Middle-Aged Punk

By Daniel A. Kaufman

The older I get, the more I find myself listening to Punk rock and the less I seem to be able to tolerate much of anything else.

It’s weird, the idea of a middle-aged Punk.  My parents, who belong to the Silent Generation, listened to classical, Big Band, and Sinatra-style lounge music, and I remember, as a kid, wondering whether I would do the same, when I was their age.  This seemed like music for older people.  It often required patience, was comparatively quiet, sometimes subtle, sophisticated, and mature, and was a “match” for the personalities of the adults around me.  The notion that when I grew up, I might still be listening to the music of my youth seemed impossible, because the qualities that characterized it were incongruous with what I took to be the adult personality.  The music was brazen and brash; hedonistic; some of it was political, though it tended towards anarchism, rather than any substantive political outlook; loud and sometimes dissonant; physically energizing, to the point of a kind of gleeful, controlled violence, expressed through slam dancing, moshing, and stage diving.  My father may have taken me to my first rock concert, when I was eight years old – KISS, in 1976, on the Destroyer Tour – but it was an act of charity on his part.  (I paid the favor forward last year, when I took my then twelve year old daughter and her best friend to see one of their favorite bands, Fall Out Boy, although the roles were, in some sense reversed.  The girls were awestruck and a bit scared – “Is that smell….pot?!” – while I found the band – not to mention the audience – rather well-behaved, tame, and … well … a little safe.)

circle-jerks

The Circle Jerks

I’m forty-seven now and listening to the same music that I did when I was sixteen.  More so, in fact.  What interest I retain in more mature musical forms – classical, for the most part – has shrunk as I have gotten older, rather than increase, a development that seems to run parallel with my taste in reading. Any interest I once had in long, dense, intricate classics (Russian or otherwise) has been eclipsed by a preference for short, lean, razor-sharp modern fiction.  Evelyn Waugh rather than Tolstoy.  Joan Didion over George Eliot.  In college, you easily could have found me poring over The Sound and the Fury or Swann’s Way, but today, you’re much more likely to see me with a copy of Less Than Zero or with a comic, like Kick Ass! or Watchmen.

You might think this represents some sort of retarded development or even outright regression – my wife, who is seven years older than I am, complains, not infrequently, about having two children in the house (my daughter and me) – but I disagree.  I mean, it’s not as if I don’t do a lot of adult stuff – I have a family, a house in a suburban neighborhood, a career, and the like – and I’ve aged physically, in every worst possible way.  My girth, graying hair, and overall decrepitude have forced upon me the realization, articulated by the middle-aged protagonist, in George Orwell’s Coming Up For Air, that no young girl will ever look twice at me again, unless she’s paid to. So, it’s not that I’ve rejected, walked away from, abandoned, or even really rebelled against adulthood.  It’s that I’ve developed a certain attitude towards it, and it’s this attitude that is reflected in what have become my dominant tastes.

Photo of TSOL

TSOL

Having invested myself politically, first in the Left, then in the Right, and then in the Left again, my political sensibility has become increasingly and reflexively anarchical.  If authority relies upon the capacity of people to recognize the legitimacy of a regime’s rule, I am no longer able to do so.  In the decades since the Vietnam War – the period in which I grew up – it has become quite clear that regardless of who wins office and of which party is in power and of whether the individuals involved are black or white, male or female, gay or straight, they are going to lie, cheat, steal, surveil, violate, abuse, harass, wage senseless, brutal war, and the like.  When I was in my twenties and early thirties, I was able to sustain the hope that this could change for the better, which is why I was so politically engaged throughout the nineties and into the early noughts.  Any such hope has since evaporated, and I have become resigned to the idea not only that American politics is inherently debased and corrupt, but that it is set up in such a way as to remain so, in perpetuity.  Put another way, I have zero hope that our politics is repairable from within the system and find, therefore, that my political sentiments – to the extent that I even bother with politics at all, any more – are almost entirely negative.  On paper, I still identify with a certain brand of classical liberalism, but my musical tastes portray a very different orientation.  The politics of Punk is not the socially positive, liberal politics of the 1960’s, expressed in that era’s popular music.  Vietnam and Cambodia, Watergate, the hippie sellout and transformation into the yuppie, stagflation and urban decay, under Jimmy Carter and the subsequent triumph of Reaganism … these engendered nihilistic, destructive sentiments among American youth that were the opposite of idealistic rebellion and were largely apolitical, the Punk sonic and verbal assault being directed against Right and Left alike.  This was not the “Everyone should love one another!” and “Let’s make the institutions better!” music of the 60’s, but the middle-finger anthems of a generation too world-wise to be snookered into another countercultural fantasy.  “Holiday in Cambodia,” “Chemical Warfare,” and “Letter Bomb,” rather than “Turn, Turn, Turn,” “Give Peace a Chance,” and “Woodstock.”

p01slx2x

The Dead Kennedys

I won’t say anything else about politics, which in any event ranks low among the reasons for my being a middle-aged Punk.  Far more important is the way that my perception of adulthood changed, as I approached and then hit my forties, which are rapidly drawing to a close.  Growing up, the adults around seemed categorically different from us kids.  This perceived difference took many different forms, but the general sense was with regard to what I would characterize as “acting out,” including all manner of tantrum-throwing, showing off, bullying, out-of-the-blue, apparently unmotivated, acts of petty violence and destruction, and the like.  Adults exhibited a kind of emotional and behavioral control that we kids lacked, something that they reminded us of, on those rare occasions when they felt the need to justify their authority or to explain why we were being denied some personal or social prerogative.

