José Esteban Muñoz is a Professor of Performance Studies at Tisch School of the Arts, New York University. He is the author Disidentifications: Queers of Color and the Performance of Politics (1999), Cruising Utopia: The Here and Now of Queer Futurity (2009) and the forthcoming The Sense of Brown. He co-edits the book series Sexual Cultures for NYU Press.
"Calling Up Thunder: The Gun Club and the Punk Rock Commons"
The great paradox of any punk scene is the ways in which it can simultaneously foster a sort nihilistic individualism and an often-transformational sense of communitas. This presentation is culled from a larger project that considers the performance of a punk rock commons that emerged from the Los Angels Punk scene of the late 1970’s and early 1980s.
In this talk I focus specifically on the band founded by Jeffery Lee Pierce and Kid Congo Powers that would eventually become the Gun Club. The band was founded in the Los Angeles of the early 1980s by these two mixed race young men whose race and ethnicities have often been glossed over in most of the writing about the scene. I will argue that the LA punk scene became a hub for many dispossessed youth of color though different circuits of affiliation that often resisted traditional identity coordinates. Through The Gun Club’s performance of a gothic Americana and swamp rock style politics it offered a critique of dominant popular culture while opening up a new commons for the disaffected that did not attempt to affectively cleanse vibrant and weird difference. The band’s unique ability to dismantle melodies and performance practices from blues traditions and reanimate them as macabre anthems that reflect the strained conditions of life they emerge from is of particular interest to this study.
This presentation will call on video documentation of live shows, their first album Fire of Love (1980) and Pierce’s strange and haunting memoir Go Tell The Mountain (1998) to tell a story about the Gun Club as just that, and odd and expansive “club,” whose reach was vast and welcoming beyond its own spatial and temporal coordinates, permitting an expansive number of listeners and fans a chance to feel a commonality in their uncommonness.