“Punk 2000: State of the Nation Address”
Main Entry: 1punk
Etymology: origin unknown
1 archaic : PROSTITUTE
2 [probably partly from 3punk] : NONSENSE, FOOLISHNESS
3 a : a young inexperienced person : BEGINNER, NOVICE; especially : a young man b : a usually petty gangster, hoodlum, or ruffian c : a youth used as a homosexual partner
4 a : PUNK ROCK b : a punk rock musician c : one who affects punk styles
Main Entry: 2punk
1 : very poor : INFERIOR
2 : being in poor health
3 a : of or relating to punk rock b : relating to or being a style (as of dress or hair) inspired by punk rock
- punk·ish /'p&[ng]-kish/ adjective
Main Entry: 3punk
Etymology: perhaps alteration of spunk
1 : wood so decayed as to be dry, crumbly, and useful for tinder
2 : a dry spongy substance prepared from fungi (genus Fomes) and used to ignite fuses especially of fireworks
aggressive form of rock music that coalesced into an international (though predominantly Anglo-American) movement in 1975-80. Often politicized and full of vital energy beneath a sarcastic, hostile facade, punk spread as an ideology and an aesthetic approach, becoming an archetype of teen rebellion...
punk rock: rock music marked by extreme and often deliberately offensive expressions of alienation and social discontent
- Collegiate dicitonary, 2000
Where are the punk heroes of today?
Look over the biggest selling “punk” acts of the last five years: Blink 182, Green Day, The Offspring. Despite the obvious musical similarities with the punk acts of the past, these bands are miles away from the spirit and ethics of punk as it started, and how it was meant to be.
The origins in punk, in 1976, with bands like the Sex Pistols and The Clash, heralded bands for which the sound was secondary to the attitude. Punk for these bands was an expression of disaffected youth angrily raging against the society of the day, using loud raucous music to alleviate and express their aggression, disappointment. Punk had a mission: to shock, to outrage, to comment – and also to educate, to inform. The Clashs’ politicized stance commented on everything from American Foreign Policy to the Spanish Civil War. The Sex Pistols commented on the decay in Modern society. They provoked outrage from the media and general public. They were a thorn in the establishment’s side. Much like the gangsta rap of the late 80’s and 90’s, they answered their critics with a simple fact: they were “commentators”, telling it how it was. However, look at the bands mentioned above, and ask yourself this: What does punk of today comment on?
25 years later, and the musical horizons have broadened. The Sex Pistols were once the audio equivalent of the atomic bomb on radio one, banned universally, gagged and castrated in the media, so much so that the titles of the songs couldn’t be listed in full, and that the radio station rigged the chart to avoid playing he No.1 Sex Pistols single “God Save the Queen”, pushing it back to no.2 so they could avoid playing the lines “God Save the queen, the fascist regime” in Jubilee year. Now they seem tame by comparison to some of the more extreme acts in the punk/hardcore and experimental scenes.
So if the difference between the Sex Pistols, the Clash and the modern day punk acts?
These acts had meaning. They meant something. But this new punk is totally and utterly artistically redundant. It says nothing new or imaginative that hasn't been said before, by generations of acts that came before it. Musically it is a rehash of 1977, only with more treble in the production and better production. One fan of “punk” bands such as Goldfinger and MXPX went so far as to describe the Sex Pistols as "noiseless and pointless". This ignores the fact that 25 years ago, Punk was like a spit in the face of authority. Now it is just a minor annoyance, just another subculture to be subverted, co-opted, turned mainstream and turning rebellion into money and rebellion always sells at profit. Without the Sex Pistols, Punk wouldn't have happened and none of these bands would exist.
Punk, - now that it is considered the 7 million selling the Offspring , Blink 182, and Green Day. – is just another sector of the mainstream. It took the Sex Pistols 15 years to sell 100,000 copies of “nevermind the bollocks” in the US – the same amount that Offspring’s “SMASH” album was selling every fortnight in 1994. Green Day, Blink 182, Offspring are all played regularly on the mainstream radio and top 40 stations. And remember, this is MEANT to be the alternative. It isn’t. It is the whole concept of “bread and circuses” all over again.