Of course, this all turned out to be a bunch of crap.  Decades of professional life, sustained and substantial involvement in a number of adult institutions (whether religious, civic, or the like), adult friendships, marriage, parenthood … all have made me realize that adults “act out” as much as – and in worse ways than – kids do and that the appearance of emotional and behavioral control is entirely superficial, a mixture of misdirection and showing off.  I often tell people that there is no stupid, cruel, destructive, awful thing that kids do, which adults don’t do to a much greater (and worse) degree, and it’s really true.  When I was nine, if a kid hated me, he might have followed me home from school and shoved me down in my driveway (this actually happened), but now, when an adult hates me – as did a former, seventyish colleague, who has since retired – he might spend years trying to get me fired from my job, accuse me of “un-collegiality” and file charge after charge and complaint after complaint to my Department Head, Dean, and even the University President.  (At one point, he accused me of “piracy,” when he found a missing footnote in one of my published articles.)  A boy, upon realizing that a girl he likes is standing nearby, might show off by punching his friend or adding a swagger to his walk, but this same colleague that I just mentioned would try to impress people by speaking in dramatically slowed-down cadences, with an exaggerated, genteel Southern accent, the combination of which was supposed to demonstrate his thoughtfulness, sophistication, and laid-backedness, all at once.  A kid who didn’t get what he wanted might have screamed or thrown himself on the floor and kicked his feet, but when another departmental colleague – also retired – didn’t get what he wanted at meetings, he would torture everyone with elaborate parliamentary maneuvers, the sole purpose of which was to drag out the proceedings, until we either gave in or descended to his level and shut him down, via some extra-parliamentary move that was little more than a dressed-up “Fuck off!”  Of course, all of these adult versions of bullying, showing off, and tantrum-throwing are done much more quietly and with a veneer of civility that their juvenile counterparts lack, but all that this means is that adults are much better than kids at covering up what assholes and jerks we are.  Argentina recently lowered the voting age to sixteen, and I think we should do the same.  Hell, I’d lower it to twelve or thirteen, with complete confidence that whomever a mob of pre-teens would come up with for a presidential candidate wouldn’t (couldn’t) be worse than Donald Trump or Sarah Palin or even Hillary Clinton.

One of the strongest reasons for Punk’s appeal to me in middle age, then, is that I find myself increasingly nauseated by the phoniness, the disingenuousness, the goddamned pretension of adults.  You got a problem with me?  Throw a punch.  You think you’re the shit?  Let’s see what you’ve got.  You’re pissed off?  Say so.  You want something?  Ask for it.  After all, these are the things you’re actually doing, once all the false decorum and posing has been stripped away. Directness; literalness; straightforwardness; the absence of anything resembling passive-aggression or “cover your ass.”  I take these to be virtues, rather than vices, and they are the hallmarks of Punk … and, of course, of youth.

black-flag

Black Flag

Finally, I just don’t have the patience anymore for anything that even has a whiff of the longwinded about it.  And why should I?  Time is getting shorter, not longer.  There is less time ahead of me than behind me.  And my perception of time is speeding up too.  When I was young, a decade seemed like forever, but now it feels like the blink of an eye; my daughter’s life is going by in a blur; my parents greyed and shrank like characters in some time-lapsed film; people just twenty years or so older than me, whom I grew up listening to, are dropping like flies – David Bowie, Lemmy Kilmister, Tommy Ramone…  So, yes, I’m in a hurry.  There’s a lot of music to listen to (not to mention books to read, movies to watch, etc.) and working through just one Mozart symphony will take as long as listening to half (or more) of Black Flag’s entire catalogue.  I want to cut to the chase, get to the good stuff, hear the punchline, shake a leg, get a move on … y’know, Chop fucking chop!

Were the adults back in the day really any different?  Did they even feel more adult than we do?  Was it all just perception – the result of seeing them from a child’s point of view?  Did the rise of a wildly successful youth culture after the Second World War change everything, forever?  Did our generations – the Boomers and the Gen Xers – break adulthood?  Will there be nothing but overgrown adolescents in our collective futures? Or is there nothing new, here, other than the fact that some of us – the middle-aged Punks – have realized that the traditional idea of adulthood is a scam, like all the other scams, and refuse to accept it?

I’m not sure and probably never will be.  But one thing I do know is that I’m not the only one!

Exene-Cervenka-and-X-female-rock-musicians-15934293-500-325

X

Middle Aged Punks Rocking On

  1. The other ‘F’ Word (a documentary about middle-aged, punk rock dads)

http://www.theotherfwordmovie.com/

  1. The Adolescents, “Kids of the Black Hole”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MJwcqQZts98

  1. Cro-Mags, live in Philadelphia (complete show)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PnyWxUvzw38

  1. TSOL – “Abolish Government” (with Jack Grisham teaching a kid how to stage dive).

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AxnaEcfaoUA

  1. Circle Jerks live at the House of Blues (complete show)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uw9uyEVDrhk

  1. FLAG IIII Live (Black Flag Reunion – complete show)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X3z1KF2s8Sc

Categories: Essay, Uncategorized

48 Comments »

  1. Dan.

    Well, this touches a nerve. My relationship with punk is highly complex and long-standing. It encompassed my greatest hopes and my deepest disappointments.

    I’m actually pictured on the “Live at CBGBs” back-cover, although my back is to the camera – that’s me sitting near center, in the waist-length denim jacket, listening to Talking Heads.

    Before I respond directly (and I haven’t read the essay completely), I post a link to an essay I wrote a little less than a year ago: https://nosignofit.wordpress.com/2015/06/13/punk-and-money-it-will-bleed/

    The immediately following post is a re-blog of a post by John Matthew Barlow on the Sex Pistols re-union that just happened to be posted the same week: http://matthewbarlow.net/2015/06/15/filthy-lucre

    Both posts include links to music/ video that will help those unfamiliar with the genre understand something of what it was all about.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. EJ: One of the things that I failed to do, obviously, is make any sorts of distinctions — Punk, of course, is not just one thing. My essay is really about American Hardcore — with a few exceptions, as X is not a Hardcore band — because that’s the Punk that *I* listened to, in my youth. To the extent that I’ve branched out and listen to British Punk — though I’m more of a Damned than a Sex Pistols guy — it has only been in my adulthood. I also listen to quite a bit of Post Punk, which retains the terseness, but is more aesthetically and intellectually expansive — especially bands like Wire, Magazine, and others.

    I’m also an enormous Stranglers fan, but they are quite difficult to attach a label to.

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  3. EJ: With regard to your “Punk and Money” essay and the question of politics, I do think the *type* of Punk matters. What I described strikes me as really being true mostly of American Hardcore and less so of British Punk, which to a great extent was an extension of a sort of SDS style Leftism — certainly, the Clash, the most important and substantial of the British Punks were. Timing may also be relevant — by the time of the Reagan/Thatcher era, British Punk was largely over, but this was American Hardcore’s heyday — i.e.. 1979 – 1984 or so.

