Punk Was A Con

Let’s face it, punk seems simple enough, three chords at best, a thumping bassline so simple even a smacked out punk pretty boy vacant-headed bondage and tartan model-without-a-cause like Sid Vicious could do it on the nod. Punk cannot exist without the vim and vigor, spit and spunk of teenage rebellion. It is the sound of disaffected youth, or rather, it was. Now it is the sound of joints creaking, dentures clattering (all old punks have bad teeth, it is the combination of horrible personal hygiene and a heckva lot of speed), and royalties rolling in from records which are now over 40 years old. Cha-ching, kick out the jams motherfuckers and bring home the bacon and the $$$, motherfuckers! Just don’t break a hip…

Punk is out of fashion. Rebellion is now a case of treacherous insanity, curious beliefs that dead politicians can come back and is punishable by some very real prison time for well..being a traitor. Rebellion used to be pissing off your parents, exploring consciousness, and living life in the way you wanted to, that co-incidentally did not harm anyone else. Rebellion was not insanely storming the capitol and threatening the lives of politicians on a delusion, a crazy prayer to some zombie-god and a (q)whim. It is insanity, not rebellion. Since the Orange pervert took power and America lost her collective minds Freedom has become a dirty word, temporarily linked with such disgusting concepts as MAGA, right wing christian supremacy and the insane q-cult.

Freedom no longer is being able to drown out the noise of mediocrity screaming in your head and distract from the feeling of the unfairness and hopeless fury surging through your veins with noise and mosh pit slamming, pogoing and spitting and raging against not having a chance at all. Freedom now is dressed in red maga hats and shrouded in disgusting ‘rebel’ flags. Freedom got a bad name. Rebellion is out of fashion and has been unfairly melded to racism, xenophobia, conspiracy theories and hatred. Homogeny is the new cool schtick for the hep kids in town. We have come a full circle to conformity, and individuality is back to being the outpost of the exiled and outcast from society…and like the decidedly non-punk Joni Mitchell once sang “and the painted ponies go up and down/We’re captive on the carousel of time.” From a selfish point of view this leaves me once again, on the outside looking in. Freedom, rebellion with a cause or without one, the thrill of individuality and creative noisy expression is as part of me as a dislike for the color pink and a congenital dependence on tea.

I don’t have tattoos. It got to the point where everyone else was inked and so I figured the real rebellious position was to have unadorned skin. Punks tend to write their rebellion on their bodies, whether in piercings, tats or scars. No one takes you seriously until you have a few scars, even if you only earned them punching out the window of some bar somewhere after one too many pitchers of hard cider, or shots of southern comfort. Iggy did it with peanut better and glass. The Dead Boys did it with nooses and knives. The Sex Pistols had Sid Vicious distracting himself from the gnawing of his heroin addiction by cutting himself up badly and bleeding all over the stage. All of the Punks committed some kind of self harm, some really harmful frequencies, with noise. Everyone was on something, even if it was simply Big Noise and fury. Punk is the sound of disaffection and pain diffusing into the ether. Punk is release.

There used to be a place in punk, and then it’s natural successor, grunge, for the lost souls who do not wish to be found, cleaned up and put into pretty neat boxes, to store while they wait to be fed to the machine, clean, obedient and unquestioning. Anarchy, political rebellion, and even slackerdom – that nihilistic opting out of the whole mess politics created, because nothing changes anyway, are all fine obsessions for young minds. Once the mind gets old, and loses its energy and elasticity, and then it is so much easier to accept a world where James Taylor and CSNY reign supreme. My mind still scrabbles around for noise and release. The fire in my blood, that burning thread that torments me and keeps me awake at night, no speed required, still demands tribute, and if not sacrifice, at the very least, The Ramones played full blast while I jump around my living room and smile goofily.

What do the kids have nowadays? Is BTS and the MOR pap that is churned out by so many modern bands really going to help those young people that know they can slave their entire lives in low paid jobs that won’t pay the rent, won’t keep their head above water, no matter how many hours of their lives they waste on them, and there will definitely never be any ‘Holidays in the Sun.’ Why bother at all?

Punk is dead. A few angry young souls might try it on for size, but it is not as easy as it looks, or sounds. The money is all in rap, which is at least socially conscious, and seemingly Ed Sheeran and Taylor Swift, plus a few manufactured Korean boy bands. The old bands of political rebels-in-a-good-way screamers against the unfairness of it all, even the Patti Smiths and Lou Reeds of this world are either dead or faded. Johnny Rotten himself is out to pasture in LA, bitching about the homeless outside his door, being nice about the Queen and grouching that the beach is full of used needles…while wearing a maga hat…

People need some bad vibe music to make sense and commiserate about all the suffering, and work up an appetite for change. I want to see a new girl punk band screaming about abortion and rape. I want to hear the boys bash those drums and work up a three chord rebellion against a world in which only the privileged and rich have a chance at survival. No, the 2020s are not about bad vibes, it is about toxic niceness, about conformity, about fitting in and not breaking away from the pack. Everyone is so scared to be cancelled. Heck the punks embraced a good cancelling. The best thing the Sex Pistols ever did was to swear on telly and be forbidden from returning. It gave them an air of mystery and an edge of danger to the establishment. Nowadays people are clamoring to be seen as part of the gang, the hordes. There are no individual heroes any more.

