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Former punkers: what did the scene mean to you?

Discussion in 'Miscellaneous [BG]' started by Bassist4Eris, Jan 26, 2014.

  1. Bassist4Eris

    Bassist4Eris Frat-Pack Sympathizer

    Aug 11, 2012
    Upstate NY, USA
    I am perhaps the most unlikely cheerleader for punk rock you could imagine. As a musician, I play in an instrumental fusion group on a 6-string "coffee-table" bass. As for personal style, I look a lot more like a hippie than a punker. For income, I work in a cubicle. And yet, I consider that music and that scene to be the single most important influence on me not just musically, but politically and ethically as well.

    In 1986, I was a 13-year-old priveleged white suburban metal kid. A new style, thrash, was coming in to prominence, which made my former idols Iron Maiden seem commercial and tepid in comparison. My friends and I were all listening to Metallica's "Master Of Puppets", Slayer's "Reign In Blood", Anthrax' "Spreading the Disease" and Megadeth's "Peace Sells". Then one day, a friend (who's favorite band was Dio) came in to school with a tape he bought because "it looked cool". He loaned it to me, and I ended up liking it a lot more than he or any of my other friends did. The tape? "Who's Got The 10 1/2?" by Black Flag. Before long, I was listening to G.B.H., Sex Pistols, Misfits, D.R.I., Dead Kennedys, etc. This stuff was all old news by this time (late 80s), but I was literally the only punk rocker in my high school. And of course, I really knew nothing about the scene; I was a sheltered suburban kid, and most definitely a poseur.

    I turned 18 and graduated high school in 1991, a year that has since become mythologized in the annals of rock history as much as 1969 or 1977. I finally got my driver's license, and, having befriended a couple of like-minded people at a guitar store, began going to shows in nearby Albany NY and trying to start my own band.

    I was giving lessons at the time (something I really had no business doing) and one of my students came by with a tape by a band called Fugazi. In a now-laughable attempt to appear hipper than my student, I pretended to be unimpressed.... and then headed immediately to the record store.

    One of the things that has inspired this long-winded reminiscing is that I've been reading a lot of books and watching a lot of documentaries about punk rock lately. Frankly, and this is actually kind of funny, I was pretty shocked at just how violent it apparently was before my time. Thanks in large part to bands like Fugazi (who I adore) and Beat Happening (who I do not), by the time I got to it punk was outgrowing its macho jock crap and becoming something more peaceful, inclusive, and intellectual. And so, against all conventional wisdom, I posit here that the late 80s-early 90s was, in a way, the real "golden era" of punk.

    BUT, let's not forget our historical context here. I'm talking about 1991, the year that the first Lollapalooza went on tour, and the year that Nirvana released "Nevermind". And while I know this sounds like the grumblings of a middle-aged guy, nothing was ever the same since. It might have looked like a baby and a dollar bill, but what was really in the water now was blood, and it was being smelled by the very establishment that the indie network was designed to circumvent. Not only did the corporate rock scene completely co-opt our sound and style, watering it down for mass consumption like Pat Boone doing Little Richard, but the even the indie labels started to view themselves as the "farm teams" for the major labels, and everyone was looking for the next Nirvana. The result? Bland conformity, for the most part, with a few freaky acts going all-out in apparent rebellion (see also the immortal Thinking Fellers Union Local 282).

    And something else happened in 1991 that often gets overlooked. Metallica, you may remember, had an album that year too, the so-called black album, which introduced the world to charms of "corporate thrash", which exists to this day in the form of bands like Staind, Disturbed, Static-X, etc. So, the very same year that punk/indie rock was co-opted, the world's foremost thrash metal band sold out completely. (Thank Satan for Slayer, anyway.)

    So for me, not just punk, but rock music itself kind of died in 1991. Not that I haven't heard bands that I liked since, but by the mid-nineties I had completely switched camps, listening mainly to jazz (and Frank Zappa, which is a whole other thread). Jazz is so defiantly uncommercial that it simply cannot be co-opted, except for the occasional "crossover" success, usually something very watered down and safe (isn't it always?) like Norah Jones or Michael Buble or something. Yawn. Gimme Bad Brains or gimme Bad Plus, but spare me bad music, OK?

    So, I'd love to hear other people's takes on it, and I would also be interested in historical and geographical context, so if you don't mind sharing your age and location, that would be cool. Thanks.
  2. Jefff


    Aug 14, 2013
    To me it meant passion and fire.

    I wished for better players.
  3. P Town

    P Town

    Dec 7, 2011
    Punk. Metal. Yuck!
  4. Bassist4Eris

    Bassist4Eris Frat-Pack Sympathizer

    Aug 11, 2012
    Upstate NY, USA
    While I respect your right to your own opinion, I am at a loss (despite my considerably overactive imagination) to come up with a motive that you might have had to post in a thread directed specifically to "former punkers" other than good old fashioned trolling. :meh:
  5. Bassist4Eris

    Bassist4Eris Frat-Pack Sympathizer

    Aug 11, 2012
    Upstate NY, USA
    Were you ever exposed to The Zero Boys or The Descendents? Both bands had considerable chops, and singers who could really carry a tune. Or Bad Religion, arguably the band that brought four-part harmonies and jazz chords to hardcore?

