781.66 Rock music
Man, I am so late posting this piece, from my cyber friend Nathan, who sends me cool CDs and stuff. Nathan, sorry it took so long and thanks for your patience!
Ok, punk, yes, I was a punk. At the time you wouldn’t look at me twice. I didn’t have a leather jacket with punk band logos painted all over it, I didn’t have a Mohawk or shaved head; I did sport a rat-tail for a few years, but I didn’t wear anything or do anything “extraordinary” to make people look and identify me with the punk scene. This was high school, 1983; I walked the halls with hundreds of my peers, yet I felt so out of place I wanted to literally be absorbed by the hallway walls and get from class to class undetected. Although I wasn’t a nerd by any stretch of the imagination, I wasn’t one of the more popular kids either; I had a few friends, but part of me was so alienated with seemingly everyone else in the entire school. I couldn’t fathom what they talked about; the parties, the drinking, the pot smoking, “cruising” around with heavy-metal champions of the time such as Ozzy or Iron Maiden blaring from your car speakers. There were after school sports, school activities like fund drives or carnivals; but I just wanted to get home every day after school and not think about it until the following morning. But what was the disconnection? I felt naïve, like everyone else had so much going on, was so much more mature than I was. They smoked, they drank, did drugs, things I didn’t view as particularly entertaining or “cool.”
Why doesn’t he want tons of friends
Says he’s bored when we hang around
Of course, at the time I didn’t realize this is what *every* teenager thinks about him or herself, and the friends, the activities, the wanting to be accepted and a “part of the group” is a way to deal with the awkwardness. Some fit right in, and they had a genuinely good time during their school years; the jocks, the freaks, the chess club. And some didn’t – and I certainly fit into that latter category.
However, things changed a bit when I befriended a senior who was in band with Maine (we both played the drums). He was nice, I think his name was Keith, and he was spinning tales about bands like the Dead Kennedys and Black Flag; super-fast music that told the masses to fuck off. At the time I was really into New Wave, and enjoyed the antics of groups like DEVO (who I also “got” as far as what they were trying to accomplish through their music and antics) and Wall of Voodoo. I also loved Jimi Hendrix and I was always amazed that a guy who could play with his *teeth* could be shot down and ridiculed by my percussion partner. I was intrigued. I bought a copy of the Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables LP and prepared for the sonic assault. What I heard was not quite as fast and furious as Keith had described. The lyrics were incredible, the music was catchy, and there was an insert with all of this gruesome artwork culled from newspaper articles and pasted together to resemble some sort of black and white nightmare. These images by Winston Smith along with the Kennedys smirking in the background created a cold, cruel reality that whirled around my head and somehow boosted my moral. I was hooked; in my mind, I lived that same type of cold and scary reality every day in school. All the kids, they would turn into government puppets, sports jocks, macho policemen, mailbox looters, they loved to pick on people and act tough – the music gave voice to my own fears and disgust at the actions of my contemporaries.
It seems so unreal to me
So much hate and so much pity
I can’t take another day –
It’s such a bore,
It gets me really sore…..
– Dead Kennedys
I pursued more records. Plastic Surgery Disasters was next; and wow, it had an entire book of Winston Smith artwork, I took it school and showed all my friends.
Keith graduated that year, but he told me about a college radio station that played punk rock on Friday nights. I tuned in and started my quest to find the bands I heard on the radio, I taped the shows and frequented the used records section of my local indie record shop. I painted my notebooks with LP covers. One year it was Black Flag’s My War, the next it was Government Issue. I had a pair of Chuck Connors high tops with the DK logo painted in where the star usually goes. I got an olive-green trench coat from Sunny’s Surplus and copied the Scream painting onto the back complete with billowing mushroom cloud from Winston Smith. Lastly, I made my own homage to Winston Smith by submitting my own collage clipped from off-beat newspaper headlines, and disturbing AP photos surrounded by a hand-drawn dead soldier border
Finally I started going to shows. There were a few clubs around that had all ages shows, and I either got a friend of mine to go with me, or more often than not, I actually went to these shows myself. Now this was quite an accomplishment for me. I’d drive out to these seedy parts of town late at night and park my hand-me-down Ford station wagon on some dimly lit parking lot for the night. But once I was inside the club, I felt so comfortable, everyone was friendly, they said “hello.” You could walk up to the bands who were selling merchandise before the show and talk to them. I asked the lead singer of DRI if that was really his dad’s voice featured on their song Mad Man (it was). I just soaked it all in, the crazy outfits, the Mohawks, and the incredible energy unleashed by the bands and the crowd once the music started. I never had a problem at the shows, and never witnessed the skin-head violence that would later plague the music scene here in Baltimore.
One thing that really strikes me now is that we were just a bunch of kids doing this. 16-17 years old, no money, no dependable transportation, living at home; yet there was the music, there were the shows, the ‘zines – quite an accomplishment.
I saw the final tour given by the Dead Kennedys, winning tickets from the college radio station that Keith clued me in to a few years back (Towson U’s WCVT 89.7). My Dad drove me and a friend down to Washington, DC so we could catch the bands. It got so late in the evening that my Dad made us leave before the Kennedys were finished their set – but it’s a night I’ll never forget. The huge hall was packed and people leapt from the balconies into the crowds below. Years later I would actually find a video tape of this very show and finally be able to see the whole thing.
I still enjoy this music today; matter of fact, I still have those audio tapes made from weeks of gathering music during Friday night’s “Pandora’s Box.” I have my notebook paintings, and I still have my jacket. And of course I still have all those LP’s. These are my fond memories of the high school years; the time I found a sort of “musical salve” to waylay my very-real fears of social ineptitude, mob mentality, unquestioned authority, and selfish attitudes.
I’m now 40 years old, and punk is still very much a part of me, and I’m glad to have been a part of it. Punk reinforced an my attitude of wanting to know the truth, of not settling for just anything and everything that you’re told, and for standing up for what you as an individual believe in no matter how popular or unpopular those ideas might be.