I’ve found punk rock in dingy bars, at big music festivals, blasting out of beat-up old cars. I’ve found punk rock on the radio and on vinyl records, cassette tapes, CDs, iPods, and music streaming services. I’ve found punk rock on left-of-the dial radio, on music videos, and in the movies.
But one place I’ve never seen punk rock is on a university syllabus.
Professor Gregg Turner has gotten the green light to teach an actual college class for New Mexico Highlands University called A History of Punk Rock, in the spring semester. It’s a bona fide class, with papers, tests, projects, and three college credits if you don’t flunk out like some stupid punk.
Turner is a founding member of the Southern California band the Angry Samoans, a math professor at Highlands — and a certified Terrell crony. Full disclosure: Turner and I have been pals for about 25 years. I portrayed the groom in the video for his song “Satan’s Bride.” I’ve frequently done gigs with him at Whoo’s Donuts, where I never made any money, but I’ve been paid with untold numbers of pastries.
When Turner first mentioned this idea to me a few months ago, I told him it sounded like a great one. But deep down I was thinking, “Yeah, wait until the administration finds out …”
So I was surprised — and more than a little impressed — when I got a written statement from Highlands President Sam Minner.
“Like other music genres, punk rock exploded onto the scene to directly challenge the status quo,” Minner wrote. “Early punk rockers like Gregg Turner and his bandmates in the Angry Samoans said — I would say yelled — ‘We’re going a different way and not accepting that music or culture has to be static.’ ”
Minner continued: “I really think that The Angry Samoans were incredibly influential in the punk movement of the ’70s. I listen to the Stones most every morning as I drive to work, but sometimes, depending on my mood, I play the Samoans and get to work ready to take on the world.”
Turner told me that he, too, was surprised when he went to talk to Minner and learned that the NMHU president had a copy of the Samoans’ classic first LP, Back From Samoa. “He’d bought it in 1983,” Turner says. “He pulled it from his shelves with all his academic books. My jaw just dropped.” Minner told him he’d played in a punk band in Missouri around the same time.
Samoan primer: The Angry Samoans didn’t get as big as other L.A. punk groups like X or Black Flag, or as notorious as The Germs or Fear. In fact, Turner and Samoans frontman “Metal’’ Mike Saunders, along with the rest of the band, basically were outsiders among outsiders. Starting out in Van Nuys in the late ’70s, the group soon gained a high place on the enemy list of influential Los Angeles disc jockey Rodney Bingenheimer. It seems the Angry Samoans gave Rodney no respect in their song “Get Off the Air.”
The group broke up in 1991. By this time Turner was becoming more serious about his career in academia. Turner earned his Ph.D. in math and moved to New Mexico a couple of years later to teach at the College of Santa Fe.
Back to the present: It was an appointment with Turner’s urologist, Eric Anderson, earlier this year that inspired the punk history class. Anderson told Turner he was a major fan of The Dead Kennedys and Black Flag. That started the gears turning.
The official class description notes that punk rock was a reaction to “the corporate mass-produced, self-aggrandized pop music offerings that had become standard fare by the late ’60s and the early and mid-’70s.”
The music that Turner will teach (to “explore the anger and rebellion that instigated and fueled the genre at that point in time”) isn’t going to start with The Ramones or the Sex Pistols. According to the course description, the class also will explore “incipient manifestations early on in the ’50s (Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard) and brash counter-cultural outcroppings in the ’60’s (Kinks, Sonics, Seeds, Standells, Iggy and the Stooges, MC5, etc.).”
Also, Turner says the class will “pick apart the historical, sociological, and political contexts that provided the impetus for the outrage and the vitriol indigenous to these different time periods. The evolution of ’70s punk rock to ’80s hardcore and Nirvana will also be discussed.”
And, if he can get a travel budget, Turner hopes to be able to bring in some of his old punk-rock pals from California, who include some well-known musicians he says have expressed an interest.
Turner says — and I don’t think he’s joking — that he’s thinking of requiring students to listen to lengthy sets of recordings by some of the more loathsome prog rock of that era, such as Yes and Genesis, to give the students an idea of what made punk rock necessary.
I don’t know, though. I assume Highlands has strict policies forbidding torture.
Turner’s class will be held at 1 p.m. - 3:50 p.m. on Saturdays at the Santa Fe Higher Education Center, 1950 Siringo Road, starting Jan. 18. Sign up through Highlands’ Office of the Registrar (nmhu.edu/office-of-the-registrar).
College ain’t cheap. In-state tuition for undergrads is $771 for three credit hours. But for elderly rockers like me, 65 or older, the senior citizen rate is $5 per credit hour, or $15. And no, you won’t need a note from your urologist. ◀
Correction: This story has been amended to reflect the following correction: Following the publication of this story, the time and day of Gregg Turner's A History of Punk Rock was changed to 1 p.m. to 3:50 p.m. on Saturdays, beginning Jan. 18.