world free of the hypocrisy.

anti-operatic ballad and title track of their last album. bar. In regards to the Bentmen’s ability to mark.perhaps nowhere more than in the lyric-less. For it bears mentioning that in all the above testimony to the band’s prowess. Here is a set of musicians different from any other band present on the scene today with a message and purpose that is both unique and standard-setting in its sensuality and emotional impact. the band only released four DIY albums and it was their more or less 40 41 See: “BENTMEN Immaculate Contraption. “Immaculate Contraption. resulting in a unique fervent appreciation of their performances. social criticism and always otherworldly. Wachtel. The Bentmen understood the power and meanings that these divisions and their definitions had within the ritual space and encouraged the porousness of the divisions far more than most bands. Hegel Rock? Joe Bonni Page 36 10/14/2010 .41 The album was described as a “songwriting and musical breakthrough (Drozdowski 2001). The talent and virtuosity of this band are not” in Digital Appendix. a writer for the now defunct Boston Rock magazine. not recorded materials. innovative.” sort. beautiful. far and large the writers are referring to live performances. J.”40 An opera singer’s incomprehensible yet powerful and dynamic vocal scales paired with equally inaudible growled mumblings “sung” through a bullhorn harmonize together in a deconstruction of both punk rock and classical music resulting in the construction of something new. floor. best explained the Bentmen’s particular abilities in the early 1990s. to turn the ordinary into something extraordinary. These songs are sermons of a Just as the band understood the importance of combining both raw emotions with raw talent they were also a band that recognized and utilized the previously described divisions found in the rock-ritual: stage. A. to focus attention. to merge the political and the ineffable in ritual process. There is something mythological and legendary about Bentmen. In a career that spanned almost 20 years. part parable.

the Bentmen would prep a club with an outrageous array of decorations. But he only describes a part of the setting. tin foil. January 2001 #208 Joe Bonni Page 37 10/14/2010 .”42 “They transform stages into something akin to the interior of an iridescent cave trimmed with various stalactites and icons. The Bentmen. a mummy.semi-annual live performances that garnered them their reputation as “grand poobahs of subconscious anxiety. Often including volunteers from local art schools. focused on the stage no doubt. The Rathskellar. akin to an altar. but in their midst.43 This simple extension created a liminal space within a liminal space. as often as they could. “strobe lights. In another show at a much smaller club where the stage was far less marked by the venue. primarily to accommodate a nine-person lineup along with extensive scenery and decoration. the band extended the club’s stage with their own construction of additional staging into the middle of the floor. confetti.” Drozdowski wrote in 2001. but it should also be clear through such metaphor that a Bentmen performance collapsed many of the assumptions about rock shows but could only do so by being acutely aware of an audience’s expectations in the first place. lasers. incense. audience members were provided with the illusion of existing side by side with the band in the fantastic. a ton of feathers and a shitload of ear-splitting heavy rock collide[d] to create a club experience as unrelenting and unexpected as a 747 crashing into your breakfast table.” 44 A jumbo jet ravaging one’s breakfast nook should obviously be acknowledged as hyperbole. 42 43 Joe Bonni. Littered with extensive decoration. not at the head of the gathering of congregants. if temporary. 44 The Noise. broke down the barrier between stage and floor through their stage design. In a Christmas oriented show at the Middle East Club. 1989 performance at the Boston nightclub. but extending throughout the club as much as budget and local fire ordinances would allow. The Noise April. videos screens. world of the rock-ritual. 1992 The Bentmen also extended the stage during a September 9.