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  4. Dan,

    Ha. As a late baby boomer, I think my sub-generation was the lead in to your’s. The whole Nixon-Agnew-Ford-Carter decade was the catalyst for Reagan’s “give the suckers what they want, put it on the credit card and privatize it all when the limit gets reached” takeover by the pigs.

    What I do agree is that time is short. Even long winded philosophy doesn’t make it past my circuit breakers.

    Here is my most recent effort to put everything wrong with the world/human nonsense in one essay;

    http://againstprofphil.org/philosophy-from-the-outside-double-feature-1-a-horse-trainers-metaphysics/

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Dan, I greatly enjoyed your evocative account. I think each one of us contrasts your account with our own experiences. In my case the contrast is staggering, no doubt because of my colonial English background and in part because from my early childhood there was a deadly seriousness and frightening fragility to life. You and I seem to have emerged differently from these experiences. In your account I detect a sense of cynicism and ennui while I feel driven by enthusiasm and curiosity(I may be doing you an injustice).

    But we do have similarities. You and I have both been touched by the struggle for power that men engage in while in the prime of their lives. Like you I am impatient of people who cannot give me the bottom line straight away in a concise one liner. Like you I have no time whatsoever for the posturing that people use in their jostling for status.

    I was amused by this statement:
    The notion that when I grew up, I might still be listening to the music of my youth seemed impossible,

    Join the club, we all do it. Our memories are wonderful things that endow a certain period of our young lives with a golden aura. It is false of course but that does not matter. What matters is having that golden, affirming memory to sustain us and music evokes these romanticised memories which is why we return to that music.

    As I write this I have been listening to the Penguin Cafe Orchestra and The Incredible String Band. I encourage you to look for life outside Punk!

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  6. While some adults are undoubtedly as childish as children are, a lot of adults, as they grow older, develop more emotional control, more sense of the long-term consequences of their behavior, more sense of responsibility towards others and greater capacity of empathy. There are good reasons to lower the voting age to 16, but not to 12, and I doubt that any of us would claim that a child of 12 or 14 is as legally responsible for their actions as a person of 30. I don’t think that what we call “adulthood” is just a hypocritical mask for a childish personality.

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  7. S. Wallerstein: There’s a lot of substance in your relatively short comment, and I’ll have to think a bit on some of it. That said, I think that our assurance re: the 12-14 year old versus the 30 year old is entirely, totally, self-servedly overstated. I would trust my daughter’s friends’ with voting more than I would over half of the adult population of this town. And I think the alleged lack of agency of young people is also wildly overstated; indeed, to the degree that we may actually be creating a reality that wasn’t originally there (cue all the talk about how fragile today’s college students are).

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  8. Even Aristotle, who cannot be accused of being a victim of political correctness, says that the young do not have the experience to master politics (Nicomachean Ethics 1095a). Lots of research shows that the brain is not fully mature until the early 20’s. Now your daughter and her friends may be exceptionally mature and having been raised in a household where ideas are discussed, your daughter probably has more rational ideas than most adults.

    We learn from experience, at least I have. At around age 30 after a political meeting, an older man came up to me and said, probably because of my behavior, that there a lots of things that people accept in a teenager, but will not accept in someone age 30 and that also led me to try to behave more maturely for prudential reasons. However, after a while, calculated behavior becomes a habit (Aristotle talks about good habits, I believe) and so after a while, my mature “acting” became maturity of sorts. I think that that happens with lots of people.

    I don’t know if young people are more “fragile”. They too tend to be less empathetic, less considerate of others, less able to calculate the long-term consequences of their actions, more prone to take stupid risks (rasher), less able to control “negative” emotions, less aware of their limits, etc. As I said above, we learn from experience, so sheltering them excessively from negative experiences does not seem indicated. The school of hard knocks has something to be said for it.

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  9. S. Wallerstein wrote: Even Aristotle, who cannot be accused of being a victim of political correctness, says that the young do not have the experience to master politics (Nicomachean Ethics 1095a).

    —————————————–

    As opposed to these people….

    Yeah, I don’t even think that argument passes the giggle test any more. Frankly, an elementary school wouldn’t pick worse candidates than we currently do.

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  10. S. Wallerstein wrote:

    They too tend to be less empathetic, less considerate of others, less able to calculate the long-term consequences of their actions, more prone to take stupid risks (rasher), less able to control “negative” emotions, less aware of their limits, etc.

    —————————————————–

    Er…no.

    Long term consequences ….. Iraq. Iraq. And Iraq.

    More prone to take stupid risks …. Anthony Weiner. Hillary Clinton.

    Less able to control negative emotions …. Rush Limbaugh’s 8 million listeners.

    Less aware of their limits … The 36% of Americans who are obese. 16+ million adult alcoholics. The 60% carrying huge credit card debt….

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  11. Some people remain children all their lives. Some people go downhill and get worse as they get older. However, as far as I can see, the only people with sufficient wisdom to govern a complex society are over, perhaps, age 40. Not everyone over age 40 has sufficient wisdom to govern a complex society or even a simple one, but very few under 40 have sufficient wisdom and I doubt that anyone under 21 does. In a society manipulated by the TV and by advertising, a lot of people stay childish their whole life and maybe they mistake a third-rate comic, Donald Trump, who may be entertaining for some people (not for me), for a possible world leader. However, if people make an effort to liberate themselves from those forces which profit from keeping us childish, they can, to some extent, succeed and those are the people worth knowing. My friends, all over 35 and most over 50, have all grown in rationality, in consideration for and awareness of others and in understanding of themselves as they’ve gotten older. That’s not a representative cross section of humanity, to be sure: I tend to eliminate those who do not grow, who remain childish, from my list of friends. I note that your ability to reflect on the childishness of most adults comes from the fact that really, you are no longer childish: adults who are genuinely childish and immature (which is not the same thing as “being young at heart”) do not understand the concept of psychological maturity, while you do.

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  12. @S. Wallerstein what does a mature brain have to do with, what I think is implied, being good natured. I don’t want the political slovinliness of someone more mature I definitely am in favor of rampant idealism.

