Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Of Punks and Poseurs

Amanda and Volsunga have both been talking about punk. Really, they're both good reads. But, I have to admit, they made me giggle.

Volsunga said:
What the hell is with teen tribes? It seems like all of a sudden, the past few years, kids have been more and more keen to label themselves as “punk” or “emo” or “goth”


It’s not the little ones that annoy me. It’s the 17 year old+ people who think all there is to life is how well you fit a stereotype. College is full of these kids who identify as “emo” or “goth” or “punk”, with corresponding styles of dress and attitudes; why the fuck do so many people want to be just like everyone else? And when did punk become all about fashion?

I remember wondering this same thing, bemoaning the whole "new generation" of college kids who were so into identifying as punk in order to be cool -- when punk started becoming a semi-popular fashion trend. I remember shaking my head at the new commodification of the punk lifestyle.

But the thing is -- it was the kids who were getting into it via the "trendy" bands like Green Day and Nirvana, Sublime and Rancid who were causing us the problems. It was the popularity of the very bands that introduced Volsunga to punk that distressed us "old school" punks.

Of course, there were those who felt the same way when my cohort joined the ranks of punk rock. My first introduction to punk rock came via Quincy. I was only 11 when I saw this now infamous episode, but instead of being scared away from punk, I was utterly intrigued. I loved the music, and wanted to hear more. But, being only 11, that would have to wait a few more years yet -- IOW, by the time I entered the "scene," even the former "Quincy punks" were "old school." But, by 14 I was thoroughly enthralled with The Violent Femmes, The Smiths, The Cure, and other such bands. I died my hair and started hanging out on "The Ave."

Eventually, I earned my "cred" and became part of the core group of punks who could now whine and kvetch about the new "weekend punks" with the "safety dos" (the hairstyles that looked "normal" during the week and "punked out" during the shows).

Of course, there were those "punks" who came in with me who did it just as a "fad," their dedication to punk petering out eventually, just as there were in Volsunga's cohort, and just as there will be in this next generation.

But, there will also be those who, in 10 years, will be bemoaning the new trend of rebel, the new commodification of punk, and looking back fondly on the old days when punk was "real."


Jake Squid said...

Heh. Kids these days! Isn't that just always the way?

But, really, the Smiths - punk? No way in hell. Too slow and whiny. The Cure would be gothic, certainly not punk. The Violent Femmes... maybe on the fringes of punk.

Green Day is punk influenced pop, Nirvana is its own thing, Sublime and Rancid are punk in the same way that the Who is blues.

Punk has been a fashion statement more than a musical style or way of life since at least the early 80's. It was a huge retail industry on St. Mark's Place by '83.

For a good look at the remnants of actual punk culture in the early 80's, watch The Decline of Western Civilization by Penelope Spheeris. That is punk music &, to a great extent, philosophy. And that (1981) is about when Punk was really co-opted by the mainstream. The musical style lasted a little longer, but I'd be hard pressed to identify a currently existing, widely known punk band.

bean said...

Oh, I know those bands aren't punk. I just meant that I got into punk via those types of bands -- just as someone 10 years younger than me may have gotten into punk via Nirvana and Green Day.

Jake Squid said...

Now I'm just confused. When you say, "got into punk," do you mean the music or the fashion? If you mean the fashion, that I can follow. If you mean the music, I don't understand. Although a lot of funny lines to use in the future come to mind.

"Oh, I got into punk by listening to Yanni."

bean said...

I mean both the music and the fashion.

What I mean is -- I began listening to bands like the Smiths, the Cure, etc. I know these bands aren't "punk" per se -- but they are (or were, back in the early 80s) "alternative. And who was listening to these bands and to "alternative" music? Well, around me, at least, it sure as fuck wasn't the mainstream preppy kids. It was the punks.

So, my listening to Smiths, Cure, etc. and hanging out with other people who listened to these bands introduced me to the subculture of punk.

Jake Squid said...

Thanks for the explanation. My own experiences were very, very different and I was unable to make that connection. Especially since, around me, it was the preppie kids listening to the Smiths.

bean said...

Another thing I was thinking of, which may be indicative of another big difference between your experience and mine: You seemed to categorize the music -- "goth," "fringes," etc.

