Diving in rush-hour 5:30 PM traffic, I check my mirror and lean up to get a full view of my chin. My goatee is nearly 50% gray, the lines on my face deep grooves, borrowed from every LP I left behind when I moved my $200 a month apartment, having nearly finished graduate school. Pause here, in the past. First, not dragging the crate of LP records for one more move across the country was a mistake I have never quite forgiven myself for, even though the age of CDs was upon us. Second, this was a turning point. A fine education, a fiance, and a new world ahead where I saw myself grown and responsible. Who needed a solid job offer? I was starting a life, regardless of what was waiting for me at the end of that drive.
Today, in my highly appointed car, U.S. Bombs blasted from the stereo. It was probably The Clash or something similar back when. The lyrics state that “We die grown-up punks!” The next song, a tune by the Sex Pistols, as I whine along at every verse. Some metal anthem followed.
Here I was, fat and happy, awash in nihilistic, futureless, and dystopic music, absorbed in the teen and early adulthood angst from two-and-a-half decades ago. This, as I drive home to pick up my kids and enjoy a house filled with love and prospects for the future. My mind, ever analyzing, began to wonder on this art form as helping build the dysfunctional frame I built around my life, or just the music I chose for my theme. The songs seem so self- absorbed, so ridiculous, but… this is good music. In reality, my adoption of the attitude was just a part, one cog, in my thinking, and the music didn’t make me anything. I chose my path, yet somehow, I never dropped some of the ideas or feelings in these three-chord assaults. In some significant way, I kept this kernel of dissatisfaction. I never grew up.
Unlike my neo-“hippie” (her word) ex-lover, I was not inspired to change anything. Also, unlike many punks, who learned both rebellion and self awareness, I missed using my younger (albeit mild) sense of anarchy, my f*** the system attitude, for anything fruitful on my route to adulthood.
(Well, this isn’t entirely true, but I am riding a theme here.)
Again, music is the mirror, not the cause. In my recent fervor to grow and understand myself, I have begun ditching some of the psychological legacies of my formative years. My musical tastes have expanded over the decades, from jazz to pop to classical to reggae to world to biker music. I even have a newfound fondness for country music, the contemporary brand they play on the radio. (I still despise most love songs, especially the “you are my everything” type.)
I had realized long ago that “punk” in some sense, like any label, was a show, a facade, and a manufactured character on the music scene. Today’s punk rock bands, like those in my day, wear tee shirts, play angry or juvenile music, and appeal to young people’s situations. The Clash was political, more sophisticated and thoughtful in their work. The Descendants had a political message, and a nerdy frontman. The Dead Kennedys made me think. The list goes on, with every flavor one can imagine. One thing most bands had in common: they appeared angry. And despite knowing that I was consuming a “product”, the anger within the music appealed to me.
So, it’s not the music, it’s how I hear it.
I’m tired of being angry for its own sake. I believe in a future. I believe in falling in love, building a life, being a contributor, and finding a place in the world. I am not a lifelong punk. Who could be? It wasn’t ever meant to be that way, anyhow. Still, the course of an unguided missile depends mainly on its launch trajectory. I have been partially unguided in regard to my emotional sensibility, regardless of my success, for way too long. Carrying this image that “nothing matters is a concept that matters”, even subliminally, is lazy and a hindrance.
I would never smash the roof of a cop car, nor would I choose to sneer back at the “unwanted” attention a head of 4-inch spiked hair brings. Then what is the message I should carry?
How about these: rebellion for a reason, speaking out loudly, be an individual?
The driving and angry chord heavy music of my youth is not on the chopping block, just the tone of the message and the extent to which it speaks to me viscerally.