    This essay is incredibly disheartening to read. The saddest part being is that it has affirmed to me there is no counterculture today. As a millennial throughout my life I have traversed many avenues in the internet, in street corners, in when it was a thing, cd collections of head shops that might inspire some youth in revolt from my peers etc. I could more easily say that I have always found myself to be quite clear minded of what I want in life and that is a culture in my genration that is at least mildly disaffectionate to satus quo. The best refernece I could make that seems to fit the scheme of things now is the beat movement. But I found none.

    Liked by 2 people

  13. S. W,

    The problem with youth is they have seen enough to think they know a lot, but just haven’t seen the same things happen again and again, from every different angle and begin to see that what they thought they knew is circumstantial.

    As such, youth is very linear. They are in a big rush to get where they think they are going. Whereas with age, it’s more about balancing all the infinite connections, angles, nuances, details, etc. The problem is this tends to slow us down and eventually drown us, if we are not careful. So there has to be a balance, between momentum and maintaining a sense of balance. I compare it to riding a bicycle; You have to keep moving, even slowly, or you fall over.

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  14. First, kudos to DanK for a very thought-provoking piece.

    Second, with respect to the disagreement between DanK and S. Wallerstein, the latter asserts the continued development of the brain into the early 20s. I would suggest that this confuses biological development with the question regarding when there is sufficient rational competency to regard a human as possessed of the requisite level of personhood. In fact this has been looked at quite closely by a number of social scientists over the last few decades, and I would suggest that it may be beneficial to take a peek at some of their findings. In particular, there are scholars such as Gary Melton who have spent decades arguing for children’s rights partly on the basis of their cognitive competency as adolescents:

    http://www.ucdenver.edu/academics/colleges/medicalschool/departments/pediatrics/subs/can/faculty/staffpages/Pages/Gary_Melton.aspx

    In terms of some of the foundational articles that I have seen relevant to this question, here are three, beginning with Melton:

    Gary B. Melton, “Toward Personhood for Adolescents: Autonomy and Privacy as Values in Public Policy.” American Psychologist (Jan 1983): 99-103.

    Melton’s view (which does not seem to have essentially changed):

    “I am arguing that adolescents’ personhood should be recognized by policymakers. Insofar as denial of autonomy has been based on assumptions of incompetence, current psychological research does not support such an age-graded distinction. …Such a reversal of presumptions would probably result in substantial changes in the scope of adolescents’ liberty and privacy rights. Assuming that compelling state interests to the contrary could not be demonstrated, adolescents’ independent interests in decisions relating to such matters as psychotherapy, medical treatment, psychiatric hospitalization, abortion, and contraception would have
    to be recognized. Indiscriminate searches of high school students could not be upheld on the ground that students have no expectation of privacy.”

    Lois Whitehorn and Lois B. Campbell. “The Competancy of Children and Adolescents to Make Informed Treatment Decisions.” Child Development (Dec. 1982): 1589-98.

    An important and complex study which tested the abilities of children given four serious medical decisions which had to be made. The ostensible reason for the study (which was Whitehorn’s doctoral thesis done under Campbell) was to test SCOTUS Justice William O. Douglas’ assertion in Wisconsin v. Yoder (1972) that, in Douglas’ words, “the moral and intellectual maturity of the 14 year-old approaches that of the adult.” The results: Douglas was essentially correct. Ages tested were 9, 14, 18, and 21. From 14 on up, the subjects had essentially adult cognitive competence.

    Laurence Steinberg and Elizabeth Cauffmann. “Maturity of Judgement in Adolescence: Psychosocial Factors in Adolescent Decision making.” Law and Human Behavior 20:3 (June 1996): 249-272.

    Steinberg and Cauffmann are more conservative, partly because they focus on psychosocial rather than cognitive ability. They conclude that there is a substantial distinction between early-mid and late adolescence and advocate drawing the legal line at 17. However, their conclusions are very tentative and qualified and they urge the need for more research in the target group (14-21).

    To the editors: I know my comment is over the word limit. Would it be possible to count it as two comments?

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Dan,

    Having drifted in and out of various punk scenes between ’76 and 2003, I am not so inclined to make the clear distinction between sub-genres as you. Arguably, the first California Hardcore bands were the Dils and the Avengers, back in ’77/’78, sounding like early-Clash on meth (so clearly more influenced by England than by NYC). Although Hardcore tends to be a more restrictive form than mid-70s Punk, only a handful of bands are exhaustively defined by the genre. Fear in concert was as vicious and anarchic as one could want, but its first album was neatly constructed, full of wit and irony, even at its most abrasive.

    And there are themes and issues that continued, and still recur in more recent ‘Punk revivals’ (including the question of whether punks play for love of music or for money, as noted in my blog post). That’s inevitable, given the resonant influence of the bands from the original appearance of this music; but also given the nature of the surrounding culture – especially its music industry, which hasn’t experienced a major change in organizing principles or their expectations since the early 1970s. All the excitement of various DIY projects have achieved is the occasional alternative networks of venues and distribution, none of them truly challenging the mainstream.

    There is, however, a problem with distinctions between the ages of differing Punk scenes. In the Hardcore scene that finally developed in upstate New York in the mid-’80s (half a decade after its origination in LA), I was considered either a ‘grand old man’ of the prior era, or an ancient wanker, depending on whether the people involved had pretensions to cultural subversion, or if they were cultural nihilists out for a good time (‘for tomorrow we die’ – or go to business school).

    Then in the ’90s, Nirvana and Green Day at last brought Punk into the mainstream (not without cost, it must be acknowledged), and a lot of old Punks came out for their ‘last hurrahs,’ so to speak. But by then, Punk was just another genre among a growing myriad of genres. It no longer threatens; it is simply ‘a taste.’

    So we are left with discussing Punk not in terms of what it can *do* – culturally, politically, socially (as, say, iconoclasm or subversion) – but what it expresses (since that’s the one thing buying out or selling out or otherwise appropriation cannot take from any given art form).

    Dan, I think you’ve discussed that pretty well here, and in so doing remind us why Punk continues to resonate with its audiences, regardless of age.

    Nonetheless, the age question continues haunt us – and especially old Punks like ourselves, since Punk, as an expressive form, is clearly largely about ‘testosterone,’ as my long time drummer always insisted (and of course about female performers ready to kick our testosterone in its sacks).

