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The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

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    String Theory: Punk Rock is Dead

    Punk rock is dead. And I have seen the it’s shambling corpse dragging itself across a New York City dance floor, under Irving Plaza’s twin chandeliers and exposed ceiling pipes. Under the twisted iron caterpillar of the lighting rig, under the strange ancient mosaic tiles, with its gore mixing with the black spray paint on the plywood sheet walls.

    The children dance on the floor, in the colored lights, and with their strange sociology. The circle pit is like a massive churning gear. The featherweights inside throw themselves into the kids along the edge, like maniacs against a plush padded wall. The crowd surfers are on an assembly line – they fall forward on the canopy of hands to be cradled like babies by the bored security, at the end of their cheap carnival ride. Fringe pits are born like tiny suns, fitfully forming and collapsing on top of themselves. Everywhere, larger punks are falling into protective roles, stabilizing themselves against the dancers for the sake of the smaller people around them.

    Haha, the band is Anti-Flag. The whole thing is ritualized fun.

    After the set, kids avoid stepping on the spot where the pit raged minutes earlier, like they’re afraid it’ll fire up again and trap them inside. Who lost their glasses? Someone holds up a mangled pair.

    During Alexisonfire, I watched some twins with hair dyed red. They seem to be embarrassingly unaware of the social code of the punk rock show. Their hands reach out longingly to the stage as they sing along – they look like two girls singing to a bathroom mirror. They are constantly offended by the people smashing into them, glancing them with shoulders and elbows. One twin pushes back then shakes her hands in disgust as if she just touched something slimy. Before long, the two get swept away by the tidal crowd.

    At some point, Anti-Flag urges us to reject nationalism in all its forms. But, ‘Watch out for each other in there.’ I count two real mohawks in the crowd. Only heads with shaved sides count as ‘real.’

    How did I get here?

    More importantly, what am I expecting? These kids are dressed up like for Halloween. Would real punks be more violent? Would glasses get saved? Would crowd surfers submit to cradling? Would they ‘watch out for each other in there’?

    And just how long have the real punks been looking down on these poseurs?

    On this night, I am inclined to think that the punk ideal is actually a long-held fantasy. I am suddenly enlightened to the fact that the amongst the small pool of bands that the punk elite hold dear, not one has not done anything original or interesting in twenty-five years. I am aware that ever since the Sex Pistols, The Ramones and The Clash, kids have been dressing funny and forcing themselves to like really bad music to fit a trend that they pretend is a lifestyle.

    As if anyone on earth has ever been filled with anti-establishment rage that they just had to form a circle and swing their arms around and jump into each other. The kids who are dancing to Anti-Flag are not any less legitimate than the kids who dance to the Casualties and the little club bands out in California and deep in Brooklyn. They are not any less legitimate than the kids who were dancing through the seventies and the eighties. They are all little fish dressing up and falling into a system of ritualized, well-practiced angst. They are carefully self-monitoring and trying to part of the tribe, refining their culture. They are all acutely conscious, before and afterward, of just ‘letting go’ during those manic nights with those horrendous bands who pride themselves on shoddy musicianship.

    So, when Chris #2, the carefully made up bass player said, ‘We all know punk rock is about so much more than the music. It’s about beauty, being ourselves, being a family and taking care of each other,’ I rolled my eyes. But later, I realized that was the closest he had probably ever been to being correct. Punk is a powerful trend – the game of jockeying for legitimacy and claiming membership in an elite ‘punk’ class is part of the larger, overarching system. Being a punk is constantly struggling to establish oneself as a ‘real punk.’ But, being part of the punk culture does not necessitate actually being a part of this elite – to acknowledge yourself or anyone as ‘real’ is to mistakenly give punk credit for being anything more than a trend. Real punks don’t exist and punk rock is not dead – it never was.

    Conceptual ‘real punk’ is a cultural electromagnetic field generated by bands, magazines, peers, documentaries and a vague sense of cultural history. It is abstract – energy, not matter. Poseurs are not striving to be punks. Everyone who self-identifies with the culture is striving to tune in to the same frequency, with varying degrees of success. With personalized collages of media-compiled ideals, they cast their arrows at a blurred target. Maybe these Halloween costume punks just have a different idea of what ‘punk’ means. They can only go on what they’ve absorbed, after all. The point is that no one is right or wrong.

    So, at Irving Plaza that night, maybe it wasn’t a corpse that I saw. Maybe it was the moaning, clanking shade of something that died when my parents were young. Or maybe it was like almost remembering a dream. As the kids were dancing, I felt, vaguely, what they were striving for. And, in the same moment, I knew that it never existed.

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