DJ Courtney: Punk and the Art of Aging
ricecooker is shameless, ok? alright, here’s another stolen article (with proper credits of course)
originally from the excellent American online zine: getunderground.com
Punk and the Art of Aging
[ under arts ] – 07.02.05 –
by: DJ Courtney
Tomorrow I turn 25, and still I contend that I was raised by punk rock. My political beliefs, values, and worldview all have their roots in the music I embraced over a decade ago. Yet as I grow older, I find it harder and harder to reconcile punk rock as an ideology with its physical manifestation.
By nature, punk is a youth-oriented subculture. In high school, I can recall being outraged and confused as to why bands I liked would play 18- and 21-plus shows. “Adults don‚Äôt like this kind of thing,” my young mind reasoned. Adults were the ones in power, the teachers, parents, police, all the authority figures kids rebel against. They weren‚Äôt supposed to play a part in our scene. The rare older attendee of an all-ages show was looked on with suspicion and little bit of annoyance.
Little did any of us realize that said person was probably into punk since before we popped out of the womb. We worshipped all the old punk bands, The Clash, The Ramones, The Sex Pistols, but got pissed when they reunited for some moneymaking tour or sub par new album. It was all about the local bands, our friends‚Äô bands, having a good time. And it was a good time, for a short time.
Besides the latent sexism and racism that has always turned me off from punk, I first began to feel alienated from the scene in college. There I was, trying to get an education, taking sociology and women‚Äôs studies classes to explore the dynamics of oppression, to fill myself with the knowledge necessary to take a stand, something I considered punk rock. Y
et I would go to shows and find myself surrounded with people who just wanted to get fucked up, people who looked at me as a sell-out for pursuing higher education, people whose idea of fighting the government only went so far as yelling about it to their friends from the safety of a stage. Being angry about the state of things is a good first step, but it should not stop there.
After college I officially abandoned identity politics, stopped dying my hair various colors of the rainbow and removed my facial piercings. After all, I needed a job. I began working 9-5 at a nonprofit, something I considered a natural extension of my punk rock beliefs. Yet, this lifestyle began to eat away at me. Nowhere does punk discuss sitting in traffic during your morning commute to work. Nowhere does it discuss paying bills, running errands, and filing taxes. I was starting to feel guilty for living the life I was leading.
After all, punk says fuck work, fuck normal responsibilities, DIY or die man. Which would be fine, if one still lived at home, if one had the entrepreneurial savvy to start and maintain their own business, if one was independently wealthy or lucky enough to play music all day. But what about the rest of us? As much as we all despise it, the fact of the matter is we live in a capitalist society, and thus we must participate on even the most minimal level to survive.
Aside from my own punk rock guilt, I experienced a shunning of sorts because of my newfound non-punk exterior. I can distinctly remember walking to a job interview, wearing a skirt in my feeble attempt to look “normal”, and not being handed a socialist flyer by a guy in an Exploited shirt, ostensibly because I looked like I wouldn‚Äôt be interested. I was furious. I wanted to turn around and tell him I knew more about socialism and anarchy then he could shake a stick at, that I was wearing some lame office skirt because I needed a job to pay rent. But I didn‚Äôt.
I assuaged myself by thinking of all the radical people I had met and studied that were doing a hell of a lot more while appearing “normal” then marching around with spikes and patches like every other stereotypical punk. Similarly, I was once approached by a middle-aged white man in business attire who wanted to know what I was reading. I showed him my copy of Punk Planet. He laughed and said, “But you‚Äôre not a punk. Where are all your tattoos? Where are all your piercings?” I was so flustered I could only muster a half-smile. But I was fuming inside. “Oh my god people think I‚Äôm some normal person!” Eventually though I stopped caring. I knew inside I was more adamant than ever about my beliefs, despite the fact that on the outside people couldn‚Äôt tell.
Along with my attire, my taste in music changed. No longer could I stomach the simplistic lyrics and song structure of what is traditionally defined as punk. I started exploring more experimental and avant-garde acts, attracted to their sonic fuck you rather than benignly yelled expletives. Friends began to question my musical departure, wondering why I was listening to arty, “pretentious” stuff, wondering how this could mean the same to me as punk once did. But in my mind, it was a natural extension of punk rock, even more punk than punk I would venture, the complete antithesis of corporate bands.