    I’ll address that in my next comment.

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  16. Daniel, it does seem to me that we’ve ended up in relatively similar places. Today we each have a loving wife and child, reside in suburban homes, and spend as much time as we are able to on this stuff here. Furthermore we each seem to have little tolerance for the pretentious and phony, and see far too much of it. But while you’ve described a lengthy period of disillusionment that you’re still coming to terms with, my own disillusionment actually began and ended during my teenage years. And how did it end? It ended through complete acceptance of the following theory: Everyone is selfish.

    This is of course a simple theory which has probably occurred to everyone at least once. I consider its enemy however, to be an amazingly resilient force that’s responsible for the hypocrisy that you’ve noted, and far more. The name I use for it may be surprising however: “Morality.” So let me explain.

    Morality exists in us, I think, as a product of our sensations of empathy, and our sensations of theory of mind (like “respect” and “jealousy”). Without such “morality,” our societies simply wouldn’t be possible. But given that we are both moral and selfish creatures, this naturally encourages us to propagate notions such as, “stealing is wrong,” “lying is wrong,” “hatred is wrong,” “cheating is wrong,” and so on. Why? Because whether or not we find reason to behave in such ways ourselves, we’d naturally rather that others do not so victimize us. Thus we are set up to be “two faced,” I think, and the associated hypocrisy can be quite maddening. But I personally am no longer so maddened, and perhaps because I fully accept that each and every one of us remain a selfish bastard in the end. I see this as going beyond “morality,” in the quest to understand “reality.”

    So how does this sound to you?

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  17. Dan,

    Next comment:

    As expression, Punk generally, since the Sex Pistols, largely released anger – anger at the world into which we find ourselves thrown, anger at the process and problems of aging, anger with the pretensions and hypocrisies of the adult world. But, need that prove the final word?

    Let me shift the topic slightly to see it in a different perspective:

    A few years ago, I got involved with a card-game club. One of the participants turned out to have severe mental problems (although she remained functional enough to win at rummy!). One of her problems was that she was committed to being emotionally 13 years old (and I mean, quite explicitly). This led to enormous problems in her life. For one thing, although she was in denial, she was hated by her children, who stole from her and verbally assaulted her on numerous occasions. But she always forgave them, because they allowed her to play – as a child – with their children. That was the worst of it, but it wasn’t all. She was wholly unable to take responsibility for her actions (everything that went wrong was someone else’s fault); she was unable to make concrete decisions, like when to buy a new car or what kind or from whom. She trusted lowlifes who recognized these weaknesses and played (preyed) upon them. She limited her reading to books that wouldn’t threaten her 13-year-old world view (which is pretty much all of literature beyond Peter Pan and Nancy Drew). After the inevitable divorce, she finally drifted away into the socially isolated world of those dependent on psychiatric medicine and therapy to survive.

    That’s what it means to truly reject adulthood.

    Thinking about her led me to appreciate all that I had gained in wisdom despite my suffering. I can actually deal with difference, with change, with disappointment. I can actually accept when I am powerless, and when I must do something, the consequences of which I must live with.

    And thinking of her in relation to Punk rock, I understand what I learned from Punk.

    There are three theories about the basic nature of Punk: 1) It is mere musical genre (for the young); 2) it is a sub-cultural subversion of the status quo; 3) it is an attitude.

    I’m persuaded to this third theory. Real Punks are punks no matter what music they listen to. It is simply a matter of saying, with Melville, “‘NO’ in thunder.”

    Wisdom is not a matter of age. But with age comes experience. Where there is no experience, there cannot be wisdom.

    Finally: I wasn’t able to find “The Other F-Word” online, but I attended to snippets and interviews available at Youtube and elsewhere – sounds fascinating. I think, from what I’ve seen, that the participants in that film may be able to answer some of the implicit questions of this article better than speculation or argumentation on my part.

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  18. Dan-K,
    like you, I often seriously doubt the mental competence and goodwill of our adult world. And yet I see enough counterexamples to have faith. These counterexamples have created our marvellous world of culture, science, industry and technology. Because of them we have made huge progress, though I grant the progress has been rather uneven and our moral progress is much smaller than our cultural or technological progress.

    This progress has been realised by adults. Youth is a process of preparation so that they can take their place and in turn play their role maintaining our progress. This process of preparation cannot be shortened and including them in the decision making processes before they have completed their preparation is hazardous.

    When do they complete their preparation? There is no hard and fast rule here. Some mature early and some late. But there is growing evidence that the maturation process tends to reach its fruition in the late twenties. This stage of development between the teens and the late twenties has been dubbed ’emerging adulthood’.

    Before you place too much faith in people in late teens you should carefully consider the findings of the Notre Dame sociologist, Christian Smith, described in his book Lost in Transition. See http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/13/opinion/if-it-feels-right.html

    Some choice excerpts:

    The interviewers asked open-ended questions about right and wrong, moral dilemmas and the meaning of life. In the rambling answers, which Smith and company recount in a new book, “Lost in Transition,” you see the young people groping to say anything sensible on these matters

    When asked to describe a moral dilemma they had faced, two-thirds of the young people either couldn’t answer the question or described problems that are not moral at all

    Smith and company are stunned, for example, that the interviewees were so completely untroubled by rabid consumerism.

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  19. One way to look at it is the upward dynamic of consciousness, versus the inward pressures of direction, structure, social expectations, feedback etc.

    Such that leadership is often simply those in the front of mass movements. For instance, Columbus is created with discovering America, because others followed him, while there is certainly evidence and stories of other Europeans how like arrived prior to that.

    So that we shouldn’t so much try to identify particular individuals, as where the larger society might be headed, then try to consider the details emerging from that.

    Kouts,

    Your generation has been overdosed on stimuli to an extent no other generation has and they have not yet had the need to fully process it. What you are looking for is multiple directions from which to chose and now it is just one big tidal wave of information. Time will tell.

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  20. With the idea of counter culture, both medium and message have to be taken into account. For instance, Simon and Garfunkul would be the softest of pop for the last 40 years but in the mid 60’s they offered a world view to middle class kids, whose parents were depression/WW2 survivors, that was extremely counter culture. Yes, the music was soft, but as a medium it was extremely effective. After that, while the music became increasingly hardcore, so did the culture and so it was difficult be counter to it, except by just trying to stay one step ahead.