Grandpa Iggy, Old Unkle Cheetah Chrome, Granddaddy Rotten and an establishmentarian Patti Smith have had their time to shine and are now just milking the old rebellion cash cow, trading off former bravery and past glories. I can’t find a bad word to say about Chrissie Hynde, she was always cool, found it stupidly and undeservedly hard to catch a break, and never ever sold out. Plus she was nice to Nancy and for that has my solidarity.

Punks have made it into the establishment. Heck I have seen royals wearing Vivienne Westwood clothes like she never preached anarchy and getting rid of the bastards like it was Russia in 1918. McLaren and Westwood’s Sex shop empire was the beating heart and brains of the British punk movement, but like anything successful, the powerful just subsume it and use it to make money.

Sid Vicious at least had the decency to overdose before he was offered a knighthood from the Queen. Sir Sid-er-ney. It is not even ridiculous. Johnny Rotten was offered an MBE. He declined. Shame. I would have loved to see the Queen wrinkle her posh little nose at the oik. I suppose there still remains an element of integrity about Johnny Rotten, either that or it was too ‘off brand’ for his Punk Royalty Sneeringness. “God Save the Queen, the Fascist regime!” Awkward.

It is all well and good to feel a sense of awkwardness about selling images of Sid and Nancy, or any other rock and roll casualty when their legend was fashioned out of such suffering and ended in murder, suicide and bloodshed, but in the end, it is what they signed up for, to be models of the revolution, figureheads of the rebellion, icons of individuality. You think Nancy wanted to die for nothing. I wear her face with pride. Like her murderer and lover sang, “I did it my way.” I don’t much care for Sid, but Nancy always hit home with me. She was creative and bright, difficult and bubbly, and she made bad choices as easily as breathing and paid for living life her way with a knife in her guts, murdered by the man she still loved, in room 100 of the Chelsea Hotel. She lives as long as she is remembered. I would rather redeem her memory than forget her entirely. What is the use of that?

Punk was all a big con. None of it was worth it. None of it was real. These guys and gals did their speed and shot their smack and whined and geeked out whilst banging the drum of individuality. They sang about things that would never get fixed, and they made some people, including me, happy for a while. Mass liberation from the lifestyles and mores of our elders was the name of the game. Punk was not a signal of the end of western civilization, rather it was the apex. It was art for the sake of art, hedonistic devotion to nihilistic creativity and it burnt itself out.

Johnny Rotten parading around in a MAGA shirt is not far removed from his nazi symbol debacle of the ’70s. Then it was mainly to shock and because McLaren told him to and dressed him, now, sadly it appears that he really does believe in what he wears on his chest. Johnny Rotten is everything that is decayed about Punk and the hopes for meaningful social change. My punk heroes are Nancy Spungen, Chrissie Hynde, Patti Smith, Courtney Love and Alice Bag. I will always love the Dead Boys, despite their problematic need to shock, and I remain a Ramones bought-the-tee-shirt wearing fan even though my knees have given out too much to ever pogo again.

I used to believe in punk, but while I was busy believing, all I was really doing was fucking people in alleyways and parks, getting smashed on cheap booze, doing too much speed and trying to cool my blood down with opiates and noise. I didn’t believe I had a future, so what was the point in behaving as if I did. In the end punk was just a big con, and a big con that ate up the young and talented and fucked up and wild and angry children that fed the corporate machine it really was. There was never any rebellion, just a money-making opportunity. Sell me combat boots and torn fishnets. Market me lace up PVC mini skirts and bright hair colors, stick yer head in a bag and inhale some gold paint (glue is for sissies and pre-teens) and wake up on a pissy mattress in some squat where nobody cares if you live or die. Rebellion tasted like the bullshit it turned out to be.

What would have been the truly anti-establishment position? What would have been the really creative act bourne out of desperation and fire? Who knows. I wish I did. All I do know is that we were not changing anything, but we were committing inertia with style. Now the young are venting their shit to 4 Chan and pissing off their parents taking cross sex hormones and demanding the right to mutilate themselves. Give me a few scars and a hangover any day of the week. Shit got serious when there was no outlet for it where the solace was in the camaraderie. Turning inward was never healthy, letting it all out, letting that bad blood spurt up the wall of CBGB’s bathroom, to join all the other blood splatters in that forsaken stinking hole of humanity, that was where the comfort used to be. It used to be in territorial pissings and Kurt Cobain’s throat-tearing wails of the agony of existence. People will always seek to release and numb, it is just far less healthy and a lot more unattractive and hopeless nowadays. Punk failed. Punk was a con. It burnt out and got used up, and now we are all getting old watching the youngsters conform. Freedom died on the floor of the Chelsea Hotel when they tore it apart to make fancy apartments for the rich who want to live in a slice of history they did not create but still wish to trade off.