The concept of “bread and circuses” – to be brief – is quite simple, and dates back to Roman times, when the masses were pacified with gladiatorial displays in the coliseum, in order to ensure they were entertained enough not to question the decisions of the ruling elite, not to revolt up. With the current co-option of punk into the mainstream, then it now longer is “punk”. It is entertainment for the masses.
Look at the dictionary definition of punk listed above:” rock music marked by extreme and often deliberately offensive expressions of alienation and social discontent”; “politicized and full of vital energy beneath a sarcastic, hostile façade”. None of the bands leading in the current scene fit this definition.
Lyrically, Punk in the 90s' is the equivalent of Bon Jovi in the 80s', just pop music played on guitars rather with the same catchy choruses, the same meaningless trite repetitive lyrics about how their baby left them. The same lyrical concerns of the cock-rock scene of the 80s’ of Whitesnake, Bon Jovi – the very establishment that the punk scene professes to hate.
The more truly cutting edge bands don't compromise their integrity by writing pop songs about love and so forth - Sick of It All, Shelter, Lard, Pitchshifter et al, all are more punk in their ethics than any of the SoCal scene. They state out their political/moral agenda unambiguously, rather than whinging about how their baby left them - the same topic that features is billion Bon Jovi and Britney Spears songs. And then, let us not forget, the same SoCal scene is exactly who hospitalized Jello Biafra and beat him up for being a “sell out”, after the economic ruin of the Tipper Gore Vs. Dead Kennedy’s courtcase in 1986.
Truly if the so-called “new punk” scene of the 90s’, labels such as Epitaph and Nitro and so forth, are to have any relevance, then their music has to have MEANING. It has to mean something, it has to rail against something. It has to incite progress, social change – to enlighten people, rather than pacify, dullify, give them a different sound to listen to, to subdivide into, to soundtrack their acceptance of the injustices of modern society. If all punk is a loud noise to soundtrack our lives, then we have learned the medium, not the message. We have not learned a damn thing. If so, it has no more meaning than that of BackStreet Boys or N-SYNC.
Let us not forget that Punk is not just a musical but a political movement. Its aims are I) not support corporate multinationals by establishing “independent” chains of distribution and manufacture (despite the fact that many so-called independent labels are in fact vanity projects for major labels attempting to appear cutting edge) and II) to politicize and raise awareness in its audience.
Punk therefore, is not just about being on an indie label and giving you more change from when you buy that vital piece of tour merchandise. Punk therefore is not about caving in to your corporate paymasters when they refuse to issue you tour support if you make you album available on MP3 format on the web a month before proper release (did anyone mention Offspring there? Mmm not me). Punk is about educating the audience to things it would not know otherwise. In this way, then the acts that most embody the spirit of “punk” are exactly from the scenes that punk rails itself against: acts like Public Enemy, Consolidated, Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy. By this definition, Punk now is everything it always revolted against, and never wanted to become. Some acts even promote blatantly rightwing, redneck, reactionary, sometimes homophobic views that are detrimental to the forward thinking spirit of punk as it was in 1977. NOFXs’ first track on one of their albums is entitled “Hobophobic (scared of bums)”, and whilst this is not exactly homophobic (instead being a diatribe against the homeless) the inference is that homophobia is a subject to treat like a juvenile joke, to trivialize the issue for joke purposes. Bloodhound Gang, whilst not being punk, but certainly being part of the so called “Jerk Rock” scene which often has redneck reactionary values also, have a video where a gay man is openly beaten up .A political lecturer like Noam Chomsky is more punk rock than Blink 182, simply because he challenges, subverts, confronts and becomes a thorn in the side of the establishment, rather than pacifies and conforms, becoming the mainstream.
