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'Brick Through the Window' Chronicles Milwaukee's Once-'Flourishing' Punk Rock Scene

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Milwaukee is known for its summer festivals. From Summerfest to Irish Fest and German Fest, and increasingly, MKE Punk Fest. The citywide festival celebrating punk music art and culture is into its seventh year. But the history of the punk scene here is much older.

A few years ago, we introduced you to the authors of a project to chronicle the oral history of Milwaukee’s punk and alternative music scene.  The interviews from that project, called “The Cease is Increase” have now yielded a new book that builds on Steve Nodine's earlier publication.

 Brick Through the Window: An Oral History of Punk Rock, New Wave & Noise in Milwaukee, 1964-1984 is the work of four authors - Nodine, Eric Beaumont, Clancy Carroll, and Dave Luhrssen.

"I think that the punk scene in Milwaukee was much more creative than Chicago, obviously a greater city in size. But we had an astonishing number of very imaginative bands song writing wise," notes Luhrssen. "I think song writing was really a strength of the scene here, and I think in that way we were the equal of cities like Boston and San Francisco."

The emergence and growth of punk rock across the country laid the foundation for many other musical scenes to come, such as alternative rock and heavy metal, says Luhrssen. But beyond the musical influence and intentional distance from industry standards, punk rock also played an important cultural role.

The term "punk rock" was coined to label the genre as an oppositional form of music and didn't emerge until the 1970s, according to Luhrssen. Representing an idea and way of thinking outside of social and cultural expectations, to be a punk "was once an insult [and] is now a badge of honor," he says.

"I think at least originally, to be a part of the punk rock scene meant that you were thinking about these things and maybe coming up with some different conclusions as to how you wanted to live your life," Luhrssen adds.

Milwaukee's "flourishing scene" produced a number of bands by the 1980s that had a world-wide impact - such as The Violent Femmes, Plasticland, Couch Flambeau, The Frogs, and the BoDeans.

Luhrssen says revisiting and chronicling this period in Milwaukee's music history - one that he was avidly a part of - has been a gratifying experience.

"Punk rock really never went away, but I see more and more twenty year-olds who seem fascinated by it and then would like to start their own bands and do it over again," he says.

This interview originally aired February 15, 2017. 

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Audrey is a producer, host and reporter for Lake Effect. She is involved with every aspect of the show — from conducting interviews, editing audio, posting web stories and mixing the show together.