The King is Dead: David Peel & Death’s “King of Punk”

The recently departed David Peel was a shining beacon of vice and decadence during the halcyon days of hippiedom in the 1960s. While anti-war protests and the Civil Rights Movement woke conservative America from its dogmatic slumber, Peel was busy singing the praises of marijuana and getting stoned, releasing the aptly-titled album Have a Marijuana in 1968, backed by the underground hit “I Like Marijuana”. What can I say? The guy really loved his marijuana. In today’s cynical post-anything world it’s easy to dismiss the notion that publicly raving about smoking dope was a radical act, comfortably numbed as we are by the timid likes of Sublime and 4/20 “protests”, yet in the late ‘60s Peel was a legitimately controversial figure and threat to the existing social order.

Given his revolutionary credentials and penchant for shit disturbance, you’d think that David Peel and punk rock would’ve been a match made in Heaven, or at least the debauched, drug-crazed equivalent of it. However, in 1978 Peel directed his gaze at the midnight world of CBGB’s and didn’t like what he saw, so he decided to follow the instincts of his burnout brain and record an anti-punk rock screed to reclaim his rightful place as the King of Punk. Clocking in at an impressive seven minutes, “King of Punk” is the kind of drug comedown and public airing of grievances most hippies never got the chance to share. Proving that his kith and kin wouldn’t go quietly into the night, Peel declares himself the true King of Punk, proudly touting his origins from the “Lower East Homicide” and “Lower East Suicide.” Can a serious crime and/or personal tragedy represent a geographical neighbourhood? They can when you’re David Peel, I guess. The real bread and butter of “King of Punk” is Peel calling out almost every group from the New York punk scene, although he also throws in London’s Sex Pistols, just in case there was any doubt regarding his hatred for punk from across the pond. While his lyrics might read like sour grapes from a once edgy artist losing his monopoly on alternative music, Peel’s issues with punk were surprisingly valid. That is, if you can get past him flipping the bird at an entire social movement. Sure, Peel told the Talking Heads and Blondie “your rock sucks like the people that you fuck,” but he more importantly accused punk of being nothing more than a cash grab, which in 1978 was playing out in major labels rushing to sign virtually any dog and pony show at CBGB’s. For Peel, who cut his teeth busking and performing in New York City’s public parks, being a fringe artist was all about singing “in the streets” and bringing “power to the people.” Was he an aging crank? Absolutely. It’s hard not to admit that he had a point, though. Besides, despite his obvious misgivings for the genre, Peel somehow nails the repetitive nature of punk and post-punk luminaries like the Ramones and the Fall. Not bad for a dirty old hippie. Hail to the king, baby!

Here’s an incomplete list of those on the receiving end of a “fuck you” from David Peel in “King of Punk”:

·       New York Dolls (who no longer existed by 1978)

·       Television

·       Ramones

·       Blondie

·       CBGB’s (a venue)

·       Talking Heads

Sex Pistols


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