even one’s not as extravagant as a Bentmen performance. rock performances instead offer a place for celebrants and congregants to mutually call into question the normal events of their lives and participate communally in potential alternatives.45 to help facilitate a counter structure in which they can explore a world absent some of the confining social structures experienced daily (Comaroff 1985: 227-33). Joe Bonni Page 38 10/14/2010 . the bands. singing. and even being invited onto the stage to be a part of the show. and this suggest that these audiences are not mere spectators but more akin to Rapport’s notion of congregants who are called upon to participate in ritual (1999: 39). Rock shows. but just as likely whenever a particular preacher they identify with takes to the stage.). to be simply spectators seated amongst strangers whom one may never meet or see again. with a liminal space full of “Urban warriors draped in leather jackets and combat boots wearing wallets and jewelry adorned with chains and spikes swayed in the smoke filled room alongside punk rock princesses dressed in remnants of high fashion. usually on weekends. I will here ask the reader to differentiate between the lyrics and performance of the celebrants. head-banging.Z. mismatched period/vintage wear and overtly erotic accoutrements ranging from corsets to stilettos” clearly provides a milieu for a diverse set of alternatives to the quotidian existence outside the club in which some congregants find themselves bound for primarily economic reasons. which. Ritual is a means of performing the way things ought to be in conscious tension to the way things are. stage-diving. etc. Independent and underground rock performances offer more than an opportunity to simply observe artistic talent.on a regular basis. dancing. Participation in Bentmen shows by congregants can vary and will be detailed below. Ritual relies on its power on the fact 45 In case the reader is wondering if I haven’t contradicted myself here by earlier suggesting that rock performances primarily criticize the status quo and are not so interested in offering fixed alternatives and then suggesting here that the rock-ritual does provide room for potential alternatives. a Bentmen show is one of many similar and yet diverse versions of the rockritual they are likely to participate in . What the celebrants may not bring to the ritual. above all. assume some sort of participation from the audience (again. but may include singing. torn fishnets.For the fans. This distinction will be addressed in the paper’s conclusion as well. It is here that J. “Ritual is. the congregants can. an assertion of difference … ritual represents the creation of a controlled environment where the variables (the accidents) of ordinary life may be displaced precisely because they are felt to be so overwhelmingly present and powerful. interacting with props. and do. versus the overall ritual event.not merely watch . that are often hypercritical and rarely preach definitive solutions to social tensions. Smith’s words from the cover page bear repeating.

No one leaves the Bentmen’s stage the way they arrived on it. while at a local bar a complete stranger came up to me and told me that he had recognized me from a Bentmen show years ago – and he still had one of my dreadlocks which had been thrown into the audience. In their last few performances the Bentmen began shaving audience members bald and the band seldom lacked volunteers.” While I Joe Bonni Page 39 10/14/2010 . mud. it would appear that the Bentmen can add such material culture to the list of defining elements that suggest their performances were more than simply spectacle. and the understood divisions of ritual space. despite the frequent lack of clear boundaries. Years later. This author was one of those who received the shaving sacrament (surrendering five years worth of dreadlocks at a Bentmen performance in the mid 1990s). Being invited on the stage usually meant becoming a celebrant.” (Smith: 109) The Bentmen’s stage show physically eliminated the clear boundaries of the stage and floor during many performances. Whether eventually covered in confetti. While there is no assumption that rituals need relics. nor challenged the expected behavior regarding what things one does and doesn’t so in regards to the bar. the Bentmen never challenged the club’s right to distribute and control the consumption of alcohol. however. stage-diving was a rarity and instead. Lastly. Instead. or unidentifiable “goo. What is perhaps more powerful than the fact that fans came ready and willing to be shaved during a rock show. the Bentmen usually controlled who passed from floor to stage. in regards to acknowledging the rules of the rock-ritual. or at the very least.that it is concerned with quite ordinary activities placed within an extraordinary setting.” to take the stage with the Bentmen is to become marked by them. the visual and aural stimulus provided by the performance encouraged congregants themselves to improvise as “packed rooms and copious amounts of intoxicants consumed by Bent-fans [are] a bent tradition (Bonni 2000). the recipient of some sort of sacrament. was the fact that the events were long-remembered.

never read or heard of a club complaining about a lack of alcohol sales at a Bentmen show. already dazzled by the visual and musical efforts of the band. including LSD. The fans at the show. often intensified the liminal experience for themselves even further.” Joe Bonni Page 40 10/14/2010 . indeed entering into an emotional and psychological state that was markedly different from the quotidian. While discussing the transformative and transcendent effects of drugs on sex. marijuana and psilocybin mushrooms. I regularly observed some of the congregation at a Bentmen performance under the influence of psychedelic drugs. the late novelist/essayist/philosopher Robert Anton Wilson described lovers under the influence of hallucinogens in a manner wholly applicable to the state of the ritualists above: “They are quite convinced that what is transpiring is more religiously meaningful than anything that ever happens in the local church on Sunday (Wilson 1997: i). already removed from the outside world due to the confines of the club and its closed off atmosphere.