The act of signing to a major label is not in itself an act of “selling out” – it is using a wider medium to distribute your message –and remains valid as long as your message is worth listening to. Bands such as the Manic Street Preachers, New Model Army and Rage Against The Machine have all been accused of selling out. However, these bands have still maintained a politicized outlook, and brought to a wider audience issues that would otherwise be ignored, and therefore, have not sold out in terms of compromising their message for commercial acceptance. In 1985, for example, New Model Army who sung the anti-US military diatribe 51st State, were refused entry to the US on the grounds of not having any artistic merit. How many Punk bands now as so political that this happens to them? The only aspect of Punk that the new wave of 90s’ bands has inherited is it seems that to be a Punk you have to have total disrespect and ignorance of any band outside your own generation (despite the fact that Johnny rotten loved Pink Floyd anyway). Thus musical innovators like DK and Sex Pistols et al are dismissed as nothing more than an “establishment” to be reacted and rebelled against. The spirit of rebellion has been learned, but not the lessons. Not the raison d’être.
It seems like, when I say the medium and not the message has been learned, that the mere act of setting up your own record label, irrelevant of the political stance of the band, is deemed punk. It isn’t. It is capitalist, and therefore is not an archetype of teen rebellion. Whilst this is diverting profits from labels such as EMI (most famous for their weapons division), the impact is generally negligible. If you cannot obtain a record deal then it is logical to release your own records, to take out the middleman. In doing so, whatever losses or profits you make are of an entirely capitalist nature. However, it is not the mere act of putting out records that is rebellious, it is the attitude and stance that a band takes to do so. Irrelevant of the musical stance or modes of manufacture or distribution, bands which actively criticize and take an aggressive political stance more embody the spirit of punk – as in a spit in the face of authority – than a band who sing meaningless songs. A band that uses music as a platform to say more than “I love you all the same”, A band that tells people things they don’t know, that tells people about what they can do practically to subvert the inequality in the world we live in, rather than acting as a mere mode of entertainment while millions die due to corporate negligence. This is why Rage Against The Machine are inherently more punk in their attitude than Greed Day ever will be.
The new wave of Punk often seems artistically redundant. Musically, the D.I.Y. spirit of punk, that anyone can do it, belongs to the bedroom DJ with 2 turntables, a sequencer, pressing his own records, selling them out of the back of his car before having a top 10 hit with the same tune. That is more punk than signing to Epitaph anyday, because it is about doing something for yourself. While it may be capitalist, it is also truly independent. But action without words, action without meaning, serves no purpose. You are lulled into a false sense of rebellion, subsidized by profit.
The new punk acts such as Goldfinger, MXPX, and NOFX have very little to do with punk - its white trash rock claiming to be punk to sell records, an update of the Stooges in their all noise no meaning outlook. The Dead Kennedys are far more punk than any of these, highlighting the social situation of the time through Jello Biafras informative, intelligent and bitter lyrics.
The truth remains: the current so-called “punk” scene isn’t punk as the Sex Pistols or the Clash saw it. It is no longer a thorn in the establishment, but another musical form to be co-opted into the mainstream. However, the musical conformists of the nu-metal and punk scene (Korn for example) are however also deemed cool, nevermind that they haven’t AND NEVER WILL have a punk attitude. Marilyn Manson and Slipknot however, for whatever good their messages contain, will always be deemed shock rockers. People will remember their silly boiler suits and face paint long after whatever anti-establishment and intelligent messages they contain will be forgotten, devaluing their impact as artists. If people cannot take the artist seriously, then they will instantly dismiss the message they are attempting to get across.
What is more punk rock? Singing silly love songs with big choruses like the mainstream bands that punk railed against? Of course not, throw those Blink 182 CD’s’ out of the window now then. But the attitude seems to be that “politics is boring: lets rock!” Blink 182 might as well be fucking N-SYNC for all the difference between them: a bunch of pretty boys with big choruses, selling millions of records, singing silly love songs.
Noam Chomsky is more punk rock than any of these bands. There was an excellent review of a Noam Chomsky CD in the punk/hardcore fanzine "fractured " that totally sums up the modern so-called punk attitude to the old scene. So good I think I'll repeat it here.
