Most of the things that are wrong with punk are pretty much the same things
that have always been wrong with punk. It's just a matter of percentages. For example, ten years ago there were far fewer
bands in existence in underground music than now, and out of those bands there were really only a handful that had any relevance
to punk. And out of those, maybe ten percent were good.
In 1998, there are so many bands that could be considered relevant to punk
that it's impossible for anyone to keep up with them all. Naturally, only about one percent of them are any good. But because
of the large number of them, there are still more good bands around now than there were in 1988. (And so it follows that there
are so many more bad ones too, and they're so bad it's like a punch in the nose. Or, perhaps more appropriately, a kick in
But with the punk rock explosion of the mid-nineties things really did change.
Instead of there being a few well-concealed doors leading to a winding path that ended up at an underground cavern, the entire
lid was blown off the punk rock encampment and anybody who happened to wander by was able to stroll in and make themselves
At first, I tried not to be a prick about it (hell, my income doubled in
1995 - I wasn't about to start tossing out blanket condemnations) (if it makes you feel any better, my income is back to slightly
above meager now that punk is no longer the flavor of the moment) (in short, if I don't pump out a new record every year,
I get to go back to tallying up gas and Ho-Ho purchases at the Shell mini-mart). None of us were born with mohawks, I asserted.
We should afford these people the same courtesies that we were shown back when we didn't know much of anything outside of
the soporific realm of mainstream pop culture. We shouldn't be scaring them away, I said. We should let em look around, see
if some bells start ringing. After all, most of us in punk were some form of fucked-up loser rejected from society. We'd been
excluded from every clique and social club. We didn't fit in anywhere and we knew it. The closest we came to fitting in somewhere
was at a punk rock show, and even then we were constantly arguing with each other. We were desperate for our own clique but
at the same time we were apparently genetically mandated to follow a course of unwavering individuality; we had to say something
when something needed to be said - and even when it didn't; we had to provide a contrary opinion, often just for the sake
of doing it.
Of course, not everybody in punk ten years ago was a quirky, engaging individual.
Most people weren't. But the people who grabbed a microphone or a typewriter and started mouthing off in 1988 were infinitely
more fascinating than the toads who are running the show in 1998. The majority of the movers and shakers in punk were characters
- people with strong, often weird, personalities; people who were usually intelligent and witty (despite often trying to play
down those qualities); people who constantly questioned and weren't afraid to confront stupidity. No, most of the people in
punk rock were not like an enthralling combination of Cary Grant, H.L. Mencken and Liberace. But the people who were engaging,
articulate, insane, funny and/or outrageous were the people who made things happen; the fanzine publishers, band members,
promoters. They set the tone and ran the show. Those people can come from anywhere, and when punk rock became momentarily
glamorous in 1994 and 1995 I didn't think it was my place to be running off those newcomers who could potentially make punk
more exciting, intelligent, funny or bizarre. In retrospect, maybe I should've used the little rats for target practice.
What's wrong with punk in 1998 is that the people who are setting
the tone - the people in bands, the fanzine publishers and show promoters - are the same type of weak-willed, mealy-mouthed,
dull purveyors of mediocrity that we used to laugh at. From whence came these yammering, witless trolls? Who knows, but I
know who let them in.
It was our own fault, naturally - punks are nothing if not self-defeating.
When the success of Green Day and the Offspring blew the top off of an exclusive club (one, by the way, that had become increasingly
provincial; something needed to blow) and the mainstream kids started filing in and putting their feet up on our coffee table,
nobody was there to set examples. We were too slow to realize that the time had come to provide some subtle guidance; there
were just too many new people around at the same time to hope that they'd all be able to clue in if left to their own devices.
If we weren't careful, they'd bring in their own reality - the one of mainstream pop culture - and we'd be left on the outside.
We weren't careful. Hence the waterheads.
Maximum RockAndRoll - the one magazine that probably could've made a difference
- became even more pedantic than it had always been, laying down more and more rules, forcing people to make decisions that
shouldn't have been forced on them. It had negative results and why wouldn't it? Punks don't like being told they have to
adhere to rules. Your rules are bullshit, people started to reason, so that probably means that pretty much everything you
say is bullshit.
