hello afro-punkers, i'd like to raise the issue of class, in this discussion, if anyone is interested.
in england, where punk took off as a worldwide phenomenon, the issue of class was an integral part of the movement. today i saw a showcase of a new band being promoted with all the fanfare, but with little of the substance. the band looked like HANOI ROCKS, but sounded like justin beiber. like punk never happened. i don't blame green day. is punk rock something people "do" at university, like skate-boarding, frisbee, dungeons'n'dragons, frat parties, spring break, etc. it's not that i expect people to be like joe strummer, and reject his father's diplomatic, upper-crust background, but i do find modern-day afro-punk a bit too bling-bling for my liking! rap still retains its connection to the street, but punk seems almost ivy-league by comparison.
what do people think?
Hey, luv -- I just saw this and wanted to scurry out of the shadows to share some things before scurrying back. Things have definitely changed. If there's any phrase that echoes in my mind when I think of punk today, it's that it's so much more than just about fashion. It's about what you will and WON'T stand for. From this side of the pond, and the kind of punk my friends and I were a part of in the early waves of the 70's and 80's, class definitely was a big part of it. More so than what spilled out of England in '77, I remember being more connected to the stuff that helped birth what later happened in England with the Pistols, etc. (considering how Malcolm McLaren ripped off Richard Hell's ragged/torn/mismatched look and The New York Dolls, Ramones and others). It was happening in the early 70's in NYC at places like CBGB, The Mudd Club and Max's Kansas City and elsewhere with seminal bands like the Patti Smith Group, The New York Dolls, The Runaways, The Dead Boys, Pure Hell, The Ramones, Richard Hell and The Voidoids and so many more. It was all very "downtown" and very "anti" the superficial glitz of what was happening at spots like the socialite and celebrity-heavy discos like Studio 54 and other clubs where people were often rejected for not looking a certain way and not being chosen out of the the crowd by the door guys (or personally by the owner). Sadly, there was a lot of racism and homophobia wrapped up in the anti-disco vibes of the time, but there were also many more of us who were able to rip it to shreds without throwing our sisters and brothers of color and queer friends under the bus.
It definitely had an edge of being stripped-down, working class and working poor. Yes, you also had your college "art punk" bands like the Talking Heads and others, but there wasn't some sort of snobbish, posh, out-of-touch, frat-boy attitude going around. I knew quite a few people who were in college in the 70's and their connection to punk rock fueled their studies and focus -- and they used what they were learning to "give back" to the scene. That's what inspired me when I became of age and graduated high school. One of the first things I did when I hit campus, besides jumping into my psychology studies and oil painting classes, I joined the campus radio station. The influence of college radio stations during the 70's and 80's waves of punk should never underestimated. From what I saw in Chicago?? Non-commercial college radio stations helped introduce the public to the majority of the punk rock, no-wave, experimental, garage, ska, etc. that never EVER would receive play by mainstream stations. College deejays like Terry Nelson (WZRD) and Rodney Anderson (an incredible Black punk who dj'd a legendary punk show called Fast and Loud in the 80's at Northwestern University's WNUR) had a major impact on getting scores of great underground punk bands heard -- and that, of course, tied-in to the gigs that were going on and alerting us all about who was playing and when. That was a big part of how we did it in the pre-internet, pre-cellphone age (along with lots of flyers, connections made at our local record stores and word of mouth). It felt so good to be a part of that movement of underground music on college radio. No bullshit, no "payola" or having to play bands that were approved for play or restricted from being played. It was awesome to provide a platform for punk and other kinds of underground/counterculture stuff -- including doing interviews, political topics, etc. I hope college kids these days are able to express themselves and tap into their own college stations like that. I hope many still have the freedom to do so. I've been hearing about too many stations being sold by campus administrations lately. That's a profound loss of punk and counterculture expression.
