People often use the word “punk” to describe me. Something about the fact that I mostly wear black clothing, have tattoos, live in Oakland and play sparse, simple yet melodic music…
It’s not an insult. Punk is more than appearance, though. This is something I was talking to my friend about the other day. “You’re so punk,” someone said to her. She did a mental inventory and thought, “I don’t listen to all the punk music, I don’t dress like a punk, what’s the deal?”
It’s her attitude. Live with less. Fuck money. Do what you love and spend less time working. Eat what you buy. Take society with a grain of salt. Don’t let the man push you down. Fight for what you believe in. Don’t blindly cave in to ideals and traditions, in fact, fuck traditions.
Looking back, I realize my parents had punk attitudes, even though they were liberal artist Mormons. How different can you be, right? But they taught me to question authority, to never feel forced to celebrate consumer holidays, not to blindly take no for an answer, turn off the television, to use my brain when it came to propaganda and subversive advertising and politics, and to follow my dreams, putting my life’s work before money.
They taught me to trust my intuition, something that has helped me navigate religious groups, behavior modification programs and self-help groups without ever completely drinking the kool-aid.
As far as being called punk, usually older punks assume I grew up liking the same bands they did. Many of the old-school punks I associate with are grown up with kids, houses, have settled down from their show-going days, yet still hold a lot of those old punk values and listen to the same music they did back when punk was actually a functioning scene and hadn’t (d)evolved into the current thrash/metal scene. They have some awesome stories…because I was sober and born in the wrong decade, I didn’t experience a lot of those things.
I grew up in the valley, pretty far from any indie record store, so my music consumption was limited mainly to what I could find on the radio and get from BMG music. That meant I listened to a lot of mainstream metal, Black Sabbath, Ozzy, Metallica, a shit ton of grunge, Nirvana, Green Day (okay, punk-pop), Hole, Alice in Chains, and industrial that was also more mainstream but just as good, i.e. Nine Inch Nails, 80′s English post-punk such as The Cure and The Smiths. I found the Sex Pistols and David Bowie through BMG Music, I heard of the Circle Jerks and Black Flag through friends, but it wasn’t until I was much older that friends helped me fill in the gaps with the stuff I would’ve died to hear when I was younger: Minor Threat, Bad Brains, Operation Ivy, The Replacements, The Chameleons, The Sound (UK), Slayer, Cortex, etc. etc. etc.
I spent some of my teens singing Social Distortion and the Misfits with groups of gutter punk kids on the streets of California, subscribing to the eat, drink and be merry, screw the system I’m going to live on the fringes lifestyle I thought meant I was truly punk. But I threw that away as soon as I learned I could live in society, earn an OK paycheck and not have to drink in order to pursue the freedom I spoke of.
Meanwhile, some of my friends escaped permanently to Berkeley/Oakland and were immersed in the punk scene for years and years.
So no, in the traditional sense, I didn’t spend my twenties in a punk house going to shows and living a low-impact life in some urban city. I never dressed the part, mostly I wore a uniform of jeans and a black or white wife beater. I spent my twenties in San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley and then El Cerrito living a married life, trying on different hats, trying to be a good worker bee and fit into the mold by medicating myself and working 9 – 5′s.
Something snapped in my mid-twenties and I realized that I would never fit the mold of 9-5′er or suburbanite (never wanted to be a surburbanite, but the economy kept pushing me further out into the Bay Area ‘burbs). I just didn’t know how to let it go, so I struggled for another couple of years. Mostly, I find that even though I think my music sounds pretty grunge/blues, people tend to hear a lot of punk influence in it, and that actually makes me pretty happy. I feel I’ve successfully amalgamated all of the genres I grew up with, and all of the genres my genres grew up with, to create something that resonates with me. Lately, with the use of my friend’s practice space while he’s on tour, I’ve finally been able to work on the heavier, louder songs I love so dearly.
So, for now, I’ve embraced my roots. Call me punk, say I have an anarchist punk attitude. Though I’ve never been much of a joiner, I’ll take it if it helps you put me in a category. Punk, to me, means being your own fucking person, and not letting anyone else define you.