Notes From The Flip Side: 03.02.2003
Define Rogue State.
It's a Sunday in February. There's almost a foot of snow on the ground. My dog is dozing on the bed. Me? I'm listening to Hi-NRG remixes of pop songs. These bouncy, ostensibly happy tunes sound like the blues right now. There's a sense of heartbreaking loss inherent in them, the implication of a scarring wound, something resonating with unspeakable bitterness and malice. The suggestion of transcendence, of guarded joy at surviving that event, even if we are never again to be whole and carry the memory of that wound with us for as long as we live.
Given that reading, it makes sense to listen to these songs now. Their 120-130 BPMs counter the drums of war, replacing hawkish hatred with a love that persists, that stands in opposition to guns and bullets and bloodshed for a reason that we can't even identify, yet attempt to justify to the world and rationalize to ourselves. There is joy in these songs, a knowing joy which is simultaneously infused with sorrow. These songs strike me as a form of resistance because they look to the future, cloudy and uncertain though it may be.
In the 1980s, when Ronald Reagan was president and thought that jokes about bombing the former Soviet Union were funny and nuclear war seemed all too possible, punk rock represented one of the sole musical voices of dissent. Even when the first Bush was in office, punk rock stood in opposition to the administration's unjust policies and war.
So where the fuck are the punks now?
"It's not my imagination / I've got a gun on my back."
I usually criticize politically specific songs. They don't last; they seem historically dated when heard after the fact, but this does not mean that they're unnecessary.
While most sources would have you believe that punk rock's value these days exists in pop bands encouraging nonconformity through three-minute songs about girls, they misunderstand what it means to be punk. Punk isn't limited to three chords and spiked hair. Punk is, as I've argued before, an approach to the world which can be separated from the musical form and exist without it, a form of questioning which exists in anyone who refuses to merely receive information without examining it.
And as such, I'm wondering where the politics are. Not the songs about friendship and loyalty and carrying each other through hard times; I know where those are. Where are the songs that detail the lies we've been told, that map exactly how far down the river we've traveled since we were sold ... where are the fucking songs that name the names and point accusing fingers?
"Thanks to King George and his rainbow cabinet / Today murder is legal."
There is a reason why political hardcore exists, why bands like Crass, The Subhumans and Bad Religion, why people like Steve Ignorant and Jello Biafra still speak out. In times of peace, actualizing hardcore - the fuzzy stuff, the songs wondering how to make the world a better place, how to express love when no one seems to give a shit about anything but money and status and power - is great.
However, there's a war brewing. Even if NATO and the UN manage to hold together, people are going to die. And oddly enough, Bad Religion's "Heaven Is Falling," written about King George I, still applies almost 12 years later.
So why the fuck are we still singing about girls and parties and mom and dad? If we're lucky, there will be plenty of time to worry about those things later. In the meantime, the people who should be most worried about a war, about the prospect of a reinstated draft, are ignoring it. After all, being an outcast in high school is far more significant than the possibility of dying, right? Who cares about taking a bullet to the throat - the popular kids are more of a problem.
If punk rock is an approach to the world (and I believe it is) and that approach is a questioning one (and I believe that as well), then this process of questioning should lead me to believe that, despite my inability to play an instrument, I should start a band - that it is my responsibility to create the noise that I need to hear.
In other words, punk is fundamentally empowering - it argues that everyone is or could be a critical agent of history, not a mere subject to the whims of rulers and states, that this process of questioning and stripping the blinders away should reveal the greater truth - that we're perfectly capable of ruling ourselves and don't need mediators or bureaucracies at all.
And yet I keep expecting to go to the record store and find 7" singles of protest songs that committed people rushed to press. And I find ... nothing.
"Seems that all you've done is betray all you believe."
I find sXe bands who are STILL more concerned about who lost the edge than who's going to lose their life. Frankly, I could care less if your best bro had a beer - if that's the worst that happens to him, he's lucky. I find pop-punk which is more concerned about finding someone to buy beer than finding someone to drive to the peace rally.
And what I'll remember about most punk rock at the turn of the millennium is that when the shit came down, it stuck its head in the sand and hid in small-minded scene politics and commercial considerations instead of being righteous, just and standing in opposition to oppression. What I'll remember is that when the chips were down, punk during the administration of King George II turned its cowardly face away from confrontation and acquiesced to an administration that shouldn't have been in power in the first place.
And yeah. I know there are always exceptions to the rule. I'm treasuring those bands like a blood transfusion.
The Difference Between Patriotism And Treason Depends On Who Wins.
This much is blindingly clear - in arguing that the United States may preemptively attack a nation which it believes may someday pose a threat to national security, a dangerous precedent is being set, if only because that argument simultaneously provides a rationale for war to nations which are worried that they might be the next target. At best, it's the worst example of international policy I've seen. At worst, it's the equivalent of a schoolyard bully picking on anyone smaller than him or who he doesn't like.
The justifications are coming fast and furious now, seemingly invented by the day and propped up by increasingly desperate attempts to manufacture consent amongst non-permanent members of the Security Council. This is all easy to see if you simply watch the news. If you read and examine a range of sources, the real story becomes much more frightening.
And suddenly, we're Jack Palance to the UN's Jimmy Stewart. And a Texan put the black hat on.
While history will likely remember Dubya as the least effective, most incompetent and all-around worst president this country has ever seen in allowing his greed and arrogance to run wild (call me crazy, but Enron makes Tea Pot Dome look like minor league convenience store clerk till-to-pocket pilfering), that does fuck all for us at the moment. And that means our options are clear - give in or resist.
For my part, I'm shit at quitting, especially when my back is against a wall.
If you've made it this far, you either agree with me or you're really fucking pissed. Either way, I'm almost satisfied. However, if you happen to live in the Bloomington / Normal area in Illinois, I'm interested in doing something more than merely writing on a Web site. I can't play music for shit and there really aren't many places to put on a show, but there are a couple of coffeehouses, there's plenty of paper and pens, and we can write letters like motherfuckers when we're jacked up on massive amounts of caffeine. And no matter how small a gesture this may be, it's something better than feeling helpless. Email me at puckett at punkrockacademy dot com if you have nothing better to do with your weekends than engage in some peaceful resistance to an unjust war.
Noam Chomsky. Read.
Howard Zinn. Read.
The Unseen Gulf War. Read.
New playlists. Irrelevant.
Bad Religion. DJ Sammy. Fugazi. Submission Hold. Propagandhi. Olive. ATB. Kylie Minogue. Dillinger Four. The Arrivals. Trial By Fire. The Explosion. Fuel. Black Flag. Communiqué. Ted Leo. Tortoise. Rachel's. Tim Buckley. Big Star. Refused.
Jim Goad, "The Redneck Manifesto"
Thomas Wolfe, "You Can't Go Home Again"; Andrew Feenberg, "Questioning Technology" and "Alternative Modernity"; Steven Heller, "Graphic Design History" (edited with Georgette Ballance); Gunnar Swanson, ed., "Graphic Design And Reading"; Naomi Klein, "No Logo"