What It's Like Living as a Crust Punk
Canadian director Martine Blue has turned her days as a gutter punk into a new film, ‘Hunting Pignut.’
Photos courtesy Martine Blue
This article originally appeared on VICE Canada.
Drink, fight, and fuck… The spectacular degeneracy of singer-songwriter GG Allin—a putrid, bloodied, real-life Pig-Pen—springs to mind when you think "crust punk." Crust punks (or gutter punks) are often maligned by the rest of society. Dirty, transient, and anti-authoritarian, they spurn capitalism for a hardscrabble alternative.
When Martine Blue was 24, she left her comfortable existence to follow a gutter punk that she fell in love with. For the next eight years, she lived the lifestyle—squatting in abandoned buildings, drinking, dumpster diving, shitting into bags, getting into fights, and traveling the world with her dog. Recently, she's used those experiences as the basis for a fictional film, Hunting Pignut, which opens in Canada this week, and is set in the gutter punk scene.
VICE asked her what it was like to live a life where you didn't know where you next meal was coming from, and why she misses it.
VICE: How do you characterize a "gutter punk"?
Martine Blue: To me, it's a political ideology of absolute freedom mixed with hedonism. It's about not having to have a job, not having an extensive apartment or a house, squatting, getting around by hitchhiking, hopping trains, and eating out of dumpsters. It's an ideology of valuing your time more than your money. It's got a look to it too—generally dirty, tattered, lots of patches, hair is any color, shaved or dreadlocks. A lot of people travel with dogs and knapsacks.
What's the biggest misconception about gutter punks?
There's a misconception that everybody is drinking and on drugs all the time. Or that when you're looking for money, you're doing it for nefarious reasons. Sometimes I had to get a shot for my dog or something. Or when I was tap dancing in Europe, I was trying to raise enough money to get my dog's plane ticket back. [People think] we're all alcoholics, or we're on heroin all the time, which is simply not true. People generally look down on you.
Why'd you get into it?
I was living in Toronto, and I had a friend staying with me. A friend of hers was hitchhiking from Halifax to British Columbia, I said he could stop in at my place and stay the night. I fell in love with him. I ended up going to BC to get to know him better. We ended up moving to New York City to C-Squat, a squat at Avenue C in the East Village. Squatting in NYC is legal, so the laws there at the time were if a building is occupied [by squatters] for ten years or more, it's an official squat. The city couldn't legally evict people. The first few years we lived there, there was no running water. We shit in bags and peed in bottles. But a rich benefactor got together $3,000 to put water in the building, so we paid him off month by month. The last few years I lived there, there was running water and a communal shower that we used.
What did your parents think about it?
They thought it was very "me," very eclectic. They did worry, but I was an adult. There was nothing they could do. They figured it was something I was going to do for now, which is what it was. But it shaped me forever more; it's very much a part of who I am and my friends are very close and dear friends. I don't hang out on the street anymore because I have a house, but I feel I haven't changed ideologically.
What did your days look like?
I tap danced and performed for money. I did a lot of writing, traveling, drinking, and having fun. When I wasn't squatting, most of my time was spent looking for food or looking for a place to stay. It would take me hours to find a good spot. I used to sleep on roofs a lot because I figured those were safer—I didn't want to sleep on the street. I'd go dumpster diving. Checking the food and hoping there weren't any weird chemicals poured over it. I traveled by hitchhiking and train-hopping. When you're hitchhiking, it takes two to three times longer to get anywhere. When you're train-hopping, you don't always end up where you intend. You spend time waiting for trains in yards, dealing with bulls that either kick you off or call the cops.
When I had my own room at C-Squat, I built a bed and I had a fridge, a stove, and a full kitchen. I had a 16mm camera and an editing suite. We had electricity and everything. We were living for free while the people next door were paying $2,000 a month. We found furniture on the street all the time. There are so many rich people in NYC that they would just throw out their fridge because it didn't match their new kitchen. I had my van, so we'd drive around New York and find a working fridge and bring it home and use it for three years
In my opinion, you trade your time either way. You're working for money, or you're trading your time doing things more DIY. That's the trade off.
