miyavik.deviantart.com, via sodahead.com
Acoustic/emo/neo-folk/whatever singer-songwriter John Roderick has helped bring back an old tradition at the again-locally-owned Seattle Weekly.
In the heritage of such long-remembered Weekly cover stories as “Should Gays Act ‘Gay’?” and “Is ‘Grunge’ Too White?”, Roderick has crafted the zeitgeist-challenging manifesto “Punk Rock Is Bullshit.”
Before we get into the critique of his critique, let’s let his critique speak for itself a little:
Ultimately, punk rock was a disease of the soul, a doctrine of projecting and amplifying feelings of insecurity and fear outward and inward until the whole world seemed like an ice cave. It wasn’t necessary to judge every new piece of art against unwinnable criteria, or ourselves against imaginary standards of altruistic correctness. It wasn’t preordained that fun, lighthearted inspiration was shallow or contemptible; nor was it true that everything sucked, that life sucked, or that the world sucked. Successful art isn’t always garbage, and lazy, shitty art isn’t always teaching us something.
That’s harsh. (Or, in the made-up “glossary of grunge” published by an ignorant NY Times, “Harsh Realm.”)
Did an entire neo-bohemian generation really let itself be suckered into something this terrible?
“Punk rock” meant many different things to many different people.
To some, it was simply the continuation of dirt metal, stripped down for greater immediacy.
To others, it was a movement to strip rock n’ roll back to its garage rock (if not its R&B) roots.
And yes, to some it was an excuse for drinking, drugging, vandalism, and other unhealthy behaviors.
Calvin Johnson famously redefined punk broadly enough to include innocent teenage love songs—just as long as they were created and distributed in adherence to a strict “indie” ideology.
That was a near-exact opposite of Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren’s “cash from chaos” motto, which involved staging scandalous events for maximum publicity (and commercial) value.
Yeah, there were punks who got all self- (and other-) destructive.
But there were also punks who took the DIY ethos seriously, who built venues and labels and movements.
Punk was/is big enough to include skinheads and longhairs; junkies and straight-edgers; riot grrrls and Suicide Girls®; vegans and 7-Eleven fans; born-again Christians and neo-pagans and devout nihilists and even a few Jews.
But, for argument’s sake (and what punk rocker doesn’t like a good argument?), let’s say there’s one particular strain of punk ideology that (1) makes kids believe (for the rest of their lives) that everything completely sucks, and (2) prevents them from doing a damn thing to improve their lives or their world.
It wouldn’t be “punk rock,” whatever that is (see above), that does that.
It’s something within them that does that.
Call it a mental/psychological condition, if you will, with “punk rock” as a thin excuse smeared on top.
As ex-Funhouse bar owner Brian Foss said in response to Roderick,
In my life I’ve always seen joiners, people who need some kind of rule book to live by. Be it religion, or politics, or sports/D&D, or yes, music scenes, some people have little imagination.
I’ve also seen people take inspiration and make up their own shit from whatever culture they were exposed to. Something to prime the pump, jump start their own creations.
Other responses: Megan Seling noting how punk wasn’t intended to defeat Reaganism but help people survive it; Grant Cogswell seeing it as a natural response to the media-conglomerate controlled pre-Internet culture.