Sid Vicious, the Sex Pistols front man known for his frequent public diatribes against the government and establishment, once said, “Undermine their pompous authority, reject their moral standards, make anarchy and disorder your trademarks. Cause as much chaos and disruption as possible but don’t let them take you alive.”
That was punk music back then. From the late 1970s to the very early 1990s, punk was formed by societal misfits to protest the looming hypocrisy in politics, and the effect it was having on everything else in the mainstream. Their vision of the world was a simple one, and fortunately for everybody it was never pursued beyond tasteless stage rants and street fights.
These repining revolutionaries had a passion though, and it is without doubt that the following generations of punk bands lost a sense of what their music was founded on.
Just look at the lyrics of some of punk’s founders, and compare them to what is out there now. Ever since their CD “Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables,” which was released in 1980, the Dead Kennedys made a career out of attacking every political structure they could with songs of disobedience and malfeasance such as “California Uber Alles” and “Steal Your Mail.” Other bands like the Descendents and Guttermouth echoed the desire to stay young and rambunctious and exercise any means necessary to undermine the oppressive justice system.
There are a few that still continue in the spirit of the Velvet Underground, but lately even bands like Bad Religion have drifted away from political activism and more toward political favoritism with their CD “The Empire Strikes First.”
Again, let me make it clear that I am not saddened by the politicizing of punk. To me, anarchism is little more than a childish joke that has been reiterated way too many times.
The problem is that many bands go way overboard with their views, and often tend to become offensive. This happens on both sides of the political gamut, and the extremity of it should be noted by people of all beliefs.
Bad Religion and other far left bands only contribute to half the problem. On the other end of the spectrum there are pro-fascist skinhead bands like Aryan Devils and Nordic Thunder. They are admittedly less popular, but equally focused on spreading their messages of hate and extreme political views.
Why did they get like this? I honestly do not know, but I can take a few guesses. With today’s political atmosphere reaching critical mass, and every young person following suit, an obvious economic opportunity has presented itself to the music community.
On the other hand, many claim to write songs from their own experiences.
Russ Rankin, the singer for Good Riddance, said in an interview with Crystofer Paules of www.inmusicwetrust.com that his music became so politically charged because of the events that were going on around him at the time.
“I was a teenager during the Reagan administration, and that was a pretty sketchy time to live in. Like Politically I was unsure of how things were blatantly wrong with how this country was being governed, and the cold war was still pretty much going on. You know, you live under the shadow of nuclear war every day,” he said.
We can try to believe that the punkers we grew up following did not make their decisions for the money, but rather as a reaction to the circumstances around them. I choose to believe the answer is much more simple, and even worth following so long as it does not lead its followers to commit acts of hatred, or other violent crimes.
The punk rock superstars who managed to survive this long did so because they adapted, and most of all, because they grew up.