Older punks, myself included, weren't prepared to deal with an influx of
youth that had somehow come to adolescence in the nineties without understanding things that we all took for granted; that
bands like Nirvana were lame; that MTV was for chumps; that racism, homophobia and sexism are just hoops designed to keep
class divisons intact (and that knee-jerk, anti-racist liberalism that refuses to acknowledge the more repulsive cultural
traits found in all groups [even - gasp! - non-white, non-male and non-heterosexual groups] is just another hoop); that our
economic system is based on maintaining the worst aspects of society. Instead of rising to the challenge, we retreated, bitter
and jaded, into self-involvement.
Many of the older punks finally turned into regular adults and started spending
their nights in bars drinking and bopping to the sounds of a hundred sound-alike rock and roll bands. They sneered at any
band who was more than marginally popular and they got agitated over any band who dared to write lyrics with any social relevance.
They didn't need to be reminded about racism and sexism, they claimed. They already knew all that. Meanwhile, they developed
angry white man attitudes on social issues and became cynical and ultimately boring rock and roll versions of thirty-something
disco dancers and ravesters. They somehow managed to turn apoliticism into an extreme act. They became as pigheaded and worldview-impaired
as the political punks at whom they still sneered. Viewing themselves as hipper and wiser than their younger counterparts
in the subculture, they still somehow managed to cling even more desperately to a naive and narcissistic worldview; popular
bands were no good; too many records were too slickly produced; anything that didn't sink the mercury on their hip-ometer
was pap for mall-rats (all of which might explain why this music - the raw rock and roll of bands like the New Bomb Turks
and Teengenerate - was championed by MRR despite the overtly leftist agenda of the magazine, which for years had resulted
in correct lyrical sentiments being placed far above musical greatness in evaluating the quality of a band. The attitudes
that seemed to go hand in hand with the punk n' roll style of music had the same fundamentalist tone - though considerably
more snide - that had once been behind MRR's allegiance to hundreds of terrible, generic hardcore bands).
Unfortunately, the hipster douchebags were mostly right; too much music
was radio friendly; calculated; lacking spontaneity. But I felt the same way about bands like the Humpers. I saw it as contrived
fluff designed to lull drunken thirty-something losers with demeaning white collar cubicle jobs into a fantasy land where
for a few hours a week they didn't feel like washed-up jerks who had given up. I didn't like the music made by aging slacker
never-were's any more than I liked the aspiring yuppie snobs who listened to it . But the alternative wasn't any better.
Bands started spending ludicrous sums of money to make albums. Naturally,
their records were overproduced, often sounding eerily similar to the alternative rock being pumped out of FM stations and
MTV faster than you could say Tommy Hilfiger. They were professional punks who used studio effects and precision musicianship
(the bands weren't just "tight," they were mathematical) to try to make up for their lack of songwriting ability and conviction.
They'd obviously taken lessons to learn how to play their instruments.
This stuff - much of which was either horrible NOFX and Bad Religion rip-offs
or even more horrible Green Day, Screeching Weasel and Queers ripoffs - simply had no heart. Punk rock bands were supposed
to have something - anything - to say and a need to say it. These bands came off as calculating musicians who were in a band
as a career choice, not out of any need to stand up and say - or scream - something, whether it be a political manifesto or
"Fuck you, asshole!" They didn't seem to feel the need to make music as an antidote to the crap on the radio; they seemed
happier copying the crap on the radio. From the generic hardcore sounds of the California bands that seemed to exist solely
to perform for backwards ballcap-wearing, bong-toting, goatee-sporting Gen X snowboarders and perpetually enraged, drunken,
bare-chested muscleheads at Pepsi-sponsored festivals to the bland, by-the-numbers sounds of a slew of mediocre pop-punk bands
(most of whom went heavy on the pop and real, real light on the punk - if they didn't forget it altogether), these bands had
career move written all over them.
The snowboard bands were at least occasionally offensive, much like the
heavy metal heroes from whom they swiped their sound. But the pop-punkers were the Pat Boone's of punk rock - taking relevant,
exciting music and sucking the life out of it to make it presentable to boring, vacant-eyed, clean-cut kids; creating Wonder
Bread tunes that seldom raised the ire of concerned parents and other wary authority figures. It was the kind of stuff you
could dance with your sister to. If singing hopelessly corny songs about wanting to take a cute girl to the movies wasn't
bad enough, things got to the point where wussy lollipop punk bands were preaching fundamentalist Christianity. Nobody questioned
In fact, nobody questioned anything. So many things that we had taken for
granted for years had suddenly become verboten in the New Punk Order.
