“Of course you’re gonna say ‘f**k the government,’ that’s what punk does, y’know. Of course you’re gonna say ‘f**k everyone else.’ But I’m also looking for someone to tell me why. ‘Why should I f**k the government?’ And I think that there are very few bands that are really taking those steps to go ahead and say something, and that’s always something I try to do. I wouldn’t be punk, and you wouldn’t be punk, if you weren’t.” – Kevin De Franco of The God Awfuls on the benefits of balanced, independent, well-informed political thought.
The above quote illustrates both the benefits and the drawbacks of political punk, which is tackled in the documentary too. It’s good that some punk music gets some kids into political thinking, but all too often it’s closed-minded, unrealistic pseudo-socialist thinking (no surprise that muddlebrain cokesnorter ‘deep-dish political philosopher’ wee Billy Bob got into politics through punk music), that ends up nowhere but self-righteous holier-than-thou preaching – the nerdy, annoying Justin Sane (random thought from my notes: ‘Justin Sane looks like a failed law student’) of the oddly Nazi-brownshirt-looking Anti-Flag illustrates this perfectly. These annoying pious punk puritans (cf: Propagandhi) look down their noses at anybody not as (sniff) politically correct as them and associate only with others on their twisted “philosophizing, propaganda-spewing, teenage armchair revolutionary” (Screeching Weasel) wavelengths. Their stance may be correct in parts, but it’s incredibly naïve, simplistic thought, generally coming only from other bands with the exact same outlook and not from independent sources.
While it’s easy to believe you’re changing the world by singing about how f****d up it is through amps and mikes and whatnot bought through the crapitalist system you profess to abhor so much, hanging around only with people who share your political views leads only to insular myopia, no intellectual or political challenging…and ultimately a certain redundancy of (tunnel) vision. Go to a gig, scream and shout along with the band about the world’s wrongs, righting them with vocal might and fist clenched tight all night and buying a fanzine and an anti-corporate tee-shirt (probably manufactured by some corporation)…and then go home go to sleep and let the problem take care of itself cos, well, that’s just life, innit, and who truly cares anyway? I was going to say I don’t doubt the sincerity of these politicopunks…well actually I do…but even if they are sincere, as in, say the case of the Subhumans…well, they’re preaching to the converted anyway, singing to the small angry anarchic bootboy choir…and it never ever will truly achieve anything thing on any real measurable scale. But hey. Chicks love it when you profess to care – especially when you’re the singer in a band. A guy I used to know many moons ago believed that the people who claim to care usually don’t, and those who claim not to care actually do. It’s not an infallible inverted philosophy, but it’s a pretty good truism to me.
Damn I’m old and jaded and cynical.
“I don’t give a f**k, I’m a punk rocker until I’m 100 years old.” – The barely-sentient, wearing-sunglasses-indoors poser Tim Armstrong of the worthless Rancid clues us up on his stellar life plan.
Okay. Time for a confession. Or at least something to let you know why I care so much about punk music, or did care at least. The classic Dead Kennedys album Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables changed my life in 1986, when I was 16; look on the back of the first two Jello Biafra spoken word albums (though you may well get a numb bum if you go to see him speak – for four f*****g hours!) and you will see my name, cos I contributed newspaper clippings to the ‘F**k Facts’ newspapers that came with them, and money to the No More Censorship Defense Fund, when I was in my late teens. I have been listening to punk music since then (Screeching Weasel being my own favorite band from the late 80s right through the 90s) and it has meant a lot to me in many ways. Which is why the vapidity of the pop-punk crap still annoys me, though I suppose it shouldn’t – because I actually believed in this music for a time. Yeah, more fool me you could say, but I was young and it was fun to jump about and get drunk and scream and shout and be in stupid drunkpunk bands singing about “Nekromantik” and weighty topics like ‘F**k The Ozone Layer’ (ahead of my time in 1989 with that one) and ‘James Dean Was A C**t.’
What this doc only really briefly touches upon is the sheer fun of just getting f****d up and escaping the shitty world around you, which I will cop to as one of my own motivations for listening to the music – that and the sentiments expressed in the music agreed with my nascent worldview (whilst also helping to shape selfsame, had I but know it at the time) as well and fit the Scottish sorta-socialist mindset like a glove. Hell, a HUGE part of punk is just straight rebelling against your parents anyway, and you can’t construct a life on three chords and a should-be-fading-with-age attitudinal stance. It’s easy for punks bands to stay at a certain low level of achievement (cf: The Adicts, whose musings on staying underground to retain your hardcore fanbase remind me of Spinal Tap saying their audiences are getting smaller because they’re ‘more selective’) and you could, as Bang Sugar Bang (a terrible band name, though I suppose they would tell you it’s about shooting smack or something, or maybe not, who cares) put it, play basement shows for your whole (lack of) life more or less…but ultimately…what’s the f*****g point?
