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Where Did We Go Wrong?
A Commentary On The State Of The Punk Community

by Samuel Barker
February 19, 2000

"Punk's not dead, it just deserves to die when it becomes another stale cartoon. A close-minded, self-centered social club Ideas don't matter, it's who you know. If the music's gotten boring It's because of the people Who want everyone to sound the same. Who drive bright people out Of our so-called scene 'Til all that's left Is just a meaningless fad."

- "Chickenshit Conformist" by the Dead Kennedys

I felt that quote of the first verse of the song "Chickenshit Conformist" would kind of give my take on the state of the so-called "punk scene". I grew up around it, in it, and enjoyed my moments. But in the end I am left jaded, and disenfranchised by the whole scene. Yet I strive to make the feeling of belonging come back, if not for myself, but for the kids that are new to the scene. The kids that have to see the older kids call every decent band that comes along sell-outs because they were accepted by people outside of the closed-minded "punk" community. It may be just me getting older, and society getting it's hands on me, but I truly don't believe that. I think it's the new generation that is misled.

The problem isn't the new generation. It's the fact that all the people with the right idealisms were driven out of the scene, and the elitists were left. They are the ones who taught the new generation I mean we're dealing with a scene that has beaten Jello Biafra (Dead Kennedys) down at Gilman Street, and screamed "sell-out" and "rockstar" the whole time simply because a mosher broke his knee and he asked him for his ID to take care of it without police involvement. Only now can MaximumRockNRoll call Ian Mackaye a sellout because Dischord distributes through the "big time distributor" Caroline Records, whose claim to fame is releasing two early Primus albums. None of the kids know the facts now. Jello Biafra is heavily involved in multiple worthy causes, he runs a record label, and he does spoken word tours. He also constantly gives to his community to help lead to a better America. The basis of the punk idealism.

The punk scene was based on trying to make it big in the beginning. The Ramones were on Warner Brothers records, as were the Sex Pistols. Until you had an explosion of anarcho-punk bands from england, such as Crass, Subhumans, and Conflict, the ideal of getting your record on a label was your whole goal. You wanted to spread your message and make a living out of it. We just want everything to be noble and romanicized. But my does time change history. Sid Vicious isn't known as the junkie, no talent, freak show he was, he's a god of the punk world. An icon. A man who had his amp unplugged, and wires cut before shows so he didn't ruin the music has become a legend. In a way it's fitting, Elvis died a junkie on a toilet, and Sid died a junkie the same.

The goal of the DC scene in the early to mid-eighties was the most noble. It's the one I truly identify with. Led first by the innovative music of Bad Brains, and later captured by bands such as Faith, Teen Idols, Youth Brigade, Rites Of Spring, and Minor Threat, the DC scene was a model for all to follow. A close knit group of young people setting up networks across a nation to tour, and extend their community beyond the reaches of immagination. The sound caught on. The revolution reached out. In Texas, Austin had a good connection through bands such as the Big Boys and recently bands like the Lord High Fixers, and the Motards. Fugazi still keeps the DC scene alive with help from locals. The essence of the DC scene can be seen in Fugazi, cheap shows ($6), cheap CDs ($8-10), DIY releases (MacKaye owns Dischord), and keeping a strong community (they play only benefits and free shows in DC). This is the key idealism, not a punk "scene" but a punk community. A place for everyone to feel at home.

On the West Coast you had a more volatile mixture of music. In LA you had Black Flag, Circle Jerks, Fear, and X. All of which were very aggressive and led to violent shows. Even though it was all in fun, a great deal of animosity was created within the different factions of the groups within the "scene". While not too far away in San Francisco you had the Dead Kennedys. The Dead Kennedys were one of the earliest political punk bands in the US. Instead of invoking violence within a scene, they invoked action against a corrupt government. They strived for a strong community that could get the ability to have it's voice heard on a national level by all, not just those willing to listen.

As of this moment the strongest community around is in the heart of the Motor City, Detroit. Combined in part with the power of Chicago this scene has a strong community and a great deal of excitement and energy. In Detroit you have band such as The Telegraph, Nipon, and the Suicide Machines. A strong punk ska feel that feeds off the the feeling of unity spawned by the emergence of Operation Ivy in Berekley and the legacy they left of racial harmony and acceptance of all in the community. In Chicago and surrounding areas you have bands such as the Alkaline Trio, MU330 (Missourri), and the Blue Meanies. Which are all a different breed of music. Feeding off of the punk/ska influence, but each with their own twist. These are the powerful anchors that hold down a community. This is what we need.

The punk "scene" is something that needs to be left behind. Scene in itself calls for separation. A community leads to a much stronger group, and a less elite, closed-minded sect. The idealism of the punk scene was to be take what was normal and toy with it. Not destroy it, but tinker with it and make it yours. And that is what we must strive for. The music the driving force, but the community has to work to make it happen. Punk music is just the soundtrack for the revolution. Listen to it and pay attention. And don't make your community out to be your enemies. That's what keeps me on. You can never lose faith in your community.

Samuel Barker is Senior Editor. Contact him at suma@rockzone.com.

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