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Beginning to See the Light On November 7, I admitted I was turned on by the Sex Pistols. That morning I had gone from my shrink to my office and found that a friend who takes an interest in my musical welfare had sent me a package of British punk singles and albums. He had been urging me to listen to the stuff, and I had been resisting; I was skeptical about punk, in both its British and American versions. The revolt against musical and social pretension, the attempts to pare rock to its essentials, the New York bands' Velvetesque ironic distance had a certain deja vu quality: Wasn't all that happening five years ago? When I had first heard "God Save the Queen" on the radio, my main reaction had been, "They sound like Mott the Hoople—what's the big deal?" And the Ramones bored me; I felt they were not only distanced but distant, apologists for coldness as a world view. I had dutifully gone to see them at CBGB's and bought their first album, hoping to be interested in what they were trying to do, but duty goes only so far. I was also put off by the heavy overlay of misogyny in the punk stance. In October I had gone to an art show opening in Queens and 89 O U T O F T H E V I N Y L D E E P S had run into another punk evangelist, Bob Christgau. He argued that people who put down the punk bands as "fascist" were really objecting to their lack of gentility. The English bands, he said, were overtly antifascist, and after all it was in England that fascism was a serious threat, not here. I wasn't so sure, I said, either that fascism wasn't a threat here or that the punk rockers were incapable of flirting with it. I wasn't referring to the swastikas or sadomasochistic regalia that some punk bands affected to prove they were shocking, though I felt that to use Nazi symbolism for any purpose was both stupid and vicious. I meant that sexism combined with anger was always potentially fascistic, for when you stripped the gentility from the relations between the sexes, what too often remained was male power in its most brutal form. And given the present political atmosphere, that potential was worrisome. The American right was on the move; the backlash against feminism was particularly ominous. Jimmy Carter, with his opposition to abortion, hisfundamentalist religion, and his glorification of the traditional (i.e., male-dominated) family, was encouraging cultural reaction in a way that was all the more difficult to combat because he was a Democrat and supposedly a populist. Closer to home, I found it deeply disturbing that so many liberal and leftist men I knew considered Mario Cuomo* some sort of working-class hero—that they were at best willing to ignore, at worst secretly attracted to, Cuomo's antifeminist attitudes. The punk rockers were scarcely defenders of the family, or of tradition, but like pseudopopulist politicians they tended to equate championing the common man with promoting the oppression of women. That the equation was as inherently contradictory as "national socialist" was unlikely to deter men from embracingit. The following week I went hiking in the Blue Ridge Mountains. At the inn where I was staying I took a lot of more or less friendly kidding about being from New York, to which I responded with more or less friendly defensiveness: no, there had been no looting * A candidate for mayor of New York in 1977. 90 Beginning to See the Light in my neighborhood during the blackout, and yes, I walked around at night by myself. Back in the city, in the early morning, my clock-radio clicked on to wake me up. I lay in bed drifting. The dee jay delivered a commercial about a Voice article on punk rock: "A cult explodes and a movement is born!" Then came the news: The West German commandos had made their triumphant raid on the terrorists at Mogadishu. I lay in bed confused. Were the punk rockers the terrorists or theraiders? Some friends of mine were giving a Halloween costume party. I decided to go as a punk. I wore a black T-shirt that read in yellow letters "Anarchy in Queens" (I would love to be able to say I found it somewhere, but in fact I...


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