By Max Dropout
I was under the age of 14 the first time I timidly crept through the half-assed black paint job that coated the Mogz stairwell like gizzard gloss; and all the while, my back was prodded by fingers, slapped by limp palms, and stained by warm tar-drenched chiding from the yellow-toothed, nicotine spewing pack of punks who at the time considered me a ward of sorts.
Mogz, known as “the underground upstairs, ” was probably the only “legal” punk rock club in my town at the time, located up the block from the Catholic-run and tactlessly-titled charity shop, “The Retarded Children’s’ Store, ” and right above some bullshit neo-beat coffee joint. The street all the time reeked queer of Colombian grounds and almond extract, attracting piss-stained vagrants from the near-by public park with their windowful of petite Louise Brooks wannabes, scrawling high-strung passages in their dainty little notebooks. The park urchins would stand on the curbs at night, pushing their bum gloves down past their rope belts, delighting themselves while tucked between fly-by-night porno paper dispensers, ogling the pretty malcontents, who were kept ignorant of these offensive scenes by the bright counter lights reflecting against the shop front’s dark panes of glass.
It was a struggle to keep that sort of place open at the time. Aside from the vagrant attraction to young girls and loose change, there were the numerous violent clashes with your affluent, white high school football kids and local black and Mexican gang members, both of whom would often gain admittance to clubs to hassle the weird (white) kids–add an emerging skinhead culture into the mix, and you have a recipe for a volatile atmosphere. There was no solidarity amongst the lower class kids, due to racial division.
I still remember my first show at Mogz. Earlier that day, some friends of mine who managed a local comic shop were contemplating out loud whether or not they ought to go to that night’s show at the “underground upstairs” — GG Allin & The Murder Junkies were playing in only a few hours… hell, at that time, we speculated that GG was probably buying heroin from some 24 karat mouth down on the avenue or raping some cheerleader as we spoke. Strangely, in spite of our wild fantasies of GG prowling our fair city streets, there was still the question as to whether or not the show would be worth the admission cost. Years later, after moving to Texas, I learned that GG, at the height of his nihilism, would charge a three-dollar admission to get in… the catch was, it would cost you something around seven dollars to get out, though. Either the show would end prematurely, never occur at all, or we would surely be trampled or split in half by the psychotic popster.
By that time, I was familiar with only the imagery of Allin. I’d seen him on several talk shows, including an appearance on Geraldo, which amounted to little more than a scab-chested GG in shades, flapping his gums to the scathing drone of one long, continuous “bleeeeeeeep.” His shit-smeared likeness was plastered all over the interiors of respectable record-cum-head shops, on posters, T-shirts, and I’d always run across those bootlegs with the color cover of Allin looking like a one-man Tolos-Blassie brawl. Based on that alone, I had disregarded him as a meat head spectacle. Nevertheless, Allin was a piece of counter culture iconography as immediately identifiable as the Misfits, the Cramps, or Morrissey.
When my “associates” jokingly suggested taking me, the little underage punk, to Mogz for the inevitable GG Allin melt down, my apprehensive response clenched the deal, and hours later I was being propelled up that ominously shaded stairwell.
Allin never played one song that night. I remember hanging back in some dark recess with my friends, watching him sputter out of control, naked, like some tweaking, bulimic ape — a primordial man stroking the underbelly of modern pharmaceuticals. GG dominated the club floor by running in a mindless circle with all the centrifugal momentum of a white trash Whirlitzer, smeared in blood and other bodily pastes; meanwhile, his band shuffled around the club, looking bored. Anytime any of the staff or the security approached him, GG would wallop them in the face with a pair of flailing fist — all while still in full stride.
After a thirty minute witnessing of his stamina, we’d had our fill of GG’s performance and split in the event the cops might show up.
My initial reaction to the mess was one of revulsion and fear, though the longer I endured it, I became increasingly aware of the aura of attraction that peeled off this guy like a stink. He had no sleeves to stow any surprises up, and yet every action he committed himself to had all the intrigue of some carnival horror show. I wasn’t watching a performance so much as I was rubbernecking, like one does while crawling past the scene of an interstate accident, searching for some smattering of blood on the asphalt out of the corner of an eye. The walls that night were awash with a dark energy, one I tracked inside my home and that stayed with me for months to come. I never heard a single song that night, but I was compelled to spend every dime I made over the next week at our local record shop, Wild Planet, purchasing everything I could find by GG, starting with the shocking pop mastery of The Jabbers.
