August 8, 2007
We had no college radio growing up, no cable TV, no computers. Our intake of popular culture remained so tightly regulated all the way through late high school that the only gossip we knew of punk rock had been repeated by our parents and their friends, usually after viewing some sensationalistic prime-time news special about how uncontrollable youths in California or Manhattan had grown bored with life and started to and dance angularly while bumping into each other — or to cannibalize babies, depending on the individual’s interpretation of the news story.
Naturally, everyone at church thought anyone who would name their band the Dead Kennedys had to be in league with Beelzebub.
Also, the handsome, rebellious older son of a teacher at school had been suspended for a week for writing ‘TOO DRUNK TO FUCK’ on the side of his high-top Converse shoe. That’s all we knew about punk.
The blues is the blues. Not aggressive so much as resigned. Punk rock was the first Western music genre (well, second after Wagnerian opera) to manifest in both lyric and tone the malaise humanity has felt ever since our knuckles scraped the ground, in addition to the blind rage which inevitably lines the underside of any hypocritical, capitalistic society.
Punks sang with total fucking honesty and outright aggression, just to stoke people into reacting.
They named their bands after the worst things with which humanity had blighted the earth: The Germs, the Exploited, the Murderers, VKTMS, Agent Orange, Misfits, the Damned, the Dictators, Gang Green, the Skids, the Dead Kennedys, Suicide, Television. Fear didn’t really “destroy the family” as they said — Lee Ving just shouted the words over and over (“We Destroy the Family”) to see what would happen.
He wasn’t screaming about his own apathy as much as everyone else’s. About apathy and desensitization as necessary weapons in an awful world. Along with his shit-kicking peers, Lee Ving was the town crier rudely pointing out a breach in security that needs fixing. Ving was the cartoon villian embodying evil and callousness, who forces the bystander to either do something about him or run the other way.
Suddenly, supposedly Satanic bands like KISS meant nothing. Punk’s superheroes were regular people experiencing the full spectrum of human emotion. Keep on the sunny side? No way. Reagan was in office.
Too much fucked up shit was going on. Punk rock was merely saying what everybody else was thinking — so naturally, the status quo concentrated not on the social ills depicted in song, but on killing the messenger.
Now, the funny thing is, punk is a commodity. A lifeless echo of all that rage and nihilism. Sure, every half decade we’re stuck in a mall and end up buying a piece of clothing on sale at Hot Topic too — but it’s usually underwear. Anyway, they say once the fashion aspect of any subculture has overcome the meaning behind it, it’s dead.
We predict furry legwarmers, blinky LED-light clothing, and watered-down Mad Max attire will be lining the racks at Hot Topic within the next few years…
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