Freshman, Political Science and Physics major
Punk Rock: most of you probably know it as that one genre you casually skip over on Pandora, or perhaps as that thing your mom never wants to hear in the car again. Is there, however, a different side to punk that many fail to witness? (The answer is yes.)
Don’t simply take my word for it; Chance Fleeting, high-school senior and drummer for Tampa-based band Concrete Johnson, describes punk as advocating “the fraternal form of freedom that we all need.” William Hoffman, first-year UF law student and former bassist of well-received, Tampa-based bands such as Hovering Humanoids and I-and-I, argues that punk is “a freedom from restriction, a freedom from tradition, a freedom from limitation.” Likewise, Matt Marder, third-year UF engineering student and manager of Gainesville-based band Velocirapture, describes punk as “a way of uplifting the community.” So, what is the deal? These descriptions seem to address philosophical themes rather than a genre of music. What exactly is punk?
In a time when rock was either growing more and more soft or attempting (and failing) to recreate the styles of 1960s rock legends, punk rock changed the name of the game. Bands like The Ramones, The Clash, and The Stooges developed a style of rock music consisting of dirty, crunchy guitar riffs, fast-paced drumming, and vocals (often shouted and gritty) with lyrics that speak straight to the heart and mind. This music was not only blunt and honest but it was purposely not overly complicated or technologized – the idea was (and still is) that this new, raw form of musical expression should be accessible to anyone because it belongs to everyone. This is how punk rock, the genre of music, came to be.
Take a look at punk bands and musicians from an intellectual perspective, and you will discover something even more unexpected and remarkable. You will find, across space and time, a group of people, young and old, white and black (and all colors in between), men and women, and gay and straight, who all have one basic commonality: “we (the band and audience included) are upset and we’re all going to talk about it by sharing this wonderful thing we call music.” Believe it or not, punk bands have even influenced our very society.
Consider the early-punk group Minor Threat. In 1981, Minor Threat released a song called “Straight Edge,” which would, in fact, inspire a nation-wide social movement among young punk-rockers called the Straight Edge Movement. To paraphrase Ian MacKaye, lead singer of Minor Threat, on his motivation for writing “Straight Edge,” rather than waste money, time, and health abusing drugs and alcohol like his peers to simply “fit in”, he and his friends decided to immerse themselves into the music scene of Washington D.C. and pursue more productive, socially outreaching activities.
MacKaye and Minor Threat never had any intention of changing or inspiring the minds of others. They were simply kids using music to express and communicate their distaste with an aspect of society. This is what punk is all about: independence of thought, free expression, and community for all, especially for those who feel different and/or alone.
As we delve deeper into the essence of punk, it becomes increasingly clear that punk rock and punk are related but not necessarily synonymous. Punk rock is a genre of music that began in the mid-70’s. At its core, however, punk is an attitude, a way of life, which has no beginning; it’s a natural human instinct. In fact, some of the most socially prominent examples of punk are not even music-related. Joan of Arc, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Galileo and so many others were all punk-rockers. They witnessed injustice in their respective societies and did not shy away from speaking out against it. These themes of resistance and desire for social change are both intrinsic to punk as an attitude and characteristic of truehearted punk rock music.
The question still remains: what exactly is punk? Punk is hardcore band Fugazi playing right outside the White House in support of a march against the Gulf War in 1991. Punk is Rage Against the Machine playing a surprise show right outside of the New York Stock Exchange in defiance of the top one-percent’s record profits amidst the private-sector’s record layoffs in 2000. Punk is Jimi Hendrix playing his rendition of the U.S. national anthem at Woodstock in 1969, in which he artistically morphs the structure of the anthem as a protest against the Vietnam War. Punk is an attitude. Punk is expression, resistance, and freedom, and punk rock is any and all music that embodies this attitude.
So the next time find yourself aimlessly perusing YouTube instead of doing your homework, dive into some of the aforementioned groups with an open, curious, and patient mind. And when you’ve purchased that Fugazi CD, that Rise Against CD, or that Black Flag CD, go ahead and explain to your mom the meaning behind these bands and their work. Engage the music and feel the uplifting energy and politically/socially charged themes flow through you. You’ll learn that you too are a punk rocker, and that your life is yours to live; this world is yours to change.
Here is a brief introduction to the world of punk music. Pay special attention to the lyrics – they embody the attitude of punk.