That reason I fell in love with punk rock is because I’m secretly afraid of authority.
There, I said it.
Punk gave me permission to be rebellious and ugly without fear of recrimination.
Punk also gave me permission to not exactly know what the fuck was going on.
Before punk rock, there were feather boas, pretty shaved legs, perms, thin mannequins, the Jordan Marsh cosmetic counter, Z. Cavariccis and LA Gear in a pink-bubblegum haze. A calvicad of brands that no one could really afford and a tacit break-up from my best friend because I wasn’t obsessed with NKOTB proved that I had better get my shit together before I snuck through the backdoor to college.
Even if they were just showcasing, it didn’t matter. Punk gave me permission to not give a fuck for a moment.
It gave me permission to not have a boyfriend. It became my boyfriend.
The murmur in my head that skipped CCD classes but didn’t know why, suddenly became clear. It was just now wearing leather combat boots and flailing the middle finger.
Enter a black, punk rock girl with braces screeching a feminist anthem in my ears. Poly Styrene was doing this in 1978. And we think Bieber has it rough.
The year I discovered the X-ray Spex was the same year I discovered the Slits, Bratmobile, Hole, Ani Difranco, Sleater Kinney and Nirvana. My brother also handed me PJ’ Harvey’s “Dry” on cassette. For me, punk rock was always the perfect blend of uncool-cool. It’s the thing you loved but were a little afraid of and a piece of you enjoyed the fear it evoked in others. The first time I heard Polly Jean Harvey screech vocals over a whaling slide guitar with zero apologies, I had a secret outlet for my built-up anger. Her songs sounded like my life put to music. It sounded good, but she was PISSED.
The most important thing punk invited me to do was to play bass.
The first time I picked up a bass, it let out a loud thug, crackled and died.
I brought that bass to college freshman year. It was my 17th Birthday present from my Mom and my brother. I was a little too preoccupied with academic predilections, familial dysfunction and not getting harassed to take up many musical endevours in high school.
Music lessons were for boys. And Band was way too competitive, so I took up writing. Writing was cheaper and safer. There were only a few girls on TV playing instruments at that time; Joan, Ann, Nancy, Lisa and Wendy.
The ones I saw were strong, but they were still lacking. I liked the dreamy folk world that my Mom introduced me to, but I felt a strange allure to the in-your-face no-nonsense of Joan Jett.
Most girls I knew were groupies. And being a groupie in my demographic (aka metal heads and idiot frat guys) was no walk in the fucking park. Not to down metal. I’ll always have a special place in my heart for metal. I just don’t like some of the dudes who play it.
My first punk band’s name was Nerdvana. We were born in Ithaca, NY. I brought my shitty bass to my friend Matt’s shitty dorm and plugged it into his shitty amp. That was the epitome of my punk rock career.
That’s when the crackling occurred.
We were so punk we decided we didn’t need music to make noise.
We would poster for a show anyway at the backroom of the only porn shop in Ithaca, New York.
The bass remained unplayed until Winter break when I could get it fixed.
Matt was vegan, a computer geek and often wore dresses to parties just to fuck with people.
Here’s the thing. People bash punk rock by saying it’s “poser shit.”But the truth is, it remains as a mainstay in some variant form or another just like jazz, blues and hip hop.
It’s not uncool to be 40 and say you like Motorhead. If it is, it has to do with some contentious idiot that has nothing better to do. Exception to the rule.
Punk is the reason I can show propers to Jessie J for donning a shaved head. Even if it is essentially pop music at the end of the day, I give credit where credit is due. I’m not a feminist who believes wearing high heels is undermining “the cause.” Feminism is about deciding for yourself. So is punk.
And you can be sure as fuck, Jessie J is getting a daily rash of shit for having a shaved head. It’s headline news. That right there is the REAL problem.
To me punk rock will always be a fixture. Maybe it has been recycled a few times, but maybe it needed to be. It has to be there. We need its undercurrent.
Basement shows are still alive and well. The last one I went to was disgusting. Spilled beer everywhere. Some girl spitting a loogie and put her cigarette out in it.
Last night Madonna was talking about her passion for educating women during the Chime for Change benefit concert. She said everybody needs someone to speak up for them so they can speak up for themselves. I couldn’t agree more. And although Madge sometimes gets on my nerves with her Armani and feigned Queen’s English, she does put her money where her mouth is. One thing I learned from my Marxist, Commie degree is “ideology over identity.” Madonna isn’t Barbara Walters. Nor is she Gertrude Stein. There’s a spectrum. We’re not getting graded, remember? Feminism is about removing restrictions, not creating news ones.
In a recent interview, Kim Gordon revealed her feelings about some of the mixed messages on the show “Girls”. Gordon expressed how she liked the fact the Dunham’s sex scenes were awkward failures. She went on to express some of the ways she differed from the messages on the show, but affirmed that unity is more important the uniformity. “What the breach of generations shows is that there’s more than one way to be feminist,” Gordon says.”
Twenty years later, Kathleen Hannah and a new spring of Riot Grrrls are playing shows. That is a hopeful thing. Girls are picking up instruments left and right. We’re not anomalies anymore.
In a recent article in the New York Time’s about the riot grrrl revival, they interviewed Amanda Warner, an electronic musician and riot grrrl fan: “I remember it being weird if you saw a girl in a band, and now it’s not weird at all, it’s just totally normal,” said Amanda Warner, an electronic musician and producer known as MNDR. Ms. Warner, 32, grew up listening to riot grrrl in rural North Dakota and said it influenced her identity as a performer and a person. “I didn’t put on makeup until I was 30 years old — that wasn’t the focus,” she said. “The focus with all my girlfriends was, like, what bands are we listening to.”
Punk will always give you permission to purposely spell things wrong, to be smart as hell, dislike Yanni, scribble in your notebook and start a band with three chords and a couple of your girlfriends. It’s the dirty, uncool-cool thing that can’t be put into words, only experienced.