Yesterday, while partaking in a regular coffee shop conversation at our favorite local spot (a Starbucks in an Albertson’s market) and during a riveting discussion about Star Wars: Tales of the Bounty Hunters, my friend and I were interrupted by a group of hideous looking miscreants in black staring at us from outside. A casual glance at the ugliest of the group–the one I assumed to be the volatile; complex leader–aroused his more animalistic tendencies (Suicidal Tendencies rather HAHA, this joke will make more sense in a little bit unless you just don’t know). He started making what seemed to be threatening remarks at me. What followed was a rather long, pointless, and rather indiscernible series of sign language commentary between myself and this person outside.
“Don’t respond. They’re just trying to get attention,” said my companion.
With this I tried to get back into my dissertation regarding the fantastic science fiction writing that I had forgotten about for so long in this book that I found in a box alongside Slam City with Scottie Pippen for the Sega CD. Regardless, the diligent little bugger wouldn’t stop and I couldn’t help but be distracted and continue my communications with him.
My friend turns around and gives them a double middle finger. I smile at the group and throw a rather nervous peace sign at them thus creating some weird hippie vs. punk confrontation that I didn’t want to be a part of because I knew, at that point, that I had become the hippie and hippies suck. Unsurprisingly, they responded with an ironic set of peace signs, an obvious attack at my gesture of unity. Then they made some insolent sign language comment about homosexuality and I responded by staring at the ugly leader and signaling to him that he’d better cut this shit.
They then sent an envoy.
“Hey how’s it going guys?” asked the beanie wearing runt dressed in studded leather vest, skinny jeans, and an assortment of punk patches, “We seriously need two more dollars to get a twelve pack of beer. I was wondering if you guys could spot us?”
Looking at the guy, I noticed he had a Sham 69 patch on his jeans. Sham 69 is an original Oi! punk band that I can only describe by comparing them to two of my favorite Oi! bands of the era.
My favorite group is Cock Sparrer.
Right behind them is Chron Gen.
That said, these two bands are polars for me whenever I discuss Oi!. On one end, you have Cock Sparrer who, for me, are pop song geniuses who just so happened to be playing their beautiful pieces alongside the inebriated chants of a group of leather clad Oi! Oi! Oi! pub crawlers. In all seriousness, if an art museum–note: ART MUSEUM–opened up an aural arts exhibit and dedicated one section to the smile inducing melodies of great pop songcraft, I’d have these guys put alongside The Jam and Buzzcocks in some ‘Rebel, Rebel’ exhibit akin to a Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Basquiat abstract expressionist set-up exploding the boring confines of the reality around them.
I sincerely think that, despite their apparent rebelliousness on the outside, that these Oi! characters are just simple (at least initially) and only want the most debased and unacceptable as a means of disconnecting themselves from the rest of us. That being said, they ultimately just fall into a boring model of PUNK. Luckily for the scene, the bands that they worship are generally very brilliant at creating pop music. I mean, it’s almost a requisite considering that you will have a group of drunks chanting along to your tunes. Anyways, I don’t want to get too deep into this just yet. More later.
Chron Gen is the other polar for me. They’re a less melodic, more intelligent band. I mean, this is stuff that you can still chant to, however, it takes a bit more thought. The music is, relatively, more monotonous and minimal and, as a result, requires more patience from the listener.
For me, Sham 69; and a lot of the Oi! punk bands for that matter, fall into the gray and dull in-between. That’s not to say that I don’t enjoy listening to them or The Business or Charged GBH. I do. However, it isn’t as affecting to me as the two aformentioned bands. It’s just normal, run of the mill Oi!.
That said, I’m really not that big into Sham 69.
“Sorry, I only carry card,” said my friend.
I replied in the same way and briefly contemplated the rather bourgeois sentiment of our replies.
As the guy motions understanding and begins to walk away I call for his attention,”Good band.”
He turns around and tries to discern which band on his attire I was talking about.
“Sham 69,” I say.
He smiles. “Hell yeah.”
He waves and turns around to join his group outside. Before he completely disappears, however, he turns back to us and with the simple pride of a partly-cloudy patriot he proclaims,”Peace, Pot, and Prosperity.” Or something.
