My Love Affair With Punk
I've tried to write this before, but I wasn't saying what I wanted to say. It's really hard for me to explain why I liked punk. When I got into it, I only had one friend who was into it. I only had one friend at all, really. He and I would sit in class, talking about skating and music. I bought my first "punk" album, which is to say an album I identified as "punk" even though I have since come to identify it as something which is more pop, that year. Hüsker Dü's "Warehouse: Songs and Stories." It changed my life, simply because I realized there were people doing things which I would most likely never hear unless I made an effort to seek them out. Well, that and it spoke to me in a way no other music had and I doubt any other music ever will. I remember hearing those first chords and the way my spine tingled as I listened to Bob Mould sing about boredom, drudgery and the status quo. Understand it? Hell, I was living it. I woke up every morning, saw the same four walls, the same Algebra I class ... you get the idea. That song was an epiphany. I didn't know much about punk then, but I knew that it affected me in ways I still can barely describe. Since then, I've done some research and the closest explanation I've reached is that the music triggered the endorphin response although I have no idea how, thus offering a sort of transcendence. Whatever.
Since then, I've found other bands that speak to me in similar ways. Fuel. Down By Law. Dag Nasty. Propagandhi. face to face. Screeching Weasel. Misfits. Ramones. Avail. Tiltwheel. I could go on and on, covering every band that has meant anything to me in the last 10 years, but I'm going to write about this more generally.
I suppose what initially attracted me to punk was my desire to figure out who I was, and the shit I had been force-fed for years just wasn't helping. Once I realized I had a choice, I made it and haven't looked back. The music and culture which I had absorbed to that point was no longer adequate because it didn't meet my needs and failed to describe the world I saw. I didn't see a world where love was a really cool intangible thing and people were nice. I saw a petty collection of bickering people who were only concerned with how other people perceived them. True, I did try to buy into it for a bit. I might have even stuck with it if I hadn't come to my senses and realized that taking part in such a culture was tantamount to suicide and would wind up killing everything about myself that I liked and accentuating everything I hated. Considering there was altogether too little of the former and entirely too much of the latter, I think it's fairly safe to say punk rock saved my life.
At the least, it got me through high school. I didn't have a lot of friends in high school, but I had punk rock and it never failed me. I could always pull out a Seven Seconds record or listen to a beat-up old X album and it was always there. It didn't matter what time it was or what had happened that day, I could always listen to Mick Jones sing about a guaranteed personality or sitting back in the garage with my bullshit detector. I could come home bruised and bloody from getting my ass kicked, but there was always a song which promised me that I'd get them next time, and even if I didn't, so what? I'd get through it and walk away laughing.
Punk, to me, wasn't about a lot of the things it has come to be identified with. It wasn't about independent labels or stores, although it got to the point that I had no choice but to patronize independent stores because those were the only places which carried the albums I wanted. Punk was something riskier. Punk was about taking control of my life and accepting responsibility for decisions. It was about choosing to not only survive and wade through the shit, but live. Important distinction, that. It was about not just eking out an existence or scraping by, it was about thriving. I made a choice to come to punk rock, and while some of the fans never really accepted me, the music (which was and still is the important part) was waiting at the metaphorical door with open arms. Punk music accepted me when no one and nothing else would.
Since those days, I've grown up. I've matured a bit (though I know people who would argue that). My musical tastes have expanded, meaning I have jazz albums, indie rock albums and even some albums by the likes of Bob Seger in my collection. I've fallen in love, something I never thought would happen back then, and been heartbroken, a condition I was (and still am) used to. My tastes in punk have changed. I still own my D.R.I. records, but I don't necessarily listen to them as much. I've developed an appreciation for newer bands. I go to shows more frequently now than I did then. I'm 10 years older than I was when I got into punk, almost 11 as I write this, and while the messengers may have changed, the message is still the same.
