“Punk has its earliest roots in the United States, in New York city. It was there in the very late 1960’s and early 1970’s that bands such as the Ramones, Television, Patti Smith, and Blondie emerged on the New York punk scene. It is important to keep in mind that it was a scene and not the movement that occurred in Great Britain in the latter parts of the 1970’s” (Cahill 1998: 1).
The scene in the US remained small until the punk movement in Britain was given considerable media attention. Because punk is a counter culture it cannot be pinpointed exactly when the movement began. “However, most would agree that it was sometime in 1975. Britain was suffering from a recession at the time, and in times of extreme hardship, people look for an outlet for their anger” (Cahill 1998: 1). This is exactly what happened in Great Britain. Adolescents became angry and showed their frustration and dissatisfaction of situations or conditions. In 1975, the poor working class youths of Britain began to use the style of the New York punk scene. Adolescents were angry because they seemed doomed to living out an existence on the dole. This, coupled with normal adolescent feelings of isolation and estrangement gave rise to the punk movement. Punk music became a strong way in which punks could give vent to their feelings and identify themselves as a counter culture. Their dress also became a means of identification. “Punk as a subculture was beginning to take shape, conformity was what punk stood against” (Cahill 1998: 1).
As the punk movement began to take shape and grow, the media could not ignore it. The press started to cover shows that bands such as the Sex Pistols, Clash etc. performed. With more media coverage the music and movement became increasingly popular. “The Sex Pistols led the way for many other bands by signing labels with major recording companies. By doing this they had sold out. They were standing up against conforming to the mainstream, and they had become mainstream by signing a major record label” (Cahill 1998: 2).
In 1977 the Sex Pistols broke up and this signified the dying of mainstream punk. The punk movement did not die out, however. In 1978 a band called Crass led the second wave of punk. After the second wave began in Britain’s punk scene, similar ideals started around the world. “the second wave wasn’t just a style of clothing or a certain group of bands, it was a philosophy in itself” (Cahill 1998: 2).
2. THE CULTURE OF PUNK
Because punk is considered to be an underground movement, much information about the punk culture is not common knowledge. “Punk is more than just music; it has an in depth philosophy, based on anarchist political views and liberation” (Cahill 1998: 3). The lack of knowledge and understanding of the punk movement has caused it to be continually misinterpreted. The media has ignored the reasons behind Punk actions and wrongly attached negative connotations to the punk subculture. The punk movement has received a bad reputation and has been characterized by self-destruction and violence. One of the misconceptions about punks is that all punks are skinheads. However, the two are generally separate identities. The Skinheads were around before the Punk movement and have their own history and culture. “In fact, most Punks object to Skinheads at their concerts, mostly due to the fact that the Skinheads are usually the cause of violence and break up of the gigs” (Cahill 1998: 3). The punk movement generally reacts against racism and inequality, which is a philosophy that varies greatly from the Skinheads. However, it is to be noted here that Source A who was interviewed for this assignment believes that racism is an integral part of the punk philosophy and he groups punks and skinheads together. From this it is obvious that in some cases the two groups merge and can not be viewed as totally distinct groups.
A. THE DEFINITION OF PUNK
Under the culture of punk, it is necessary to look at a definition of punk. “The true backbone of the Punk movement is the ideals of the people and the music” (Cahill 1998: 4). True punk is not a look or a fad.
Although it has been stated that true punk is not a look or a fad, nevertheless, the look of punk is important because it is a visible expression of the anti-conformity philosophy. Source A comments that the dress of a punk reflects the attitude. Jeans, doc martins, red laces, studded jackets, army pants, safety pins etc. are all according to Source A, a visible expression of the punks desire to be non-conformist.
“Though it seems that punks had little or no fashion sense, they were in a sense so anti-fashion that they made an even bigger statement” (The Pit 1998: 2). One of the main shops that specialized in punk fashion was Malcolm Mclaren’s shop Sex.
“Sex specialized in leather and bondage clothing `and pre-mutilated or modified clothing that not all punks could afford, those that could ate it up though. The punks were fond of leather jackets, torn and ripped clothes, clothing that in no way matched, and accessories such as safety pins, swastikas, and communist symbols. Basically punk fashion emphasized individualism and embraced anything that stood out from the norm” (The Pit 1998: 2).
From the above it is clear that both in the past and the present, clothing is an important means of identification in the punk subculture.
Punk music can probably be considered as the way in which punks most strongly define themselves. “Punk music is basically the ‘staple food’ for almost all punks” (Cahill 1998: 4). Punk music is an outlet for punks to express their rage, anger etc. In the past punk rock made social statements mostly with regard to the authority of the establishment. Nowadays, however, much of the punk rock music has lost its political meaning in the attempt to be commercially viable. Although punk music technically started in the USA with artists such as the “Ramones, Television, Patti Smith, Blondie, and Talking Heads, punk caught on with much more force in England” (The Pit 1998: 1). Bands such as the Sex Pistols, Clash, Damned etc. came to the fore and used their music to express their frustrations. The lyrics In punk music “frequently contain oppositional themes (anti-romantic love songs, anti-parents, anti-peer groups)” (Jones 1998: 3).
Source B says that the heroes of the subculture are generally the respective band members. This is an area for great concern as many of the band members have died through suicide or drug overdoses. A few examples are:
Sid Vicious, bassist for the Sex Pistols. Died at age 21 from a heroin overdose.
