Being a music writer in Norway ain‘t no vacation. It occurred to me the other day, that if an honest review of an album or live gig offends half the members of the scene, then THAT underground is fucking dead. When musicians get touchy-touchy, labels only exist to stroke egos, or writers feel they`re better off keeping quiet — that alternative status quo is gunna remain fragile as fuck.
Allow me to momentarily interject, as the title of this short-lived mind-fart should really be, “Why I Hate Writing about Punk”. Punk worships the dilettante, the anti-guitar virtuoso, the cracks and bumblings of mistakes in order to elevate a ritualistic primal self. But how are writers expected to evaluate punk music, when its very premise is it’s “meant to be bad”? The other day, I saw this horrible young punk band opening in the basement of Revolver. They looked stiff, unrehearsed– one, I swear, looked on the verge of vomiting through three songs — yet I could tell, no one in the room would dare criticize. Not these Norwegian lot. I could almost hear someone say, “It´d be beneath us… like culturally”. Phhh, why? “Because they made a good effort. And were charming.” Ok, so like sweet? Cute. Fluffy. My first thought was this: when we lower the bar for some to sound more accepting, in reality, it only deepens the inequality gap. There was also a near-audible sensation when the headliners went on, like ok, now let`s let the big boys take over…
I spent much of my formative years studying punk history in academia, playing in, touring & promoting DIY punk bands. Today, thirty-five years since Damaged, I sometimes wonder what could possibly be new in 2015. Can “real punk music” even emerge in the world’s richest country, or if a social safety net exists for subversive music? A world where the media, major labels, music industry are primed to capitalize on anything remotely on the “fringe”?
Punk nowadays seems content to say, any form of makeshift expression backed with four chords and fuzz has a right to exist as “punk”. But in my view, punk has become so exasperatedly simplistic, that it finds (market) “value” really only if you exhibit one, or a combination of the following:
1. Contribution to a subcultural lifestyle, scene, “ideology” (Dick Hebdige)
2. Expression of class, race, ethnicity (Oi! movement of London)
3. Female empowerment, identity politics (queercore, riot grrrl)
4. “Teenage fun” (the Ramones)
5. “Art” (CBGB’s)
As I’ve rounded past my thirties, I’ve gotten fucking jaded with the first four on that list. I’ve encountered as many spouts and problematics with punk communities as those in the military; I’ve encountered my share of narcissistic, patriarchal “alternative rock musicians”, and trust me, these white guys ain’t gunna budge anytime soon. It’s like vegan who smoke. And once you`ve personally seen countless musicians waste away pitifully from drugs and alcohol — “teenage fun” doesn’t have the same ring as it used to. Call me a bourgeois skank, I’ve more or less resigned to No. 5: “Art” to get my thrills these days.
Yea, I know. It’s so Adornian. But writing about punk just ain‘t worth shit no more.