Every celebrity you see on a talk show has something to push. Pit Report. Every time you see a brand name product on a TV show or in a movie.those 46 A (slightly garbled) line from the 1932 Tod Browning film. The “entertainment” that comes between or within ads run the gamut: brainless sit-com style filler that has no basis on the lives any real people lead.. March. Take what’s on TV. April 1995. . The Noise. . which nonetheless pays to see the ‘freak’s’ various deformities or unusual skills.’ The line is used by various misfits in the film to indicate acceptance of a new ‘freak. Leave Home) which was a clarion call to social misfits letting them know that they would be accepted within the punk rock movement. Joe Bonni Page 41 10/14/2010 . “underground rock protested not just with its sound but in the way it was recorded. virtually everything you see on TV is a sales pitch. on the whole. hyper-produced schlock bands doled out by MTV and commercial radio that. One of Us 46 The biggest threat to freedom isn’t Newt Gingrich or Operation Rescue (not to say that they’re not frightening) but the ever more all-consuming media constantly more intent on guilting and manipulating us into buying anything and everything they have to offer. The “greatest generation” . Aside from the obvious salesmen: ads.Jeffrey Witte.Bentmen. into the makeshift family of performers who are rejected by the ‘normal’ world. the morality plays of dramas like “Melrose Place” which give people a carefully market-researched and designed groups of “friends” to aspire to. in their song “Pinhead” (off the 1977. lead singer of Boston band Bullet LaVolta.” it should be clear now that there was a large subculture. 1988 #71 Preachers and the teachers trying to tell me how to live. rebelling against the major labels was a metaphor for rebelling against the system in general (2001: 9). and clothes and food. bear no relation to what a band would sound like in a club.Yukki Gipe. Freaks.’ or an outsider. some company has paid a huge sum of money to get the product implanted into your subconscious. The Ramones. #24 I hate having to pay money for a place to live. I wanna’ play music. one opposed to the social norms presented to them in the 1980s. It should all be free. that had lost faith in the structures of their parents. people that lied and cheated in order to get said celebrity into you living room. “Flatfoot” Immaculate Contraption There is a message to be taken away from Witte’s rant in 1995. I don’t wanna’ work. We Accept You.V. shopping networks. as well as a team of P.” Combined with Michael Azerrad’s observation that. of their political and spiritual leaders. Conclusion: Gabba Gabba We Accept You. And since the music business is one of the most familiar manifestations of cultural power that American youth recognizes. in a larger sense. etc. Yukki Gipe’s frustration with his inability to dedicate himself to his art due to the practical necessities of living in a capitalist society and the Bentmen’s constantly repeated chorus of resentment from their song “Flatfoot. The line was famously appropriated and modified (the original is actually “gobble gobble” not “gabba gabba”) by punk rock pioneers. a cult-classic dark-comedy/horror movie about the lives of circus sideshow ‘freaks. of the past in general. . Sire release. marketed and distributed. I don’t like workin’.R.

they most definitely can and do come from within. art and aesthetic of the 1960s . But instead. and Madison Avenue’s extensive and successful commercialization of the music. “They only sold 2000 Joe Bonni Page 42 10/14/2010 .anticipated that the second half of the 20th century would. was any expected) but as legendary music journalist Lester Bangs is often attributed as saying about early CBGB mainstays the Velvet Underground. In part a reaction to the waning impact on America of the hippie generation. a more direct form of confrontational rock and roll began to surface in urban centers wracked by economic malaise and racial tensions. It is no coincidence that in this decade and from these troubled spaces came The Ramones and a punk rock and new wave music scene centered on a lower Manhattan night club called CBGBs. environmental crises and technology that seemed to be evolving faster than its creators. Detroit fared no better and England saw its worse unemployment since WWII in 1975 (Savage 1991:108).” Iggy Pop as well as one of America’s first and foremost garage rock bands. The Clash and The Sex Pistols. Michigan launched “The Godfather of Punk. feminism. and with these ruptures came dissatisfaction with the traditions that had failed to anticipate and deal with the myriad complications of a postmodern world. were both at the Ramones’ first UK gig. a host of new social challenges were born: civil rights. Members of seminal early English punk rock bands. These new challenges revealed that threats to social structure do not always come from without (as structural-functionalists suggested). be simpler. after surviving World War II reasonably hoped for a period of calm .by the 1970s.a decade ostensibly defined by social revolution .who. the MC5. The 1970s are considered the socio-economic nadir for New York City post World War II. The outright nihilism of many early punk rock bands made their message and methods untenable for any sustained period of time and predictably lead to little commercial success (nor. deservedly. gay rights. many would argue.

