If you have to explain what punk is to someone, then is it possible that the person you are explaining this to could still be a punk?
Obviously, if you are explaining punk, it means they are only marginally aware of what constitutes punk music and may or may not even be aware of such bands as “The Ramones” or maybe even some of the more well known contemporary “crossover” bands such as “Green Day” or maybe even “The Offspring”.
With the exception of the Ramones, there is some debate if these bands are even really punk at all. I’m not going to get into that here but I am of the opinion that it doesn’t matter how many records a band sells (in this case, too many) that makes them punk, it’s their music.
To me the Offsrping are very punk, not the stuff that has traditionally received heavy radio airplay like “Pretty Fly for a White Guy” and maybe not even “Keep Em Separated” but the deeper stuff that you have to listen to like “End of the Line” and “All I want” and in fact most of their songs are definitely punk.
As for Green Day, their music doesn’t do it for me anymore, so I don’t really consider them punk per se anymore, but their roots are pure punk rock and there is no arguing their importance to the genre.
But once you go to Broadway, at that point I’d say it’s pretty safe to say you are no longer pure punk rock.
If the Casualties stumbled on a big hit next year and sold 500,000 records, I don’t think I”d say they “sold out” because they were successful or because they had a hit song. The song was either punk or it wasn’t. These guys are as punk as they come and a “successful” mainstream song doesn’t change that.
Whether I consider them punk or not, I am glad that bands like “Offspring” and “Green Day” exists, besides the fact that I think their music is first rate, they offer a point of reference for “non punks” and people who, because of their particular circumstance (age and geography perhaps), aren’t intimately familiar with the old punk bands like “Sex Pistols”, “Buzzcocks” “The Damned” or “The Ramones” or even with more contemporary legendary punk bands like “NOFX”, “Pennywise” or “Social Distortion”.
I received an email from a reporter in La Ceiba, Honduras who is interested in this project and the “Punktology” documentary but isn’t sure what “punk” is. She liked the post that I had made earlier attempting to describe punk music titled “What is Punk? / Que Es Punk?” She specifically referenced the following section
“Punk is hard to define but that doesn’t mean there aren’t things that define punk. Punk usually means fighting for the underdog. Punk is going against the grain and forging your own path, no matter how hard that path may be. Punk is friendship with people you’ve never even met. Punk is traveling to a foreign land and instantly making friends with total strangers who may not even understand a word of your language but they will offer you their home, simply because they know if you are punk, you are OK.”
One thing I’ve discovered in the 9 months or so of producing this documentary, in dozens of conversations and interviews from places like New York City and Los Angeles, to Guatemala, Colombia, Argentina, Chile and Uruguay is that punk is much, much more than just music. Music is supremely important but music is the expression of what punk is, an attitude, or I think better yet even a philosophy.
People ask me if Ive always been into punk and I usually answer that I was always a punk, but just didn’t know it. The way I fought authority, rallied for the underdog, spoke out against injustice of any form, no matter how small (taking up for an underdog against a bully high school coach) or big (challenging the douche-bag corporations like the multi-billion dollar “research” company Nielsen Media) was all very punk. I’m a fighter and have been DIY from way back, an entrepreneur driven by social causes rather than just the blind pursuit of money.
But this isn’t about me, it’s about “can you be punk if you don’t even know what the word actually means?” and I think the answer is yes little Johnny (or Jose) or Nancy(or Maria), yes you can.
And I think eventually, if you live long enough, and you carry a punk philosophy, when you hear that one song from that one band with that kick ass lyric that sums up the way you’ve been living your life for so long wondering if you were crazy or not, that it will be like finding the love of your life.
And that leads you to listening to more music and citing more lyrics and it reinforces your philosophy even more until the next thing you know, it’s the main music you listen to because it speaks truth to power, just like you. And eventually you can’t quite digest mainstream, music, media or anything really, the way you once did without even thinking about it, anymore.
You become more outspoken, you walk with more pride and you seek out others who share your philosophy and you find they are people who sometimes have been shunned by society for one reason or another and felt like an outsider too.
You find yourself drawn to punk shows and instead of being intimidated, you feel completely accepted, regardless of whether your sporting a mohawk, piercings or sleeve full of tattoos. And no one cares, cause they know, you are are punk on the inside because your attitude is punk and it shows. That’s punk and sometimes, yes, you can be punk and not even know it.
Is there a punk scene in San Pedro Sula, Honduras. Yes, there is. Have I found it or will I? Doesn’t look like it. But I guarantee there are people here fighting for their underdog brethren, speaking truth to power and rebelling against the status quo.
Sometimes being a punk is more risky in some places than others. In Latin America it’s probably tougher than in the United States. And in a place like Havana Cuba, it was demonstrated early on when one of the punks I was attempting to interview got arrested on the spot, for no reason that I could tell other than his look and his willingness to speak to us on camera.
Amazingly, after their” comrade’s” arrest and despite the very real risk, I found other Cuban punks willing to put it all on the line for the chance to speak to us and tell the outside world their story. It is one of the highlights of producing this documentary I’ve had thus far and I’m re-posting segment we did on it below in case you haven’t seen it.
Check it out and let me know what you think. To me these guys are punk to the core. Almost laughing in the face of oppression, maybe laughing because it does no good to cry.
3 thoughts on “If you have to explain it…”
Just wanted to comment on one aspect of this whole discussion that you mentioned. I could say a lot about the whole nonsensical attempt you’re making here to equate “punk” to The Tao, but I’ll just skip all that and comment on what you said about the Offspring “being very punk.”
The debate goes, Offspring is on a label, so technically they are sellouts. Also they are part of the “punk revival” that some of the old-school punks don’t recognize, but younger guys like me wouldn’t have ever started listening to the good stuff if it wasn’t for teaser bands like Offspring, so we at least owe them that. And the consensus on Offspring, by the way, is that they weren’t too intolerable up until about ’98 or so, when they abandoned everything they appeared to have stood for that would have put them in the “punk” category, and started doing whatever it took to make money. Very Not Cool.
That’s pretty much all I wanted to say. Thanks for making the awesome site.
This is a comment from the Facebook page that Jon West said I could re-post: What follows are his words:
Some people say punk music is when people pick three chords and play them over and over while screaming, others say it is a fuckin waste of time, but to me it is more that just some random music genre. It is a way to express yourself through music. Sure punk bands play in shitty venues and dont get publicity but that is how it is supossed to be!!! That is what makes punk unique. Punk bands can go on stage and sing about politics, sex or drugs and no one will give a fuck!!! Hell if anyone says punk is dead, they are wrong!!! There is still a part in everyone that dosent like what the government is doing (anarchy) or feels that they need to express themselves through hardcore music or punk rock. One thing is for sure!!! THERE WILL ALLWAYS BE PUNK BANDS OUT THERE!!!
I hear you.. I discovered Offspring like a lot of people before I got really into punk music.. but to me w/o them I might not have gotten into punk in the first place.. they provided the bridge, laying the groundwork if you will.. and since I’ve worked my backwards, buying their old stuff later I’ve found your right, that is truly the authentic punk stuff and my new favorites.. I view them in the context of their whole career, not just in last few years.. It’s hard to burn hard for 20-30 years… and musicians, I think they always want to grow and experiment with new styles.. and people just plain mellow as they get older.. I just wish I would. Thanks for the comment and keep rocking!