NOAM CHOMSKY: "Attack on the working people" CD Picture the scene if you will: Kid with backward cap, stylish skate shirt, fat pants with obligatory chain walks into his local record store and heads straight towards the 'punk/hardcore' section. "Hey Cool!" he says "A new band on Epitaph, I'd better buy this. They have a kinda weird name, what the fuck does NOAM CHOMSKY mean? Mind you that UNCLIMABLE AMBULANCE (or whatever) have a silly name but they sounded cool. Wow, look at some of these track titles; "profits before People", "Crime pays,” "Class War", "economy Up people Down", these guys must be punk as fuck! Okay then, I’m home now, lets check that new record out...hmmm, starts with some kind of political speech, I bet these guys are a totally ragin' PC hardcore band like PROPAGHANDI..excellent! the intros kinda long...I'll skip forward a bit...no its still going on...I'll try the last track,hey! What is this? I've been duped, this is just some boring school sociology lesson! What a con!"
The point of that? New Punk is just another loud noise to entertain the kids, a placebo for
disaffected youth to exercise their frustration and aggression in no positive, constructive manner, To
divide and conquer with squabbles amongst themselves. As conformist as Debbie Gibson, Bros, New
Kids and all the others. Music without meaning is just another example of “bread and circuses”.
Meaningless, vacuous, empty - just pop songs with loud guitars. It doesn't deserve the name Punk.
Indeed, if this is the future of punk then Johnny Rotten was right when he sung “no future”. Now pop
your Blink 182 CD on, forget the unpleasant truths of the world and drift away into a world where
your happy meals will taste the same…just as long as you don’t think about all the people that died in
Kuwait in 1991 to keep the oil prices down to bring you’re your tasty McCowBurger to the table. Enjoy the
stench of conformity and blissful ignorance…because Blink 182 won’t tell you anything you don’t want to
hear, anything you’d rather be kept under the carpet, anything that’ll challenge the way you think,
anything that’ll challenge the way you accept the stench of capitalism; unlike the Dead Kennedy’s, the
Clash, the Sex Pistols, Jello Biafra, Noam Chomsky or anyone else true to the spirit of punk as a force
for social change, rather than just being a hairstyle, a loud noise, a way of dress , and ultimately a
entertainment placebo to keep you pacified, a happy shopper, a happy worker producing unit for the
corporation that buys your time and soul. Is it any wonder, when we see Blink 182 hailed as the new
punk heroes, that I ask, where is the true spirit of punk today? Does it lie in those who sign to
independent labels, thinking they are “alternative” for doing so, or those who choose to act and make a
difference in today’s world? Those who are less concerned about creaming off their own 5% of profit for
their own wallets by having their own independent label, or those who want to peel back the lie and
expose the sham that capitalist society is? Those who challenge the system whereby greed is good and
might is right…or those who embrace it by being capitalist themselves? Those who want to be top of their
own individual tree, kings of their own little castles…or those who want to change the way that the world
works so that it is fairer for everyone, not just the lucky?
P.S. Here’s a quick test:
Which is more punk rock?
“Our tastes have become so standardized that we no longer make any choices for ourselves. We’ve become a nation of blindly accepting consumers latching onto terms like “Alternative”,”progressive”, “industrial”, “techno”, “rap”, “house”. We’re promised liberation but all we get is empty distraction, pacification. In our society music is just a measure of forced consumption. Until we change the social conditions under which music is made then music has no meaning. In the 90s’ as Big Business and Big Government realise they don’t need to demonstrate any longer the intimidation and violent suppression of past authoritarian states, they prove conclusively that friendly fascism exists in this society and the rulers of Corporate America have manufactured within it own people an addiction to pop culture so strong
it renders us incapable of any action as individual or collective citizens and the real problem is that we have no problem with this. Every fascist era has its giant spectacles to keep us satisfied. With us it’s just the MTV music awards and the Grammys. As long as we’re willing to keep on passively marching and singing then we know that music has no meaning” – (Consolidated, “music has no meaning “ 1991)
“Me and my old lady, lie in bed all day, and when I tell her I love her, she rolls the other way”
(Offspring, me and my old lady, 1996)
I think you get my point.