On numerous occasions as a music journalist I attempted to ascertain its true origin to no avail. be they harshly and openly politically critical. non-commercial. and heartbreak.” or any number of other similar variations. Joe Bonni Page 43 10/14/2010 . The evolving independent rock and roll community openly questioned the social norms which so often bore obvious hypocrisies which could no longer be ignored. DIY rock and roll that followed immediately the first punk rock pioneers. For some – particularly the young and artists and individuals otherwise not entrenched in or wholly reliant upon the socioeconomic or political status quo . local independent rock performances presented an opportunity to question and challenge the status quo.” 47 The Velvet Underground themselves were hardly “punk rock” in musical style. suppressed or otherwise accepted as necessary evils to insure social order. perpetually offering new ideas. lust. or simple songs of love. I believe if the late Lester Bangs was with us. “Very few people saw the Velvet Underground but everyone who did started a band. he too might not recall exactly what he said (if anything at all).the existing structures needed to be challenged and if the structures could not always be directly challenged (at the polls or on the streets) then at the very least a dissenting portion of a community could come together and regularly share their diverse opinions and ideas about the ills of the world – agreeing to disagree as often as they found themselves in wide agreement. but they were part of a new wave of independent. providing a temporary escape from a problematic present. egalitarian. even temporarily. It is sometimes reprinted as. The rock-ritual provided ample opportunity to reimagine oneself and the world differently. topics not often given to poetic display in the day in day out 47 This line is part of rock culture mythology. For those who chose to segregate themselves. producing by the late 1970s and early 1980s the very “Indie Underground” that Michael Azerrad chronicled (his book follows the careers of 13 independent rock bands of various genres from 1981-1991) and in which I see the rock-ritual come into being.copies of their first album – but everyone who bought one started a band. eclectic. from normal social structures.

48 “Des Espaces Autres.modern world where one’s career too often relied on assisting unknown proprietors in their quest for profit rather than offering opportunities for creative expression and intellectual discourse.” reached print only in 1984.” “Of Other Spaces. to reinvigorate. work in media dedicated not to perpetually increasing ad revenues but instead perpetually introducing readers to potentially new and interesting art and ideas. There is in the rock-ritual a simultaneous breaking away from one community. However. perceived as failing. play in bands. beyond the governmentalizing efforts of authority in a bar-. the rockritual offers a place for all those who have “bucked the system” in their own ways.” The rock-ritual offers a place for all those who have started their own labels. host commercial-free radio shows promoting local and lesser-known bands. but the opportunity to express dissent and dissatisfaction. basement-. It will be inline cited as “(Foucault 1967/1984). 2001). defining and transforming structures of power (Dietler: 70). and a creation of a new one perceived as of simply having potential. The rock-ritual is useful in both maintaining and recreating a communitas for the rock community. the website from where I accessed my versions is listed in the references cited at the end of this article.48 The rock-ritual provides an arena where perhaps no solid solutions may be offered. for a few hours. art-loft-cum-heterotopia (Foucault 1964/1987.” Joe Bonni Page 44 10/14/2010 . As the only English versions are even “more” unofficial and available online (the version I use here is translated from the French by Jay Miskowiec) it is impossible to cite page numbers. and even to experiment with alternate modes of behavior are available (Dietler: 71). Although not reviewed for publication by the author and thus not part of the official corpus of his work. clearly a nod to the work of Turner. the manuscript was released into the public domain for an exhibition in Berlin shortly before Michel Foucault's death. Van Gennep before him and Durkheim before all of them but simultaneously I am suggesting that the ultimate purpose of the rock-ritual is not simply to bind a new community together: rock-rituals play a powerful role in “creating. to find refuge. book bands. in French. to re-establish “common generic bonds” with likeminded individuals and commune.

