When I was first exposed to punk rock I was 15. I remember vividly being in a car filled with people I barely knew, people I both admired and feared. I was to say the least enthralled with this new community of people and the possibilities that they could expose me to a counter culture world. So there I was, in a 1994 Blazer, 15 years old and naï¿½ve beyond belief. There was a rather tumultuous argument over what CD to play, which at the time I thought was rather odd. Finally an agreement was achieve and in popped the CD that would forever change my life. My virgin exposure to the world of punk rock was Punk in Drublic by NoFX. My first impression was a bit skeptical, after all, I wasn’t used to such fast paced music and I could barely make out the words. But after a few more songs I began to tap my foot and nod my head with the rest of the occupants of the car.
Fast forward to five years later and you have present day me, a present day me that has learned an awful lot about the punk rock scene in a relatively short time. I have come to a series of conclusions about the punk rock community, two of which are guiding principles in my life. Number one: punk rock does in fact rule. The music, lifestyle and mentality behind punk rock music provides an outlet for many people and enforces an alternative way of thinking. Punk rock, like many fringe movements, encourages people to think for themselves. Number two: punk rock is hypocritical. After five years of music listening, show attending and culture observing my experiences have led me to see the punk rock community in a strangely exposing light. For a movement that claims to be anti-establishment and concerned with breaking the rules society creates, punk rock sure has a lot of rules. Here is some of what I have encountered:
Punk Rock Rule 1: We must be different! I have found that much of the punk community looks down on people who aren’t “alternative enough” or aren’t “punk rock.” Although I have a pyramid belt and a few band t-shirts I would consider myself a relatively understated dresser. I buy what appeals to me, end of story. But every once in a while I get looks from the roosters (you know those guys with the giant purple mohawks) in spiked jackets. Looks that convey: “What the hell are you doing here?” Apparently I don’t dress quite punk enough for some people. I thought punk rock was about freedom of expression and individuality. If I wanted to wear a uniform I would just put on my old skirt from Catholic school.
Punk Rock Rule 2: Our music is better! People thoroughly immersed in the punk rock community seem to think that punk rock is the be all and end all of music. Why can’t I love the style of bands like NoFX and Anti-Flag and still listen to bands like The Strokes? I wasn’t under the impression that I could somehow lose my status as a punk rocker by liking other types of music. I know quite a few music elitists and I wholly disagree with that attitude. Whatever happened to freedom of thought? My preference in music can be eclectic and tasteful at the same time. If the sound makes me feel good, if the lyrics say something meaningful, if I can identify with the song I deem it good music. Good music is good music, regardless of genre.
Punk Rock Rule 3: You are a sell out! What does this term even mean? I don’t think I have gotten the same answer from two people. But apparently “selling out” is becoming well known or being played on the radio. If punk rock appeals to any part of the mainstream crowd it is deemed “sell out music.” Wait just a minute here! How can punk rock grow and attract different types of people if nobody outside the scene is ever exposed to it? That makes no sense. When bands like Less Than Jake change record labels and sound a bit different it is a crime (according to the “real” punk rockers). Now this band can’t even sell out three nights at Roseland Ballroom because their die hard fans have deserted them after a somewhat mellower album and a change from an indie label to Warner Brothers. I bet that if they made the same minute change on Epitaph (instead of a major label) no one would be quite so upset. Here is the true definition of a punk rock sell out: change.
Punk Rock Rule 4: Punk rock trends you must abide by! Bands like The Clash and the Sex Pistols are idolized as punk rock legends. But what happens if you should not like said bands? Well it simply means you have no taste and cannot appreciate true punk rock. Huh? I didn’t realize that there were historical requirements for appreciating punk rock music. I personally love the Sex Pistols and The Clash but I wouldn’t hold it against someone who didn’t. There are also modern bands that demand a certain respect in the punk community, Rancid and NoFX being two very well respected veterans of the punk rock movement. I love NoFX with a passion, but am not fond of Rancid (primarily due to the fact that their lead man, Tim Armstrong sounds like a drunken third grader with a speech impediment). I have encountered an unfathomable amount of hostility for this opinion (which I force on nobody). I know of no other music genre with such stringent taste requirements.
Punk Rock Rule 5: Think like us or you are wrong! All of these little pet peeves are based around a guiding principle. Punk rock is a way of life for many people. To these people there is no better way to be than to be punk rock. Exemplified by elitist tastes, strange dress, body modification (i.e. tattoos and piercings), and similar ways of thinking, punk rock seems more restricting than the very principles it is suppose to be against. Punk rock culture reinforces the ideas of being different and thinking different. Then why is it that people appearing different, thinking different or with different tastes than those of ‘true punks’ are ostracized and seen as somehow lesser-than? It seems to me that punk rock has become just another set of rules to abide by and another culture to belong to. After all that talk about being an individual and thinking outside the mainstream, punk rockers really belong don’t they? They belong to punk rock, they fit in and they follow.
I don’t regret that day I first heard NoFX. Despite all of my disappointment in the scene, punk rock is and will forever remain close to my heart. I still believe that under all the hypocrisy punk rock encourages individuality. I think punk rock can reach people in a way that not many music genres can. It is a powerful weapon against the herd mentality enforced by society. Punk rules because it can throw a party and bring awareness to social issues at the same time. Punk rock still rules because it makes me feel good and after all is said and done, isn’t that what music is really about?
