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A (Brief) Guide to Exhibiting Your Punk-itude

Over a year ago I was sitting in a hotel room, thinking I’d get some work done on the novel I’d been writing in a fever pitch. I’d spent the whole day thinking about an article I’d read once again proclaiming punk rock dead. I’d been hearing the sentiment for years, before I started a little punk band, and long after that little punk band died away. I’ve always felt it was like saying “art is dead.” It seems like the grumpy old-timers way of dealing with things changing. Punk isn’t what it used to be. Art isn’t either. I may not dig where punk has gone, but there are still glimmers, and thanks to my iPod I can listen to the old stuff any time I want.

Instead of working on my novel I wrote an article about Punk. How to see it out properly, if it was indeed going to be dead. I wrote said article with a particular venue in mind, but in the end they flaked out on it and it’s been sitting around. I thought about printing it old school diy style and sending it to friends. I might still. I re-read it recently and it still made me smile. So, I thought I’d post it here:

A (Brief) Guide to Exhibiting Your Punk-itude

The general consensus is that Punk is all but dead. To some of you that makes it even cooler, and to others it makes you want to weep like when your dad went out for cigarettes and never came back. For those who fall under both schools of thought there is one thing on your mind: how do I show my Punk-ness, making sure everybody I meet knows I’m in on the greatest party ever, Punk’s wake? (Don’t worry that doesn’t mean only “Irish” punk bands allowed).

I’m offering a few easy steps to making sure you do your part, before the casket’s nailed shut and assimilation broadcasts the Crunk Hour to your brain.

Choosing the Music You Display

We all have guilty pleasures and closet fav’s, but Punk’s death rattle is no time to air those sordid secrets in public. So put your Erasure, Shania Twain, and Marky Mark albums in a secure place. My suggestion is buried in a bag of flour. It’ll turn NARC dogs off the scent.

What to display is slightly more complicated. You want to make sure to honor the roots of punk, while staying current. But also doing a little silent bragging with a few underrated choices and a few curveballs typifying your broad horizons.

First of all, those Ramones albums should have a prominent place on a bookshelf in your living room. Put Never Mind the Bollocks on your kitchen counter.  (Oh yeah, I listen to it when I’m heating up my leftover Chinese food.) And don’t forget the White Album, that’s better than a coffee table book. (Without “Helter Skelter” we’d have nothing to be throwing a wake for.)

Keep current with a well-placed Propaghandi album. Maybe on the front seat of your car? How to Clean Everything kills two birds with one stone, showing you’re hip to the newer wave of punk (last wave?) while bragging that you were into their “early” stuff.

And for bonus points a Johnny Cash album should adorn your bedside table. It’s okay to go with one of the American Recordings albums, just steer clear of The Man Comes Around. Is there anything more clichÈ than explaining how good his cover of “Hurt” is, or how it got you through “hard times?” Beside, it’s way cooler to reference his version of “Rusty Cage.”

Choosing what You Pretend to Read

Tolstoy is out, and The Communist Manifesto is too obvious, so what books should you carry in your Army surplus shoulder bag? What books that you will never read will say the right thing about your Punk-ocity?

Glad you asked.

Denis Johnson’s Jesus’ Son is a win-win. It’s got all the word of mouth, cult classic clout you could ask for. And it’s short enough that you really could read it, if you had the time.

Make sure you have an obvious bookmark on your web browser to Mitch Clem’s website. His punk comics show you’re okay with making jokes at Punk’s expense, and what’s a good wake without self-deprecating humor? Don’t forget to let everybody know you’ve been reading since Nothing Nice to Say, back when Clem was still rocking Minneapolis pride.

And for maximum pointage find a worn copy of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. No one will no what to say. They’ll just admire your Punk-itude.

Using Your Body to Promote Punk

Body art is a long valued display of Punk. But how do you pick a design for your tattoo?

There are some standard choices such as the swallow and nautical star, what defines them as punk, however, depends entirely on how they are executed. For example a nautical star with the American flag on the inside is not so Punk. A swallow carrying Hitler’s head? Now that’s Punk.

And what of piercings? Does Punk’s demise warrant the tooth destruction of a labret stud? No, because those are just lame. How about a lifetime of drooping ear lobes after having them stretched to fit those plugs with the killer glow in the dark skulls on them? Punk would expect nothing less.

What to do when the Death Rattle stops Rattling

What happens when the fat lady sings, or in Punk’s case Jello Biafra keels over into the tomb of Jiminy Ramone (Joey’s cousin twice removed)?

The question on everypunk’s mind is whether they should stop their displays of Punkage, and if so what’s an acceptable grieving period. (No less than six months. This isn’t a girl you’ve dated for a few months, it’s a whore you’ve been sleeping with since she took your virginity at fifteen). There will no doubt be a faction that hangs onto Punk long after the cement’s been poured into the grave to prevent any zombie nightmares. But the most responsible thing any good Punk can do is reminisce about Punk to their little Punklets down the road.

Tell the story about how you puked on Mommy’s shoes at a Mr. T Experience concert, and it was love at first kick in the groin. Or how you refused to stop driving your ’77 Chevette until Glen Danzig reunited with The Misfits, only to suffer a fatal breakdown after 395,000 miles, leaving you to walk for two hours to catch what was left (six minutes) of a Melvins show.

So, Punk’s on it’s way out, and you’re not sure what will fill that void in your chest/heart/soul region, but at least you know you have the tools to give Punk the wake she deserves. And when you raise your Schlitz in the air, toasting everything Punk’s done for you (what would you have done without all the sideways glances, and mosh-pit bruises?) you will know you did your part.

Punk on, Punks and Punkettes, the end is near.

Ryan W. Bradley has pumped gas, changed oil, painted houses, swept the floor of a mechanic's shop, worked on a construction crew in the Arctic Circle, fronted a punk band, and managed an independent children's bookstore. He now works in marketing. His latest book is Nothing but the Dead and Dying, a collection of stories set in Alaska. He lives in southern Oregon with his wife and two sons.

9 thoughts on “A (Brief) Guide to Exhibiting Your Punk-itude

  1. How are you, I made a Classic Rock Mix that you might like, you should check it out and let me know what you think

    1. cash sort of got adopted along the way by the punk scene, which i’m cool with ’cause he’s a badass. rick rubin i think is more metal, but in general he’s an amazing producer, i’m still a little disappointed U2 abandoned their sessions with him for the last album.

      the cash cover of rusty cage is among my favorite covers ever.

        1. nice!

          i’ve missed a couple chances to see Jay Reatard live, but that guy does a lot to keep punk kicking (and sometimes he just kicks people).

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