Punk rock is funny. It occupies a unique place culturally, along with metal (for my purposes here, I’m talking about real metal, not that fruity nose pierce-y, platform boots and goatees shit that somehow gets to call itself metal even though it’s just barf) and to a lesser extent, hip hop. But really, of all these, punk rock is the weirdest one. Punk rock is truly a unique subculture, even in its new identity as the triple A mainstream. Here’s what I mean:
Everyone hates punk rock. Listen to people talk about punk rock and they spit out the words ‘punk rock’ or ‘punk rocker’ with disdain. They roll their eyes and kind of subtly mock the impossible idealism, the style, the fruity bands that come to be representative of the genre (how the fuck did WE end up the subculture with the most dorky white guys wearing their hats with the bill shooting out at a 90 degree angle from their faces?) and generally the notion that punk rock is anything more than a subway stop on the way to a life full of more cool and acceptable pursuits like listening to Arcade Fire and figuring out the best way to sear steaks.
Even when people my age talk about how they used to be a punk, it’s said with a mixture of self conscious, embarrassed weariness and disdain for the notion that anyone could still operate under the umbrella of the subculture. I get this all the time (and by all the time, I mean every once in a while) “Oh, aren’t you the guy from Lawrence Arms/The Falcon/Broadways/Slapstick? Wow. I used to listen to you back when I was punk/in highschool/younger/in college/not yet into LCD Soundsystem.”
This is always said in a slightly insulting way, though people don’t seem to realize it. And I get it. Hell, I don’t want to be identified by the dumb ideas I had about the world in highschool any more than anyone else, but I do find it kind of amusing that people feel the need to qualify TO ME that they no longer listen to the band I’m still in, lest I think them dorky. I mean, uh…jeez, what does that say about how you feel about me? I’m still going to Lawrence Arms shows. In fact, I go to every single one.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Punk rock is youth music for sure and a lot of people DO get out of it, and I’m not self important or naïve enough to think that everyone that ever buys or rips a record I’m on should like it forever, or even at all. It’s just recently come to my attention how completely embarrassed former punks are by their past. It’s weird.
The other two kinds of music that typically wind up as phases in peoples lives are hip hop and metal (now, I’m talking vaguely countercultural folks here, by and large. Not your cousin who listens to Kenny Chesney or the dude that goes to the same gym as you who listens to Mariah Carey). Metal is nerdy, but there’s a pride in being a former metalhead that can’t be overstated. This comes in no small part from the fact that metal is the TRUE music of outcasts. Punk pretends to be outcast music, but it’s so cool that the purported mission statement (we’re just a bunch of losers who are doing something outside the mainstream) never really adds up. I mean, look at all the classic standard bearers of punk rock. They’re good looking and/or cool and have a total ‘fuck you’ attitude (which, from James Dean to Eminem has always equaled ‘super cool’ to the mainstream). I mean, Joey Ramone might have been weird looking, but there’s probably no one cooler that’s ever lived, and people like Iggy Pop, Sid, Billy Idol, Deborah Harry, and so on were pretty much models. The spiky belts, hair and the fashion was always such a huge part of the whole deal that it’s just completely disingenuous to suggest that it’s something done by gross, happily disgusting outcasts. Punk is cool. It’s the straight up alternative to being the quarterback. It’s the dark, brooding version of a ken doll and that’s why (as much of a bummer as it is to ‘purists’ and/or ‘haters’ or whatever) that nowadays there are so many really good looking ‘punk’ bands, including the real big guns like Blink 182 and Green Day. People call them pretty boys and fags and posers but honestly, they’re not any more preening and style-over-substance than a bunch of their predecessors dating all the way back to the beginning of the genre (okay, sure, let’s just get this out there, there are plenty of ugly punks and for every Billy Idol there’s a Pig Champion. Yes. But that’s the sneaky beauty of it. Punk is, like it or not, a great way for the weirdos and true freakshows to dress up and be stylish without looking like they’re copping to being stylish. There’s no way that everyone at the fest just spontaneously likes beards and flannels. It’s just a different avenue for the same dissemination of highly stylized notions of personal appearance. It’s very clever, but don’t be so naïve as to pretend it doesn’t exist, even in the basements and the bars. Punk and fashion are Siamese twins, and there’s nothing wrong with that, all youth culture deals in identity and there’s nothing more concrete than your appearance when it comes to establishing identity).
But metal is different. Even when metal got co-opted in the 80’s, it had to be mixed with glam to be palatable. The fat metalhead with the mullet was NEVER cool and still is not. Metal is inextricably linked to dorky things like video games, comics and Dungeons and Dragons. Metal is made by math nerds who sit there and practice scales all day and night. Metal is a genre that’s even more completely male than punk rock (which is saying something). Metal is, in short, dorky. And as a result, people aren’t afraid to say they used to be metal. It’s a statement of true iconoclasm, whereas punk rock, once you separate yourself from it, looks like a lot of fashion and blind sloganeering POSING as iconoclasm. And that’s kind of the other thing:
Metal has no societal agenda (except for in certain instances to bring the dark lord up from the depths, which is laudable) while punk rock blindly screams about just about everything. Now, don’t get me wrong. I think that’s great. Hell, let’s not forget or overlook that I’m writing this as a 34 year old punk rocker. I STILL identify with the ideology of punk rock and it’s safe to say that I will for the rest of my life. BUT, in much the same way that when you look back at a relationship you were in during highschool, where you really loved some girl/guy and you professed your love to them and wrote their name all over your arms and notebooks and kissed pictures of them and on and on and on, it’s embarrassing, if for no other reason than because you spent so much of your soul on something that didn’t pay off for you. That’s not to say that the feelings weren’t real, just that the emotional investment makes the retrospect a little bit cringe-worthy. I think that’s the same thing with punk rock. Metal is radical, but no one makes overblown statements like “metal saved my life” the way they do about punk rock. That’s the difference.
Finally there’s hip hop. People that really REALLY go through a hip hop phase tend to stay hip hop fans for life, and so do most people, if for no other reason than that it’s the dominant music of our culture right now. There’s no shame in liking hip hop UNLESS you’re dick deep in your punk rock or metal identity, in which case it’s only acceptable to eschew anything that could be perceived as an antithesis to the movement, bro. That said, white kids that are super into hip hop have a very narrow margin of error before they become completely hilarious and embarrassing (I’m looking your direction Chet Haze!).
I dunno. I just was thinking about this because this new record I’m making was written as a real departure, and I think to an extent it is, but last night I laid down 4 demos with Nick and upon listening back to them I was struck that they still maintained an energy that was undeniably rooted in punk rock, and I’m pretty fucking proud of that. The shit’s in my blood folks.
Hmmmm….That sounds kind of metal.