You know that grossed-out feeling you get when you hear the word “panties?” I won’t even wait for you to respond, because I assume that being a normal human being, hearing the word “panties” sends a wave of perviness over your soul and makes you feel like you should be added to the National Sex Offenders Registry. There is a musical equivalent to “panties,” and that is the word “punk.”
“Punk” is a totally stupid word and I feel like I should be thrown in music jail for using it. Not sure who else would be in music jail, but definitely the guy who wrote that “Hey Soul Sister” song and anyone who wears a shirt of the band they’re going to see. “Punk” is my least favorite word that also happens to be a word I use approximately 900 times a day, since it’s technically the type of music I listen to. I say “technically,” because that’s one of the worst things about the word: It’s so fucking broad.
Punk, first and foremost, is an ethos or set of ideals, so anything that falls under this gigantic, safety-pinned umbrella gets labeled as "punk." Then, there are all these subgenres of punk, all with equally gross-sounding names. There’s hardcore, which confuses people. The first time I told my Mum I listened to hardcore music, she said, “No, you don’t. That’s pornography.” There’s also emo, which makes me want to beat myself up for even saying it. And then there’s screamo, ska, pop punk, post-punk, grindcore, and a million other subdivisions people made up to make themselves sound interesting on their dating profiles. It’s all technically "punk."
This brings up some deep philosophical questions. Questions like “Is punk a musical genre or a state of being?” “Can you define a genre that is inherently anti-definition?” “How the fuck has Anti-Flag been a band for 25 years?” In seeking answers to these questions, I asked for input from my friend Brendan Kelly, a notable punk rocker who has been punk rocking for the last 15 punk years in the punk band The Lawrence Arms (very punk). Take it away, BK: “If Crass is punk and Good Charlotte is punk and Madball and Fifteen and the Misfits and Shelter and the Cro-Mags are all punk (and they all are, because no rules, bro), then it's pretty meaningless ideologically, which means it's just another way to sell something, and ‘ways to sell something’ are either lame marketing strategies on one hand, or propaganda the other.” So basically, if everything is punk, then nothing is punk. At this point, I’d like to point out that punk is the only genre of music where this sort of discussion occurs. You never hear fans of motown at each other’s throats about what is or is not "motown".
Another reason “punk” is such a heinous word is the image associated with it. Most people who are into punk today listen to bands like Sonic Boom Six and Teenage Bottlerocket and usually dress pretty unsuspectingly in jeans and band shirts. But when casual music fans hear the word “punk,” they think of the ridiculous costumes worn by bands of the late-70s like the Sex Pistols. Newsflash to those people: No one who is into punk today gives a raging fuck about the Sex Pistols. And for the most part, the punks with green liberty spikes, bondage pants, and studded leather jackets have died out. Occasionally, you’ll spot a member of this endangered species in the wild and it’s like finding a leprechaun. They are mythical creatures who look like they stepped out of a time machine from an era when people gave a shit about Ronald Reagan.
What say you on this subject of punk fashion, Brendan Kelly? “The idea of calling an anti-establishment, anti-culture movement by a name that invokes fashion and strict dogmas is fucking stupid to begin with. And if your argument is that punk has always been a fashion thing first and foremost, and I would maybe argue this, well then being ‘punk’ is no cooler than being a Jersey Shore dago or a ‘rocker’ or a ‘hippie.’ And being a hippie is the worst thing you can be.” Well put, Brendan. And hey, thanks for dropping in that casual ethnic slur about my Italian heritage.
I feel like we’ve gotten into some really deep territory on the whole punk/unpunk thing here, so let’s just also remember that on a more base level, “punk” is also like nails on a blackboard due to its dumb, non-music-related use. As in Clint Eastwood’s, “You feeling lucky, punk?” or whatever it was he said before he started arguing with empty chairs. It basically means hooligan or rascal. I think I’ll start telling people I listen to rascal rock because that is less embarrassing.
Well, since I’ve just used the word “punk” about a hundred million times, I’m going to go take a cold shower in my clothes for the rest of the day while sobbing along to Rancid’s And Out Come The Wolves. Later, punks.
Follow Dan on Twitter @danozzi