As that initial thrill faded out, I began to regularly tag along with my roommates, sneaking into bars and venues in search of the sort of stimulation that Allin’s psychotic intensity had wrought. And I found it once again in the reciprocal relationship of frenzy between many of the punk bands in Orange and Ventura County and the kids who showed up to watch them play. They would crank out their anthems, and kids would go apeshit, feeding into a cycle of benign pandemonium. As I indulged in these violent spectacles, I developed an awareness that the seemingly vicious nature of these events had a built-in sensitivity and consideration… an etiquette if you will. If anything malicious ever went down, you can rest assured it was perpetrated by someone who was probably at that show for the wrong reasons. There was a common misconception by most average citizens at the time that “punk rockers” were some apocolypse-chasing band hooligans, and so if ever you were looking for trouble, you ought to check into your local punk dive. For the initiated, it wasn’t about wreaking negativity so much as it was about dispelling it… it was about a naked and faceless aggression… it was about the energy. If someone fell down in a crowd, you picked them up and did your best to guard them until they had their balance. Yes, there were sinister things that went down from time to time, but you could credit the bad blood letting to the constant invasion of tough guy squares, who’d waltz in, looking for a fight. On the street, too, there was the continual discrimination often manifested as a physical threat. Numerous ingredients fed into the underlying current of tension that stirred a crowd… on a subconscious level, the expulsion of energy at a show was tied into the intolerance we faced on a daily basis.
Most of us had been driven into more comfortable arrangements by misdirected frustrations over economics and politics. The average adult American psyche at the time was a hyper crock-pot of hatred, hissing messy threats. I think many of the politically active punks were probably fighting a cause for their parents, latently, since their parents were too blinded by the patriotic condition to focus on the root of their discontent. And away from home, there was the reality of survival.
If you’re suckling from mainstream culture’s recollection of what punk is or was, then you will equate it with an obnoxious, contrived, store-bought look, and an angsty attitude that shuns all things authoritarian or conservative. The look you see typical “punk” kids flying these days is a garish retrospective mutation, the content of which is neither an honest recollection of what occurred so many years ago, nor is it in any way associated with the modern underground lifestyle or music scene.
The media is largely to blame for the distorted perception of punk rock imagery, thanks to its need to meet a shock-hungry generation’s increasing appetite. In the same manner that right wing conservatives try to mislead the public into believing that all homosexuals dress like Carmen Miranda and urinate on each other amid grand cocksucker parades by honing in on a minority of gays, most documentarians and journalists focused on the most flamboyant subjects they could find while initially reporting on the “punk rock phenomena.” Thus, the public were misled to believe that all punk rockers played with their hair too much, dressed like the road warrior, and spit heroin on old ladies–angst ridden sociopathic brats bent on grabbing attention through any means necessary.
Before mainstream culture began marketing punk, there was a zero tolerance policy toward anybody who sought to be different, and therefore it was never in any of our best interests to walk around looking like zipper-laden, safety-pinned Christmas trees with shitty attitudes. Since most of us were on our own, a primary concern was always finding a piece of security. You had to work and be somewhat presentable; unfortunately, trying to achieve that sort of look on low-rent means often times resulted in a sad and unintentional perversion of formal wear. None of us ever wanted a “Punk Planet.” But instead, we just wanted to be left alone, in our own corner of the world. There you have the root of the underground’s disdain toward any mainstream attention our culture received, as it was often a misrepresentation of what we were about, and attracted the wrong kind of person into our clubs and neighborhoods.
Aside from the typical trivial emotional and personal shit that frustrated us on an average day, we had a society against us to contend with. While the overall aesthetic of the music and the image probably grated on them, it was what we represented that they hated most of all. We were the musty bloom of America’s moral and social decay. We represented failed concepts of family, parenthood, and neighborhood. We had defected only a few blocks away with some vital information about just what was really going on behind blinding white picket fences. When I look back at the sweaty throngs of kids twisting like some 80 mile an hour maelstrom through clubs, it was a completely necessary and sensible REACTION to what was happening in our lives, and probably the healthiest way of exorcising mounting tensions; certainly moreso than picking up a gun, hitting a random stranger, or moving out to the solitude of the suburbs to pump out punching bags. We, as a culture, were a symptom of our society’s shortcomings, and our art was a reflection of everything we’d seen. The subsequent adversity we faced was rooted in the fear and subconscious guilt of our peers. They suffered from an inability to accept responsibility for what they had created, and so they truly loathed themselves deep down.