    +1 to the passion and fire bit. I suspect I'm just getting old, but I don't hear a lot of that in any of the newer bands I've been hearing. Thankfully, my guitar player just turned me on to a band called Rubblebucket, who have very little to do with punk, but do give me hope that there are still bands doing things that are cool and original, which in the end is way more important to me than a youth culture I identified with 20 years ago.
  6. Jefff


    Aug 14, 2013
    I meant the people I was playing with.
  7. Kmonk


    Oct 18, 2012
    South Shore, Massachusetts
    Endorsing Artist: Fender, Spector, Ampeg, Curt Mangan Strings, Nordstrand Pickups, Korg Keyboards
    I am not a former punk rocker but to me, punk rockers have always been hypocritical. They write overly simplistic songs and claim to be concerned with topics such as anti-establishment, equality, individualism, etc. As soon as they can, they sell out and start writing pop songs. The Clash, Goo Goo Dolls, Green Day for example, all started out as punk bands. Really no different than bands in other genres.
  8. hotrodjohn

    hotrodjohn Supporting Member

    Aug 7, 2009
    Being old enough to have lived through it, and geographically well-placed to have seen it evolve (lower east side NYC), I dug the attitude and style. Musically, as a bassist, it was never really my thing, even though I played with some fairly influential bands in the punk/post-punk/new wave scene while in college. I to this day remain more metal/prog/fusion in my bass taste. The only bassist that really caught my ear at the time was JJ Burnel of the Stranglers.
  9. AaronVonRock


    Feb 22, 2013
    I was a junior high metalhead in the early 80s in a mid-size, redneck Texas town and got into thrash/crossover bands in the mid/late 80s. My introduction to punk was through a lot of the 80s crossover bands like DRI, The Cro-Mags, The Crumbsuckers...

    What really turned me on about punk was seeing really cool bands in small venues. Up until that point, I was pretty much seeing bands in arenas and big theaters. With punk, you were three feet from the band while they were playing and could even talk to them after the show. The whole concept of all-ages shows was great. Being 15 or 16 years old and being able to meet and even hangout a little bit with bands had a huge effect on me. The town I grew up in had a very small scene, but there were some cool 80s punk bands that came through town like Black Flag, Meat Puppets, Minutemen (I guess the local promoter had a good contact with SST), 7 Seconds, SNFU, TSOL, Uniform Choice, Life Sentence...

    I graduated high school in 1989 and moved to a bigger city to attend university. Instead of seeing maybe one punk show a month, there were several shows every week. It blew my mind. I still listen to a lot of the punk bands from that era and went back to listen to the earlier bands that influenced them. I'm not really up on many new punk bands. I like The Bronx a lot. I'm sure there's some good ones out there I don't know about.
  10. verycoolname


    Jan 28, 2013
    I was born in 1996, and therefore not a "former punker" by any means, but as someone who's interested in punk music and the punk scene (including a few of the bands you mentioned above, like Black Flag, The Sex Pistols, and The Dead Kennedys) I'm interested in how this thread is going to play out.

    To be fair, I like modern attempts at punk. Green Day's American Idiot was what first got me into the style, and I just kind of backtracked from there. I don't think anything they put out (with the exception of Dookie, Kerplunk, and 1039 Smoothed Out Slappy Hours) is "real punk" though. It's more pop-punk, but I'm okay with that.

    I'm also a huge Nirvana fan, but I will agree with your sentiment that Nevermind led to the downfall of the "real punk" era. As for Metallica...they're just sellouts at this point. I like a good bit of their songs, but they're definitely not authentic anymore.

    Again, this is a young gun's opinion...looking forward to what real former punkers have to say.
  11. skot71

    skot71 Guest

    I'm 49, and have always been a hard rock guy, Van Halen, AC/DC, Metallica, etc. In high school my friend Gary liked punk, and turned me on to the Ramones. Wow. Stlll love the Ramones. I work at a university. A few years back, a student brought "Who's Got The 101/2" in and we listened to it at work. I know what you mean!
  12. Bassist4Eris

    Bassist4Eris Frat-Pack Sympathizer

    Aug 11, 2012
    Upstate NY, USA
    The bands you mention are not my idea of punk rock (sorry kiddies, not even The Clash, although at the same time I'm a fan). To my way of thinking, the truest "punk" bands in history were the aforementioned Fugazi, along with The Minutemen, The Voidoids, Black Flag... where's the sellout in any of that? Most of those bands don't even sound like "punk" in the commonly accepted way today, which paradoxically (or not so paradoxically to punk rockers) is what makes them more punk than something like Green Day. I suspect the reason for your bias is (and I admit I'm guessing here) that you've never heard any real punk bands, just the ones that went pop. There was definitely an underground in the 80s that was deeply committed to independence from the mainstream corporate music world.