Thing is -- the scene I entered wasn't so categorized. Sure, there were those who were more likely to be listening to Christian Death; those who were more likely to be listening to Fugazi; those who were more likely to be listening to The Toasters. But all of these people hung out together in one group, and listened to all the other sorts of music, and attended all the various shows.

Jake Squid said...

Yeah, I do tend to categorize music but that is, I think, distinct from our different experiences.

Although we (or at least I) did listen to a wide variety of music, the Smiths, the Cure, etc. were all a bit too mainstream/pop/overplayed on the radio for me. It was impossible to escape those songs as long as you were anywhere near a radio. I'll forever associate the Smiths with the Cure, Madonna, Michael Jackson, Depeche Mode and Duran Duran. That's what was on the radio being played until it made you scream at the time. So it was escape to the unplayed on radio for me - Butthole Surfers, Meat Puppets, Suicidal Tendencies, Violent Femmes, X-Ray Specs, DK, X, Ism, the Meatmen, Flipper, the Waverly Consort, the Ramones, Fats Waller and the like.

bean said...

There was only one radio station in my town that would [i]dare[/i] play Smiths, Cure, Violent Femmes, etc. (with the exception of that [i]one[/i] DP song, People are People), and that was the same radio station that played Butthole Surfers, Meat Puppets, Suicidal Tendencies,
X-Ray Specs, DK, X, Ism, the Meatmen, Flipper, the Waverly Consort, the Ramones, Fats Waller and the like.

Jake Squid said...

I guess that it's all context. Associations with punk are based in the context that each of us individually experienced. I'm sure that there are people in the hinterlands of Wyoming who have an entirely different idea of what relates to punk as music and fashion.

But it was interesting to see another way to connect things.

Tish Grier said...

What a wonderful post (and great comments)!

For me, punk came about with the first Ramones album back in '77. Yes, I was one of *those* people they used to take pictures of in NYC when they wanted to show "the new punk styles"...

And, it wasn't as segmented as it is now. I remember when I was a goth DJ that I used to get into arguments with the goth kids that were all tattooed because, back in the day, goths never got tattoos. That was for rockabilly guys...

But what I find most annoying about the new punks is how much their parents support what they're doing--including buying their Hot Topic Certified Punk Outfits. My mother would have had a fit if I took my allowance and got a tattoo, let alone insisted I have black bondage pants for back to school. I now have to question whether or not kids are doing what they're doing in an effort to assert their identities or are just doing what their parents didn't have the guts to do (and that's why the parents approve of and support it.)

The other thing I find funny is how so many say "this is who I am and who I'll always be." Identity changes over time, and even the hard-core punks who were in punk bands back in the day aren't the same at 45. Age and life experience does strange things to one's value system :-)

Anonymous said...

OMG jack squid u silly twat, yea tehyd be considered gothic but in the 70's they were on the punk scene shit for brains supporting the psitols etc

Gillie said...

Hey, what Ave. were you on? I was on Telegraph.

Mr. Squid, the Cure were punk, I have a picture of Robert Smith looking adorable with short hair in a leather jacket. In fact, their audience were the goths, not really the cure, as far as we could tell, like you knew when the Dead were playing, you could tell when the Cure arrived. And for the music, Boys Don't Cry.

I think your definition of what punk is and isn't really depends on what year it was and what Ave. you were hanging out on. For me it's not specific music or clothing, it's the rebellion and the politics. What I considered 'real' punk back then died when with Sid, so we weren't punks, and in 1981 you had to be quite quite well off to dress like an English punk. You had to have a friend bring you docs, wasn't till at least '82 before you started to be able to buy them in San Francisco. And Brothel Creepers.

A real punk was someone who was on the street because there were no jobs to be had or no home to go home to. Not us, who had middle class parents to go home to, even if they might have been mildly horrible homes. We dressed funny, we didn't like your music, we listened only to the college stations, we went to shows every week, if no one else was playing we saw the DKs and Flipper. So we weren't punks, we were part of a scene, what became California hardcore, but never call yourself a punk, that's deadly, like saying you think you are cool it automatically disqualifys you.

Oh, and Green Day are punk, as punk as the Clash.

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