Photo and story by / Logan DeLoye Contributing Writer
On March 15, Dan Margolies, 49, professor of history at Virginia Wesleyan University, spoke at MTSU’s Center for Popular Music about his knowledge of the old-time music culture in the train-hopping, punk south.
Margolies opened his speech with a performance on his banjo, to display a southern-punk style. He was accompanied by MTSU junior, George Liety on the fiddle and Greg Reish, director of the Center for Popular Music, on the guitar.
MTSU students filled the room to hear about “punks on trains with banjos” but quickly learned that Margolies’ speech would provide much more than that.
“The youth and authenticity were what mattered. It was about rejecting the norm,” Margolies said.
Margolies told stories of mountain men of Appalachia that helped to fuel the punk movement in western states in the late ’80s and early ’90s.
“Punk” kids would hop on trains and ride them to wherever the train was going. Though very dirty when they got off at their stops, they would play old-time punk music to the crowds.
Margolies told the story of Micheal Ismerio and Andrew Norcross, who were a couple of likeminded kids in California that favored the punk style and the subculture that was being created for the appreciation of music and train hopping. Together, they became known as pioneers of this culture. Today, they live in humble houses in the mountains almost entirely off-the-land.
Ismerio currently owns a record store in Portland, Oregon, where he moved to play music in the ’90s and continues to feed the homeless of the area. He played in a popular southern-punk band called The Dickel Brothers.
“You can say it was a counter-culture revolution… kind of like the hippie movement of the ’60s and ’70s,” explained Margolies.
Margolies said that the stereotypical punk look that is around today originated from this subculture movement. Sleeveless shirts and ripped jeans became the identity of this group to reflect their beliefs.
In the process of rejecting society, the punk train hoppers became skilled musicians. A popular modern-day comparison to this genre is Old Crow Medicine Show, a group that continues to leave the southern-punk impression on music.
Margolies closed by discussing the spirit of revolution and adventure that the southern-punk era represents.
“It’s not too late to hop on a train and join them!”
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