The most interesting segment of this doc is, to me (and forgive me for writing about myself here, I truly don’t mean to sound self-serving, but I only really write about stuff that I am interested in or that has had some deep effect on me, reason I watched and am reviewing this doc, and I am inextricable from my writing, take it or leave it), the part where Dynner shows a load of old punks from England who live in a communal squat, including the Subhumans; the singer Dick Lucas’s room is so dirty and messy and disgusting it looks like that of a crazed teenage boy. I have been to a couple of shows since I came to Chicago two years ago, and sort-of enjoyed those basement experiences because you don’t get them in Scotland, but felt really old and out-of-place (always been pretty much an outsider from all scenes anyway, so it hardly matters) at them. I looked at all the teenybopper Glenn Danzig and Sid Vicious or whoever wannabes and thought yes, I recognize the punk time period you’re aping, how utterly tedious, seen all these styles before, not an original idea amongst the lot of you, and I’ve heard this f*****g music a million times before for over two decades now, everything sounds incredibly derivative of something else these daze, just old one band mixed with another for ‘variety’. And damn am I ever old – most of you are only half my age. The hell with this s**t, wish I was back home reading a volume I have to review on neuroscience or something. I looked at the 40+ punks in this film and couldn’t help feel that they were more than a bit sad. They appeared desperate to hold onto their long-gone youth, seemingly oblivious to how old and pathetic they will look to many of the much younger kids in that scene. Punks either die; grow up and move on, occasionally visiting again to remind them of their youth; or stay forever trapped there either because they have fashioned a career in the music for themselves or they are too atrophied and unfit for work in the wider world after years of being in the punk scene.
I look at my life since I first started listening to punk, and I think of all the faces I’ve seen (random thought from my notes: ‘Steve E Nicks from The Briefs looks like “Warriors, come out to playeyay!” c**t from “The Warriors”) and the places I’ve been and the lovers I’ve had and the drink I’ve drunk and the lines I’ve written or snorted and the thoughts I’ve thunk and the continents I’ve crossed and the brains I’ve lost and found and the books I’ve read and the life-lessons I’ve learned or burned in whatever way, shape or form…and I really can’t relate to the person I was back when I was 16, my life has changed so much. So when I look at the old punks in this doc I can’t help but compare myself to them, think about how tedious and depressing I would find hanging around a scene full of people half my age or younger (mind you, there’s always a steady stream of young eager-beaver tight-orifice hard-bodied wannabe-punk teen moppets coming into the punk scene for some of the chickenhawks therein), and about how utterly despondent I would be to think I hadn’t evolved any as a person since my teenage years. A few of the cynical observations I have made above are things I have lived and learned since I was a green naïve youngstar, and watching this documentary forced me to focus my already-formed thoughts on them. Which is why I have written about them like I have and not just written some PR fluff-puff piece. Bottom line is: personally, I am too old for punk, and goodbye and good riddance to it. But it will always hold a lot of good memories for me and I will always like a few select albums or songs.
“Punk’s Not Dead” is a genuinely great wee film and I thoroughly enjoyed it; anybody looking to learn about the punk world past and present and (no) future could do no better than to use it as a scene-compass. It’s mentally engaging, as you can judge by what I have written here. The thing is flawlessly lawlessly done to my mind, and nobody can do it better – liked it much more than last year’s “American Hardcore,” though I missed the experience of sneaking beers in with my friend Matt Coppens into the cinema, as we did with that film (okay, so we got drunk watching the DVD in compensation – Matt enjoyed the movie too, and he’s active in the Chicago punk scene). Incidentally, there are also some cool, well-done cartoon caricatures of punk personalities in the film that reminded me of those in the revisionist Sex Pistols epic “The Great Rock And Roll Swindle,” (“God Save The Queen, eh John?”) which is, coincidentally, one of the worst films ever made, but at least “Punks’ Not Dead” didn’t have that obnoxious, pretentious prick Malcolm McLaren in it.
Having said this, I never again want to see another documentary on punk. The whole f*****g punk horse has been flogged to death, f****d, buried, dug up and f****d again. And there’s TRULY no need for another punk documentary again in the history of the world; “Punk’s Not Dead” sets the bar for any other doc to (hopefully not) follow. Because I am heartily sick of seeing Ian MacKaye and Henry Rollins (whom I have always thought is incredibly pretentious and annoying always liked the other singers for Black Flag on ‘Everything Went Black’ much better…and any man who hangs around gyms all day and never seems to go out with women, well, ya know…) shoving their self-important mugs in front of cameras to dredge up gig anecdotes from their youth, taking themselves FAR too seriously and far more seriously than the much cooler, more down-to-earth older English and Scottish punks (met a million of their type at gigs over the years in Britain) in the doc. They didn’t cure cancer, they didn’t save a puppy from under the wheels of a car, they didn’t even save a child who fell down a well like a midget did in an old episode of ‘Little House on The Prairie’…they just saw The Ramones in some small venue somewhere. And ultimately…WHO F*****G CARES apart from those guys (and a few hanger-on starryeye sycophant fans) themselves? S**t, I saw the last ever gig The Ramones did in Britain, at the Brixton Academy in London in the 90s, and it was one of the worst gigs I have EVER been to – best bit was my pal throwing a cup of piss (couldn’t get to the bog and peed in a plastic cup) from the balcony over the dancers below – but you don’t hear me going on and on about it, do you? And I know I’m not famous, and not influential, and those guys sort of are, but an old war story is still an old war story, and I don’t even care all that much about my own youth anymore so why should I give a flying f**k about theirs? I just don’t care anymore, though many obviously still do. And good luck to them (suppose a meaningless punk lifestyle is just as (in)valid as a meaningless ‘normal’ one). Because as Fat Mike of the sporadically entertaining NOFX so sagely says in the film: “You can’t live your life being angry all the time.”
I couldn’t agree more.
Anyway. After that ramblerant, we have an interview with Susan Dynner, the gracious, long-term punk scenester director of “Punk’s Not Dead.” Enjoy it, and go see her film when it shows soon in a theatre in a city near you (check out PunksNotDeadTheMovie.com for details of when that will be) if you’re into punk music. You won’t regret it. And sneak in a beer or two too. Always improves the experience. But that goes without saying.
Check out Part Three of “Punk’s Not Dead”: From Chemical Abuse to My Chemical Romance for an exclusive interview with filmmaker Susan Dynner.