Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Why Punk Rock is not Bullshit

Why Punk Rock is not Bullshit

This is for Mike Watt.

Some things I learned from punk rock. (Note: I am not saying that these are the only things I learned, or that punk is the only place to learn them. Both of those things would be stupid and false. But I did learn these things there, and if you think they aren't worth learning, then I do not think we have much to say to one another.)

I can choose. I can choose what I will and will not participate in. I can choose to assert some modicum of individuality via my dress, body modifications, and deportment, even while playing a part in a capitalist economy I neither like, nor respect, nor view as a good thing. I can choose to avoid debt, to avoid fossil fuels, to avoid eating animals. I can choose to make art because I enjoy it, even while I know that this activity will never be economically or even socially productive in any meaningful way. I can choose to support the efforts and endeavors of my friends and others in my community precisely because they are my friends or are in my community, even when the efforts and endeavors are by some measures lacking. (Note: that I will watch my friends play in a basement doesn't mean I won't go to the opera; I can, and will, and do, enjoy the art of my friends on my walls and regular trips to SF MOMA. Not all choices are exclusions or rejections.) I can shop at places owned locally and enjoy it more than going to the suburbs to hit up Target or Tower. That I can choose means I have the responsibility to choose. Not choosing is a choice.

Just because it's popular doesn't mean it's good. Just because somebody you love made it doesn't mean it's good. Sometimes there are things that are more important than whether or not something is good. You can ask for something better; you pretty much have to.

No matter who you are, thinking for yourself seems to be a pretty good idea. Generosity is a very very important value.

I can do stuff. I can go camping. I can ride my bike from Vancouver to Portland, from Portland to San Francisco. I can cook. I can play in bands. I can write and publish zines. I can send my poems off to other people who might publish them. I can meet my heroes and have excellent conversations with them. I can ask famous people for help with what I'm working on and get it, even as, essentially, nobody. I can go up to bands after they play and tell them how much their work has meant to me for how long, and most of the time, they'll be really cool about it and they and I will feel good about the interaction.

I can be a curious person and learn things by talking to people. For some reason, a lot of punks tend to be knowledgeable about history in particular. I can privilege an aesthetic that uses appropriation and commentary as large parts of its practice. I can criticize and attempt to revolutionize any/every aspect of my culture, starting with the things and people that are closest to me. I can be friends with people who are dramatically unlike me in any given way. My viewpoint is frequently wrong and I have a hell of a lot to learn, often from deeply unexpected sources. Cleaning up after yourself is almost always appropriate. Humor is a great way to make serious points. Going new places is one of the most fun things anybody can do, and it isn't that hard to do, if you make half an effort.

Most of life is about accumulation of capital. Most of life is about accumulation of spectacle. By default, I am alienated from almost everything important (my food, my fucking, my work, my fun). I can fight this alienation with real effort: analysis, criticism, and action. Direct action gets the goods. It is fun to sing with your friends. It is fun to make things with your friends. It is fun to yell "fuck you" at bullies. Churches and city halls and police stations and schools and businesses are places where a lot of bullies are, and in fact are structures and institutions that are themselves bullies. Don't be a bully.

There are always outcasts, even among the outcasts. This is pretty fucked up. There are limits to the degree to which DIY is a good thing. These limits may not always be where you expect them to be. Most of what most people like is fucking stupid and shitty and should be at least ignored, and probably should be rejected and attacked. TV is a waste of time. Pretty much everything that requires a TV is a waste of time. Sometimes it is okay to waste time, but it needs to be a real decision, not a default. "It needs to be a real decision, not a default" is true of just about everything. Drugs and alcohol are not really rebellious. Sometimes they can be a lot of fun, though. But sometimes they turn you into things you hate. Some rich kids are rad. A little nihilism can be really powerful; harming yourself or others is usually not okay. Punk is best viewed as one tendency of essentially leftist social critique and action, not as a bunch of records by bands. If punks get old enough and stay punk, they turn into hippies. Most don't do this; most just "outgrow" it. In America, punk is generally thought of as a phase. This isn't true everywhere.

Everybody deserves to have a voice. If you say things that give evidence that you don't know what the fuck you're talking about, you should be told to shut up. It is not everybody's job to educate the ignorant; it is, however, really valuable when you can use patient explaining to bring somebody around to a greater understanding. Picking fights is sometimes absolutely necessary.There are many worse things in the world than being pretentious.

Most of the greatest song titles in Western music are by punk bands. Of these, probably better than half were by the Minutemen and Dillinger Four. It is cool to write songs about all the topics there are, not just sex and romance. Folk music can be really great. Some of the best art is made almost by accident. Here are a couple examples of "as much sense as punk ever made". They're both from the Dillinger Four. I could adduce more examples.

It's like picking up the pieces is a daily chore
Thinking of your time card forms a habit
Watching rick folks on T.V.'s like picking a sore
Fuck it all, they can have it
And now I'm loaded like a gun again
Like a plague of locusts heaven sent
Just a ball of dissension with a death perception
I won't sweat the definition of content
They said "better safe than sorry" and "look out for #1" I heard "only play the cards you're shown"
Fuck what they say
It doesn't matter anyway
Only in your grave are you alone
Like grown men staring with little boy's eyes
And actresses speaking with conviction
These people should demand a Pulitzer prize
For various works of fiction
"Judge a book by its cover" And "keep one eye on your back"
I heard "only play the cards you're shown"
I say fuck what they say
It doesn't matter anyway
Only in your grave are you alone
So many people with so much to show
Rotting away in their own little holes
One can only wonder why
I'll celebrate my home
But know that I'm not alone
Only fools are "along for the ride"
In thinking of the size
Of the world that's right outside
Please don't waste it trying to hide
This isn't what we want
This isn't what we need
This is what we can afford
Celebrate this sorry state
With anecdotes of what you hate
And try to take comfort in the fact that you're not alone This isn't you
It's just what you do
Don't mistake the irony of calling it a "living"
If you feel like no one
If you feel like nothing
You've only been taking what they're giving

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