Friday, October 01, 2004

Johnny Rotten is rolling in his ... wait, he's not dead?

—Originally published 9.31.04

Punk rock as a musical genre is alive and well, but punk rock as an ideology may be dead for this generation.

Let me explain:

Last weekend, I went to see the Irish punk band Flogging Molly in Charlotte. Excellent show, but in between the opening act and the headliners came an infomercial for Yes, amidst a dingy, smoke-filled, sweaty room comes a DVD projected on a film screen -- how very punk, indeed.

According to its mission statement, PunkVoter is a "coalition to educate, register and mobilize progressive voters." The word "progressive" is the first trip-wire because it usually means "Democrat," but I'd be willing to let that slide if not for what follows:

"Something needs to be done to unite the youth vote and bring real activism back into our society. Punk rock has always been on the edge and in the forefront of politics. It is time to energize the majority of today's disenfranchised youth movement and punk rockers to make change a reality."

The statement goes on to say PunkVoter "is about organizing the many diverse and regional movements into one voice of political change."

Excuse me, but am I being asked to goose-step somewhere? Since when has punk rock been about unifying anything? We've come a long way from The Sex Pistols' "Anarchy in the U.K."

It's insulting for the bands behind to believe the "majority" of youth voters fall into the progressive category. The mission statement claims to educate youth about "what is really going on in Washington, D.C.," but its video consisted almost entirely of Will Ferrell impersonating President Bush and making him look foolish over and over again. This isn't "education," it's propaganda (hello, Michael Moore). It's not about simply getting kids to vote, period -- it's, "Hey, look, all the cool punk rockers are voting for John Kerry and you should, too, or you're not punk."

A funny thing happened in Charlotte last Friday, though. Contrary to the condescending attitude of, the crowd seemed well aware of our nation's political realm -- and they didn't appreciate the video. The loudest applause came when the real President Bush first came on the screen; there were also chants of "four more years" and the occasional audience member telling Kerry and the PunkVoter spokesman to do interesting things to themselves. When the interminable video ended, the applause were seemingly in relief the concert interruption was over -- not support for PunkVoter's "progressive" message.

By definition, punk isn't definable (go figure that one out in your spare time) -- but openly promoting one political party or another wasn't the goal when bands like the Ramones and Television were formed in the mid-'70s. Johnny Ramone, a godfather of the genre (may he rest in peace), was a Republican. I didn't know that until last week and I certainly didn't learn it from "Beat on the Brat" or "The KKK Took My Baby Away."

Three decades later, artists such as those aligned with -- and there are tons of them, not to mention the bands on the Vote for Change Tour -- are using their clout to shill for a politician and destroying punk in the meantime. In the beginning, punk wasn't about exclusion or party lines, it was about acceptance for those doing their own thing.

Chris Carrabba, lead singer/founder of Dashboard Confessional, once said he could think of nothing more punk rock than going onstage at a punk rock show with an acoustic guitar and a batch of songs about heartbreak and love -- let the crowd try and mosh to that.

After last weekend's Flogging Molly concert, I'm thinkin' the most punk rock thing I can do is vote for George W. Bush.