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Ph.D’s and Ethnic Punk

November 20, 2006

First off, two friends just successfully defended their dissertations, and we should all congratulate them heartily. It’s a long and largely uphill process. Our friend Deb just defended her diss at UC Irvine on Friday. Deb works on contemporary Spanish poetry, and teaches as an adjunct here at UMary. She’s still in California, but when she returns there will be much celebrating, with alcohol and possibly Spanish declamations.

And my friend Sunie, a slightly crazy and wildly funny Brit who once worked for MTV UK and has great stories of the original London punk scene in the mid-70s, has just gotten her Ph.D in Victorian lit from the University of Exeter. Cheers to both of these lovely ladies, who have worked long and hard to be on the job market. To quote from Sunie’s email:

“I was sighing to a colleague today that I woke up on Saturday the same broke-ass white girl with no job that I was the day before; he helpfully pointed out:
‘yeah, but that’s *Doctor* broke-ass white girl with no job to you’… So that’s all right, then!”

I’ve been listening to lots of ethnic punk this past week, courtesy of one of my students and of YouTube. Tyson, who has taken a survey course and the vampire course from me, is a die-hard punk fan and has been trying to enlighten me beyond my first wave punk tastes. In the service of this task, he loaned me six or seven CDs last week, which have kept me busy and happy ever since. I’m especially happy with Flogging Molly, an Irish-punk band from Los Angeles. I’ve been hearing their name for years and haven’t gotten around to listening until now. Really great stuff–a full-on punk band with a fiddle, accordion, and mandolin, and with a songwriter who uses traditional Irish melodies and subjects. Really great, high-energy music. The newest release, Whiskey on a Sunday, features a 90 minute documentary DVD that’s a good introduction to the band. They’re certainly influenced by Shane MacGowan’s various bands, leaning more towards the Popes than the Pogues.

And on my own, I’ve discovered a bizarre gypsy punk band called Gogol Bordello, featuring a Ukrainian signer, a Russian fiddler, an Israeli guitarist, and various other band members from various other mainly Eastern European countries. Really out there, but I like them quite a lot, based on what little I’ve heard. Jump over to YouTube and watch the video for Start Wearing Purple. I’ve been reading things influenced or produced in Eastern Europe lately (Orhan Pamuk’s Snow and Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian) so maybe that’s why I find it so cool. Maybe it’s the mustache. I don’t know.

I’m going to explore this idea a little further, though. It seems like ethnic folk music is a good fit for punk sensibilities, and I’m intrigued by that. Perhaps the inherent ideology of punk (to resist or subvert an oppressive government or authority) is just an exact match for folk music traditions based in similar sorts of oppressed cultures. If you’re angry and need to lash out, punk music does it on the same level as drunken folk songs. Both have an underlying political message that attempts to empower the disenfranchised.

Plus they both sound good really loud. Get hold of Flogging Molly’s “What’s Left of the Flag” and see how loud you can turn it up. It’ll do you some good, I promise.

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