Stefanie Sargent, guitarist for the group 7 Year Bitch. Died at the age of 24 from a heroin overdose.
Kurt Cobain, singer and guitarist for Nirvana. Died at the age of 27 from suicide.
Jason Thirsk, bassist for the group Penny-wise. Died at the age of 27 from suicide.
These are just a few of some 24 examples of drink, drug, and suicide-related deaths that are found in the Internet article from the Sunset Strip/Towers.
In the past, the main appeal in punk music came in it’s do it yourself attitude and “emphasis on individuality and self expression. Punk was simple, powerful music that had energy and made a statement. All you needed were three chords and the truth and you could virtually start a band. Punk as a scene tried at its’ barest to resist commercialism and make recordings and shows affordable to fans” (The Pit 1998: 2).
Punk rock has had a huge influence on music. When it began in the Seventies it brought “a needed slap in the face to the complacency of rock music and mainstream culture” (The Pit 1998: 1). In the early to mid Eighties punk slowly began to die and although some bands survived the transition and enjoyed a great deal of popularity underground. “Then in 1991 a band called Nirvana released an album called Nevermind” (The Pit 1998: 1). Once again punk music became a force to be reckoned with. But, this new brand of punk was not the same. Some of the same old energy was there but generally punk music was a cheap imitation of the original. Punk music was more commercialized and seemed more interested in mainstream success. This was everything the old style punk had fought against.
D. THE PEOPLE OF PUNK
“A safe assumption is that the majority of Punks are young, white and middle class. The amount of youth in the culture is one of the factors why the Punk rock is fast-paced and energetic” (Cahill 1998: 5). Punk nowadays is comprised of a majority of middle class whites as opposed to the original inner-city working class minorities. An important aspect to note here is that youth have consciously chosen to reject their privileged places in society. Source A says that punks often join the subculture at age 13. Source B says that the people who join are often very artistic, clever, introverted people. They tend to have deep insecurities and seem to be able to find an outlet for this in the punk movement.
E. ANARCHY AND PUNK
Source A says that anarchy and punk are inseparable. Punks are against any authority or system. “Punks support of anarchy fits in well with their belief that government is oppressive and Punks call for individual freedom and control” (Cahill 1998: 6). The belief of many punks is that the only way to achieve true individual freedom is through the abolition of establishments, which create structures that restrict personal freedom. Punks feel that the government does not act in the best interests of the people and therefore the individual is in the best interests of the people. Punks’ belief in anarchism is the cornerstone for the rest of Punk’s ideals.
There is no doubt that the Punk culture is wildly different from what it originally was. But, this is not a signal that punk is dead. Punk has evolved and changed with the times. In SA, punk has evolved into something that has great attraction for young teenagers, especially among the skateboarders.
In an Internet article entitled ‘Punk is Nothing’, Andrew Lance writes, “Punk has let me down as a subculture. Yep, it has done a poor job of resolving any conflicts I have about many things – the reasons why I adhered to punk for so long in the first place – political and personal freedom; freedom for all, and peace for all”.
As ministers to youth we should be actively seeking out opportunities to minister into the lives of young people who are caught up in a subculture that has let them down and offered them nothing. As ministers of the gospel we have everything to offer them that their particular subculture has been unable to.
THE PUNK ETHOSWhat is the Punk ethos? There is great variation, of course, and perhaps no single Punk matches the pure archetype, but in general Punk seems to have these characteristics:
It is passionate, preferring to encounter hostility rather than complacent indifference; working class in style and attitude if not in actual socio-economic background; defiant, unconventional, bizarre, shocking; starkly realistic, anti- euphemism, anti-hypocrisy, anti-bullshit, anti-escapist, happy to rub people's noses in realities they don't wish to acknowledge; angry, aggressive, confrontational, tough, willing to fight — yet this stance is derived from an underlying vulnerability, for the archetypal Punk is young, small, poor, and powerless, and he knows it very well; sceptical, especially of authority, romance, business, school, the mass media, promises, and the future; socially critical, politically aware, pro-outlaw, anarchistic, anti-military; expressive of feelings which polite society would censor out; anti-heroic, anti-"rock star" ("Every musician a fan and every fan in a band!"); disdainful of respectability and careerism; night-oriented; with a strong, ironic, satirical (often self-satirical), put-on-loving sense of humor, which is its saving grace; stressing intelligent thinking and deriding stupidity; frankly sexual, frequently obscene; apparently devoted to machismo, yet welcoming "tough" females as equals (and female Punks are often as defiant of the males as of anyone else) and welcoming bisexuals, gays, and sexual experimentation generally; hostile to established religions but sometimes deeply spiritual; disorganized and spontaneous, but highly energetic; above all, it is honest.
"Punks hang out wherever they're not thrown out!" We love to criticize each other, but stick together in the face of common hostility from the rest of the world. Being Punk is an adventure. Punks are outcastes by choice, by habit, or by necessity, being sick of the real values of the social order. We are contemptuous of a majority which Punks criticize as manipulated by the mass media, unthinking, unaware, sleepwalking through life, conformist, fashion-controlled sheep who are being led to subtle economic slavery and martial slaughter.
Punks may not be able to change the world, but we are dedicated to creating an island of freedom, a community of dissent and experimentation, and we are determined not to go down with our sinking civilization without a howl of protest and an angry fist shaking and hurling curses at the inhuman gods above.