media outlets.” I can not help but see a parallel with youthful counter-culture movements of the West similarly in search of an opportunity to “talk” about things that matter – an opportunity they found lacking in traditional media. But as Comaroff points out.” Comaroff goes on to acknowledge that other theorists (Hebdige) have suggested “that youth stylists create bricolages as icons of their own structural marginality (1985: 198).A parallel can be drawn here with Jean Comaroff’s work on the Tshidi. as “subversive bricolages” built out of odds and ends of the very system they contested (bars and alcohol distribution companies. the need for advanced technology for music and stage gear. or any other number of lacunae perceived as existing in normal social structure by these outsiders. ultimately send their celebrants and congregants back out into the problematic “real” world once the liminal space is reopened. Like these South Africans for whom old traditions and rituals were no longer effective in maintaining social structure or offering any sort of cosmological explanation for the abject position the Tshidi found themselves in.” Even if a solution is not found for the lack of sincerity. When a Tshidi describes the traditional Christian church as a “chatterbox. love. etc.” rituals that may be ineffective in resolving the many contradictions of concern to a group that identifies itself as outsiders “are nevertheless a purposive attempt to defy the authority of the hegemonic order (1985: 198). the rock-ritual makes the burden of Joe Bonni Page 45 10/14/2010 . recognition of political hypocrisy and corporate greed. despite drawing “upon the same principles of symbolic construction as do all cultural reproductions. Similarly it is true that these rock-rituals hardly solve the problems they often criticize. talking about everything except what really matters (165). Rock-rituals.). politics. many young Americans (and other Westerners) by the 1980s saw a lack of both sincere explanations for the problems of the world as well as a lack of solutions that appealed to them. religion and ritual.

permitting the marginalized to separate themselves definitively from it. that place. one ultimately bent on exploiting the very things the group considers makes it unique. if nothing else. But it is also flexible enough to allow for maneuver within the rock community itself avoiding simply becoming a second form of confinement and social control. like rock fans.” The rockritual simultaneously allows an out for those unsatisfactorily participating in the “real” world outside the club. In the rock-ritual is an opportunity for its participants to discover that area. identifiable – its music .then the rock-ritual. still being accepted as part of a community. to hold it at arm’s length (Comaroff 1985: 213). if not with solutions to the problems explored in the liminal Joe Bonni Page 46 10/14/2010 . A community with a liminal portal that allows participants to escape from an oppressive quotidian world and return to it. where one is free to make choices and challenge rules while. provides “a system of knowledge and practice which seems to have a secure existence outside the terms of the neocolonial structure. “In all viable systems there must be an area where the individual is free to make choices so as to manipulate the system to his advantage (1962: 133).returning to the quotidian bearable through both the opportunity to temporarily engage in a liminal space where normal social rules do not apply and also by providing a communal space for similar minded individuals to come together repeatedly and embrace this opportunity. day in and day out. feel themselves subjugated by a dominating. perhaps colonizing corporate force. Rock-ritualists have to wrestle with an identity within the overarching culture of the mainstream world as well as one with their chosen community – but it is in the latter group where I maintain that ritualists have more ability to maneuver in a less structured more egalitarian system where there is considerable opportunity for self-ascription.” As Leach pointed out. If marginal communities. the ability to define oneself in a world less cluttered with severe judgment and restrictions. special. most importantly.

then there is no mountain. than at least hopeful. “There is a Mountain” Joe Bonni Page 47 10/14/2010 .Donovan. First there is a mountain. then there is. invigorated and with a sense of belonging which without the ritual would be lacking in their lives. . The caterpillar sheds his skin to find a butterfly within. It is this opportunity to hold at arm’s length the “real” world and hold hands with one’s community that is at the foundation of what rock-rituals “do” for their