    Now today, the primary medium of the culture is information technology and so the counterculture are the hackers. The fact is that today, music is not so much a medium, as it is a commodity. If you want counter culture, first you need to identify the primary forces driving society, the culture, etc. and then figure out what is trying to counter them.

    For example, the occupy movement would be the clearest example of resistance to the commodification of virtually all aspects of life and how it is then processed through the financial sector. Consequently these involved tried to resist giving it any form or structure, because that would provide the financial, security, commodification, media sectors with some handle to exploit, co-opt, crack down on, etc. Presumably this backfired, as it left no apparent follow-through, but it did what it needed to do, in showing resistance to the system and giving impetus to a larger dissatisfaction that likely has been a serious factor in the Sanders campaign.

    Not to mention that the Tea Party movement showed up the cracks in the political right. Which given that conservatism is more about structure, than energy, is creating a breakdown of the establishment, with the various sectors going in different directions, rather than the coalescing occurring on the left.

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  21. Labnut: The problem is that the social sciences yield very different conclusions on this subject. Mike Boyle has described, in detail, some studies that would seem to have come to the opposite conclusion about the relative merits of adult and youth deliberation.

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  22. EJWinner:

    A few things, just on definitions.

    –I am of the view that one can substantially and relatively rigorously, distinguish British Punk from New York Punk, from Hardcore Punk, the latter of which also includes crossover Punk/Thrash, like Cro-Mags, D.R.I., and Suicidal Tendencies. These distinctions can be made demographically, subject-matter-wise, and in terms of musical style, though of course, there are all sorts of overlaps and fuzzy lines. Patti Smith’s music can be understood as belonging to New York Punk in a way that it never could be considered as being Hardcore or British.

    –Real Punk pretty much ends in the 80’s. Nirvana and grunge are as much 70s dirty, hard rock as they are Punk (indeed, I would argue more so), and bands like Blink 182 or Green Day are just Pop bands, with a Punk inflection. (They really an embarrassment, “Punkwise.”)

    –Re: American Hardcore, there are a lot more bands that fall pretty cleanly within that category than “a handful.” Here are just some:

    Agent Orange
    Adolescents
    TSOL (early)
    Black Flag
    Dead Kennedys
    Circle Jerks
    Descendants

    and there are more… there are also British Hardcore bands, like the UK Subs and the Subhumans. And of course, DC and NY hardcore, like Bad Brains.

    I will get to your more substantive points in a bit.

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  23. Dan,

    Brief clarification: When I wrote “only a handful of bands are exhaustively defined by the genre,” I mean (and I should qualify, among bands with any longevity, since there have been so many that lasted all of a summer or one or two singles), there haven’t been all that many bands that *only* played Hardcore exclusively. Black Flag is indeed as Hardcore as one could want, but they not only also produced the great dirge-metal of “My War,” but transmuted in the end to the innovative instrumentals of Gone. (And the Kennedys, at their most interesting, are almost sui generis. “Dog bite/ on my leg/ not right/ supposed to beg/ Daily to the filling station/ underwater navigation/ Dog bite (etc.)” – I mean, that’s dada – and self-consciously so.)

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  24. A bit of trivia: The lead singer of one of the bands you mention in this list (“American Hardcore”) s married to a professional philosopher.

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  25. I’ve never claimed the teenagers have lesser cognitive skills than adults. In fact, teenagers have better memories, can learn foreign language faster, are probably better at logic and mathematics and have a capacity to assimilate complex philosophical reasoning (without prior philosophical training) that an adult, without prior philosophical training, is no longer capable of. I’m sure that my score on a standard university entrance exam would be inferior to what it was at age 17 and that I’d make more mistakes on a test of basic logical skills. What is in question is whether teenagers have the emotional maturity to make adult decisions.
    http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-24173194

    Two simple questions: how many people, especially those of us who are parents, would be in favor of lowering the age of legal consent (to sex with adults) to age 13 or 14? How would we react if our 13 or 14 or even 15 year-old kid were to tell us that their new boy-friend or girl-friend was 35?

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  26. S. Wallerstein: Well, I’m really sorry that you decided to take the conversation down this road, which strikes me as ultimately rhetorical and lacking in substance. Ages of consent vary wildly worldwide — and also over time. In most of South America, it is 13-14. In Asia, it ranges from 12-21, with most being around 14 or 15.You don’t have to go back very far in American history to find them at exactly the ages you mention and even lower. How we feel about this issue is *highly* culturally sensitive and the current, hypercharged quality that it has is really very recent. Indeed, I would suggest that we expand Godwin’s law to include this subject: Just as introducing Hitler or Nazis ought to lose you an argument immediately, so should invoking pedophiles and child molestors. It’s just a cheap tactic that takes advantage of current neuroses and panics.

    The real point that is emerging in this conversation is that a person’s maturity has a lot more to do with how we socialize people, than it has to do with some inherent quality (within limits, of course). We currently socialize young people to be incredibly infantile, something we have expanded into the early twenties, and thus, they become infantile. But there are many places in which this is not the case, and it wasn’t even the case in the West until very recently. All the brain talk is just a way of trying to rationalize this regime of infantilization. I call BS on it, and thus far, I have not heard much of anything that would lead me to think that I am mistaken.

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  27. Child labor laws and compulsory high school were originally implicitly introduced to shrink the labor force. Whatever society’s views on age of consent, nature has us reach puberty in early teens, if not before. In fact, it has apparently been dropping in recent decades, possibly due to a healthy/well fed life style.

    The larger point is that we are physically and emotionally bottom up/emergent and then have to fit and conform to top down cultural models and expectations. Which then channel our lives into particular directions and larger social needs. The feedback between how we push out, physically and emotionally, versus how the world pushes back, is what makes our lives. There is no perfect ideal, just lots of expectations on both sides. Frustrations are as integral as pleasures.

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  28. Dan-K,
    The real point that is emerging in this conversation is that a person’s maturity has a lot more to do with how we socialize people, than it has to do with some inherent quality (within limits, of course). We currently socialize young people to be incredibly infantile, something we have expanded into the early twenties, and thus, they become infantile.