    And I find that inspiring, which is one of the reasons for my thread. I play in an all-instrumental, mostly-original band of indeterminate genre. There are definitely gigs where it's us against the audience, and in a funny way reconnecting with my punk roots has made it easer for me to make peace with that. Not everything has to be commercial, or made for commercial reasons. And in an era that I perceive to be every bit as cynical, materialistic, and self-serving as the 80s, I think that the values of real DIY punk rock have a special, dare I suggest important, resonance for those of us living in 2014.
  13. D.A.R.K.

    D.A.R.K. Supporting Member

    Aug 20, 2003
    I went to a few DC punk shows in the beginning of the 80's.
    I thought to myself "where's the girls at?" "OW! that was my head you just kicked!"
    "These 3 chords are getting old!"
    and realized punk isn't a particular style, it's a way of life. So I got my punk ass out of there and into things that were just as radical as that style claimed to be, and still live that way today.
  14. bassbully

    bassbully Endorsed by The PHALEX CORN BASS..mmm...corn!

    Sep 7, 2006
    Blimp City USA
    I was there for some of it. When I was in high school punk hit but guess what we did not know it was punk or that we were punks. In the late 70's to us it was loose ,fast and fun . I was quite under the influence allot back then and played messy guitar myself so the music and energy was refreshing.

    We had two great clubs in our area where I saw the Meat puppets when they were unknown, Husker du also when they were unknown and some local bands that were the remainders of the Dead boys.
    We partied hard and had a blast seeing bands that really tore it up but did we know it was punk? No.

    We wore Levi's and flannel shirts, by the time I started seeing Mohawks and weird clothes it was called punk rock and it was not the same to me and I got out of it.
    Punk then was for posers IMO. I will never forget going to see the Clash in the early 80's and seeing skinheads on skateboards..we we're like.....what the ????

    Then came the pits and all we used to call it slam dancing and nobody got hurt, the whole scene changed and was gone very quickly.
  15. Bassist4Eris

    Bassist4Eris Frat-Pack Sympathizer

    Aug 11, 2012
    Upstate NY, USA
    You see? That's real punk! Like it or not, you're way more punk than the guy who kicked you in the head. One of the many observations I was trying to share with this thread is that to a guy of my era, that macho crap was the antithesis of "real punk".

    In my era we called it moshing, but same deal: no one got (seriously) hurt. There was a whole code of conduct to it. You hit with your shoulders, you didn't hit in the face, if someone went down you helped them up. It was primal, and it was intense, but it was also very ethical, and very much about trust. In a weird way, it cemented the sense of community. And the girls did it too, and the boys were careful not to hurt them. It was also considered extremely uncool to cop a free grope in the pit, although it did happen.
  16. My musical formative years were in the mid 80's in the Northwest. Spokane, WA specifically. I always had deeply diverse taste in music, but in school I was basically a metal head, tending towards prog. But we had a fairly prolific punk scene, all things considered. I filled in for a number of bass players in those days and did a few shows with punk bands. Always had a great time and learned a couple of things quickly; never bring good gear to a punk how and it's not really how well you play, it's more about attitude. I have yet to see it in it's entirety, but someone did a documentary on the scene around here during it's peak called, SpokAnarchy!

  17. Clef_de_fa


    Dec 25, 2011
    In 1991 I was 8 years old and I remember things like Mr Big "to be with you", Metallica "Nothing else matters" and "One", Jeff Healey version of "While my guitar gently sweeps" and Queen last stuff.

    I remember a few years latter the Nirvana craze with "Smell like teen spirit"

    To me it didn't change anything since I was too young. I fact I didn't listen to a lot of music until I was 15 and RHCP, Blink 182 and KoRn were the thing at that time.

    Since I started learning bass at 16 it wasn't very long before I took the jazz route with my music teacher. After my college degree in music I got very interested in metal since it takes a lot of insperation in classical music.

    So I wasn't affected at all by pop culture and music becoming cr*p
  18. Bassist4Eris

    Bassist4Eris Frat-Pack Sympathizer

    Aug 11, 2012
    Upstate NY, USA
    I had successfully repressed most of those memories until your post. Thanks Clef_de_fa. :scowl: ;)
  19. Clef_de_fa


    Dec 25, 2011
    Oh my pleasure if you need other painful memories back, just let me know;)
  20. fdeck

    fdeck Supporting Member Commercial User

    Mar 20, 2004
    Madison WI
    HPF Technology LLC
    I graduated from HS in 1982. I was pretty serious about music, playing cello in a community orchestra and electric bass in the jazz band.

    I hung out with a number of kids who were into punk rock. Honestly, the music didn't seem particularly deep, but it was fun and I enjoyed the irreverent lyrics.

    The only memorable concert that I really remember was Flipper. The band showed up hours late, completely inebriated, and got through maybe one set before the singer passed out. It was pretty obvious that I was witnessing something that I wasn't inclined to imitate.

    My impression was that punk was about being accepting of people who don't fit in, and expressing that attitude by deliberately not fitting in. Of course there were probably many aspects and factions of punk that I didn't experience.

    Today, as a jazz musician, the idea of a musical genre with limited commercial appeal but supported by a few dedicated musicians and loyal fans is something that I can't scoff at.