8 replies on “Punk Rock Rules”
man i really wissh brett were around to read this, him and i used to debate this topic and it’s similar parallels to hip hop. I think it’s a good critique and one I think about often and i knew even i am guilty of being an elitist in the sense described here in this article at times, but the fact of the matter is you cuaght onto one of the great ironys of the scene, i love going to warped tour and seeing a row of kids in their denim jacket covered with spikes, whereing their plad bondage pants and their giant mohawks talking about how fucked up our conformist society is, always gives me a good laugh.
You raise a lot of questions and you make some great points.
right on girl
i completely agree..as one of the somewhat punk rock loving girls who doesnt try.
Great article, and I agree with a lot of the stuff you talked about. I, like a lot of other people, was turned onto punk rock through Blink 182. From them I learned about other bands like NOFX, Rancid, and Bad Religion. All of which, are three of my favorite bands today.
I’ve been guilty of rule number one on occasion, but for the most part, I think people should dress how they feel comfortable. I wear plaid bondage pants, band T’s, Chuck Taylor’s, and studded belts. But it doesn’t mean I can’t hang with someone wearing American Eagle and Abercrombie. Do I think it’s odd to see someone dressed like that at a punk rock show? Yes. But I can accept it and as long as they’re there to enjoy themselves, then they’re cool with me.
I agree with you completely on rule number two. People should listen to what they enjoy, and as I’ve said on many occasions, limiting yourself to one genre of music is pretty sad. Doing so can cause you to miss out on a lot of great music. I like bands like AFI, Rancid, and Operation Ivy. But at the same time, I also enjoy bands like Good Charlotte, Blink 182, and New Found Glory.
Rule number three is total bullshit, and all music elitists who think this way can kiss my ass. I couldn’t care less what label a band is signed to or whether or not they’re played on MTV and the radio. If I like them, I’m gonna listen to them.
Fuck rule number four too. I respect what they’ve done for punk rock, but I hate the Sex Pistols music. I’ve heard two songs by them that I like, Anarchy in the UK and God Save the Queen. I’ve never listened to The Clash either. I’m a little dissappointed that you didn’t mention Bad Religion as “well respected veterans in the punk rock community” though. They’ve been around longer than Rancid and NOFX both. Brett(owner of Epitaph) of Bad Religion helped NOFX get started.
The people you talk about in rule number five shouldn’t have anything to do with the punk rock community. Bottom line.
see the sell out arguement is one i at least understand
lot of people would be pissed if a band like anti-flag sacrificed their principals and went onto a major label and it would be selling out, giving into the system, because they’d become part of a larger corporation that commits a lot of fucked up things
But in that case look at a band like Rage Against The Machine… they made a lot of statements, brought people to be aware of a lot of things, but did it from under a major label (sony) and you could argue the good they did outweighs the bad of them contributing to sony.
I dunno, in other cases i think the sell out thing is boarderline, but it’s mostly bullshit.
People are pissed because LTJ changed their sound to get a larger audience appeal, i mean they’ve even said it in interviews, but i don’t know if it was all a bad thing either, and i think it’s fucked up cuz i know a lot of die hard ltj fans who won’t listen to anthem and claim they suck now, and i think most of these people just aren’t open minded enough.
it’s a wierd debate
I own two Less Than Jake albums. Anthem and Borders & Boundaries. I like them both equally, and don’t notice that much of a difference. Anthem seems to have less horns. Aside from that they still play good, fun, fast songs. One example of a band completely changing their sound would be AFI. Listen to Very Proud of Ya or Answer That & Stay Fashionable. Then, pop in Art of Drowning or Sing the Sorrow. Huge difference, but still good. They didn’t change to be more popular either, because they already had a huge following. Change isn’t always a bad thing either.
Well here’s my deal really. I’m no punk rocker, in fact, I don’t care for most the music. Long ago I was actually into it but somehow with the ridicule that I got from my punk friends for still liking bands like Hed(pe) or Machine Head, or still wearing my nice collar shirts and normal pants; it just drove me away, from the lifestyle, from the music, all of it. Bell you managed to point out something major about this style of life that is the very reason I won’t be apart of it anymore. I’m glad that other people out there notice it to. I find myself saying things like “punk sucks” and such every now and then, and people always jump on my case because they think I’m trying to trash their music. What they don’t understand is its not the music I’m going after, but rather the messed up morals that they claim to go by, when in reality have more conformity than a lot of the other general conformers of life. It’s rather amusing to see their denial in it all too. Basically people are allowed to like what they want, but I don’t see why there has to be rules for doing so. I totally live by the principal of being yourself, but when it comes to being yourself by looking and acting like a group of others being themselves, it just defeats the point. Like I said before, I don’t insult punk music, because some I’m a little guilty of liking from time to time, but as far as the laid out lifestyle of such, I don’t understand how people can be blinded to what REALLY goes on.
Here’s the solution…listen for it…ok…
Enjoy the music for what it is. Enjoy the shows for what they are. Hell, become obsessed, and stalk your favorite bands, I don’t care. ANY genre of music has idiot fans who judge everyone else. You can’t change them, so IGNORE them
The only reason Mohawk Joe harasses people is so they like exaclty what he likes, for fear of rejection. Well I say Fuck Mohawk Joe. Don’t waste time thinking about him. Listen to Sex Pistols, then put on a Basckstreet Boys record. WHO CARES????
Screw em all
PS: That’s the true punk mentality. Not giving a shit. About anything