Sunday, August 2, 2009

"Must-See TV": Punk Rock Edition

Punk rock changed my life. It may not be as obvious a change as the kind of change that happened to Mike Watt or Ian MacKaye, but punk rock changed my life. When I discovered it, it was not just the music or the culture, but the ethic. The ethic of "do it yourself" and "don't be a jerk" was instilled in me by these people, and in a lot of ways, the music and culture was just periphery, although the best way to immerse myself in the ethic was to listen to these records which I loved both musically and philosophically.

Aside from a sort of knee jerk reaction at first which lent itself to dogmatic stringency, punk rock always freed me to be a more decent person. Help your fellow man, let's do this together. The system is fucked, let's have our own system. I used to think it was the so-called "sellouts" that made that "work within the system" argument, but I will, until my dying day, contend that the moral compass that punk rock either instilled in me or brought to the forefront (my pre-punk life wasn't exactly a morass of bad vibes and stepping on the little guy) lent itself to my being a smarter, more understanding man than I otherwise would have been.

Unfortunately, the majority of the world still sees punk rock as an adolescent loogie hocked upon the shoes of decent, upstanding society. US hardcore punk was one of the hardest-working, ethically stringent cultural movements in the past fifty years, but its' music is not approachable to mass culture - too aggressive, too intense. More "listenable" bands like the Sex Pistols got there first, and squandered the D.I.Y. with images of a bloody Sid Vicious spitting at teenagers. First impressions are, as I believe Shakespeare put it, a bitch.

But I had my own little victory for the punk culture last week, and I didn't even realize it.

I work in the news. My desk is in the newsroom, and more often than not, when I'm at work, my desk is on camera, and I'm being broadcast. It seemed weird at first, and eventually you don't even notice it. Last week, I found myself wearing my usual weekend uniform of Converse, shorts, and a button-down shirt, often open to reveal whatever clean t-shirt I could find that morning, which, that day, was the Misfits shirt I've got. At one point, I was standing next to a producer's desk, chatting, and realized that not only was I on camera, but that my shirt was pretty clearly visible. Which made me happy. The Misfits these days are, at best, a fun, trashy nostalgia act for those in the know, and with the proliferation of Hot Topic and the like, some of the trappings and symbols of punk rock have become a commodity, thereby losing some of its meaning. But I really felt proud for a minute or two once I realized it - here I was, the same guy I've always been, maybe a little more grown up, but I was putting a little punk rock moment on TV. Unintentionally, sure, but I wasn't paid to wear the shirt, I wasn't being asked to do it, but I was still able to get a little symbol of this culture that I love, that's still an outsider culture, broadcast to, what, a hundred thousand people? What percentage of them noticed? Probably less that 1%. But that's still a few hundred people who may have seen it and said what I would have sad: "Look! That guy in the background is wearing a Misfits shirt!" I was able to get a little bit of punk rock on large-market TV.

Once I realized that, it made me realize that while my viewpoints on many things have changed since I was 13, mainly due to experiences, changing times, etc., everything I did then and everything I do now is sort of filtered through this moral/ethical lens that was given to me by punk rock. I think it was Steve Albini (that paragon of righteousness), who once said about his band Big Black:
"You can be an asshole, or you can not be an asshole... and we didn't see any reason to screw people over."
It makes sense. I've found in this life if you treat people like you would HOPE people would treat you, often times they're so thrown off balance at you NOT trying to screw them over, they'll surprise you. Nearly any religion's basic tenet is "be a good person." The details differ, but being a decent human is what it often all boils down to.

I'm proud to come from punk rock. The music I play is only vaguely punky anymore, and some of my listening and fashion tendencies aren't exactly ripped from the Dischord handbook, but come hell or high water, I'm a punk. A proud one. And as long as I can bring that ethic, that sensibility to the world around me, I think I'll do alright.

No comments:

Post a Comment