Close to three decades ago, our culture gestated in the heat of misdirected violence from wobbling community pillars. All that so-called “free love” jargon led to maternity wards, which weren’t so cheap. Accidental children were like a 38 special aimed at the back of a household head, and reluctantly, they would resign to jobs and marriages. That’s when abuse became as valuable a vice as alcohol or tobacco.
Fourteen years after that first GG Allin show at Mogz, I’m standing in a club where I now work, watching a band of eighteen year old kids sputter across the stage with all the frenetic vibrance of Korean cartoon windups. The aesthetic is in tact, but the energy is different, if not lacking for the most part. Even when the kids on stage launch themselves at the stoic congregation of bobble heads, little else happens other than some backward shuffling and wide-eyed grinning. Someone does something that’s more like hissing than whispering into my ear, yawning out some hypothetical nostalgic diarrhea about what would have happened years ago had these kids thrown themselves at the crowd. His tone implied bitterness toward the kids, and with some further prodding, he made some statement that suggested that the kids on stage weren’t real punk rock because they never had to suffer for their art or image.
That night, everything started to make sense. Over the years, I’ve watched the underground rock n’ roll scene morph into something lethargic with soft rounded edges–a safe and docile shape. I recognized my own frustrations toward the fact that no one seems to move anymore, or take anything seriously, really. I sat in my room, laying on my bed, listening to the Flesheaters‘ No Questions Asked reissue on repeat, and thought long about my teenage days, which seem romantic in retrospect. And finally, I not only began to understand the modern calm, but perhaps appreciate it as well.
I’ve had contempt for the crusty punk for about as long as they have existed. They define their aesthetic by some word that refers to an unpleasant texture. They sit on the sidewalk scrounging for change and absorbing dirt, and with a wry-witted menace they enjoy and abuse the social progress that people like my friends and I made decades ago. They create and contribute nothing, but take, take, take. Their existence revolves around a bottom feeding lifestyle, while their cultural droppings are nothing but an odorless void, fading without any lasting impression. You may gauge the reality of a man’s life by the quality of his teeth, and in spite of their filth and repugnance, many of them have charmed smiles. They have no cause to fight for, since there was a whole other generation before them that took punches to the face every day, so that they wouldn’t have to later on. They reap the tolerance we have won, and have done nothing but take up a stationary occupancy within it, while running it down into a perverted waste. And so, my relationship with the contemporary hardcore child has a hint of parody, recalling my own domestic dejection. Sure, they have it easier than we did, but I don’t resent them for it. Instead, I despise them for their lack of initiative or movement. They are, offensively, quite easy to ignore. They stole our momentum, and forgot about it when they found a fucking faggot puppy. This is not to say that every punk rock kid is a wastrel, but it certainly explains apathy or a lack of ire the new breed are generally known for.
All the malcontents I used to know have retired to respectable corners where nobody bothers them. They have no reason to be frustrated any longer. There is no need for violence, as discipline has become an antiquated and obsolete device in almost every sector of society. The explosion in front of the stage no longer exists, and if it does, you can rest assure that it’s probably just as cosmetic a put on as a Bob Ross-kissed mohawk.
People have gotten used to the existence of punk culture, and it has been absorbed into the flow of every day life–it is as common a house hold brand as “corn flakes” is today. Those who lived through the beginning may not even realize that we finally got what we’ve always wanted: a place of our own in the world. A new generation sits comfortably in the refuse of cushy ribbon shed from the conflict before their time, and there is no longer any need to defend through force — this easing tension is symptomized by a burgeoning sophistication amongst the voices of the underground. Security provides room for experimentation, and our art continues to advance further from a text book definition of its origin.
Punk culture initially inundated a public with a barrage of constantly violent images and concepts, and the result was a desensitization that gradually rendered the defending arm of shock value obsolete. In change, there is certainly an element of death, as elements are exfoliated on a continuous basis. There is a certain casualty though that has caused a significant shift in the face of punk rock: tension. The illiberal dogmatic constraints which once opposed us may now be finally diminishing, but they were the main motivating factor behind our stress. Punk was a direct response to it. While some might argue that without its catalyst punk is truly dead. It would be more logical to suggest that today punk is merely an orphan; a motherless child left to its own designs and finally grown up away from home.