In a time when mall emo was huge, when faux indie dominated the airwaves, I was laying claim to something that was truly subversive, something that could and would never be co-opted. For me, this means listening to a lot of drones and feedback. And hard as is it may be to believe, it satiates my soul and intellect in a way punk as a musical form no longer can.
Recently I quit my job and moved to Northern California, not because I felt like a sell-out, but because the ennui that accompanies office work was getting to be too much. I felt my mind and soul beginning to rot. But before I left Los Angeles, I went to one last show at my all time favorite venue, the Smell in downtown. This hole in the wall art space was always a sanctuary for me, but that night, as I sat through bands whose average age was probably 19, as I eavesdropped on high schoolers discussing extra credit assignments, I felt like I had become the token old person and I knew it was time to move on.
I‚Äôll still go to shows of course, but they‚Äôll probably be ones at bars that no matter how amazing the band is, will never hold a candle to shows I went to in church halls when I was 15. Punk rock as a scene, as a genre, is no longer relevant to my adult life. But all the things punk rock as an ideology taught me and inspired me to do, are still applicable, and I will hold them in my heart until I die. And that‚Äôs why I feel I will always be punk fucking rock.
getunderground.com reader comments:
This has been on of the best articles i have heard it mixes idealist thoughts with the real world and i myself being 15 and liking the “punk” or so we call scene find this hitting especially close to me.
Excellent piece Courtney. Punk rockers are not on any higher moral plane than anyone else, and the prejudices that are in all human beings are manifested in them also. There are still plenty of great punk bands out there that have stayed true to themselves and their fans and lots of punk rockers break the mold. For example, Milo Ackerman of the Descendents is a microbioligist. Punk rock is about being yourself and not giving a shit about what anyone else thinks. Rock on.
This is the most honest and important article to appear on these pages in quite some time. Courtney, you hit the nail right on its fucking head. Punk has become anything but. And it’s true, the ideology is all that was ever truly punk about punk at all. The music was/remains to be extremely lazy, for the most part. Few acts ever bothered to break away from the three-cord formula and, as you put it, simplistic lyrics. And I am sure they would argue that playing three cords is what makes them punk rock, but that’s just a cop out. The true Radicals didn’t need to jam spikes in their every orifice (or create new orifices through piercing) just to get a point across. Granted, body art is cool and there’s no denying the tribal appeal of said art form. But it seems to me that when everyone starts doing something simply because it’s “punk rock,” that takes all the punk out of it. In short, it becomes yet another trend. The reluctant conformist conforms to non-comformity. It’s a joke…as is most of what passes for punk these days. Pseudo-punk, if you will. Half of the bands around today who claim to have roots in Punk Rock never even heard of Richard Hell and couldn’t name one song by Dead Kennedys. They missed out on the energy and now it’s just a bunch of kids doodling on Marble notebooks and dying their hair to be “different.” Sad, sad thing this thing we call punk.
The only widely known punk that I can think of is Andre 3000 (Andre Benjamin) of the hip-hop duo OutKast. The reason I say this is because he dares to be progressive and flamboyantly dressed in a musical medium that demands machismo and faux-angry posturing. It may be hip-hop to you, but its punk rock to me. Just listen to “B.O.B.” AKA Bombs over Baghdad and tell me that ain’t fuckin’ punk. The true punks don’t go around with liberty spikes telling everybody that they sold out. They accept the fact that in order to make a difference in a society like ours that you have to infiltrate the system and play by their rules for awhile…until you reach a point of advantage. Great article! Very “punk rock.” 🙂
This is an awesome article, It put a smile on my face to see someone express so clearly what I have noticed happen in myself.. Hopefully the young peoples at the concerts “grow up” with a similar outlook and understanding of a punk rock ideal as this…
Even us old hippies from 2 generations before you still struggle with the schizm… and now having made a slow, disorganized retreat from “civilazation” and living waaaay out in the Rockies, the Who’s words still haunt– “…don’t tell me you know me, I don’t even know myself…” Things change yet stay the same.
Here in the UK your average punk gig attendee age is 30+.
The last punk I encountered was a 43-year old who was asking me for change. From my understanding, Punk has always been an attitude. The attitude is DIY, but this can be translated across many spectrums; Not taking shit from people, just being innovative. That’s the thought that begat the music. These less than middle class kids wanted to show everyone that you didn’t need a manager, new microphones, or even skill to play a show and create music/hits. It’s something born inside of you and brought to fruition through a little learning and effort.