To me, what mattered about punk was the promise it held out to anyone who bothered to listen. It wasn't the ideology or the politics, though those were also integral. Simply put, it was the humanity contained in the music, the understanding that there are certain fundamental things that all people can understand - loneliness, frustration, hurt, fear, etc. - and that just like everything else in life, punk would face it head on. It might have been painful to hear at times, but punk was cathartic and, ultimately, healing. Certain factions within punk may have held and advocated different positions, but what I heard was simply salvation. It was uplifting, hopeful and righteous. As the economy fell apart, as people started getting lost, when everything started to fall apart, punk rock was always there and what it said was not that it would stand against entropy, but rather that it would build something better from the ruins.
As far as I'm concerned, punk is, ultimately, a few things - just, righteous, determined, egalitarian, welcoming. It's what empathy sounds like. It's about the only music which has ever made sense, not logical, linear sense, but intuitive, revelatory sense, to me. It's something which is intensely personal and, despite the superficial ugliness which it may adopt at times to mandate that any acceptance be unconditional as opposed to basing tolerance on appearance, attitudes or ideas, it's fucking beautiful.
Punk rock saved my life. Looking back, I can say that now. Pegboy helped me get well after surgery. Hüsker Dü created music which offered solace in high school. I can't even begin to use words to describe what Dave Smalley's music has meant to me over the years. As usual, it's late and I'm not sure I've communicated this as clearly as I need to, but there's one thought which keeps crossing my mind. It's been hard to write this piece, but that's because I can't separate punk rock from myself. When I went to it to seek solace, comfort, shelter and the like, I couldn't have imagined that it would have become as integral a part of me as it has. I am not at all unhappy with this; quite the contrary. I love punk more now than I did then. What I'm saying, then, is that when I write about punk, I write about myself, and when I write about the things I admire most in punk, I'm writing about the aspects of my personality which I feel aren't as fully developed as they should be. In other words, my admiration of certain qualities in punk identifies what I consider flaws and weaknesses in myself.
Yeah, punk rock saved my life. So what? What does that mean now that everything's changed and it seems like everyone listens to punk? Beats me. I was never much of one to try to keep something like this to myself. If I was, I doubt I'd be doing this zine, and especially this issue. Hell, part of the motivation behind this is trying to get the word out about bands which, at least in my opinion, are doing something interesting or noteworthy. In a sense, what it means is that the punk rock I knew does not exist now and is unlikely to exist again. It's hard to face, but it's also true. I doubt I'll ever have the experience of circulating among 2,000 people who are roughly the same age and only meet one person who has heard a band I like. Now that punk has become popular, where does that leave me, someone who came to punk because I really had nowhere else to go? The same place I've always been. Watching the bands, pushing people back into the pit and helping people up when they fall.
I have to close this off, mostly because this is becoming more of a diary entry than explaining what I think and feel about punk, but I just wanted to close on a different note. I don't want anyone reading this zine to ever feel excluded. I don't want anyone reading this zine to think anything in here is a rationale for treating other people like shit. This zine isn't intended to exclude people, nor is it intended to give you reasons to be an asshole. I mention this because I got a letter from someone and apparently this person felt that the words contained in these pages somehow justified their actions. They don't. They never will. I really don't care how long you've been listening to punk - 20 days or 20 years, it's the same to me as long as you're here for the right reason, which is the music. Maybe it spoke to you in the same way it spoke to me. Maybe it spoke to you in a different way. Whatever. If you're here for that reason, then hi. Welcome. If you see me around or at a show, say hi. I'm not one to criticize people for being new to something, just as long as you don't try to compensate for it with arrogance.
If, on the other hand, you came to punk because all your friends were listening to it or because you saw a video on MTV, please let me make a suggestion. Sit down one of these days, put on some headphones and listen to the words, the music. Listen to the stuff that's beyond popularity and other social concerns. Listen to the stuff on the record and listen carefully, because if you're anything like the rest of us who are already here, it will speak to you and you'll understand why we all came. Catch you on the flipside.