Was there a hierarchy within the culture?
It's pretty egalitarian, although there was violence. We drank a lot and a lot of people did drugs. So that messes up your head a lot of times. The violence seemed equal opportunity as well. There was no leader or anything like that, although once in a while if there was violence, the stronger person usually had the upper hand. We didn't call the cops—that was the one thing that was not cool. There were never any cops involved in any kind of dispute, and because cops were never called, things were either resolved or they weren't.
How were women treated?
Women were very equal. When I was younger, I used to fix my own car and work on my own room. I was a lot more hands on than I am now. Now, I have a husband, and I figure he does it faster, and I let him do it. I had the guidebook for my van, if it broke down I'd get the parts to fix it and do it myself. That's another thing that's time-consuming, fixing your own car and doing your own construction. The women were pretty tough in that world. We had a lot of skills that we might not have developed if we weren't so DIY in our ideology—by necessity because we never had any money.
What about sex?
I found it was kind of like Hollywood—the scene was pretty vast and there was always travelers coming through. Most of us were young—and good-looking by default. Some people were really beautiful. People mixed and matched a lot and relationships didn't last a super long time because there was always someone new and exciting and beautiful coming through that you'd fall in love with. Although I had a boyfriend for three years when I was in C-Squat, I wasn't single for very long. There were sexy scenes where people had orgies and threesomes. When people are drinking and doing drugs, it goes along with it.
Did you feel relatively safe?
There were no laws or rules. Anything goes. I didn't always feel safe because there was violence. But I was bullied as a kid so I grew up with an issue that I felt I had to be tough, that's what attracted me to the scene. For years I took martial arts, so I could fight. I got into fights, and I wouldn't back down. I gained a bit of a reputation as a fighter.
If I was by myself with my dog, I'd do foolish things. I'd hitchhiked by myself through the Southern states. I've gotten into more than one ride where I'd think, This is stupid. Why am I here? You get into a car with a big fat trucker who thinks creepy things, and you're stuck in that truck. The times I did not feel safe, a lot of it was because of my own stupidity and youth.
How would "normal people" treat you?
A lot of people would watch us when we went into stores as if we were going to steal something. We did every once in a while, so they weren't far off. Not everyone did, I did, here and there. People assume we were all doing drugs and there was a general feeling that people looked down on us. In NYC people were used to us because we were an established part of the Lower East Side. We had a kiddie pool that we used to blow up on hot days, put it in front of the squat and drink in it. A bunch of dirty squatters in a kiddie pool on a stoop. People in the neighborhood would stop by and buy us beers.
Why did you get out?
When I turned 30—it wasn't an age thing—I just wanted to come back to Canada and go to school. I left right after 9/11. A bunch of my friends were worried about martial law happening, they were either going down south or to a cabin in Vermont where they would be safe. I couldn't get out of NYC with my dog without putting him on a plane. In Canada, you can just put your dog in a box and take him on a train at least. But you can't in the States, so I was stuck. They decided to go to Vermont, and they drove me right to the border.
You're married and live in your own house now. Would your old friends consider you a "sellout"?
We're all older and wiser now and think differently about things. I'm still very much a part of this scene. My husband and I did a screening for my film, Hunting Pignut (which depicts gutter punk scene) in the southern states and we went and visited a whole bunch of friends I hadn't seen in 20 years along the way. Many of them are the same as us—lots of us live rurally, have grown, and matured. The big test for me will be screening the film at C-Squat where a bunch of my friends will get to see it at once. I hope that they feel that it's honest.
I don't believe I've sold out. I'm still a broke indie filmmaker. I'm scrounging to follow my film around. I wanted to show the love and the art, as well as the other aspects like the violence. I wanted to show how fun and beautiful it was being in that world. You pass by people on the street and don't know anything about what their life is like.
A lot of my friends have passed away from drug use. Heroin use, especially. It's the very worst. Some of my friends are dealing with the effects of doing a lot of drugs, so if they don't die, they can still become very messed up from it later on. You can't stop people when they're addicted. That was the shitty part of it—it was free and fun but there was that aspect to it.
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