I started writing a column for the magazine Maximum Rock and Roll, here's the first one, sort of an introduction one.
I didn't become a punk until my mid 20's. In highschool I was a loser, freak, drama-fag, posuer, stupid, wannabe, so and so's girlfriend, that other guy's girlfriend, the girl on the back of the motorcycle. My friends were over punk already, but we could still listen to a couple things: the Bad Brains, The Replacements. We still worked shitty jobs so we could buy shitty records. Music was still our lives.
I knew there were secrets out there that I couldn't find. I searched the city as much as fear would let me. I searched into other people's lives. I was from the suburbs, 3 cats, 3 sisters and a brother, 2 alcoholic parents, one elementary school teachers salary, spotty child support payments from the real father, secrets and forgotten memeories, screaming and did he really throw her to the floor and kick her? Not too violent to forget. It had been as spotty as the money was now. Now there was the incest pushed under the rug, forgotten by them but not by us, never by us. We protected our parents the way they never protected us. We kept secrets.
I didn't have the courage to leave for real, but I did find out how to make it to the city, the bus or hitchiking if I had to. There was a corner where the weirdos hung out: the soon to be junkies and the highschool girls trying to hide their age, slicked back hair and red lips or long skirts and henna, or whatever, anything, 50's housewife dresses, men's suits and shoes. There were the street musican hippies and the anti-racist skins. It's not like there were a ton of people really, but it was a funny mix. Public space and meeting ground. There were punks across the street from where we hung out, and they spare changed and fought with the christians who would sometimes come to preach. They hung out at the McDonalds and got drunk. They had Exploited painted on their new leather jackets. There had to be something else.
I hear people sometimes complaining about the kids now, buying punk, it's just another thing for sale. Everything in America is co-optable. Captialism takes our resistance and turns it in to commodity, ripping out the soul, ripping out the meaning. It's true, but punk was never so pure or perfect. I sometimes sit on the newspaper rack downtown and watch the new kids walk by, plaid skirts, suspenders, suit coats, strange mixes. Maybe they are posing just like we were, trying on anything that has a potential to lead them someplace more real.
Once I was hanging out with my cool-boy-motorcycle-boy clique I was accepted into by being a girlfriend and tough, not hysterical or talkative or giggily, and they were talking about this girl who was so hot. They all agreed they would marry her. They all agreed she was so hot. She was in the Babes in Toyland band, punk band. I hated her, had never met her. Couldn't wait to meet her so I could hate her better. I had ideas of how she would be, beautiful and skinny and long pretty hair and perfect features like a model, probably french, probably really sexy and smooth talking, a flirt. And when I met her, this Laurie Barberos, she was smiles and welcome. She made sure to talk to me, another girl, she was not a girl hater like most of us were. She was not super skinny, her nose was not perfect American model, but turned up sort of squishy and her hair was huge and dreaded. She was not flirty sexy style and didn't try to be. She didn't play the game at all. She was fully herself and so nice. I thought - if punk girls get to be like that and still be wanted and loved and respected, then there is something to punk I don't know about. something of punk I need.
I moved to a tiny town, population 1,000, and there were no punks there. Actually, once a punk came for the summer. She was more metal than punk and had a plan that metal was a real place of potential resistance. She was going to bring information about anarchism to metal shows and try to convert them, but the next time I heard of her she had started a punk band. If I rememeber right, she said they didn't know how to play yet.
The idea of girls playing music together sounded crazy to me. The idea of girls playing music on their own terms.
When I lived in the country, I read about anarchism. It changed the whole way I saw my life. Every fundamental thing, like the way we sectioned our lives off - work time and learning time and leasure time. The way we viewed growing up as becoming numb and giving up. It talked about how people have been turned into consumers - how our identities are formed by the products we buy, or the products we want. It talked about becoming human again. Forming community, self-reliance, community reliance. Gardens on rooftops, no more cars, no more suicidal despair. It talked about the history of oppression, the history of resistance, the failures and sucesses, and the need to get rid of all forms of domination. the need to look deeply into all our actions and intentions, our conscious and subconcious. It talked about active citizenship (and by citizenship I don't mean offical papers, offical existance, I mean creating community and decision making processes to organize to fulfill our own local needs.) It talked about living a life worth living. It talked about being able finally to feel alive, to love without defenses, to be safe at home, to be safe. To be whole. To be real.
Anarchism gave me an idea of a new world, and eventually I found the punks who were living something of it.
Every movement has a million cliques and subgroups that may be don't even have that much in common. I remember when I thought punk was something solid and cohesive that I couldn't understand. There was Laurie Barbaros, who was just how I wanted to be, and then there were these punks in my livingroom in Portland, spiked up jackets and sweet but getting drunker, and then drunk, talking about porn. and they were friends of my best friend, and I was trying to talk about how porn had played a part in the continuum of objectifiction that led up to me being sexually abused. They didn't care. I wasn't trying to demonize all porn. I was trying to say that it wasn't always funny for all of us, and that there were serious sides to it, there were real reasons to think deeply. that objectification was real and killed us in real ways.
Then there was Kyle, also portland, also spiked jacket, who stood with me and my sister in the kitchen while we listened to some kind of girl folk music and mixed up a big batch of squash bread for all our friends and neighbors. He said "You two are the punkest girls I know."
So punk meant this too: mixing bread with all your arm muscles. loving your friends. Giving. Dancing in the kitchen. Not caring if people thought your music was stupid. Trying to be true to yourself. Trying to change everything.
The punks I ended up with were the ones who usually maybe only hesitantly identified that way, but they were the ones that, depite the depair, couldn't really crush the life inside them. They wanted life, all of it. They wanted community and family no matter how fucked up we all were. hop trains but no bragging. swim. walk. We lived together in crowded houses, challenging american ideals of individual space, individual lives, alienation, nuclear family. We didn't let the corporate control of media keep us from writing. We wrote zines, we passed them out to eachother, at shows, on the street, to strangers. We took up public space. We danced like crazy, we screamed our heads off, we held eachother up and carried eachother home.
I am not writing a eulogy, this is still what I love about punk, these same things.
I love the farm punks, the punks building shacks on forgotten land, the self-defense punks, the bike punks, the girl punks refusing silence, the awkward punks trying to find someplace to fit in, the finding out new ideas and being passionate and finally sure about something, the self-righteousness - not that I really love self-righteousness, but I remember the power of feeling sure and strong after a life of no power and no certainty. I know that for most people the self-righteousness fades. I love the ways that despite everything being against us, we create culture, we create resistance, we create ways to live with integrity.