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?