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PUNK-ROCK FLOWS INTO THE MAINSTREAM

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Subtlety, melody and popularity - it's how today's punk-rock differs from its direct ancestry.

For example, while Iggy Pop might have bluntly pronounced "I Wanna Be Your Dog" two decades ago, the Offspring's Bryan "Dexter" Holland now sheepishly admits, "I may be dumb, but I'm not a dweeb - I'm just a sucker with no self-esteem." By eschewing depravity and embracing its humanity, punk-rock is enjoying a revival and is more popular than ever.Punk-rock releases on major labels by Green Day and Bad Religion - "Dookie" and "Stranger Than Fiction," respectively - as well as the Offspring's ironically titled "Smash," released on the punk-rock-only label Epitaph, have brought mainstream acceptance to the 25-year-old musical style. That success has come after two decades of musicologists thumbing their noses at the genre, though.

"Punk has always been looked down upon, but its advent was a logical progression for rock," says Brett Gurewitz, owner of the Epitaph label and adjunct guitarist/songwriter for Bad Religion. "Punk came out of rock 'n' roll, which came out of R&B and country music."

Detroit's Iggy and the Stooges is considered by many to be the first punk-rock act, and Sid Vicious remains the most enduring symbol of punk. But the seeds of punk were sown thousands of miles away and decades apart.

The leather-clad "Teddy Boys" who patrolled London's streets in the late '50s on their motorcycles listened to Elvis Presley and Carl Perkins, while the parka-wearing "Mods" who followed them scant years later on their scooters favored the Kinks and the Who, as well as R&B and ska a little later. The two teenage groups both defined punk's fashion sense, and the groups they listened to led to leaner and tougher rock 'n' roll.

Taking that lead were "garage-rock" bands from the United States, including the Motor City 5, whose "Kick Out the Jams" was surely the first punk-rock anthem, who ran with the beat, sometimes ignoring all sense of melody or harmony.

From there, Iggy Pop - born as James Jewel Osterberg - and his cohorts took the music one step further, playing for shock value more often than not. The Stooges' lead gave young punk acts the New York Dolls and the Ramones the inspiration to dip their feet into the untrodden musical waters.

While that movement ultimately led to the "new wave" of rock and pop acts, British teens saw that eagerness was as important to the new rock style as - or even more so than - musical proficiency and started the trademark "anarchic" brand of punk more commonly recognized as punk. They begat the Sex Pistols and the Clash, as well as many other lesser-known acts.

Fans of the music pioneered "dance steps," such as pogoing - bouncing up and down into each other, seemingly to the beat of the music - as well as moshing and slamdancing. The more daring also popularized "bodysurfing" and "stagediving."

As the British punk acts - the Clash, in particular - got more famous, U.S. punks saw the music moving away from its harder roots, and gave it more rock and less treatment, leading to "hard-core" punk, as best typified by Black Flag, the Circle Jerks and Dead Kennedys.

Since then, the style has spun off many subgenres, including blending pop choruses with punk - also known as the "pop-punk" and "emo-core" of the Descendents (sic) and Dag Nasty - and "straight-edge" hard-core, whose musicians and fans take oaths against drug and alcohol use - including Minor Threat and 7 Seconds.

Even more strangely, artists who dared to exploit punk's garage-rock side and met heavy metal head on, like Seattle's Green River, created the "grunge" movement that spawned Nirvana and Pearl Jam.

Further blurring the line between punk and metal, former hard-core artists Henry Rollins from Black Flag, Glenn Danzig of the Misfits, and Suicidal Tendencies all have at least taken turns toward metal. And guitarist Brian Baker from Minor Threat and Dag Nasty floundered in the glam-slam metal act Junkyard before returning to his hard-core roots with Bad Religion this fall.

Some of today's punk artists - such as West Coast acts Total Chaos and Rancid, as well as New Jersey's Bouncing Souls - have retained the British punk ethic, if not its fashion and general musical style.

But the more popular punk artists have found a new sense of melody, as witnessed by nearly ridiculously catchy punk singles from the Offspring and Green Day. And their lyrics usually revolve around more than just the "boy-meets-girl" mold.

"Look at James Joyce's `Ulysses,' this novel that encompasses just one day in a man's life," Bad Religion vocalist/lyricist Greg Graffin said. "There's always something to write about."

And punk artists today are often more than just disaffected youths. The Offspring's Holland is a doctoral candidate in microbiology at USC, while Graffin is pursuing his doctorate in evolutionary biology at Cornell.

The two were also bright enough to spot punk's rise to popularity.

Bad Religion, which Graffin has fronted since he was in a high school, signed to Atlantic Records last year. Punk stalwarts Jawbox, Shudder to Think, Green Day and Samiam joined them on major labels this year. Members of the Offspring are still fending off offers from large labels, but their defection from the Epitaph label seems inevitable.

Keeping up with the demand of suddenly ravenous punk fans also cost Bad Religion one of its founding members, as Gurewitz temporarily left the band to concentrate fully on his music label, which has a Top 10 group on its hands with the Offspring. Baker has taken Gurewitz's place for the time being.

"Punk never reached its full potential before," Graffin said. "I've always felt that punk could bridge out to a bigger audience, and that our style of punk could have that rare opportunity."

But mainstream acceptance does have its pitfalls, such as rejection by long-time fans.

"It's a unique feature to punk," Holland said. "As soon as you get popular, there's a small part of the audience that will turn against you. Hopefully they'll see that you're still the same band as you were before, but it doesn't always happen."