Tuesday, June 28, 2011

And we're gonna kill all of you tonight!

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.


Boombox-27 said...

Over the last five or ten years, I've found it kinda funny that so many former punks have turned to indie rock (or hipster rock or whatever). Most of the guys I used to go to shows with are now past that, and into Arcade Fire or Black Keys. I think I have it pegged as to why:
Punk and indie both get to have their cake and eat it too. You get to act like you're cool and underground, but, let's face it, it's not hard to get into either. There's no commitment to being in a scene. It's just a way to feel superior.
That being said, as a thirty year old punk, I know I'm better than those hipster dipshits.

Nose Dradamous said...

I'm 45 and wearing a Pennywise shirt as I read your post.

OliCarr@operamail.com said...

top stuff!
wonderfully written.

i'd like to think i'm punk through and through. but i've found ska, dub, reggae and rock though it. i've also discovered a liking for hip-hop (not gangster rap), drum'n'bass, downtempo beats, breakbeat when i'm not quite in the mood for punk.

however i always go back to punk. maybe not the offspring or green day from when i was 15, but something. combat rock was on the other day!

talking of which, Joe Strummer and the clash were very fashion conscious. Joe spraying and making up t-shirts, topper with his hat, etc!

Spanish moss said...

metal heads will creep me out always and forever.


Seagull Steve said...

Great post! I know EXACTLY the tone youre talking about when people say they used to be into NOFX or Dead Kennedys or whoever...I never thought of it as people being embarrassed about the emotional investment, but I think you totally hit the nail on the head. Also, for people my age (30ish), it was admittedly trendy to listen to punk rock in high school...although I was a raging virginal dork, I could still muster some respect from a wide variety of people because I always knew when (insert 90's Fat or Epitaph band here) was coming to town. These sorts of people probably just think of punk rock as a past fad that they embarrassingly were caught up in, and want to distance themselves from it...but these are probably the people who would listen to a Bad Religion record and not listen to a single fucking word. For shame!

Dissent said...

Definitely agree with this post. That music that has the "Energy of Punk rock" is why I love Joe Mcmahon's music, your acoustic music, Frank Turner's music, even Chris Mccaughan's Sundowner. It's why Gaslight Anthem and Propagandhi are punk (aside from the politics of the latter), even though neither of them (nowadays) sound punk at all. It's that punk energy and that punk honesty or integrity or passion or whatever. It's in all that music's blood.

Brendan said...

Nice post.
I wrote my thesis on why the punk lifestyle is such a hard thing to maintain throughout your life. Cultural Studies i read brought up a few points.
1. The youth of the scene don't respect the veterans. The veterans then feel disconnected and stop participating.
2. Punks are poor and people need more money the older they get (families, health, security, etc.) To get this money they must go against their punk ideals, leaving them the choice of being a hypocrite or leaving the scene.
3.It takes a toll on the body. All nighters, drugs, alcohol, physically demanding concerts all become harder the older you get.
Most older punks drift towards making their local community the new "scene" and supporting it instead.
Don't know how true this shit is because academia proves to be far removed from the real world time and time again. I'm sure I'll find out soon enough being a recent college grad who just attended a Falcon show.

Mikey said...

I agree with dissent. People always roll their eyes and say I "only listen to punk". I don't. But mostly I do. It's the honesty, vibe and sometimes energy that the genre of punk just tends to have the most of over other genres in my opinion.

Nico said...

Oh man I hate that "oh you're still playing in a punk band? I listen to indy now" line! Great post.

ian/thoreauly77 said...

Interesting. As a self-identified punk rocker and hip hop head, I know exactly where this combo came from: skateboarding culture. This pops up for many of us at the age of about 36 on down to now. The skaters that I teach now listen to predominately underground hip hop, and old school punk. I mean, these are my 13 year olds! Yet, that same pattern holds true. Now, as a professional educator, father, and all-around grown-up, I still listen to Static Age and get the same chills, still listen to Stakes is High and get that same head nod, and still listen to Arcade Fire, sear a perfect rare piece of ahi, and still beat my high school students in a game of skate.

Punk rock is less about fashion in the end, less about music, and much more about doing whatever the fuck you want without anything or anyone getting in your way.

Nice piece, by the way.

Jamie said...

I think the hardcore scene is more male dominated than both metal and punkrawk. I don't know how more people don't end up being old punks, since it swallows you whole.

Drunken Acorn said...

Chuck Ragan is the reason (at 30) I'm still trying to grow a beard.

coler me bad said...

Im 32 and punk and punk related music is still all i listen to 90% of the time. The only thing that sucks is when you know your the oldest guy at a show. It bugs me because i feel kind of creepy, but im not gonna stop liking some bands just because im old now. When my favorite bands come to my city i go.

Owner Operator said...

there's a metalhead in the parking lot

David Dunnem said...

I'm writing this from my helicopter as I fly over my own awesoneness with no end in site.

Anonymous said...

happy birthday, pop.

Lee Riemenschneider said...

One of the things I've always loved about punk is that there is no fashion criteria. The only fashion I had at 18 and now at 47 is if I happen to be wearing a punk t-shirt.
I haven't found the youth of the scene to be disrespectful (kind of a funny term). In fact, at the last show I had a young guy come up to me to find out what the local scene was like in the '80s. I'm still not too old to slam dance, but I do find it hard to go to late weeknight shows and get up for work the next day.

Tippecanoe said...

in highschool, my metal band would take breaks from practice to play lord of the rings miniatures and magic the gathering. metallica will always be my favorite band. i've branched out into all kinds of music as i've gotten a bit older, but i definitely relate to this. we were all dorks, and it was awesome.