If there's a better song to sum up my feelings
on the punk scene, I've yet to hear it.
John Roderick is right.
In case you aren't aware, bearded indie dude/ex Harvey Danger singer John Roderick recently wrote a piece in Seattle Weekly entitled “Punk Rock is Bullshit,” the premise of which is entirely self-explanatory, and admittedly not incorrect. Sure, four pages on why a counter-culture started by glue sniffers and perpetuated by suburban teenagers lacks self-awareness and base with reality seems a bit much, and I think he gives punk way too much credit when he blames it for destroying the world, but at the core of his argument, Roderick is correct. Punk rock is indeed bullshit.
Alas, it wasn't always that way. Punk rock used to mean something; at least to me. During my time as an insecure college kid looking for an identity, punk rock was the most important thing in the world. I remember the first time I heard Hot Water Music like it was yesterday: Christmas Eve, 2009 – I was supposed to be watching The Muppet's Christmas Carol with my family. Instead, I was hunched over my laptop, headphones in, listening to “Kill the Night” and wondering how in the fuck anyone could make such great music. Sure, it wasn't pretty sounding, it wasn't complex, and these guys sure as hell couldn't sing, but god damn, did this music ever speak to me. Something clicked in my head, and even with the narrowest frame of reference imaginable, I knew I had found what I was looking for. Whether I knew it or not, I was destined to become a punk rocker.
If you're a kid who hates structure and values immediacy, getting into punk and hardcore is like winning the lottery. Since you have no frame of reference, every band sounds like they're from a different planet. Since you've never seen a mosh pit before, a live show seems like the closest thing to anarchy you'll experience in the first world. Best of all, since the musicians look like you, act like you, and play directly in front of you, you start to realize all you need to make something fulfilling is three friends, some gear, and a place to play. Then, you start to realize how ridiculously easy it is to become part of the scene. You want to put on a show? Find a space, find some bands, and boom, there's your show. You want to interview a band? E-mail the label, grab a voice recorder, and Bob's your uncle. Pretty soon you'll find yourself fully immersed and up to speed on both punk music and the culture that goes with it. You've done it! You're officially a member of “teh punx.” Grab your card on the way in, there's juice and cookies at the back.
Unfortunately, once you understand enough about punk to identify as one, you realize the definition is nebulous and doesn't always fit you perfectly -- identity crisis not solved. Furthermore, since familiarity breeds contempt, you start to realize maybe your little slice of collective anarchy isn't as utopian as you once thought.
Let's face it; mosh pits are a liberating experience until you realize how quickly they can devolve into structure-enforcing machismo. Mic tosses lose their luster as an exercise in humility when you hear kids brag about getting the mic after the show. Hardcore is all about unity until somebody fucks somebody else and some other asshole feels the need to have an opinion about it. Dressing the way you do is all about inclusivity and self-expression until you find yourself rooting through your closet for your “coolest” band shirt in an effort to stand out from the crowd in some imaginary pissing contest. Oh, and the music once so fresh and foreign? You start to realize a high percentage of it is actually more derivative and devoid of original thought than the shit you were listening to before (thanks in no small part to a community more interested in identifying with a distorted idea of what music should be than with music itself). In a sense, Roderick is absolutely right; punk rock is, unequivocally, complete and utter bullshit.
But here's the thing; punk rock is allowed to be bullshit, because everything else is bullshit too.
Does punk have a social hierarchy? Absolutely. Is punk easily commodified? Beyond a shadow of a doubt. Is punk catered to white males aged 16-25? Almost exclusively. But let's not pretend this type of hypocrisy is exclusive to punk. The first foundation of rave culture's PLUR mission statement, peace, is in direct contrast with how its' beloved club drugs are distributed. Hip-Hop's misappropriation of consumerism as cultural empowerment does more to perpetuate racism than any hate group could ever hope to. Any youth culture – or culture in general – is bullshit when you look at it as a monolith, but that's only because cultures are not monolithic. Just because a culture doesn't always (or often) adhere to the ideas it supposedly stands for, doesn't mean those ideas are invalid, or even lost on the people who identify as part of the culture. Punk rock is no exception.
Perhaps the biggest downfall of punk is that it believes it can save the world – and though Roderick now sneers at the idea, it's pretty obvious he once held this pipe dream close to his heart. Yet if punk rock couldn't defeat Reaganism, it was certainly never capable of freeing youth culture from the trappings of youth – and getting angry at it for failing to do so is just as irrational as believing it will. All punk does is teach hyperactive kids to make structure from chaos and community from individualism, and that's all it needs to do. DIY is obviously not a “punk” idea, but when you're a 17 year-old with no start-up capital for your muffin store, a punk band is a great place to cut your teeth. Message board bickering about feminism is obviously derivative and ego-driven, but if you've never been exposed to the idea, it's a good place to start learning. The scene is obviously dictated by stupidity, self-consciousness, and sexual politics, but if you're too tied up in that shit to get something out of it, that's on you, not the scene.
Of course punk rock is bullshit; everyone with half a brain knows that. Yet in a world chock-full of fraudulent garbage, it's supremely rewarding to find the bullshit that makes most sense to you. For me, that bullshit is punk rock, which makes punk as real to me as any stupid bullshit is gonna get.