I think I am depressed. Fuck knows I feel let down. Childish follies drift away in the mists of time. Goodnight, Nancy, Goo’night Chrissie…Goodnight Boys. Last one out switch off the lights. Punk is dead. Punk was a con. It was not worth a single life…or death. I can forgive a lot, but phony wastes of life and limb is a step too far for me.

47 Comments

  1. kmabarrett

    By the way, your posts come to me via email with no option to “like” in the mail. I have to click through and log in to “like”. I’m normally too lazy for all that. If the “like” came in the email, you get a lot more of them (from me).

      1. leo f. brady

        I liked Johnny the best but they were all personalities – lol – I still listen to them all the time. Man – the music was so good back then … How can we get back there ?

      2. The Paltry Sum: Detroit Richards

        I wish I had the answer to that. If I ever work it out, I’ll see ya in CBGB’s. Music was life. Now it is 4chan and reddit. I was thinking about trying to get together an ahem…older…punk grrrrl band. I play guitar…but with covid still hanging around I have become a depressed recluse.

      3. leo f. brady

        No I’ll have to check that out. He was a character too. If I remember correctly I think I saw a documentary about them. I’ll have to search that too. thanks!

      4. The Paltry Sum: Detroit Richards

        ‘I would like to thank Dee Dee…thank you Dee dee. Well done Dee Dee.” It was the most punk thing ever, and absolutely wonderful. He had a lot of talent. Johnny was necessary….someone had to whip those boys into action, but he always came across as a bit of a prick…well a lot of a prick…

      5. The Paltry Sum: Detroit Richards

        I haven’t given up hope I can do it. I got let down badly by a publisher, and treated like shit. I get paid to write for a few publications, but am struggling to break into larger outlets without selling out and being miserable. It is a fine line between not compromising and making money. I am at the point where I refuse to be unhappy in the time I have left on this planet, and if I can’t write as ‘me’ then I won’t do it. Being female and somewhat niche is difficult – everyone else has an idea of how you should write. So did you have to compromise in the end? ~D

      6. leo f. brady

        You should never give up on what you want to do. 😉 We always need to keep pushing on and continue to create. That’s what I’m trying to do. Keep on keeping on D ! take care leo

      7. The Paltry Sum: Detroit Richards

        You too, leo! I dropped you a note to your website. Please feel free if to write to me if you ever want to talk punk and art. I’m trying to find the right balance for me. Eventually I’ll finish the book, if life doesn’t keep on getting in the way. I am running out of subsidy in a month’s time, and need to get over that disaster before I can get back on the pitching-pony! ~D

      8. leo f. brady

        One thought that might be worth pursuing – I went back to school as an older student. I wouldn’t go back for a degree like I did 😉 but it may be a way to make some new writing / publishing connections. Pitching sucks for everyone. Free free to practice pitching to me if that might work. I’ll touch base with you late.
        see ya 😉

      9. leo f. brady

        No – I haven’t given up. Never. I’ve always done something in the arts. I get too much in return. I play guitar / music for myself these days but I have a little more time now so I’m pursuing various forms of photography. I’d also like to do more experimental film work.

      10. The Paltry Sum: Detroit Richards

        I play guitar. It is the one constant that keeps me sane(ish) and happy. It sounds as if you have already had some success, even if you deserve more and have more ‘in the tank’. I’m trying to get myself back into pitching. It is soul crushing, leo…I hate the pitching side of things, but love writing. In my dreams I get to be a Lester Bangs or Hunter S Thompson, but if you are female and write people want you to be much nicer and cleaner than that. I may be forced to sell out and write sweeter and more boring stuff, and just be absolutely miserable doing so. I gave up on my music dreams years ago. I still write songs occasionally.

  2. Willow Croft

    Over the weekend, I was trying to reconcile my punk past with who I am now…it’s nascent, and not as well-put as this post, but I still felt a little lost where once I was lost in an identifiable way. Not sure if that’s what I meant to say, but…I liked this post.

    1. The Paltry Sum: Detroit Richards

      Hello Willow, Feeling lost, but with companionship and a cause is heartbreaking, but lost with others is a movement and at least you have company in hell. Please always feel free to write to me. Us old punk grrrls have to stick together. your friend, D

      1. The Paltry Sum: Detroit Richards

        It is something I have been thinking a lot about. Patti is a sell out. Courtney Love got screwed over by everyone. Chrissie Hynde is a goddess and skates through all the shit and the marginalization….but I think about all those other grrrls who lived and died out there in a sometimes misogynistic and dangerous world and wondered if they felt it had all been a con too. I’ve got your back. It might be time to start writing about how hard it is to be accepted as a woman in that world, in the arts and writing and music world, and how we are told to shut up and look pretty and be ‘nice’. Fuck nice. I hope you are feeling a bit better? If you were close to me geographically I would ask if you wanted to be in a garage band. I really want to start up an all-girl punk band…

      2. Willow Croft

        In 2008-2010, when I was getting my MA in history (<—not an ivory tower academic), I was told that I needed to get a haircut and that I should just walk around and smile at everyone. I was like "WTF"?

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