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In my Taki’s column this week, “Political Punk Rock,” I pointed out that the alt-right movement so frequently denounced by Hillary and all else who represent everything that is appropriate in American life, bears an awfully lot of stylistic similarities to the punk rock movement of four decades ago: “loud, abrasive, hostile, white, back to basics, and fun.”
But there’s an even more direct connection to rock music history: the “alt-right” label is almost certainly a reference in part to the “alt-rock” monicker.
As the 1970s terms “punk” got too stylistically confining and “new wave” ran into its sell-by date, the phrase “alternative rock” emerged during the 1980s to describe rock with roots in the punk/new wave philosophy. “Alternative rock” was positioned as offering an alternative to mainstream rock stars such as, say, Bon Jovi, who was kind of a Bruce Springsteen with a much larger budget for hair care products.
Alt-rock tended to appeal most to youngish white male fans with 3 digit IQs. 1980s alt-rock relied heavily on traditional electric guitars played pretty fast and loud. Fans of alternative rock tended to see it as cooler than its competitors, even if (or because) it was not as immediately appealing and could be off-putting compared to more polished MTV-ready mainstream styles. It was also an implicit white male identity movement by putting an extreme stress on the kinds of things that white suburban youths thought cooler than anybody else in their right minds did.
Alt-rock suddenly broke through to commercial success in 1991 with Nirvana’s Nevermind album (the title is a reference to the Sex Pistols’ 1977 punk album Never Mind the Bollocks) featuring “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”
After that, “alt” and “indie” vied to be umbrella terms for the intelligent opposition to the musical mainstream. When driving around Los Angeles these days, I often listen to the radio station Alt 98.7. Before it went off the air, I listened to the late Indie 103.1, which featured the amiable Sex Pistols guitarist Steve Jones as their star DJ.
Don’t ask me exactly what the difference between alt and indie is. I’m sure somebody knows, but not me.
A representative alt-rock classic played on both stations endlessly over the decades has been the 1994 Offspring song “Self Esteem,” which works as a sort of self-lacerating Men’s Rights / PUA how-not-to-do-it anti-anthem.
Offspring frontman/songwriter Dexter Holland had been a molecular biology doctoral candidate at USC. (In his 40s he went back to his doctoral program, rather like one of the Alvin brothers of L.A.’s The Blasters is now a comp sci professor.)
I’ve always assumed that the phrase “alternative right” includes a reference to “alternative rock.” After all, Richard Spencer was about 13 when Nirvana’s alternative rock electrified the airwaves in 1991.
Commenter guest adds:
You’re right, Steve, it was an umbrella term. I don’t know whether it was mere marketing, but any name that covers Rob Zombie, Blues Traveller, and Lisa Loeb simultaneously must be a sham. We know that something was the core of alt-rock. Was it REM? Nirvana? I don’t know. But the name is an impediment to finding out, because all it really means is outside the mainstream.
There has been definitional confusion concerning the alt-right, among members and those who just heard the term yesterday alike. It ought by right to refer to either to anything outside the rightist mainstream or outside the mainstream on the right. (That is, outside the normie mainstream, which is the Overton Window, or outside of Conservatism, Inc. on the right. Which might sound like the same thing, but technically isn’t.) But I detect a more precise definition flying under the broad name. I don’t know what to call it, exactly. The populist right? The nationalist right? Anyway, it is eating up the name “alt-right,” which is confusing.
What do you call right-libertarians, for instance? Or neoreactionaries? Or paleo-conservatives who don’t exactly fit the prevailing definition? The alt-alt-right? That’s confusing.
One possible use for the term “Alternative” in politics is to use it to refer to a new orthogonal ideological polarization. For several decades, the central pole has been “left vs. right” organized around questions like how high should the capital gains tax be? But that seems to have run into diminishing marginal returns in recent years.
One alternative reorganization of politics would be to to make the poles Globalism versus Localism. Trump’s old-fashioned Eisenhower-Stevenson-style American nationalism thus would make him “alt-center.”
But that might be narrowing “alternative” down too much.
Update: Commenter “gerold” points out:
“The alt-right 2016 is like punk rock 1977: it’s daring, new, socially unacceptable, inevitable, and scaring the crap out of everyone.”
Written by an “alternative” writer with some rock connections, iirc:
I actually hadn’t gotten to that part in Michael Stutz’s article (or I would have linked to it) at Charles C. Johnson’s GotNews website, but clearly Mr. Stutz anticipated my main idea and deserves credit for it.