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Punk And What Happens When Evolution Takes Four Steps Back (Or, Don't Mind Me, I'm Having A Jimmy Stewart Moment)

By Scott Puckett

Friday afternoon, just after 3:30 p.m. I'm stuck in gridlock on 15 South because people are stopping to watch the air show - a display of military force disguised as entertainment for the masses. With such rampant conformity to the status quo on display, I don't have to wonder why so many bands in this town sound like another shitty three-chord wonder and why they're all built on the same boring foundation.

In the world that most of these bands inhabit, art and communication have surrendered completely to ambition. Their voices are silent and their words are meaningless, even when they're screaming at the top of their lungs because the most important thing they have to sing about is crushing on a girl.

The music I love is rapidly being colonized by people who only recognize its popular appeal; the influences are devolving from the Clash, Dag Nasty, the Dead Kennedys and Fugazi to Green Day, the Offspring and Blink 182. This homogenization is converting punk from a native belief structure - all animism and pagan tendencies existing outside the bounds of civilization and conformity - into a freshly scrubbed and newly presentable altar boy for a religion that was forced upon it and written in a language that none of us can even understand.

I remember a culture in which women didn't stand quietly with their arms crossed, shy and withdrawn. I remember a movement that inspired women to stop idolizing and dating and fucking guys in bands, a fresh source of idealism that encouraged women to pick up guitars and basses and drum sticks and start their own bands.

And now it seems like someone turned all the clocks in this scene back to 1975 and a fairy godmother with a perverse desire to challenge the faithful waved her wand to turn all the bands into Stealer's Wheel and Black Oak Arkansas, leaving nothing worth hearing in the songs and blandness expanding in their wake.

And for some of us, those who find we still have voices after choking back our bitterness and rage for years, 1977 is just around the corner again. Somehow, we can unlearn everything that holds us back. We will begin to experiment again, using all our rage to irrevocably break a splintered picture frame that's too small to contain the whole of our repulsion.

And this cycle is nothing new. All revolutions inevitably end in assimilation - the larger society makes enough concessions to bring most of the rogue elements back into the fold. Then it hunts down the rest and kills them, purely as an example to anyone who might consider rebelling in the future.

Yet it must also be the case that some of the unrepentant heretics who refuse their shiny tin chains must escape retribution because the old rebellions keep returning in the same form and occurring for the same reasons - only the faces have changed. There must be a means of transferring these signs, tropes and codes - a cache of records in a cave somewhere? Books like "Temporary Autonomous Zone," "The Revolution of Everyday Life" or "Minima Moralia"? Or are these legends and ideas an oral tradition, passed down by ranting griots with mohawks?

I know this much is true - the Ranters and Luddites, the heretics and apostates, the situationists and anarchists are with us still, and the spirits of everyone who died for their treason to the dominant culture enrich us all. This rebellious nature flows through my veins and I believe, since you're reading this, it flows through yours as well. It's in the songs of Dillinger Four and Avail, the Weakerthans and Down By Law, tiltWheel and Hot Water Music.

And though our means may be different, our ends must necessarily be the same - actualization. Transcendence. And freedom for any soul brave enough to seize it.

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Last modified on Wednesday, March 26, 2008