The Punk Years: Introduction

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The Punk Years: Introduction

The Punk Years:  Introduction

I have used my background as a punk rocker often in my writing to accentuate my belief that I have my finger on the pulse of American culture.  I have decided that the time has come to clarify this.

First of all I am using the term punk very loosely.  I am not using it as a genre of music, which it is, but rather as a word defining the sub/counter-culture which flocks around this genre of music.  I am also in the camp that accepts "punk" as applied situationism.  Situationism is an ethical system that states that all ethical choices are contingent and variably justifiable based on the situation. Most punks who know this term (and most don't)deny that punk is a situationist school of thought. This is because most punks are anti-intellectual.

They see the academy as a government/corporate tool and are not impressed by academics pleas to greater personal freedom. The lone exception might be Noam Chomsky, who most punks have no idea about anyways.  Most punks don't read outside the subculture, but within the subculture there is a robust amount of literature and lecture, believe it or not. Henry Rollins, former singer of Black Flag goes on lecturing tours and owns his own publishing company. Jello Biafra, a personal hero of mine and the former singer of the Dead Kennedys also regularly goes on lecture tours.  There are also countless self-published magazines (called zines) and pamphlets which have thrived in the punk scene since its birth.  Punks tend to be smart, but see anti-intellectualism as a part of their anti-establishment position.

A few words on Greg Graffin. Greg Graffin is the singer of Bad Religion, and is a Ph.D. biologist. He is the punk-rocker most humanists, atheists, and skeptics reflexively think of. This is foolish. Greg is the exception in punk and not the rule, and his advanced vocabulary is outside the range of the average punk rocker. When you do meet a punk rocker with an advanced vocabulary, it is probably because they are Bad Religion fans and have spent years diligently sitting next to their record players listening to Bad Religion and looking up the $10 words that Graffin uses so much in his lyrics. Punk rockers prefer to use "fuck" as a universal adjective, and don't bother learning many others.  This is exempted only by the fact that punk rockers love making words up, one of my favorites introduced to me by gutter punk Jasmine is "butt-hurt."  I don't know if butt-hurt is a punk created word, but I don't hear it used much outside of the punk scene. It is supposed to parody the feeling of someone who has just been on the receiving end of anal sex, and punks use it as a way to tell people that they are being too sensitive. Graffin does not make words up. In fact I would recommend Bad Religion as an effective tool for advancing anyone's vocabulary.  

I have nothing in common with Graffin short of being a punk rocker who is on the brink of a life-science degree. Graffin started Bad Religion when he was 15, and the band has been extremely successful. Graffin managed to get  a degree while singing for his band, which shows that he was exceptionally disciplined and virtuous.  The kind of punks that I associated with were not typically like this.  

Brief Lexicon:


Though famous for being Nazis, most are not Nazis. The skinhead movement began in the 60s in England as an anti-hippy movement, most skinheads are violent bullies within the punk scene. They are favorites as bouncers by punk club owners.  Smart skinheads who are not Nazis have ties to organized crime.  I have heard some truly impressive stories about the Albaqueque skinheads, whose leader happens to be black.  About half of skinheads are militantly anti-racist, but don't mistake this as making them nice, they will still beat you up.


: This word can almost be used as a litmus test for someone's roots in the punk movement. Non-punks tend to not know anything about Chrust. Chrust is a sub-genre of punk dedicated to anti-establishment militancy.  Homelessness as resistance is practiced by Chrust-punks, so is breaking into labs and releasing animals in the name of animal rights, and in many cases so is organized crime.  Chrust punks are for all intents and purposes poorly organized urban guerillas.

Gutter Punks

: Gutter punks live alongside the Chrust punks , but have no cause short of their own intoxication. They are nihilistic, and when they know the word they will be more than happy to tell you about it.

Street Punk

: These are the guys and gals you usually think of when you imagine a punk rocker. In theory these guys are from the streets, are all about organized crime, and fight all the time. In my experience this is false, it may have been true in the 70s, but these days all the Street Punk look tells you is you spend too much money on clothes, what these guys are pretending to be is gutter punks. Sometimes gutter punks look like street punks, but its probably because they beat them up and stole their clothes. I am not kidding.

Goths and Rivetheads

: Goths are just rivetheads who are a little more passive. Goths and rivetheads are the people who are trying really hard to either look like (or actually be) vampires, or survivors of the robot apocalypse the likes of which we see in "Terminator" or the "Matrix." These folks can range in lifestyle from being gutter punks in practice, to being totally well off middle class kids whose parents love them and give them $200 every time they ask. The well-off Goths tend to take care of the street-goths.

Post-punks or noiserockers:

This is what happens when punk gets a library card. These guys are usually the movers and shakers in the punk scene, and they listen to post-punk because punk has gotten boring for them and they need more intelligent and experimental culture and music.  Most famous of these guys is Ian McKay from Fugazi, Minor Threat and owner of Dischord Records. These are also usually the guys publishing the zines.


: Do it yourself.  In punk there is only one virtue, self-determination. You want to publish a book, do it. If you have to steal copies by breaking into an office building and stapling them as you run away from the cops, do it! If you want to have a band and you have to play trash as instruments, and record  with a "my first sony" recorder you stole from a neighborhood child, do it! D.I.Y. is why punk will never die.

Alright, this post is getting  a little longer than I expected, so I will stop here and continue in the future.

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