It’s the new year and that means, depending on whether you date its origins to 1966 or 1976, punk rock is now either 40 or 50 years old. Punk is now old enough to be the guy at the bar complaining about how easy it is to be punk rock nowadays. It’s fogey music. If The Ramones had the attitude of today’s punk rockers, they would have played the 10,000th retread of “Pennies From Heaven.”
I love punk rock and I love old people music, so it doesn't irk me that punk rock is now old people music. What bothers me is that it’s old people music masquerading as young people’s music. As Joe Gillis says in Sunset Boulevard, “There’s nothing wrong with being 50, as long as you don't pretend that you're 25!”
There’s nothing really edgy, rebellious or boundary-pushing about punk rock anymore. It’s a formula; you follow it, you get accolades, or you don’t. It's the class apple polisher pretending to be the class rebel.
I blame the '60s. The '60s gave us lots of great stuff like Russ Meyer flicks, The Doors, Hunter S. Thompson on a motorbike and Altamont. Unfortunately, it also produced a supremely entitled generation under the delusion that they invented sex. Worse than their own self-deception was the Boomer veneration of youth — even though young people are generally acknowledged to be, by everyone but themselves, the most irritating and ignorant folk on God’s green earth. Is there any sound more grating than young people enjoying themselves? Is anything quite as mind-numbing and eyeroll-inducing as a young person who thinks they have a right to an opinion on anything?
In punk rock, Boomer youth worship found its apotheosis. Though Generation X rejected flowers in hair and bells on shoes, it held onto the notion that 16 was the peak of anyone’s life. So, the animated corpse of punk rock carries its skateboard around, ghoulishly protesting its continued youth.
All of this might be tolerable, albeit embarrassing, were it not for the adoption of “punk rock” as a shorthand term for anything “on the edge.” No, N.W.A are not punk rock, any more than Sham 69 are a hip-hop outfit. No, atheism is not the punk rock of religion, unless you mean an embarrassing phase edgy teenagers go through to say “Look at me, Mom and Dad! I have opinions, too!” No, your grandmother is not punk rock because she gets pissed on brandy before cursing out your uncle and puking on the sofa. (She does, however, sound like a lot of fun to have at a party.)
Punk rock is a type of music, a specific type, and one that’s old, old, old.
Need further evidence that punk rock is thoroughly old folks–home establishment? Check the grafting of the second syllable of “hardcore” onto every-fucking-thing. Any new type of music can easily have “core” spliced onto the end. So we now have deathcore, thrashcore, taqwacore, skacore, rapcore, horrorcore, cuddlecore, Nintendocore and a bunch of other stuff this middle-aged crazy man hasn’t the faintest notion of.
It makes some kind of sense when using “core” on the end of musical idioms, at least, tangentially related to hardcore punk. Downright groanworthy is the use of the “core” suffix on such entirely unmusical phenomenon such as mumblecore and normcore. I get how death metal influenced by hardcore can be called “deathcore.” Less clear is what ironically wearing Gap jeans has to do with any kind of “core” anything.
I don’t expect punk rock to go away anytime soon. And hey, when I come across a new punk-rock band that’s worth something (what’s up, Black Mambas?), it’s a magical thing, transporting me back to being 13, when I realized there was something outside of my boring suburban adolescent existence. But maybe we can at least stop pretending that there’s been anything shocking or confrontational about punk rock for the last 25 years.
Suffice it to say that if there is a “punk rock of today” (and why the hell does there need to be?), you don’t know about it — and even if you did, you’d probably hate it. Because if you’re reading this, you’re probably not young, “with it” or on the cutting edge. You’re bitter about your lost youth and contemptuous of new trends.
That’s OK. Just own it. And tell those kids to stop making such a damn racket with their skateboards or you’ll call the cops.
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