This one started as my ode to the twelve year old Hot Topic shopper and it grew into a passionate rant about a genre of music I care very much about.
Punk rock used to mean something. It was a loud and boisterous “FUCK YOU!” accompanied by a gigantic middle finger directed at the status quo. It was a way out for people who didn’t want to dress the same, act the same and listen to the same music as everyone else. It was freedom.
Now, the irony in the whole thing is that it started an underground movement of people who… Well, dressed the same, acted the same and, yes, listened to the same music. But it didn’t matter! Because even within that smattering of Mohawks, leather and eyeliner, things were better than the world outside it. Punk was a haven for people who were sick of pop and of disco and of the blatant decadence of the era in which it was born. It was more than a genre of music; it was a way of life.
Punks indulged in a different form of decadence than the disco freaks around them. Instead of losing themselves in a ballet of cocaine and bright lights of clubs like Studio 54 and indulging in sins of the flesh, the majority of punks lost themselves in the screaming voices of their idols, the likes of which included Johnny Rotten and Joey Ramone. They faded out of the world around them and escaped into dive clubs, the air thick with smoke and the smell of whiskey and the sound of unkempt young men pounding away on their guitars. It was heaven for many.
But before punk became a movement, it was about the music. Early bands that paved the way for the powerhouses of the 1970s, bands like The Sonics and The Seeds, were not as crude and openly anti-establishment as later bands, but they were laying the groundwork for what would become a subgenre that would define the lives of a lot of disassociated young folks.
Whether you’re talking about The Sonics, or The Damned, or The Clash, or The Sex Pistols, one thing is clear; Punk means something to people. It means freedom to be yourself, it means liking hard, fast music isn’t a bad thing, and it means you don’t always have to be a nice person. Some people shake their head at the mere mention of punk rock, thus exhibiting how much better than punk rockers they so happen to be. Those people are dipwads. Punk rock is, as it always was, not for everyone. You either get it or you don’t.
Personally, I find life much more fun being in the category of people who get it.
I can’t sit here and tell you everything that was going through everyone’s head the first time they heard The Clash. All I can do is tell you what went through my head. Hearing The Clash, listening to London Calling and Should I Stay Or Should I Go and yes, even Rock The Casbah, changed me. The Clash was the first punk band that made me sit up and go “Okay, I get it.” The Ramones weren’t far behind them, neither were The Sex Pistols. I’d go so far as to say that The Clash, The Ramones and The Sex Pistols represent the tent poles of my punk rock experience. I later discovered bands like The Misfits, The Vandals and Bad Brains. Of course, even later than these bands, Green Day hit the scene.
The thing about Green Day, especially very early Green Day, is that it harkened back to the Sex Pistol days. Pounding guitar, thrashing drums and an anti-status quo message mixed into lyrics about masturbation and insanity.
Even bands like The Talking Heads and Devo easily constitute the punk rock mentality, though they abandoned the raw guitar and drum combo for synthesizers and drum machines. People labeled these bands as “New Wave”, to help ignore how dirty they felt listening to punk bands.
I’ve been to a handful of punk shows. No big names, no Green Day, no Misfits, no Clash, but good old fashioned unknown bands. Bands like Running On Empty and Los DryHeavers, both local to the Santa Cruz, California area. You’re better off going to a local show than to a big name show; your odds of getting a good, loud and hard show are far higher, since these bands have everything to prove. They’re hungry, man. They want it more. They’re not driven by money or fame; they’re driven by a deep rooted primal need to play. That’s where you’ll get your cover charge’s worth.
Plus the beer is usually better in the dive bars. It’s a well known law of the underground music scene; the worse the quality of the bar, the better the quality of the beer. I don’t know how it works, I just know it does. Then again, it’s always more fun to build up a healthy buzz before you even set foot in the club to begin with.
Punk gave way to New Wave, which faded into Goth Rock. Today, Emo is the new Goth. Gone are the Mohawks and the leather and the eyeliner. Actually, the eyeliner is still around, but the Mohawk has been replaced with hair brushed into the face and the leather and torn jeans have been replaced with thin red ties and tight black t-shirts.
Punk rock has become a fashion; it’s become a trend and a phase that kids go through nowadays. I see a fifteen year old wearing a Ramones t-shirt and I have to wonder if he really even knows who the hell the Ramones are or if he just got it on special at Hot Topic. It’s become less a label for disaffected youth and more a brand for a generation of kids who wouldn’t know true anti-establishmentarianism if it bit them on their reform schooled asses. This, of course, may just be the old man ranting.
Most of The Ramones have died, Sid Vicious has been long gone and Joe Strummer is no longer walking the Earth, a cigarette hanging out of his mouth as he gives the world the finger through his music. But I like to think they’re still with us, in spirit, wincing along with me at what has become of our precious punk rock.
Luckily, though the music may have changed (a lot) over the years, the message remains the same; take your authority and shove it, old man. I don’t need your approval because I’ve got my rock and roll idols. Unfortunately, that message seems lost on today’s youth. A walk through the local mall serves as a thing of torture, as one is faced with a see of fresh faced teenagers asking their parents to buy them the latest album from their favorite bands. The days of liking music your parents were afraid of are gone now. Instead we have parents encouraging their children’s right to rebel against them. Whatever happened to hiding your Clash record in your jacket as you crept up to your room, only to lock the door, toss that bad boy on the turntable and crank it up to eleven? Parents be damned, give me my punk rock, give me my freedom and give me my right to like music my parents hate and fear.
Nevermind the Bullocks, give me my rock and roll.