By Max Dropout
Q: So, where does punk rock go when it dies?
A: They saw the corpse into Hot Pocket-sized morsels, distill the organs, and sell the bile and guts to trend-hunting buyers for exorbitant markup at Hot Topics across the continental US, of course.
Upon closer inspection of the trashy nick-knacks, shoddy compilations, and poorly manufactured bondage gear lining these counter-culture trophy shops, it dawns on a sensible body that what we’re looking at amounts to dead antlered heads hanging on walls. These ludicrous items don’t necessarily capture the true essence or spirit of this trounced prey. Beyond the mere fragments of the deceased creature, there was once a spark of being. More importantly, where has that gone? Most ironic is the idea of rebellion’s ire maintaining some sort of integrity once it has been inducted into the ranks of other societal norms.
Whenever I walk down the street and I see a kid in a Casualties shirt, dripping with safety pins, zippers, and flying some aerodynamic grafiti’d fin on the top of their pointy little skull, flashes of old women in chinchilla coats being accosted by PETA members inundate my brain. I picture these activists giving the crusty, upper class cunt the Dutch boy’s regards, dousing the dead skins which adorn her in red, toxic viscus. My brain clicks back to conscious mode as the punk rock cliche brushes by me, and one phrase haunts my mouth: “fur is murder, asshole.”
People like this have reached an odd sort of perfection. All their little hairs are all in their proper places; they’ve well studied their history… but history is a dead thing. I put street punks on the same level I do most civil war recreationist – both are affected and lack urgency. Hey, God of Mall, get some goddamn haircuts and donate the plaid ensemble to the clown college down the block, and start living in the present for chris’sakes. Yes, Virginia, there still is a punk culture, and it needs your help more so than a bunch of candy pants assholes who’ve crept their way into the realm of VH1 trivia. Stop defining yourselves by snapshots of shit that occurred decades ago. While you’re busy grooming and primping in front of your mirror, there’s a whole new wave going hungry and looking like shit. Who are YOUR kids going to eventually imitate? The same sorry dead bastards their old man coveted? Way to kill junior’s cool.
Perhaps punk hasn’t so much evolved as it has become a nomadic presence on the face of our society. It is perhaps prompted to shed its skin and slither off in some other direction once anything resembling the onset of a majority begins to define or recognize it. Then shit heads like Benji and Joel Madden show up like a couple of Coca Cola-syrup-addled Bobbie soxers; they climb into the dried out husks and do absurd imitative dances. And then come the horde of literary ambulance chasers they call journalists, rushing to the scene like ghouls scouring for scraps of carnage and spewing out misinformation based on the bobbing fuck faces in the animal skins.
And who the fuck cares what these guys think anyway? Let me tell you something: if you waste your youth in class room you have fucking FAILED AT LIFE. These people stare at squares and have their opinions mandated to them so they might effectively operate at a level of industry standard. They’re too busy learning a trade rather than being a part of an active culture, and so their perspective is hindered. The media are only culturally relevant by default; they process information, often reproducing it incorrectly as they are documenting things from the outside and often after only a considerable time since these events have passed.
The bands you see out on the VANS or NITRO tour all have a uniformed sound — guitar-based jack rabbit-paced nonsense under ultra Anglo slurring, where everyone makes sure they engrave the consonant R and the O vowel into your psyche. While it’s fast and sloppy, it lacks the weight of desperation that comes with a cause. While these kids may identify themselves by the 77 sound or the SoCal thrash of circa 82, the connection they hold is more with the aesthetic than the actual politics that stoked these fiery scenes. The working class struggle or a wrath evoked by complacency isn’t something a lot of these white bread indignants can identify with. They do not connect the fashion with the social conflict it represented years ago. And the greatest irony of all is watching people drop scads of cash to look like they’ve just come out the ass end of a full on class struggle.
The modern media-defined punk movement’s main beef seems rooted in their lack of identity – it is a subculture of self loathing and guilt. Uniformed picket fences defining identical property lots, neatly trimmed lawns, and dinner at six like everybody else apparently makes them angry. They are disgusted by their own normalcy. Though they wear their contempt like a bejeweled tiara, their so-called tribulations seem trite in comparison to the lower-class English kids or the average family under Reaganomic rule, who trudged through not only numbing poverty but also the brunt of their overtaxed factory mongering parents’ frustrations. They made a real sound, and it went neglected until elements of glam were fused with the culture to create an image. Lower-class frustration was never bankable, because only a certain segment that can’t even afford records can identify with it.
That consumer sucking down gelcapped liberty spikes has only the courage of ignorance. What else could you call training it into the city to panhandle in a pair of 80 dollar bondage trousers bought on Dad’s corporate platinum card over one merry Christmas? The music is but a mere afterthought to the image of today’s mall punk. If not for corporate America these kids wouldn’t have their image, or their records, and their parents wouldn’t have jobs to pay for it all. They have no real struggle. No legitimate cause or real reason to be upset. Only latent self disgust and an idle soul that wanes without the flux of a challenge or anything to do.
Kids have always loved Saturday morning cartoons, as irredeemable as they tend to be — Good Charlotte’s appeal is similar in many ways. Candy colored hairdos, and clown-rag outfits are certainly eye-catching, but they’re very far from threatening. They’re image is a ridiculous amplification of their own idols, and they could almost pass for cartoons themselves. They look like they should be walking around in a theme park somewhere, taking pictures with 7 year olds and marching in electric parades on main street. They’re not dangerous. They’re as legit as Mickey Mouse.
Ridiculous image aside, their music stands for itself. It’s repetitious, Anglo-overdrive, in the hull of a three-chord stereotype. The three-chord standard is the musical equivalent of the cinematic quote “play it again, Sam” — it was never uttered in Casablanca, but enough people think it was to qualify this error as fact.
But how does something like this get play? Blame that bloated tick they call a music industry, which only has the interest of self-preservation instead of art’s sake at heart. It was the industry that never had sense enough to say “when.” With the advent and promotion of the super group, the industry found itself increasing public demand, which it met by expanding. The recording industry is now an unnecessarily complex machine, which requires a sustenance that only a product of mass appeal can produce. Unfortunately, genius is a rare commodity, and it makes little sense to put your dollar on a horse that can only run a few races, even if it is the fastest. Life goes on, and the winnings run out. It’s more sensible to concoct an easily duplicated formula to ply the masses with. And when that formula loses its fizzle, another is easily whipped up.
Good Charlotte and bands like them are easily replicated. The music’s not important, so their ability as artists is negligible. Besides, a uniform of sound has already been designated anyway, and so long as it isn’t a radical departure, no one will care about who’s under the gas station attendant’s uniforms and hair dye, just so long as they’re cute, thanks to the ingenious marriage of the teenbeat media and the industry itself. This formula makes and bakes the bread, and so the industry’s steady stream of income is guaranteed, indefinitely.
It took a lean period of market starvation to make something like this work, but the end result is a public mentally and culturally so emaciated that fifth-rate piss-marinated pap like this seems like a king’s banquet. While some accept bands like Good Charlotte, AFI, and The Distillers as punk, others simply say it’s dead, and based on the rotted stereotypes the afore mentioned represent, it would seem likely.
Punk’s spirit has always been about non-conformity, both socially and artistically. What the industry presents is a uniform in both sight and sound. To be accepted as punk in the eyes of a mainstream media, one must fit a criteria. Punk is alive and well, but hardly matches the standard cobbled out by radio and television that we see paraded around today, and it won’t simply fall in your lap. Get into your local venues, and your record shops, and seek alternative press. Anything worthwhile is never an easy find, but ultimately worth the effort.