Frank Kogan

Real Punks Don't Wear Black - University of Georgia Press, $24.95

Real Punks Don't Wear Black is an anthology of some 30-plus years of Frank Kogan's ramblings about pop music and the culture in which it resides. His writings have appeared in Village Voice, Spin and his own 'zine, Why Music Sucks, as well as various other print and online outlets. But to label Kogan a music journalist understates the philosophical and exploratory qualities of his verbiage.

Kogan is the ultimate example of the critic as an artist. His voice is matter-of-fact when he claims the only real punks on the planet are Axl Rose and Michael Jackson, and that James Brown is an "indigestible problem for modern R&B and hip-hop." These kinds of statements are not attempts at making bold claims on forbidden musical terrain just for the sake of it, but to provoke his readers. He draws out pre-conceived notions and puts them under the microscope. It's in this process that Kogan truly shines as not just a critic of music, but of the culture at large.

Kogan is neighborly and unpredictably coherent as he analyzes the manic skronk/funk of no-wave band the Contortions while tripping on acid, or explains why artists must insult their audiences to avoid being "contaminated" by acceptance.

The voice in his head spills out onto the printed page with both style and substance. Witnessing his words in action as they unfold is at once baffling and alluring. Kogan tumbles headlong, explaining the simplest notions by the most convoluted means; bending all the rules your English teachers beat into your head, and reshaping them to serve his voice.

Real Punks balances his half-baked high-school essays with some insightful ruminations on punk, rock, disco, hip-hop and R&B. Any random page throughout the book is an easy entry point, save for a handful of embarrassing poems buried near the middle. Grasping the linear motion of his writing is not essential to the Kogan experience, but tuning into the drawn-out processes his thoughts follow is the key to unlocking a real punk's true colors.

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