Episode 35: Ray Patton on the contested story of punk

Ray Patton is Associate Professor of History and Faculty Director of the Honors Program and Macaulay Honors College at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. His book, Punk Crisis: The Global Punk Rock Revolution (Oxford University Press, 2018), is a meta-analysis of concurrent happenings in punk culture and global society during the Cold War. In addition to exploring issues surrounding communism, capitalism, neoliberalism, globalism, tiermondisme and a few other -isms, Ray analyzes not only how punk culture played out in Poland and the rest of Eastern Europe but in the U.S. and Jamaica. He also addresses the significant connection between punk and the immigrant experience.

Punk was created and consumed, but it was also used. In 1980s politics across the globe, the primacy of cultural themes – over economic and political ones – makes for complex controversies. As an enigmatic movement that resists alignment with any one political perspective, in the 20th century, punk inadvertently lent itself to co-opting by an array of political operators; some unexpected groups and individuals claimed punk to further their agendas.

In this episode, Ray is interviewed by David Pearson, a fellow punk scholar and adjunct assistant professor in the music and general studies departments at Lehman College. David’s CUNY GC dissertation, “Constructing Music of Rebellion in the Triumphant Empire: Punk Rock in the 1990s United States,” picks up where Ray’s – by virtue of the Cold War’s end – leaves off. But the narrative that Ray analyzes in Punk Crisis is far from over. His consideration of punk as a response to political correctness and to inequality is relevant as these same provocative themes – we might call them crises – confront us in our current moment.

Ray and David met for the first time via this recorded phone conversation and found that they had much in common. In addition to their intellectual interest in punk, it so happens that Ray once played saxophone in a 3rd wave ska-punk band and David is a saxophonist currently performing in the afrotronik funk band Digital Diaspora.

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