Now, I do remember the shifts that started to occur as the 70's morphed into the 80's and the kinds of stuff that began happening at shows...and to the so-called "scene", in general. More and more aggro began to appear -- and it wasn't just the skinheads (or eager kids across the country attempting to imitate the "H.B. strut") who began to make their presence known at shows as hardcore began to take hold. A lot of the idiots causing trouble were total frat-boy jocks -- some from my own friggin' college. And, as an underage juice bar opened in the neighborhood where a lot of our punk scene was connected, I noticed an influx of many, many more rich suburban kids at shows who were "slumming" and very detached from what was going on locally with the scene and more concerned with things like having Doc Marten boots of every color, the perfectly painted and spiked leather jacket or the straightest liberty spikes. Truth be told, while some people I knew expressed a sort of "class envy" in wishing they could afford tons of stuff and an "easier life" like these rich kids, I felt a gnawing disgust. And I wasn't the only one. I had a number of old punk friends who worked at some of the local punk shops and they all groaned every time they saw a 15 year old from a posh suburb making a big deal out of pulling out a credit card, or a wad of cash, and buying up $500 to $1,000 worth of clothing and boots at once. And then, after nightfall, in the heat of the clubs, some of these same, entitled suburban gits would have the nerve to try and call someone out for not being punk enough, based on how they looked. Seriously -- true story. I'll never forget calling one particularly loud, brash kid out reminding him of the hefty purchase he made earlier in the day while I sat talking to my friend behind the counter and the brand new boots and bondage pants he was wearing that very moment.
Something I grew extremely weary of in the Mtv saturated 80's and 90's (and still have issues with to this day) was how some punks began to have a snobbish attitude about judging other punks for the clothing/hair they were wearing. I still know people who say the rich suburban kids and aggro, frat-boy lurkers ruined the scene, but I think that kind of throws the baby out with the bathwater. Aggro, frat-boy lurkers? YES. Those fuckers stirred up a lot of shit and bashed a lot of innocent heads, but I definitely knew a smattering of down-to-earth, conscience-minded punks who were from wealthy suburban families among the rest of us who were in the range of working class, working poor to poor. What united us was feeling passion about punk being a movement for change. Punk was the "Great Leveler". It cut across our economic lines and shifted things to a simple, common level. Whether it was being the ones organizing affordable shows at an underground venue or a small club everyone could afford to pay for (like $2 or $3 bucks for 6 or more bands -- or even doing barter/trade to see the shows by helping set-up, cook food, etc.)...to creating and posting flyers using our own money....writing zines or free monthly papers with our own money....to doing our college radio shows interviewing a band no one had barely heard of or giving free tickets away and more. Punk shouldn't be about everyone running around with matching mohawks and wearing the same Hottopic bondage trousers and Doc Martens. It was all about expression and stripping away from the conventions of the status quo and pop culture ideals. Anyone could get on stage with a broken guitar -- or no guitar -- and just do what you felt inspired to do. Make a dress out of Saran Wrap or foil. Wear a plain pair of jeans, a t-shirt and a pair of no-name sneakers. Or wear the highest blue mohawk you want to wear. Just be yourself. Discover who YOU are as a punk. Remember the shoulders you're standing on. Be inspired by the past and what some of us helped create. Pick up the baton and carry it on to the next level. Write zines, write blogs.....get involved and stay aware of the political and social issues that are percolating in our world. No effort is ever too small or too insignificant. Punk is so much more than just fashion. It's about what you will and WON'T stand for.
Stand strong, kids.
Living in the UK it feels like punk rock has been around for a lot longer and therefore the perceived time and the distance since punks emergence has enabled its spirit to be merged and reinterpreted in ways that Joe, Don and others perhaps wouldn't recognise today. When young punk/rock bands reference their influences I expeact few would cite the likes of the Clash, Whereas hip-hop genesis is still very visible today, reified in video, speech and the people current artists reference as their influences they probably sample too. I think cultures can change exponentially in one generation and therefore its hard to compare the two.
I think that classism is at least as important an issue as racism. Both deserve equal amounts of attention.