Friday, February 08, 2008

Juno & Perseoplis

Last weekend I went to see Juno and Persepolis, two very good movies about sass-mouthed, rebellious teenage girls. I reccomend both, but especially Perseoplis, which is very high on my best of the year list. Also worth mentioning: the respective protagonists of each film are punk rockers.

There's a neat little scene in Juno where Juno is talking to Mark, the late-30-something guy who is going to adopt her baby, and he's talking about his past playing in a punk band. "We opened for the Melvins in '93," he tells her. "That was the best period of rock music." To which Juno, horrified, responds "Fuck you, you old wanker! '77 rules!" Well, paraphrasing, but she insists that the 70's punk and glam rock with which she's obsessed is way cooler than 90's indie rock, and they start lending each other CD's of Sonic Youth and Mott the Hoople. It's pretty neat, especially because it shows where we are now, in popular culture, that Diablo Cody can expect the audience to recognize the difference between different periods and movements within punk.

Dennis Cozzalio, in his rather grouchy argument for Juno as Worst Movie of the Year, points out the gap between Juno's punk obsession and the "twee folk-pop" of the soundtrack. Juno tells Mark that her favorite bands are The Stooges, Patti Smith and The Runaways, none of whom appear on the soundtrack. To quote Dennis, "it’s only severely disingenuous that a movie whose main character name-checks seminal punk rockers like Iggy and the Stooges and holds them up as a barometer of everyone else’s taste in music would eschew that very punk rock at every turn, instead making room on its soundtrack for Mott the Hoople, the Velvet Underground’s “I’m Sticking with You” and, to use my friend Kim Morgan’s word, twee singer-songwriters like Belle and Sebastian and the ubiquitous Kimya Dawson. (Maybe Juno’s director, Jason Reitman, surmised that Iggy might put off a goodly portion of the real-life Junos and their 18-to-25-year-old brothers and sisters who have spare change to spend on the soundtrack album.)" I can't deny that he has a point, but I wonder how much of this is a generation gap. Juno loves 70's punk, but she plays quirky acoustic pop songs in her two-man band, which to a Gen X-er like myself doesn't quite make sense. But if you only have two people in a band, and no amps, no drummer, it makes sense to play your punk songs acoustically. And listen to the songs on the soundtrack. None of them sound like "Blowin' in the Wind" or "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes." They sound like punky pop tunes (like those of The Dickies or Buzzcocks...maybe, sorta, a little) that just happen to be played on acoustic guitars.

This is something I've been thinking about lately, a generational difference I've observed between X and Y. A huge generalization, but I'll put it out there. Gen Xers (I really don't know what other term to use, sorry if it's lame) tend to be attracted to sounds. Our hypothetical representative hears a Dead Kennedys song, and instantly thinks "I have to hear every hardcore record! I need more!" Then, a few years later, hears Sonic Youth and thinks "I need to hear more stuff that sounds like this." Repeat for Public Enemy, John Coltrane, etc. Y's are more attracted to songs. They hear a song they like, and they like it, whether it's being played as punk, folk, disco or country. This may be the result of the internet/file sharing/ipod world which creates a less ghettoized approach to music, or it may simply be a generational quirk, or it may be complete bullshit that I made up. You decide!

Persepolis is a period piece, taking place through the late 70's and the 80's, but it seems to take this idea even further. This might be due to the protagonist, Marjane growing up in Iran, where she doesn't have the cultural context to realize that, in the 80's, nobody wore jackets with "Punk Is Not Ded" written on the back and a Michael Jackson patch on the front. She's already living in the post-Odelay world. There's also a pretty hilarious illustration of European hardcore in a French punk club.


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