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Let's Put on a Show! Behind the scenes at the 1978 Punk Awards
Back in 2001 John Holmstrom emailed me where I was holed up in Vietnam at the time asking me to note down my recollections of the Punk Awards Ceremony, to go along with the other versions of that night on the site [see The PUNK Awards, 1978 by Holmstrom and The PUNK Awards, 1978 by Jolly.] I did so, but somehow the story ended up falling into a crack before it made it onto the site. I have now retrieved it from that crack and hereby add it to the body of evidence.

The Punk Awards, 1978

I've pretty much managed to blot out most of the memories of the events of Friday, October 13, 1978, the evening of the ill-starred First Annual Punk Awards Ceremony. But I've been suffering from a little bit of constipation lately, and my spiritual advisor has indicated that some cathartic therapy may be in order.

The true story of the Punk Awards will continue after this word from our sponsor:

The true story of the Punk Awards now continues:

I should add a little note about my spiritual advisor. He's former U.S. Marine Corps PFC G. Pyle. Whenever you need his council, all you have to do is follow this simple procedure:

Swami Gomer

(1) Decide on your two options (two's all you get).

(2) Assign one to the index finger and the other to the middle finger of the right hand. (It has to be the right hand, even if you're left-handed. Otherwise the stimuli will go to the posterior part of the superior convolution of the right temporal lobe, and then you'll be getting your communications from the wrong channel altogether.)

(3) Extend these two fingers.

(4) Hold them about five centimeters above a flat, even surface.

(5) Raise them a bit and bring them down fairly hard in a thumping motion. Try to keep the contact as even as possible, not favoring one finger or the other.

(6) Determine which finger "tingles" the most. That's your answer.

Ray Kroc Bites a Big One

It's true that this is a black/white, on/off kind of thing, but that's part of what makes it so beneficial (Ray Kroc's KISS principal at work: Keep It Simple, Stupid). Besides, nobody using a computer, which most likely includes you if you are reading this, should knock the binary concept of on/off. Besides, the Pyle Method is a particularly good tool in places like Vietnam that don't have coins.

But I'm getting off the subject. (Which was the idea.) Okay... the Punk Awards.

By the fall of 1978, punk rock was looking almost like it had run its course. Things weren't quite as exciting as they had been a couple of years earlier, and it was clear that Pop Culture would have to find another Next Big Thing. By the way, what ended up being the Next Big Thing anyway? Rap? Techno? Nothing, I guess. There was never anybody who inspired a whole generation of girls to fling their bodies at the stage in total abandon the way Frank Sinatra, then Elvis, then the Beatles had. In the early to mid 70s there were a lot of contenders.

Slade got panties - Elvis got a towel.

Slade, for example, had a shot at next-Beatledom. Girls were peeling off their panties and throwing them onstage in the UK. But Slade fizzled when they crossed the pond. They must’ve made a little dent in the American Consciousness, though. I remember watching Elvis’s Aloha from Hawaii concert on TV with my mom in April of '73. A gal in the audience handed him something white and he wiped his face with it. Mom was disgusted until I told her it was just a towel.

Punk Magazine was also teetering on the verge of oblivion, which was not an uncommon position for it to occupy. In hopes of keeping it going a little longer, John came up with an idea for a fund-raiser. I remember him being kind of excited at the plan… but then John's a naturally enthusiastic person. It would be a gala event, we'd make lots of money and have lots of fun, publicity for the magazine, hang out with the stars, etc. As he talked about it I kind of slouched down in my chair, the way you do in school when you don't want to be called on. I'm not much of a guy for this kind of thing... I don't think I've even had a birthday party since I was eight or so. This sounded too much like "Let's put on a show." Which, of course, is exactly what it was. But I knew then, as I know now, that it could have worked. (You'll have to refer to the other reminiscences for why it didn't... I wasn't really a general on this thing, or even a front-line soldier... more like an REMF supply clerk... so I can't talk about strategy, or come up with any combat stories either.)

Punk Awards Poster

Well, plans went ahead, of course. I drew a picture showing a lady walking down some steps while buildings fell down around her, and made a ticket with a picture of lifeboats pulling away

Punk Awards ticket: A Titanic Evening

from a sinking ship and the words "A Titanic Evening" written above it. But I swear, I didn't mean anything by it. It must've been subconscious (although I hadn't become reacquainted with my spiritual advisor yet at that point, so I wouldn't have been in touch with that). And none of us thought about the significance of these portents until later.

I don't recall any of my pre-festivity duties. Putting up some of the posters is all I can remember doing. (The thick paper didn't take the library-paste-like sniping glue all that well.) But somebody must've done something, because it began to fall together.

It's hard to say how it would have gone over. Maybe we could have made history and established the Punk Awards as the new Oscar... or maybe it would have been a colorless little flop that no one would have remembered. As it so happened, fate intervened in the form of Sid Vicious stabbing Nancy Spungen to death the night before. Now everybody wanted to be there, but none of the luminaries (or, more to the point, their record companies) wanted to have the suddenly interested media flashing their faces on screen next to Sid's & Nancy's, or to be associated with "punk." People who had said they would participate didn't return phone calls, etc. Or maybe they had an inkling.

I got to the venue early to help set up, and was hunkered down in the back room by the time people started arriving. And for the rest of the night, as things seemed to get worse and worse, I never left that friendly confine, except maybe to peek around a corner once or twice. The "show" itself was a fiasco… or maybe not. Refer to to Holmstrom's and Jolly's versions for the blow-by-blow.

bunker mentality

I just sat and drank beer with whoever was there (Elin, Patricia, Spacely when he was still cool in his junior-Mafioso three-piece pinstripe suit and had two eyes, and Cindy, Spacely's down-to-earth gal, and who else I'm not sure... anybody that could escape the front lines). I sat there feeling grateful I wasn't Jolly, and slouching even more when harried-looking John would come back searching for somebody to do something.

I'm told it wasn't as bad as all that. I'm told that the audience was packed with boldface names (Lou Reed, The Ramones, Chris Stein & Debbie Harry of Blondie, The Dictators, Jerry Nolan, Peter Wolf, Danny Fields, Lester Bangs, Malcolm McClaren, and Harvey Keitel), and that they had a pretty good time.

Mudd Club tickets
I'm told there was a party afterwards that inaugurated the Mudd Club, and that it was a lot of fun, and I'm told I was there, but I have no memory of it at all. I wasn't that drunk, so this has to be a psychological block.

Unfortunately, Swami Gomer only answers yes/no questions, so dredging up any kind of detailed recollections would be very painstaking. And enough pain has been taken already.

Joe Cahill
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