Fucking was out; cuddling and holding hands was in.
Cranky fanzine editors pushing their own agendas was a thing of the past;
a thousand newsprint monstrosities took their place; passionless wastes of pulp staffed by geeks looking to move up the corporate
ladder. They seldom gave negative reviews to records and never to records released by their advertisers; they were essentially
trade magazines. Some of these fanzine editors didn't even know the difference between an album and an EP (how could you possibly
get to the point of writing, editing and publishing a fanzine without knowing what an EP is???).
Singers who walked on stage and entranced you with their charisma, eccentricities,
obnoxiousness or just plain insanity disappeared; different was bad and the demonization of anything resembling mental unbalance
ensured that the character was sucked out of music. Pop-punk bands started staring at their shoes and thanking their politely
applauding audiences with all the genuine humility of Jerry Lewis scooting his ass along the floor while gagging on a mouthful
of marbles. The snowboard bands put on their frat party-style shows with the crowd-working savvy of a Wayne Newton while their
thick-skulled followers brought sales of dorky oversized t-shirts, sweatshirts and ballcaps to a new high, accused each other
of faggotry while standing shirtless together in the pit - much too close for any objective outsider to see their activities
as heterosexual - and pummeled one another like the lumbering apes from whom they appeared to have only recently evolved.
And worst of all, biting, sometimes necessarily brutal commentary was a
thing of the past. "It's all good" the multi-headed crowd monster shouted. Everyone has a right to their opinion; and the
right to not be criticized for it. I'm not into that band but it's cool if you are; I won't knock them because, gee, they're
worth something to you ("I'm okay, you're okay!"). Don't criticize anything or anyone but the most obvious targets; to do
so is to risk generating the nastiest insult the New Punk Order can hurl: You're closed-minded. Oh, the horror!
Vanilla. Mainstream. Normal. Everything's okay. And if you disagree, your
only alternative is sitting over a glass of overpriced beer in some shitty dive with a bunch of other losers listening to
the thrilling sounds of yet another band of hipsters covering "I'm Stranded" by the Saints. Or if you're too young to get
into those clubs, you can romanticize boring unknown bands, inflating their one or two minor positive qualities only because
it's such a joy to finally like a band whose t-shirts aren't worn by the people at your school who beat you up. Problem is,
most of those bands are usually unknown for very good reasons.
And above all, if you're into pop-punk, you better know that a band isn't
judged anymore on whether they're good or bad. What we're concerned with now is, "Are they nice?"
Did the bass player talk to you after the show? Did they answer your letters,
give you free merch and sign autographs for you? Yes? Okay, that means they're a good band, because the New Punk Order is
a little like Catholicism - intentions are what counts. They seem to be doing it for the right reasons, so they must be good.
They're good people, so they must be in a good band. What used to be the polite way of saying a band sucked - "They're really
nice people" - has become the benchmark by which the quality of a band is judged. The New Punk Order wants to be lied to -
desperately. Tell us you're not in it for the money. Smile at us, appreciate and respect us, love us.
We are the New Punk Order and we don't know any better. We came from the
mainstream. This is how it's always been done in our world. You're supposed to make us believe that you feel the same way
we do; that we're all in this together; that if there weren't so many people here I could meet you and shake your hand and
be your friend. Sure, deep down we suspect it might not be true but we want the goddamn illusion, okay? So smile and shake
my fucking hand, asshole, and try not to spend it all in one place.
I must stop typing now. You never know when the New Punk Order might be
listening, and I don't want to spend the night suffering the abuses of the Pop-Punk Goon Squad, strapped to my high-backed
ergonomically correct office chair with Scotch Tape (the dumb fuckers don't even carry duct tape); eyeballs prodded open with
shiny metal gynecological instruments as I'm forced to read the last 10 months of alt.punk messages on the Internet, while
the headphones that they've Krazy-glued to my head assault my defenseless ears with an endless, horrific loop of the Voodoo
Glow Skulls, the Promise Ring and MxPx; and as a final, cruel insult, the backpack-toting bunnypunks replace my nude Traci
Lords poster with a triple-sized blow-up of the cover of the latest issue of Punk Planet.
Of course I'm just kidding. We all know the New Punk Order doesn't run around
using force to shut up the opinionated, contrary people in punk rock. After all, they don't need to. Everybody's more than
happy to shut up voluntarily.