All the while, the ugly leader has entered what appears to be a spastic fit and begins staring at the back of my friend’s head, flicking him off, swinging his arms, and having a rather entertaining freak out. I begin laughing and telling my friend that this guy is being a spaz until the guy accidently punches the window that separates us from a possibly more physical confrontation. With this, he starts giggling and runs away.
“Peace, pot, and prosperity”
The problem with rock’n’roll, punk rock, or whatever is that the modus operandi is simple: sex, drugs, and whatever (because if you’re into punk you must hate Led Zeppelin after all). It’s this simple model that many generations of wasters have followed and fallen by for so many generations. Seeing a rocker walking around wasted, with girl under arm, and leather jacket/boots/hair, cigarette romantically in mouth is about as fun these days as a series of gumball machines in the middle of a mall.
Sid and Nancy YEAH!
And, when it comes down to it, that’s the most ironic thing about all of these people–in this case the punks we ran into. They must think that they’re ‘bombing the system’ or something by dissecting themselves from normalcy and walking around being annoying assholes. They listen to bands like Sham 69 and think they’re chanting and fighting as some sort of drunken group of ‘Rebels without a Cause.’ However, they’re just following a model as old as Robert Johnson and then some. It’s this inherent connection between debauchery, rebellion, and the music that spans all genres and wastes all in its path. When it comes down to it, these guys, walking through the otherwise dormant shopping center like rats in the Waldorf-Astoria, are just robots; following the equation and doing nothing much beyond being obnoxious little buggers.
That’s not to say that the normal rock’n’roll model can’t be something interesting. It’s just that the period for doing something cool with that mentality has passed. Chuck Berry begets The Beatles, Cream, Led Zeppelin, etc and then it’s game over. It’s just stock footage now.
Regarding punk music specifically, the true trailblazing icons; for me, aren’t these Oi! bastards and their pub shit (besides Cock Sparrer and Chron Gen of course =)). Instead, they’re The Clash, PiL, Ian MacKaye, Lydia Lunch, Arto Lindsay, Sonic Youth, and Bad Brains amongst others. Each of these performers were or contributed to something that really changed the way we, as music listeners, perceive things. That said, the most important part is that they weren’t trying to televise the revolution. Instead, they did things for themselves. The music they created and the scene that fostered because of that were self-enclosed indulgences for the members of the bands and their art. The effects they’d have on culture and society were just an unnecessary by-product.
Ian MacKaye, for me specifically, holds a very special position in the pantheon of truly great artists.
He singlehandedly exploded the Sid and Nancy complex that punk music was suffering from as a legitimate punk rocker walking around exclaiming “Don’t Smoke, Don’t Drink, Don’t Fuck.” With this, he inspired generations of kids, X’s on hands and all, to eschew the old-fashioned rock’n’roll model and simply enjoy the bands they love so much. Although the straight-edge scene would teeter between true ideological positivity and militaristic conformity, at least these kids were doing something different. That said, the most important thing is that MacKaye didn’t do it to create some movement. He did it for himself.
At the core of it is that individuality. These people aren’t politicians. Their goal isn’t to go around using their unique perspective to arouse change. They are artists who create what they create for themselves. The change comes from those who are inspired by what they do, rally, and scare the establishment. If you’re lucky, maybe Ian MacKaye or Joe Strummer (RIP) was there alongside you. Whatever the end result ultimately is, the point is that you’re out there doing something positive and trying to catalyze change.
Walking around asking for beer money isn’t punk music. It never was and never will be.
The next day, while on a run, I come across these guys waiting at a bus stop.
“Hey how’s it going?” I ask.
The ugly leader reacts with a rather aggressive, “What!?”
He’s obviously been trained to be defensive towards any outsider that tries to penetrate their bubble.
“You guys were walking around trying to get beer. You like Sham 69.” I point at the beanie kid’s patch.
There’s a long; awkward silence before they appear to remember who I am.
“Oh yeah, man thanks!” They exclaim while throwing up hand signs and ‘hang loose’ gestures.
I smile and turn around, altering my route to avoid them, the UPS driver that always asks me about my running, and the intimidatingly attractive girl walking along my route.
Unfortunatley for me, I’ve put myself at the foot of another long hill.