    I agree with you completely. I think this is a powerful insight and you have summarised it nicely. This would explain Christian Smith’s observations in his study, ‘Lost in Transition‘. But given that this is the case, could we possibly be justified in lowering the voting age for a group of people who we have infantilised? I doubt that will be a remedy for infantilisation. All that will happen is that infantile views will have greater representation in the electorate. Note that I say ‘greater’ because it is already so prevalent. Possibly your observation explains the features of the electorate that you so dislike.

    Is there any remedy? Or has the structure of Western society made this process of infantilisation a permanent and irreversible phenomenon? Does this have anything to do with the prevalence of single child families?

    As a parent I have earnestly grappled with these problems, trying to make my home a place of preparation for responsible adulthood. Peer and social pressure made this very difficult. One child matured early and the other child late so I can only report mixed success though I am now immensely proud of both children, who have become stellar adults.

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  29. I hardly listen to my old records and tapes now, though sometimes I hear the kids listening. I explicitly drew a veil on the part of my life where punk was the sound track. I realised that my life was not a long term plan – I needed to get respectable, to get a career.

    I can’t see punk as an antidote to the phoniness of the world because they were part of the phoniness of the world. Sure there was some great music made along the way, and it still does really sound like how you feel when the word pours shit on you, but was anything really subverted? The confused politics of The Clash were a joke even as we listened to the music. The even more confused politics of the anarcho punks was beside the point because their music was so boring.

    I recall the radical animal rights band Conflict, with their slogan “Meat is Murder” (yes, even before Morrisey got there) and in one concert one of the members grabs the microphone with his fist in the air and shouts “Meat is Dinner!” to the uproarious approval of the crowd. I sense a wavering of commitment there.

    Yes, well the Angelic Upstarts were usually on message and seemed sincere, UK Subs I didn’t pay so much attention to, they were usually the top of the bill where I wanted to hear one of the other bands. A crowd of other great bands like Rubella Ballet, just came and went and we never knew if they stood for anything or were trying to subvert anything. And what about Pink Noise, they were a great band weren’t they? No, apparently we were not. That’s OK, we were phonies too.

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  30. Daniel, I do realize that becoming part of the establishment hasn’t softened your hardcore punk attitude, and various disheartening experiences may even have pushed you further. But that’s good! In order to do what needs to be done, motivated rebels will surely be required. But what must be done? I have such a vision (though right now it can be difficult for others to take seriously, given various standard beliefs). You will of course keep building yours, though I also ask for your continued scrutiny of mine. Observe that few beyond you and Massimo have had the confidence to challenge my radical ideas, and presumably because such challenges just haven’t been easy to find. Surely over the past two years in public, plenty of shots would otherwise have been directed at a rebel such as me?

    Regardless, you can’t lose here. Either you are able to make me look foolish for being so divergent, or you aren’t. And then if you aren’t able to make me look foolish, you will indeed have the opportunity to help found our still primitive mental/behavioral sciences. I envision the greatest revolution, the greatest “Fuck You!” that academia has ever experienced. I also believe you to be the exact sort of “punk,” needed to get this deed done.

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  31. @ brodix (and any science people out there):

    “Whatever society’s views on age of consent, nature has us reach puberty in early teens, if not before. In fact, it has apparently been dropping in recent decades, possibly due to a healthy/well fed life style.”

    From Scientific American:

    “With some evolutionary irony, the past 10,000 years of human existence actually shrank our brains. Limited nutrition in agricultural populations may have been an important driver of this trend. Industrial societies in the past 100 years, however, have seen brain size rebound, as childhood nutrition increased and disease declined.”

    http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-has-human-brain-evolved/

    Is it possible that the same nutritional/environmental factors in advanced modern societies driving down the average age at which menses begins is also responsible for driving up the age at which the brain continues to develop, above and apart from the highly culturally-influenced issue of when sufficient rationality re: personhood is reached?

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  32. Eric: I don’t think that there is any contradiction between people being selfish and there being morals. Nor do I find your views particularly radical. I just disagree with them.

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  33. Robin: I don’t know that I think that Punk is an “antidote to the phoniness of the world.” My point was that part of the reason for my returning to Punk in Middle Age is because I am sick of the phoniness of the supposedly “mature” people. The sounds of Punk are ideal in expressing this sentiment and also provide a satisfying tonic in dealing with it. Hardcore rap music of the sort you find in Public Enemy and NWA can serve a similar role.

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  34. I was never a huge punk fan, but did still find this an interesting post. I listened to the Clash, Graham Parker, Elvis Costello, but not much American punk. I have always had a pretty wide wide range of genres in my musical tastes. I had my early rockers phase (Elvis, Little Richard, Chuck Berry….) my clasic 60’s & 70’s rock & roll phase, I always liked the blues, in college I listened to alot of Springsteen (mostly early stuff up to born to run the River but not born in USA). I liked the singer songwriters (Joni Mitchell, Van Morrison, Jackson Browne..). Then at the end of college I started getting into Jazz. When I’m not running now I listen to Jazz of all kinds (except smooth–ugh) & classical music. Interestingly when running I like to listen Sinatra from his swinging sessions and colloraborations with Basie. So in some ways the opposite trajectory of Dan.

    I enjoy at first not getting what others do in an artist or genre, giving it a chance, and then learning to appreciate and hear what I couldn’t before.

    I feel anything can become stale when overplayed. I think this has something to do the authentic/phoniness continuum. What was once an authentic feeling, experience, movement…etc , changes and loses it’s authenticity when it becomes valued as an ideology or turned into a commodity. I think there is a term for this ‘Goodharts Law’.

    I think there is plenty of phoniness in our culture and not limited to the adults. I often get disheartened, but anger has never been an emotion at the forefront for me. Probably why I never a big funk fan.

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  35. At my blog, I linked to an lecture by Iggy Pop on the thorny relations between musical culture and business culture, with my own brief commentary: https://nosignofit.wordpress.com/2016/01/27/the-business-and-the-passion-music-and-capitalism/

    If tyou don’t want my commentary, go to Youtube and search “Iggy Pop John Peel Leture 2014.”

