Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Punk Rock

I was raised on punk rock. My dad & uncle were two of the OG punk rockers, and, since I was born when my dad was only 20, I was pretty much raised on the Ramones, the Clash, the Sex Pistols and Elvis Costello. My dad, like most of his generation, eventually got bored with 3 chords, and got into post-punk like the Smiths, the Cure and the like. Quite naturally, this meant that I got into post-punk. I hate the term "post-punk," and here's why.

I was speaking with a co-worker who, admittedly, knows very little about punk yesterday, and he started talking about what was and wasn't "punk." This was interesting to me, because he fell pretty well on the same lines as people who claim to know very much about punk. Less Than Jake isn't punk because they have horns, Devo isn't punk because they use keytars instead of guitars, and My Chemical Romance isn't punk because they're music is boring and they're on a major label. I agree with MCR being boring, but other than that, I disagree with all those things.

I understood early on that being "punk" meant doing what you want to do, regardless of people's expectations of you. Later on, I found out that "punk" actually meant doing what you want to do as long as all the other punks are doing it too. It was somewhere around this time that I ceased referring to myself as a punk.

People with mohawks, patches all over their pants and upside down American flags on their walls will tell you that punk is a very specific thing. Misfits, Ramones, U.K. Subs, etc., basically bands that only know 3 chords and play very fast. Now, I like all of those bands, and do objectively realize that the Ramones are the greatest band of all time, but they're not my favorite band. In fact, they're not even on my All Time, Desert Island, Top Five of All Time list. They're not even in the Top Ten.

Why? Because three chords only go so far, and the Cure managed to do much more interesting things over the years, all while keeping a punk ethos. Robert Smith does what he wants, when he wants to do it. So does Elvis Costello. So does Mark Mothersbaugh. So does Blake Schwarzenbach. Unfortunately, some closed minded idiots who call themselves "punk" think that their music is not punk (hence the term "post-punk"). But it is.

A recent spin of Devo's Q: Are We Not Men? A: We are Devo! revealed that Devo is more "punk" than most any band the punks would consider punk today. The songs run the gamut from goofy ("Uncontrollable Urge") to serious satire ("Jocko Homo") to a cover of a "classic" rock song that fans of the original would find blasphemous ("Satisfaction"), and that's only on side one. The music is extremely different from most anything else that was going on at the time (kind of like no-wave, but with an actual melody, and kind of like synth-pop, but less vapid). The songs are intellegent and well written and critical of society. Devo is punk rock, in every way except sticking to a boring, tired three chord structure.

If you're going to say "do what you want, be an individual," don't cry poseur when someone isn't the same individual as you. Ultimately, Blake Schwarzenbach said it best; "'You're not punk, and I'm telling everyone.' Save your breath, I never was one."


  1. define punk...simnple = diy, anti-establishment, teen angst. you take a bunch of middle class white boys who feel their world is limited because no one listens to them and they have no say, vent this into music. most of the boys grow old, get the voice they wanted and give up the 'revolution'. how many punkers turned into businessmen (fans not bands). i will always day that dk is THE punk band in terms of definitions.

  2. I totally agree with everything you said. I always found it funny that the mohawked, patch wearing crowd that bucked the establishment set up their own guidelines as to what being "punk" was. That always seemed like a contradiction to me.