I grew up in Mason City, IA, in the early 90s and if you didn’t listen to Dave Matthews or Pearl Jam you were a weirdo. They say punk died in the 80s. I wouldn’t know, I was listening to Weird Al Yankovic back then. But by the 90s, it was still obscure and relatively dangerous in Iowa. Only a couple other kids in my high school even knew what punk was. Sympathetic ears were sparse. We even had to hang out with the “ancient” 27 year old punk guy who claimed to have roadied for Social Distortion, the metal kids and even the dreadlocked ginger-head and his awful industrial music. (Are you mad or do you want to dance, industrial people? Make up your mind!)
Regardless, I still dressed like a “normal” person. I never had an urge to stand out physically and I definitely didn’t come across like a punk. The music did help shape a lot of my social and political views on life, and it helped justify my laziness (which I pretended was apathy to the rat race) but I totally forgot to smash the system. When my friend’s Descendents/All influenced punk band “Marble” from Mankato, MN, wrote their liner notes, they wrote thanks to “Minneapolis punks, Mankato punks, Albert Lea punks and Mason City guys.” We weren’t punks, we were guys. And that was appropriate. We looked like the cast of Saved By The Bell, but with the Circle Jerks in our Walkman.
That was back when I was 16. I’m 35 now, and a lot of punk has come and gone. A lot of what I listened to then comes off as immature and strained now, but some of it still rings of truth and urgency.
Here are three pissed off, frustrated, venomous punk anthems that still get my blood going:
Screw the Sex Pistols, Crass is the punkest thing to ever come out of the UK. The Pistols were just about nihilism until they got bored with it. Crass actually walked the walk by living in communes and actually fighting for their political beliefs. Whenever you see kids panhandling downtown with mohawks and studs all over their jackets, they probably have a Crass patch on there somewhere. Crass’ songs were intelligent, violent and straight to the point: “Do they owe us a living? Of course they fucking do!”
Another UK favorite. If ever there was a punk rock manifesto, it’s this song. “No, I don’t believe in what you say. You’re just part of what I despise.” I’m agnostic, but when I hear this song I want to go punch a priest in the face. I wouldn’t. I’m a nice guy, but that’s how intense this song gets.
Interestingly, there was another punk band called the “Subhumans” from Canada. They both started around the same time, had a certain level of success amongst their circles and both kept their names. I guess that’s just how punk works. If another singer started off today called “Taylor Swift” she’d probably get sued faster than you can say “Taylor Swift can’t sing.” In punk, nobody can sing so who gives a shit?
No matter how you slice it, punk rock was started in the US. The Sonics, Velvet Underground, MC5, The Stooges, Modern Lovers, New York Dolls, Rocket From The Tombs and the Ramones all did it first. Suck on that, London!
LA’s Black Flag wasn’t the first punk rock band, but they may have been the first hardcore band. Back in the pre-Henry Rollins days when Keith Morris was their singer, they came out with the Nervous Breakdown EP and everyone’s heads exploded. While previous punk had been about politics or partying, this stuff was about self-hatred and boredom. The lyrics say it all: “I don’t care what you fuckin’ do! I don’t care what you fuckin’ say! I’m so sick of everything! I just want to…die!”
Black Flag recently decided to reunite. Unfortunately, they have so many ex-members that they couldn’t agree on who belonged in what. So they have two separate reunions going on with completely different members in each. Who are you guys, the Beach Boys? Get it together. Slap Greg Ginn on stage, throw in Robo and Dukowski, give Keith some meth and VIOLA! You have a kick-ass reunion that will last for at least 15 minutes.
Further suggested punk rock anthem listening:
Stiff Little Fingers – Suspect Device (1979)
X-Ray Spex – Oh Bondage Up Yours (1977)
Youth Brigade – Sink With California (1983)
Fear – I Love Livin’ In The City (1982)