    I researched Chris Stephens’ remark (I simply had to know) and emailed DanT with the result; but I thought I would wait for Chris to post here. However, he hasn’t yet replied, so for those still curious:

    Milo Aukerman of the Descendents (whose day-job is research biochemist for DuPont) is married to Professor Robin Andreasen of the University of Delaware. In 2002, they co-wrote what appears to be (I haven’t read it) a defense of certain findings of the human genome project against criticisms by Alex Rosenberg: http://philpapers.org/rec/ANDTHG. (Milo *did* go to college!)

    It’s difficult to sustain a life devoted to speed, volume, angst and anarchic acting out. The cost of attempting to do so gets very high, the longer one tries. This is just not that kind of world. But are we “phonies” the way Robin suggests? Not necessarily; it’s really a matter of finding the right times and places to do this safely. The danger is thinking, as many hippies did with Woodstock, that the time and its geography can be extended indefinitely. That’s not true; but on the other hand, though compromise is inevitable, we can certainly make our compromises creatively and ethically.

    (Writing that, I really re-emphasize my suggestion of attending to Iggy Pop’s lecture closely.)

    I suggest that disappointment can be reduced if we admit what our essential commitments are (not always what we say they are, since these require clarification through experience); and if we accept the world as it is, as the place wherein we try to realize these commitments.

    But that’s what makes life (especially in our youth) so interesting: the learning of it as we go along.

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  36. Mike(it is Mike?),

    Not only have we poured much more nutritional energy into our lives, but information energy as well. Yes, the younger generations might seem infantilized, but maturity is the point where you have learned enough to transition from primarily learning, to doing. Those earlier generations which might have joined the work force in their early teens and be parents by their late teens might have matured early, but only because they had to plateau at a lower level. Maybe our kids are going too far the other direction and simply absorbing far more sensory input than is useful, but it is part of the process of pushing the limits and rebounding off them. Ebb and flow, yin and yang. Life is balancing the various elements.

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  37. Hi Dan, excellent piece. So good it is hard, almost a shame, for me to add commentary.

    On adulthood and being grownup, you nailed my feelings/experiences. Sham.

    On punk music, we have a different history. I’m not an audiophile and anyway lived a pretty sheltered musical life until college, where I had a knowledgeable audiophile roommate. But at that point (mid-late 80s) most of the classic Punk groups were gone or on the way out.

    The main bands on my roster were: the Clash, Sex Pistols, Circle Jerks, Suicidal Tendencies, Black Flag, Dead Kennedys, Iggy Pop and the Stooges, Misfits, Bad Religion, Warlock Pinchers, and Fear. I also really liked the soundtrack to RepoMan as a cross-sectional anthology piece.

    Talking Heads, Green Day, and Nirvana have been mentioned in this thread (and I do like them) but I never took any of these to actually be punk. Do Violent Femmes count?

    My musical interests have been broad and remain broad. I keep adding new stuff all the time (today I just found two rap/hiphop artists I want to learn more about). I love Baroque music but it sure has nothing to do with some growing maturity. When I listen to punk these days it is (more often than not) the last four on my list from Bad Religion to RM soundtrack. I think Bad Religion and Fear “spoke” to me the most, but mostly it all seemed to be about catharsis.

    Side note: Not sure which artist is married to a philosopher but Bad Religion’s lead singer is a science professor (at the time and I believe currently teaching at Cornell).

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  38. Part II

    On being punk by attitude (attitudinal punk?). I think punks can listen to more than just punk music. Like EJ says it is also an attitude. But exactly what is that?

    As I said in my first reply, when I started into punk it was well past its prime, and the people I met who claimed to be punk (yes in midwest so there is that) seemed to be dumb and just looking to make noise, pretentious educated rich kids whose wild and colorful hair/body styles stood in stark contrast to their boring lifestyles (all provocation with no substance), or true nihilists heading off into GG Allin territory. In short no one to talk with.

    But this is not to slam all punk(s) with these labels. I don’t think being punk has to mean being unintelligent/uneducated, rude/provocative for provocation’s sake (desperate for attention), or nihilistic in real life (as opposed to any theatrical creations). Henry Rollins, Greg Graffin, Iggy Pop, and Jello Biafra (my college managed to snag him on his post-band talking tour) are pretty good counterexamples.

    It’s just the more interesting people I happened to meet had already moved on to other genres. And given that I hate labels I didn’t want to be identified with that one concept either.

    Still… I loathed self-appointed authority figures from a young age, am a utopian anarchist (meaning I know it can’t be a practical reality but like to think about it), and have flouted social conventions regarding how people are “supposed to live” for much of my life.

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  39. Labnut wrote:

    In your account I detect a sense of cynicism and ennui while I feel driven by enthusiasm and curiosity(I may be doing you an injustice).

    —————

    No, you’re exactly right. I like the fact that you understand me so well. It confirms what I already knew…that you and I are friends. =)

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  40. Labnut wrote: I encourage you to look for life outside Punk!
    ————————
    Don’t wish that on me! I love it. It makes me feel alive…and young.

    And don’t worry. I listen to other music. Give a little space for literary effects. =)

    Here’s one of my non-punk favorites. Absolutely freaking gorgeous.

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  41. Here’s one of my non-punk favorites. Absolutely freaking gorgeous.

    Indeed, though new to me and I suspect I must listen/watch several times to fully appreciate it.
    Watching Oundjian conduct the piece stimulated a new line of thought. That concentrated intensity contributed much to my enjoyment of the piece. There is a signalling channel(the conductor, and the performers) and a content channel(the music). For the full experience one must be receptive to both channels, which is why a video(or better, the live performance) is essential. This is an analogue for the rest of life, where the signalling channels are often as important as the content channels. The phoniness that you mentioned (“ I find myself increasingly nauseated by the phoniness, the disingenuousness, the goddamned pretension of adults. “) can be traced to a disjunction between the signalling and content channels, especially when the signalling channel is rich but the content channel is empty. The converse is also true. When someone states intent we look to the signalling channel to read his sincerity.

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  42. I just wanted to third EJwinner’s suggestion to watch the lecture by Iggy Pop. It is the kind of thing that shows that image and cathartic action/performance does not suggest a person’s full range of being. I was meeting very stunted punks compared to people like this.

    Oh and I realized I overlooked one punk on my list of good counterexamples… Daniel Kaufman 🙂

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