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Listening in circles: Punk pedagogy and the decline of western music education

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This article considers the musical and philosophical education, formal and informal, of early punk participants and suggests that close readings of their intellectual histories yield insight into punks’ larger contributions to musical thought, practice and pedagogy. It offers a theory of punk as a critical, musical literacy that challenges the hierarchical value put on western classical music as the literate music. I suggest that punk writers of different textual genres, such as songs and ‘zines, captured and transformed the sounds of ‘civilized’ stagnation – a Cold War educational system that fed the military-industrial complex, devalued cultural expressions like music and other creative arts, and taught students to read towards standardized tests rather than as a critical art form. Since punk is first and foremost a musical subculture, I demonstrate that formal analyses of the music, at the level of the song, in addition to lyrical analyses, indicate early punks’ leadership roles in developing a critical literary practice that systematically deconstructed conventional notions of musical notation (capturing sounds with a codified system of signs), which puts pressure on extant pedagogical models. Furthering this argument, I take case studies as metaphors from punk productions, such as early English ‘zines, the Los Angeles-focused film The Decline of Western Civilization (1981), directed by Penelope Spheeris, and the Germs’ first single, ‘Forming’, to share the philosophical and pedagogical underpinnings of punk subculture as a viable alternative educational space.

Keywords: 1970s punk; DIY aesthetics; Los Angeles; alternative education; critical literacy; intertextuality; philosophy; punk pedagogy

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of California, Los Angeles

Publication date: September 1, 2015

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  • Punk & Post-Punk is a journal for academics, artists, journalists and the wider cultural industries. Placing punk and its progeny at the heart of inter-disciplinary investigation, it is the first forum of its kind to explore this rich and influential topic in both historical and critical theoretical terms.
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