Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Still Punk Rockin'

As I've gotten older my musical tastes have changed, and certain things I once loved I barely tolerate, while others that I once disparaged have become near and dear to my heart. My teenage self would tear his hair out if he knew that his 37 year old incarnation liked ABBA, Steely Dan, and secretly rocked out to Journey.

When I was a teenager I treated music like a religion, and around the time I turned 17 I threw myself into punk rock, the most fundamentalist of all musical denominations. Mainstream acts of the time like Garth Brooks and Ace of Base weren't just lame, they were musical blasphemers and apostates whose false idols needed to be broken into pieces by the righteous. Like most religious fundamentalists I had no problem denigrating the faiths of others, and in fact remember provoking a yelling match with someone on my debate team after I mocked her love of Trisha Yearwood. (And this was a girl that I LIKED! No wonder I couldn't get laid.)

Shunning Top 40 radio, I immersed myself in the work of the Holy Trinity: the Sex Pistols, Ramones, and The Clash. I still remember playing "London's Burning" in my car while driving my sister and one of her teammates to golf practice, with the latter telling me that I listened to "weird music." Of course, that only got me to listen to punk rock all that much more, knowing that it set me apart from the lobotomized clones that walked the halls of my high school. During my junior year I drove out for lunch in my car with the strains of "Holidays in the Sun" blaring out the window of my Mazda Protege and felt like I was a real badass. Perhaps it was also my imitation Doc Martens, bought at Payless Shoes for the princely sum of twenty bucks. (Yes folks, these were the Grunge Years.)

This rebellious music certainly made me self-righteous, but that wasn't all bad. My feelings of superiority to my peers helped me weather the last years of high school: instead of feeling like I was dirt because I didn't have many friends or any dates, I felt like I was just too damn cool and complex for any of them to understand. (This eventually lead to me wearing all black and reading Nietsche in the hallway in my senior year, cultivating a studied aloofness. Again, I shouldn't be surprised by my lack of girlfriends at the time.)  When I went to a scholar's camp one summer at the University of Nebraska, my love of punk immediately won me friends from other podunk towns who were the only ones in their county with a copy of Rocket to Russia.

When I finally got out of my hometown and went to college, I was elated that my roommate Joe was an even bigger punk rock fan than I was. (Considering the heavy frat element on my dorm floor, we both agreed that this was one of those rare lucky breaks.) He was into hardcore and straight-edge, which meant screaming along to Minor Threat in the morning in order to work up the energy to make it to Introduction to World Literature.  We would also jam out to The Minutemen, Descendants, and early Husker Du, constantly trying to introduce each other to something new.

Later in college, once the storms of adolescent emotion had subsided, my musical tastes became more ecumenical. In the past few years I've listened less and less to the old punk rock stuff. This is partially because the genre formerly known as punk rock has become so heavily adulterated by crappy acts like Blink 182 and Avril Lavigne, but mostly because it is hormonal music for tortured adolescents. These days I tend to listen to pensive music for aging bohemians.

Recently, however, while cycling through my iPod I came across some classic punk, and it put its hooks in me again. Living a life that gets more compromised with each passing day, it was refreshing to hear the Boomtown Rats yell out, "I wanna be like ME!", indulge in the darker side of life via the heroin tales of Johnny Thunders' "Chinese Rocks," and bang my head to "One Chord Wonders", the Adverts' defiant anthem of musical ineptitude. In this ever more homogenized culture we live in the songs retain their irresistable bite, as relevant as ever.

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