P. (1985). Ritual Practice. Bourdieu. The Making of a Counter Culture: Reflections on the Technocratic Society and Its Youthful Opposition. (2001). Outline Of A Theory Of Practice [Esquisse d'une théorie de la pratique. Counterculture. (2001). Joe Bonni Page 48 10/14/2010 . & Hayden. (1992).: Smithsonian Institution Press." http://foucault. "Of Other Spaces: Heterotopias. (1990).C. Wired for Sound. Washington. C. On Certain Unconsidered Aspects Of Double Descent Systems Man. 130. K.] . A. T. Bentmen. December 6-13). A. NY: Doubleday & Company. B.). Boston: Beacon Press. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. É. And Power. Body Of Power. Ritual Theory. Chicago: University of Chicago Press Hofmann. Rappaport. mein Sorgenkind. Spirit Of Resistance: The Culture And History Of A South African People. The Elementary Forms Of Religious Life [Formes élémentaires de la vie religieuse. (2001. Feasts : Archaeological And Ethnographic Perspectives On Food. LSD. New York: Oxford University Press. T. J.References Cited Azerrad. And The Rise Of Hip Consumerism. Drozdowski. (1969). Beacon Paperback.: Stanford University Press.heteroTopia. The Logic Of Practice [Sens pratique. Leach. (1995). Lévi-Strauss. Our Band Could Be Your Life: Scenes from the American Indie Underground. (1997). P. 1963. inc. M. (1980). M.]. [Totémisme aujourd'hui. (2000. D. E. (1999). J. Garden city. New York: McGrawHill. Brown. Boston's Weekly Dig Bourdieu. Politics. 1981-1991 (1st ed. Calif.. E. Boston: Little.] New York: Free Press. Ritual and Religion in the Making of Humanity. Bonni. R. Totemism. Comaroff. (1977). T. & Fields. Bell. Frank. Claude. The Conquest Of Coo : Business Culture. The Boston Phoenix Durkheim. Dietler. Cambridge University Press Cambridge: Roszak. (1962).en. April 20-27). New York: Cambridge University Press. 62 (September).html. Michel. Foucault.] Stanford. My Problem Child [LSD.] Cambridge.

Additionally it is the quirky domain of ‘zines to not always name the author of an article or in many cases to instead allow (often amusing) pen names to accompany an article rather than indicate actual authorship. Given the precarious nature of authenticating authors. AZ: New Falcon Publications Digital Appendix All figures and images referred to in this paper. video files and links to various artists and other persons. along with several audio files. To Take Place: Toward Theory in Ritual. As a result. Additional Sources In addition to the above sources. Punk Rock. Phoenix. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Often. the authors of ‘zine articles were musicians in the community themselves and were concerned about reprisal for perhaps honestly reviewing poorly a friend or rival’s band. authorship. DIY Periodicals/’zines from Boston in the late 1980s – 1990s in Boston used in this paper: Boston Rock Metronome The Noise The Pit Report The Beat New England Performer/Northeast Performer Joe Bonni Page 49 10/14/2010 . (1997). "Pilgrimage and Communitas. A. the specific date and issue numbers of quotes used from these publications are listed as footnotes in the paper itself when such specificity was available. (1987). like issue dates.uchicago. W. the following periodicals (often referred to in music journalism as ‘zines) were also used extensively throughout this paper. Wilson. UK: Faber and Faber. are noted in footnotes in the paper when available and reliable. places and things mentioned can be found at: https://webshare. London. 2002. Sex Pistols." Studia Missionalia 23. (1974): 305. J. ———. V.Smith. and Beyond. Turner. The majority of these periodicals were independently and self-published media (DIY. Jon. Sex & Drugs: A journey Beyond Limits. Co. Do It Yourself). and often the author of this paper was not working from original copies but instead photocopies and scrapbook collections of articles. In the world of ‘zines. R. (1969). Chicago: Aldine Pub. Savage. The Ritual Process: Structure and Anti-Structure. England's Dreaming: Anarchy. pen names were often dropped or changed at a whim (the same author might have multiple pen names) nor would the same pen name always refer to the same actual author (some pen names were shared or used to indicate the opinion of the magazine itself as a single authoritative entity and not a specific author much like unsigned editorials in major daily newspapers).

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful